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Slowplaying v. Stringing Them Along

When I was a young kid in school, I realized that I did things a lot different from the rest of the class. While they were all studiously paying attention in 8th grade math, I was doodling and wondering what they were all writing in their notebooks. In high school, I tended to dress a bit...different. I wore a trench coat before it was a symbol of murdering your fellow classmates. When it came to homework assignments and reports, I always worked the angles, making the rules bend just enough to make it work for me but still fit the professor's parameters. In my senior year of high school, when I had to do a report and presentation on Virginia Wolff's "To the Lighthouse," I chose to do a multimedia presentation, showing how Wolff used diction (i.e., chose specific words and wording) to color her story, and compared the works to the art of impressionist painters. It was more of an art project than an English project, but it fit the assignment's criteria. In college I took Medical Ethics in the 90s and then applied to the Registrar to have it count as a Science. The most scientific thing happening in that class was an existential conversation on the merits of cloning.

Yeah, I am a bit out there, always looking at things in a different light and working on ways to do the typical in an atypical fashion. Frankly, I just think my brain works a little differently. It's part of what makes me a contrarian and why I gave myself the Devil's Advocate of Poker Bloggers moniker, of course in half-jest.

So, excuse me if I came off as a bit chagrined when I was responding to comments on the most recent You Decide post. Where I analyzed the problem one way, the vast majority of you seemed to read it in a very different light.

If you commented on the You Decide but did not get a chance to read the most recent comments, please take some time out. NewinNov was kind enough to respond to my request, so he read the hand history and commented on what he was thinking during the hand. Clearly, he took some time out to give his explanation, so I'm very greatful. Also, its rare when you get both sides of a hand. Its the closest we can get to complete information.

Also in comments, PokerWolf asked me to elaborate about the difference between slowplaying and stringing your opponent along. The difference lies in your intentions. When you have a strong hand, like a flopped fullhouse or nut straight with no flush draws, you may decide to act like you missed the flop completely. When you are doing this, you goal is to get your opponent, who probably missed the flop, to either bluff into you or stay with the hand and hit something weaker later (or bluff later). Here is an example:

You are in the BB with A3h, and there is one limper before the SB completes. You check and the flop is Q72 of hearts. You have the nuts, and nothing can happen in the next card to change that. The chance of you losing the hand is very slim, but if you bet out, you might get no action. So instead you check after the SB checks, hoping to slowplay your nut flush. The limper decides to raise pot, and you only call. You are slowplaying, with the intention of raising late in the hand, hopefully after a big card hits for the limper.

In a situation like this, your goal is to get your guy to make a move on you, mostly, or at least to have him believe that you are weak so that when you pop it big later in the hand, he might call you (once that turned Ace hits his AKo, for instance).

On the other hand, you will face situations when the only way you will get any money from your strong (but ironically, vulnerable) hand is to price your opponent in. In a lot of situations like this, the prefered (and often correct) move is to bet big to push your opponent off of his draw or make him pay too high a price for his draw. However, it makes little sense to push an opponent out of a hand when the pot is too small to care about. First, he will likely fold since there isn't anything worth playing for. Second, if he does call and that scare card comes, you will be in a tough spot playing for a decent amount of money.

In a situation like that, your best move is to keep your opponent in the hand on your terms. So, how can we do this? By betting amounts that will tempt any player in your opponent's position. I'll refer to You Decide #44 and NewinNov's description of his thought process to illustrate.

After the flop, I have a set. I don't know if New or the other guy have anything, but I do know that I'm ahead. I need to give a price that would get a call from a K-high hand, since thats the most likely way that they connected with the hand and would still be willing to call (i.e., 23o would connect with bottom pair but would never call a bet on the 3KA flop). With a pot of 60, there is only so much I can bet. It's really 20, 40 or 60. 60 is pot, so I consider that too high to rope in a weak hand. 40 is 2/3 of the pot, so I decided on 20. This will keep it cheap for him AND me. Once the turn comes, I am still ahead and the pot is 100, so I need a price that will still keep an inferior hand in. 60 is a good number because its small-ish, but will continue to build the pot. On the river with 220 in the pot, 120 also seems harmless to someone on a marginal hand with no more cards coming.

