The slow play in poker is a term which is used to describe a situation where you take a weak line to play a big hand. When used strategically, slow playing will allow you to get more value from your monster hands then you would have if you were to have shown aggression earlier in the hand. To consider slow playing the hand you need to have a really big hand such as top 2 pair, a set or better, but depending on the game type it can be done with only a pair, although the table conditions don’t usually allow for this.
By taking a weak line to play a hand I mean that you are generally checking and calling rather then betting and raising. For example, if you are in early position and you flop a monster hand but you were not the pre-flop aggressor, you might check and hope that the pre-flop raiser will continuation bet the flop. If no one bets you might want to put in a small bet on the turn. If someone does bet on the flop you would just flat call rather then check-raise them. You can also slow play the hand by under betting the pot to try and show that you are weak and to induce a bluff. For example, if there is $25 in the pot, you could bet $5 instead of $25 and hope to increase the amount you win this way.
There are many benefits to slow playing monster hands when the table conditions allow for it.
Firstly, by slow playing a big hand you give the other players in the pot a chance to catch up. For example, if you flopped a set of T’s on a flop of 3, 7, T, then you might want to slow play to allow other players involved in the pot to see the turn card for free and hope that one of them has a high cards which hits. If it does and you bet small on the turn or check again, someone will more then likely bet expecting to be good with their top pair, and you can win more money then if you bet out on the flop. If you had of bet out on the flop and on one had anything you would have won a much smaller pot then if you slow played.
Another benefit of slow playing a hand is that is shows weakness. It makes your opponents think that you have a weak hand or no hand at all. For example, they might think you only have 2nd or 3rd pair or they might put you on a draw. By making them think tis they are more likely to bet on the flop, turn, and river if you check it to them. Also, if you do raise them after they have bet they are more likely to reraise or call your raise because they think you are full of it. If you did not slow play and came out being aggressive, they would probably give you more credit for having a hand and will not reraise you unless they have you beat.
There are however some disadvantages of slow playing monster hands which will be discussed below.
The most obvious disadvantage is that slow playing can result in your opponents getting a free or cheap card. By allowing them to see the turn for free you give them an opportunity to outdraw you and make a hand which could beat you. Which is why you need to consider the board if you decide to slow play. It rarely makes sense to use the slow play on a very drawy board when your opponent has outs to make a better hand. For example, if you slow played on the flop of 5, 6, K and your opponent had 78 you are giving them a cheap shot of making a straight with their open ended straight draw, so even if you have top set you could potentially lose a big pot.
While this is definitely something to consider carefully when you play your big hands, you can minimize the damage and likelihood of this happening. For example, if a potential flush or straight draw exists on the board it is most likely a good idea not to slow play your hand. Only consider slow playing when there are no outs to improve your opponents hand.
The other disadvantage with slow playing is that you can miss out on winning a large pot if another player who makes a big hand like TPTK (top pair and top kicker). In this case you could both end up slow playing your hands and not getting the maximum value you could have had if you would have come out betting from the beginning. If you are able to assign hand ranges on your opponents, you can better determine if they had a made hand or not which helps deciding whether or not to slow play.
The Problem With Slow Playing Aces
A common mistake I see new poker players make is slow playing high pocket pairs like KK/AA. Typically they will limp in the pot to show weakness, check the flop and hope the opponent will make a pair on later streets. You should never be limping in preflop with pocket aces and rarely be slow playing them post flop.
The problem with slow playing pocket aces and kings is that you allow your opponent to draw cheaply, and when you are facing resistance with these hands, one pair is rarely good enough and you will lose a big pot. You should always be aggressive on the flop and turn with aces to protect your hand. It’s better to win a small sized pot then to be deceptive and lose a big pot.