When Not to Slowplay a Poker Hand

I have played a lot of Texas hold em. At last count I had logged somewhere in excess of 800,000 hands in the past eight years, and that number continues to grow every month. Yet even after having played nearly one million hands I still occasionally see a hand played so poorly, by a player who clearly has no understanding of the basic concepts that guide winning play, that I have to stand up and take note. Such a hand took place about three months ago while I was playing at pokerroom.com, and I’m going to share this hand with you now.

It was a 10-20 game, and our hero limped into the pot in early position with pocket 6’s after the UTG player limped. The button called, the small blind folded and the big blind knuckled. The flop came AA6 with no suits. The big blind checked, the UTG player bet, our hero called, and the big blind called. The turn was a red 8. The UTG player checked, our hero bet, the big blind check raised, the UTG player folded, our hero three-bet and the big blind capped. The river was a black queen, the big blind bet, and by the time the dust had settled the big blind and our hero had capped it off again. Our hero showed his hand, and the big blind showed pocket 8’s.

It was at this point, predictably enough, that the screaming commenced. The guy with the sixes launched into a multi-paragraph diatribe in the chat box, where he covered all the basics—how lucky the big blind was, how much the big blind sucked at poker, how he was praying the big blind wouldn’t quit since he was destined to give back all his chips, etc. etc.—along with a few more esoteric complaints (namely, how he had a friend who had ‘proven’ that the software was rigged, and now he had a hand which proved it). What seemed lost on our hero, of course, was that he played the hand terribly on the flop. Let’s look and see why.

Before we go any further I hope you understand that the pre-flop call was at best a marginal play. As with most ‘red chip’ Texas hold em games on the web this one played relatively tight pre-flop, with three or fewer players seeing the flop being more the rule than the exception. I won’t get on our hero for his pre-flop call too much, since his call, along with the UTG player’s call, may have enticed more players to come along. But in any case the pre-flop call was far from a no-brainer, and probably a small losing play if made by anyone but an expert.

But on to the flop. For slowplaying to be correct here at least two of the following conditions need to be satisfied.

• The pot needs to be small.

• The next card off should have the potential to give an opponent a quality second best hand.

• Since our hero is calling a flop bet (as opposed to just checking along), his remaining opponents should have hands that a) can’t outdraw him, and b) will be willing to call one bet but not two.

Our hero had the first condition met, since the pot was small on the flop. But in no way did this hand satisfy these next two conditions. Consider: What possible hand could either the late position player or the big blind have that could make a decent second best hand on the turn? Unless one of them had pocket 2’s, 3’s, 4’s or 5’s there isn’t anything they want to see on the turn. A hand like KJ is not going to get giddy if it spikes a king.

Second, since our man with the sixes called on the flop, nobody in their right mind is going to call with something like KJ after the UTG player bet and our hero called. Everyone is going to assume that at least one of these players has an ace, and fold accordingly. If either the button or the big blind has an ace he’s certainly going to play, but then why not raise on the flop? He’s going to pay two bets as surely as he’s going to pay one, so you gain nothing by letting him come cheap. Also, note that anyone with an ace has about 4 ½ outs to beat you (he can hit the case ace, or his kicker, or a running pair), so you’re not charging his live hand the maximum if you just call on the flop.

As it turns out the one class of hand that our hero does want to fold is a pocket pair higher than 6’s. Why? Because a hand like pocket 7’s or higher can not only make a better hand, but they’re also getting incredible implied odds. Consider the big blind with his 8’s. He’s only getting 6:1 when he calls on the flop, so it looks like he’s taking much the worst of it. But if he hits his card on the turn he’s going to collect another 16 small bets on the turn and river action, which means he’s ‘effectively’ getting 22:1 on his call.

To better elucidate let’s look at what happens if our hero raises on the flop.

• He will make it unprofitable for anyone with trip A’s to continue with the hand. True, trip A’s are not going to fold, but at least he charges them the maximum to draw out against him.

• He gets any pocket pairs higher than 66 to either fold or make a horrible call on the flop.

• Since most players with trip A’s or a full house would slowplay here (as our hero did) his raise may convince his opponents that he in fact does not have a big hand, in which case he could get an inordinate amount of action on later streets from hands that have no chance to win.

• He doesn’t ‘lose any customers’, since nobody who doesn’t have either an ace or a pocket pair in their hand is going to call here anyway.

When you look at it this way it’s almost impossible to construct an argument for flat calling with a full boat here. Yet this is precisely the kind of move that players who should know better make time and time again at the Texas hold em tables—and why even games where the players exhibit decent pre-flop hand selection skills can still be nicely profitable.

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