Wait Until the Turn - The Classic Slow Play
© 2006 Randy Saylor  

When do you raise a big hand that you’ve flopped? When do you check-raise? The answers to these questions might give you an insight into your game and take you to another level. Consider some of these situations carefully, because they happen more often than you think!

The Classic Slow Play

First, I’ll look at an absolutely classic slow playing spot. An early position player raises preflop in a fixed limit holdem game, and it’s folded to you in late position with 88. You cold-call the raise and the blinds fold. It’s heads-up and the flop comes A83 rainbow (three different suits). The raiser bets out. Do you call or raise?

The pot preflop is 2.75 BB (big bets). This is relatively small, even for a heads-up pot. There are no serious draws to a flush or straight to beat your set. The worst case is that your opponent holds AA, but he would likely slowplay by checking the flop. This is a classic slow playing situation.

Consider the best possibilities for an early position raise:

- A high pair (KK, QQ, or JJ). A bet on the flop is reasonable. It gives the bettor a chance to gauge the possibility that you hold Ace-any. If you raise, the hand is likely over. If you simply call, the bettor has to consider the possibility that you have an Ace with a bad kicker.
- A middle pair (TT, 99, or 77). Some players only raise high cards or high pairs from early position, and play middle pairs for set or overpair value. Personally, I raise with them here, hoping to gain an advantage as the aggressor and possibly disguising a flopped set (when I’m lucky enough).
- An Ace with a big kicker. The opponent must bet here, to deny you odds to draw to a two-outer (if you hold a pair KK or lower) or a five-outer (if you fished in with 87 suited, for example).

Now, which of those hands would you (or should you) bet with? Probably fifty per cent (or more) of ABC players starting with a high or middle pair would be intimidated by the Ace on the flop, and check-fold their hand. The proper play is debatable, but more experienced (and/or more aggressive) players would probably bet. This gives them a win when you don’t have an Ace, or possibly even if you have a bad kicker with an Ace (if that’s the case, why did you cold-call the preflop raise?). Unless you have a read on this opponent as a good player, the bet on the flop lowers the chances that your opponent started the hand with a pair.

The other remote possibilities for the opposing hand are AA and 33. One of those is terrible for you and the other is a dream hand. But both of those holdings would likely be checked on the flop by the first to act, so we can safely discount those possibilities.

Therefore, the most likely hand here (by far) is Ace with a good kicker. All of the evidence says this is probably much more than 50 per cent likely. As mentioned, the player holding AK or AQ here virtually must bet that flop for the reasons given above.

Call or Raise?

For the rest of the hand, let’s assume that your opponent is holding AK offsuit and flopped top pair, top kicker. Back to the original question: call the flop bet, or raise it up? Holding middle set against top pair, top kicker is obviously a good situation, and the final two cards are unlikely to change the result of this hand. So your goal is to extract the most chips you can from your opponent.

Option: Call. If you flat call the flop bet, very few cards will scare the opponent off of another bet on the turn. You might even see a miracle A or K on the turn. That would give your opponent top two pair to your set, or trip Aces to your eights-full. Either way, you’d make a lot of bets on the turn and your opponent would be drawing to four or seven outs on the river.

Assuming your opponent bets the turn, you can then raise. Your opponent has odds to call all the way to showdown (unless he has a rock-solid read on you). An aggressive opponent here might even three-bet, allowing you to cap the betting and gain another bet or two on the river (but that is very wishful thinking). Standard play would likely make the final pot 9.75 BB, which is excellent here. You would be getting a lot of money into the pot as a huge favorite.

Option: Raise. If you raise on the flop in this situation, you might scare a top pair, top kicker player into check-calling the turn and river.

In that case, the final pot would be 8.75 BB. You just cost yourself one whole big bet. It doesn’t sound like much considering the large pot, but those bets add up. At sixty or more hands per hour playing online poker, it’s not unreasonable to see one of those huge hands come up regularly. Knowing the difference in the optional plays is the difference between functional players and great players.

One other thing might happen if you raise the flop. If we go back to the somewhat smaller possibility that the opponent held a pair between KK and 99, their bet might have been simple aggression rather than a value bet. Your raise on the flop would surely make them consider that you have at least a pair of aces, and they would fold.

The “Classic Slow Play” is one of the two major reasons to delay your aggression. The other is more complicated and will be addressed in Part Two of this article.

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