Slow Playing in Poker: Turning a Small Win Into a Big One

Sayna Parsi
6 min readFeb 14, 2021

During the pandemic, I started binge-watching a variety of online courses ranging from Human Behavioral Biology and psychology to American foreign policy, game theory, and even poker. And the last thing I expected was for these topics to converge. Even then, I didn’t expect these topics to come together through a game! As it turns out, poker is the ultimate game of foreign policy and human psychology and there so much one can learn from this game. In poker, your goal is to accumulate all the chips but in reality, some hands you win, and some you lose. So when you win, you want to win big. I decided to explore how you turn your small wins into medium or large ones by doing the opposite of bluffing: pretending that you have a weak hand.

Let’s imagine you have a winning hand post-flop, and the board is looking pretty dry. By betting big, you’ll indicate that you have a strong hand, everyone will fold. You’ll ultimately win, but you’ll win a small amount of chips. Instead, you can pretend that you don’t have a strong hand by checking or just calling others bets. This way, you can get some people to think that they have a better hand and start bluffing, or just feel extra confident about their own (losing) hand.

So when does it make sense to slow play?

When there’s a dry board:

When the board is a rainbow and unconnected, your opponents are less likely to have a straight or a flush draw and less likely to call bets. However, on a board with 8♣9♥Q♣, you don’t want to rely on a hand like Q9 for a slow play because you are giving someone with clubs or a Q♥K♥ to improve their hand and win the pot. Here’s a video of some folks slow playing pocket aces, and most of them went massively wrong especially at times when their opponents were able to get a straight with what comes on the board.

When your opponent is not playing conservatively

This is a little bit more than playing a LAG (loose/aggressive) player. This is about understanding your opponent’s betting patterns, pot size, and even their mood. With a player that plays a high percentage of hands, and shows a tendency to bluff with a medium/bad hand, by giving them the chance, they might even bet for you.

Another example is when you sense that someone is frustrated and playing more hands than they normally do or they are don’t have a lot of chips left andDuring the pandemic, I started binge-watching a variety of online courses ranging from Human Behavioral Biology and psychology to foreign policy, game theory, and even poker. And the last thing I expected was for these topics to connect. Even then, I didn’t expect these topics to connect through a game. As it turns out, poker is the ultimate game of foreign policy and human psychology and there are no limits to the lessons you can learn from this game. In poker, your goal is to accumulate all the chips but some hands you win, and some you lose. So when you win, you want to win big. I decided to explore how you turn your small wins into medium or large ones by doing the opposite of bluffing: pretending that you have a weak hand. they are going all-in with almost anything that they feel even the slightest chance of winning, you can try slow playing to get them more invested in the game.

When you have demonstrated that you play a variety of hands

If you have demonstrated a tight or a conservative playing strategy, if you either bet or call, you tell your opponents that you are confident that you have a winning hand. On the other hand, if they think that you like to play lots of different hands, by slow playing you can widen the range of hands that you may possibly have and make your opponent uncertain about what you might have. This way, they might assume that you are just calling with a mediocre hand and they might even bet more.

When you are playing against only a few people

With slow playing, there’s always a risk of your opponents improving their hands. The more players in the game, the higher the risk of someone having a better hand. You can evaluate the probability of someone having a better hand and play accordingly.

Taking things to the next level

Slow playing is not something you want to adopt as your primary strategy but when the time is right, it can help you turn a small win into a big one. Even then, slow playing occurs often and sometimes your opponents pick up on your pattern of slow playing. Say you have A♥A♣ and there’s an A on the table, your opponents might anticipate that you’d be slow playing if you had pocket aces. Instead, you can bet counting on the assumption that your opponents know a smart player would slow play a set of aces with an ace on the table, so you must have a weak hand and that’s how you can trick your thinking opponents.

Let’s see this in action

This picture shows a similar but not exact game as described below. Cards on the board from left to right: Jack, Jack, Four, Ace, Seven. Blackberry (small blind) playing with Jack and Seven against another player who has Four, Nine. Blackberry has won the game.

You start with J♣7♣ as the big blind. Pre-flop, someone in middle position raises, the button calls, the small blind calls, and you call to close the action. On the flop, you see J♥J4. At this point, you most likely have the winning hand. The only hands beating you would be 4♥4♣ or someone with the last jack in the deck and a better kicker.

Everyone checked the flop and the turn brought the A♥. Now, it is much more likely that someone has a good hand. With an initial raiser and two other callers, it is likely someone is holding an ace. The small blind checks and we check again. The pre-flop raiser in middle position bets and the button and small blind both fold. We decide to call hoping it looks like we have an ace with a weaker kicker or possibly a flush draw. If we were to raise instead, it would seem like we have a jack. It would not make a lot of sense to be raising with a flush draw since the board is paired and there are possibilities for a full house, so our opponent could take those hands out of our range.

The river comes the 7 which gives us a full house, and likely the best hand. We are only losing to AA or AJ at this point. Our options now are to check (hoping to check-raise) or to bet. Betting would look strong at this point since the 7 did not complete any draws and should not improve our hand unless we had 7♥7♣. Checking again would signal that we have a weak hand that might fold to a bet. This also gives us the opportunity to get more chips out of a bluff. We risk the opponent checking back with hands like 88, 99, 1010 that don’t think they can get calls from anything worse, but they might not call a bet anyways.

If you try any of the strategies we talked about here let me know how things play out for you! If you identify as a woman and you want to get more involved in playing poker, check out Poker Powher, they are hoping to bring more women to the poker tables and they are providing free classes and there are daily tournaments that you can join for free and practice with other women.

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Sayna Parsi

Surreal inventor, plant-lover, magic-bean buyer, developer advocate @HERE