Anatomy of a Slow Play (Updated With Results)
"If you're going to sell your car, you polish the tires first."
I heard Mike Francesa say this yesterday on the radio about how the Knicks need to repair relations with Stephon Marbury in order to better be able to convince someone to trade for him. The Knicks have to make him look good, look attractive to someone else, so they can get someone to pay them a good price for the player. They're not going to get what they want by continuing to make Marbury look bad, or even by neutrally acting like they like him but not enough to want to fight for him.
I follow this exact same approach when I'm slow playing a monster hand in no limit holdem. You have to make the hand look like something which your opponents want to play against you, before you try to get them to buy your bet for all their chips. And, although many of you probably don't know this about me, I take my slow playing very seriously. See, the thing that I really get is that slowplaying is a lot more than just checking your trips on the flop, and then reraising big on the turn for a nice-sized win. It's an entire act, a whole production, which if executed perfectly almost always has the capability to get you the other guy's entire stack. That's always my main goal when I am dealt or flop a monster hand -- not "how can I win this hand?" or even "how much money can I extract from my opponent with this hand?", but rather "how am I going to get every single solitary chip in that guy's sorry stack over to my pile right here?" That is the goal every time, and every single action, inaction, delay, bet, etc. from the moment the hand is dealt until the moment you rake in the chips should all be designed to get you to that goal of your victim's entire stack coming your way.
If the above is not the way you're playing your slow plays, then there is room for improvement. In my next few posts I'm going to show you exactly how I slow-play a big hand, with real-life illustrations from a couple of big hands I've recently played in tournaments online. I'll take you through my thinking each step of the way, why I did what I did, and how well it worked for me in each case.
A couple of nights ago, I'm 15 or 20 minutes into an 18 person sng on pokerstars, and I look down to find pocket Aces on the button. With blinds of 15 and 30, there are only two late-position limpers into the pot when it gets back around to me.
Rule #1: Slow-playing a monster hand before the flop -- especially online -- does not mean quietly limping preflop, in particular in late position with only two late-position limpers in front of you. As I mentioned earlier in the week, if you regularly limp into pots with your premium hands, high pairs especially, then you will frequently lose those hands eventually, to the suited connectors, Axs and all the other fish you allowed to get a cheap look at the flop. They flop a draw, you can't chase them out, they hit their draw on the turn or the river, and then I have to read your blog the next day about how your Aces got cracked on the river by some clown's JTs. Don't blame them. If you're regularly (or even semi-regularly) limping in preflop online with your Aces and Kings, then you should blame yourself, not only for allowing, but for in fact encouraging your opponents to stick around by enhancing their implied odds to call by calling yourself.
Following this advice, I put in a standard preflop raise of 5x the big blind, or to 150 chips. This was enough to knock out the blinds -- something I am not at all unhappy with, since I want to get the iffy drawing-type of hands out of this pot early -- and my two late limpers each decide to call my largeish bet preflop. This gets me two things: 1. It tells me that at least one if not both of them, assuming they aren't total fish, is on some kind of a hand. I love this, as I want nothing more than for them to be holding KK and QQ, or AK and AQ, something like that. And 2. I also know that these two are types who do not like to fold to a smallish raise once they've already invested something in the pot. And of course, I've gotten 450 more chips into the pot with my obvious favorite over whatever they happen to be holding, bringing the total pot before the flop up to 495 chips.
Here comes the flop:
I, of course, am thrilled about this flop. I've hit top trips, there is no flush draw possible, and the possible straight draws (T9, 56 and 69) should have already been chased out by my 5x raise preflop, so although I need to keep that possibility in the back of my mind, it isn't something I really need to be concerned about right now. So, how am I going to play this to get all of my my opponent's (in this case, all of both opponents') stacks?
Well, for starters I can't let these guys know I've hit a monster. In fact, given that I led out with a 5x raise preflop, and an Ace hit the board, my first concern has to be with making sure at least one if not both of these guys stays in the pot. If anything, ideally I want them to think that I'm the one concerned that an Ace came on the flop (like I would be if I had, say, Kings or Queens in the pocket, for example). That's my objective on a flop like this.
