Slow Play vs Fast Play in Poker

written by: John

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When you make a strong poker hand on the flop, you can generally play it one of two ways - slow or fast. Slow playing is generally a way to under represent your hand by just checking or check calling in order to induce bluffs on later streets and/or set up check raises. Fast playing on the other hand, is just how it sounds. You play the hand in a much faster, more aggressive manner by betting and raising. When you play your hand fast, you are doing so to get value from worse hands as well as protect your hands against draws.

While there is no right or wrong way to play a hand (most times), there are pros and cons to both slow and fast playing that you should consider.

Pros to Slow Playing

Slow playing your hand will under rep it. In other words, by not betting your hand, you're making it seem as if you're weak or have no made hand at all. This can induce bluffs from absolute air or can induce bets from players who feel as if they're betting for value, when in reality they're only value betting themselves.

Cons to Slow Playing

Slow playing can be risky at times. When you're not betting your hand, you're not adequately protecting it against other draws. So when you slow play your hand, you run the risk of allowing a hand that was behind, catch up and pull ahead of you.

Also, when you decide to slow play your hand, you also run the risk of losing value. A hand where you might've gotten 3-streets of value from, you are now only getting two. Additionally, many times scare cards can come off on later streets which may scare you and/or your opponent which can lead to you earning little to no value at all.

Pros to Fast Playing

When you play your hand fast, there is a good chance that the board is wet enough for you to get value from worse hands. You're also making large bets (should be) which will often enable you to get your stack in by the time you reach the river.

Cons to Fast Playing

If your bet sizing is too large or if the board is too dry, you are likely going to fold out hands that might've otherwise caught up or tried to bluff you on later streets. This means you didn't earn any value for your hand. In theory then, you might as well have been playing with 72o.

Determining Whether to Play Your Hand Fast or Play it Slow

There are a few factors that you should consider when determining how exactly to play your hand.

Board Texture

Board texture is likely to be the largest factor in determining how you fast or slow you should play your hand.

For example, say you have a set of 3s on a flop of Q-3-K of two suits. This board is very wet (draw heavy) which means you will probably not want to slow play your hand. Many turn cards will be bad for you such as the 3rd card to make a flush, a 9, T, J or an Ace. You need to bet and try to get your money in while you are almost 100% positive you are ahead.

However, on a board of 7-3-K rainbow, you could more than likely check back a street and play your hand a bit slower. If you bet this kind of flop, the only hand that is really going to call you is a king. You might get an under pair to come along as well, but you're much better off checking back one street to try and let that under pair feel as if they have the best hand. This will often times lead to them value betting the worse hand.

Quite simply, the more draw heavy the board is and the more vulnerable that you're hand is, the more inclined you should be to bet and play your hand fast. You should be able to get tons of value for your hand while at the same time adequately protect it. If the board is dry though, you should be more inclined to check or check/call to allow lesser hands to catch up and/or bluff.

Player Tendencies

You will also want to consider playing tendencies when choosing whether to play your hand fast or to play it slow.

For example, if you are up against a player who is a calling station, then you can play your hand rather fast knowing that you're being called down light. On the other hand, if you have someone who is aggressive that likes to bet and bluff frequently, then you can slow play your hand, as these types of players will do most of the work (betting and raising) for you.

You should consider how your opponents currently view you as well. If you have been rather loose up to the point where you made a strong hand, you would get more value from playing your hand fast as it's likely your opponents won't believe that you have a hand yet again. If you've been tight, then it's better to play your hand fast because slow playing will look suspicious for one thing, and it's likely that you'll get folds anyway unless your opponent connected with the board. So you might as well try to get value if there is any value to be had.

Multi-way Pots

I'm much more inclined to play a made hand fast when I'm involved in a multi-way pot. The reasons for this are simple. In a multi-way pot, it's more likely that someone has actually made a hand that is willing to call one street. Also, depending on the board texture, you will earn value from draws as more players makes it more likely that someone is on one. In these situations, I'm betting 3/4 to almost full pot in order to maximize my value as well as ensure that my opponents are not receiving the correct odds to out draw me.

Summary of Slow Play vs Fast Play in Poker

Much of what you decide to do is going to come down to how vulnerable your hand is in comparison to the board texture. Can you take the risk of letting your opponent see a free card? Could it improve his or her hand? Is there a turn card that could scare either of you from putting more money into the pot? Are you missing value by either fast or slow playing? These are all questions you need to ask and answer before you choose what to do so that you can take the most profitable line possible.