The advantages of playing slow
By Jack Clayton
We live in a hectic world. Fast cars, fast food, a speedy work environment, and technology that increases how much we try and cram into one day. Instead of quietly reading the newspaper over a coﬀee in the morning, we get our news from instantaneous tweets, pings and news alerts. At work, we are under the gun to move faster, with worker productivity in the U.S. having increased 75% since the 1970s.
But don’t overlook the advantages of moving slow. It’s relaxing and healthy for the body and the mind to get away from the frenetic pace in modern times, such as a stroll in the park, or enjoying a cappuccino and a crossword. Online poker or playing at the tables is often fast paced, too, but there are times when it actually pays to be slow.
A key element of eﬀective poker is about throwing your opponents oﬀ their game. Slow-playing poker can be used as a deceptive strategy. This is when you have a strong hand but you decide to slow your tempo a bit. Moving fast with a strong hand may scare away other players. You win when they fold, of course, but the pot might not be very large and the goal is to maximize winning with strong hands, large pots and big paydays.
Slow-playing, or trapping, is a subtle strategy designed to keep players in the game to build up the pot before you ﬂash the nuts. I’d recommend moving at a slightly slower pace than you usually do. Appear as though you’re thinking carefully, a bit hesitant, then go ahead and raise. Don’t try and oversell it, such as tapping the table a long while, or sighing and wiping your brow so that everyone notices. That is bad acting and astute players will see through it.
Think of it as playing your hand a little less aggressively than is needed. The purpose is to get other players to believe everyone has a chance to win the hand so they stay engaged. For instance, if you ﬂop a straight, it’s unlikely anyone is going to beat you. Slow-playing from that point allows your opponents to work their hands while continuing to call your bets. The outcome is that the pot is mushrooming while you hold exceptional cards. Reacting slow or at a moderate pace can be advantageous.
Changing pace is a plus because other players are always sizing you up, trying to indentify your tendencies. By shifting from a fast pace to a slow pace and then to a medium one, you keep your enemies oﬀ guard. Poker patterns are detectable by the best players.
One situation where slow-playing works well is against an ultraaggressive player who has a history of playing fast even with weak cards. Sandbagging is another term for playing slow. When a regularly aggressive player sees you sandbagging they take your hesitant move as a sign of weakness and will press. In those situations, you can force a player like that into bluﬃng—so you’re building the pot while sitting with a strong hand. It’s the perfect one-two punch. You won’t always win, but poker is as much about skill and putting the odds in your favor as it is with the cards.
Another example of this taken to even more extremes is the slow-roll. It’s similar, but you play the hand even slower, acting super-cautious, but you really have a strong hand. The purpose is to pretend you have a weak hand or are an inexperienced player. In the end, when you slowly reveal a very strong hand and likely win you hope to stun the opposing player. You not only win the hand but the intent is to throw the opponent oﬀ their game, perhaps even forcing them to tilt.
It’s a psychological ploy that can pack a big punch, though it can’t be used too often. It should be saved for the right situation, such as a player who talks a big game or plays overly aggressive. You should be able to see the reaction in their face and demeanor. Coﬀee-housing refers to players who talk a lot, which is a ploy to gain information. If they are shook up and suddenly stop boasting and coﬀee-housing, you have the opportunity to come after them over the next few hands if you sense they’re oﬀ their game.
One slow-moving play that is not allowed is a string bet. This is when someone tries to place a wager on the table multiple times or in a slow, staggered motion. This is shunned by the dealer as it appears the person is trying to get a reaction from other players before putting their full amount in the pot. In short, that’s a deceptive illegal move designed to gain an edge.
Many poker players want to play as many hands as possible in a single day to maximize hot runs and winning streaks. But ﬁnding spots to utilize a slower pace can actually speed up your skills— and your bankroll.