Rule #2: Slow-playing a monster on the flop also does not mean just check-calling the flop. As with the preflop situation, the right thing for me to do here, assuming my opponents are decent poker players, is not to just check, in that a check on the flop after a 5x reraise preflop from me would likely set off some bells in the heads of my more observant and skilled opponents. Rather, my game on the flop should be to do whatever is necessary to make these guys think I have something in my hand, but that I don't love the flop, and in particular the Ace on this flop.
So, both opponents check to me on this flop. Here's my move:
A bet of 150 into a pot with 495 chips. #1 only a poosay is going to fold to this bet from just a pot odds perspective, so I accomplish my goal of keeping these two guys around to hopefully hit something on the turn or river and bluff me off some more chips. #2, this will add another 450 chips to the pot which I am nearly guaranteed to win, and, most importantly, by betting just 30% of the pot, I am subtly planting the idea in my opponents' heads that I'm not happy with this flop for my pocket cards. I've made it look like I was taking a last feeble stab at the pot on the flop after my 5x raise preflop failed to get me the chips. This subtle impression I've (maybe even just subconciously) planted will come in handy again shortly.
So did my 150-chip bet work in convincing these guys that I am weak enough for them to call with? Yes, big time. The first guy flat called my 150 bet. That tells me that he doesn't like what he has either, but he has fallen for the pot-odds factor with my 150 chip bet in the hopes of hitting something on the turn or river, or maybe trying to bluff me out of the pot later. I guarantee you if I had checked my trips on the flop, he would have checked along as well, so that would be at least 150 chips of lost equity for me in this pot by doing the super-weak thing and checking the flop. And then, the second guy clearly thinks he's got a bead on me. It's fairly obvious that the guy to his right is weak with his flat call of my 150 bet on flop, but this second opponent has taken the bait hook, line and sinker. I'm building him a story -- I made a largeish 5x raise preflop against two late position raisers, I might have been stealing entirely or maybe I have a medium pocket pair or two paints, but in any case he thinks he knows I am scared of the Ace on the board. And he's going to take the pot right now with a raise to 450. So by my subterfuge from the very moment I saw my hole cards, I now have made two decent-sized bets in this hand, getting 2 callers on the flop, and now one caller and the other guy raising me already in this pot. So far the execution has been flawless. But the best acting is yet to come.
So, how do I best handle BigSpendurrr's raise on the flop here, to ensure that I get both him and bobhope to call me for the rest of my chips? I could just smooth call's Big's raise. But why wait for another street to get him to commit, when if he is on a draw he will likely not be willing to pay to draw at the river, but obviously likes what he has enough to be willing to draw with two cards to come? Seems to me now is my best chance of getting him to commit for my other 520 chips, and I don't want bobhope to fold either. So what do I do?
That's right, I reraise Big's raise of my small probe-looking bet on the flop, but only to a measly 750 chips, not even twice his raise. What I'm doing here is telling these two guys that I still think I have something strong in the pocket, but nothing that I'm willing to put in a large reraise with. That is enough to get two quick-calls from my opponents, and still so far this slow play is proceeding to perfection, and I've now gotten bobhope to commit his entire stack on what should be a losing hand from the beginning:
To any kind of an astute player, the vibe I've given off here says one of two things at this point: Either (1) I have a medium-high Ace (AT, AJ) and needed to find out where I'm at with my raise to 750 on the flop, or (2) I have QQ or KK in the pocket and wanted to take another desperate stab to win the pot with my raise. Either way, these guys are both cooked. And notice again how my actions have managed to get not one but both of these guys basically pot-committed against my trip Aces nuts hand on the flop.
And the King on the turn helps me as well, because I figure the King is the most likely holding other than an Ace (which is already on the board) given that these two players both called a 5x raise before the flop. So much so, that when the King is out, bobhope is already all-in, and Biggie isn't going to wait around for me to reraise him again. He just puts me all-in right away:
And I can call, knowing I have the stone nuts at this point in the hand, and that at best my opponents are drawing to just a small handful of straight- or full house-producing outs.
Anybody care to guess what these two guys were holding in their respective hands? I'll put that on the blog after giving some time for people to post their guesses.
Update with Hand Results:
Here's what the two guys I abused from the last post actually held in their hands:
Congratulations to Wes, who nailed the results spot-on. Either he makes great reads, or he figured out my naming convention for the screen shots and just checked it out for himself. ;)
More later on my weekend poker action. Which sucked btw, I'll tell you that right now.