Essentially, I'm trying to figure out what someone with a pair of Kings on a AK3/4/J board would be willing to call. It's got to be low compared to the pot, otherwise he'll just decide it isn't worth it. I'm looking for a number where the K-high hand says, "Eh, why not?! It's just $____ and he is betting weird so he might be bluffing or weak."

Now, for all you people who missed it, this is what NewinNov had to say (excerpts taken from his comments):

"The flop bet of 20 is very suspicious. Alarm bells. You want to keep me around. You probably have an A with a better kicker or maybe a K but I sense you are playing around...Calling 20 to a 80 pot, 4:1, still very reasonable" Great! I've given him a broad range and a WTF play, so he is unsure, but willing to call a small bet.

"Any more than a $40 bet on the flop would have seen me fold." Therefore, I lost 20 on this particular part of the hand, but I was correct that I had to bet small to keep him in (with an A20).

"The bet of 60 should have been my clue to leave as it was now getting expensive. But I didn't because of the strange betting pattern and your loose image...your nice sized value bet made me want to continue for the implied odds...Anything more than 60 and I would have folded." So, I priced this one perfectly. I couldn't have gotten a single cent more from him. He knew it was high to call with his hand, but he called anyway because my bets were suspicious and confusing and it was just 60.

"With a clear head now, I don't know why I called (the river bet of 120) except that the betting pattern confused me and the bet amount was just enough or the amount that someone would use with a King." So, I complete the hand by making another suspicious bet that was cheap enough to call without crushing his stack.

Now, NewinNov also mentioned that at the end, he was willing to make the call because it would also advertise to the rest of the table that he was loose if he lost. I didn't think of that at the time, but it makes perfect sense. In that regards, if I bet 220 (pot) or even 200, I think he would've folded. Maybe I could've gotten 180 instead of 120.

In total, then, I left about 80 chips on the table (20 from the flop, 60 from the river) at most. To me, slowplaying is like setting up a trap. Stringing your opponent along is more pro-active. On every decision, you have to figure out the most he will call, because you are never planning on springing a trap. You are merely leading them and their chips in the wrong direction.

Now, if an Ace came on the river, I was also golden, so there was an element of trapping/slowplaying involved. But I wasn't going to give him an opportunity to check it down if he didn't get his golden card. The key was to get the money while it was available to me.

I hope this helps out somewhat. Maybe I'm makign too much of the distinction, but I think that the two concepts are fairly distinct. Thanks for reading folks.

Until next time, make mine poker!

posted by Jordan @ 12:56 PM,


At 1:54 PM, Blogger slb159 said...

Thanks for reminding me of thwt nut flush I flopped at the blogger cash table the other night and losing to a turned boat. What a wonderful memory.
Nice post.
Best of luck.

At 2:00 PM, Blogger Pokerwolf said...

Thanks for the post, Jordan!

At 2:56 PM, Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Jordan, excellent commentary and discussion on this You Decide hand. I'd like to offer two points following up on the dicussion from yesterday.

1. I am susprised that your analysis and response this morning seems to be ignoring the possibility that you will lose this hand to a flush, a straight, a boat, etc. on a later street precisely because you priced Newin in to see some more cards after the flop. When there are two of a suit on the board, I normally want to take the hand down on the flop or at least make it expensive for my opponents to stay in to draw to hands that could beat my trips, even when I flop trips the 1 in 8 times that I do manage to flop 3 of a kind with a pocket pair. When there is an Ace and a King on the board, and a guy could easily be in there with AK, QJ, TJ, etc., there are actually a whole lot of ways for you to lose this hand with just trips, and with two cards to come. Sure you can go on to flop a boat and that will undo some of these instances where your opponent catches something, but in the end I guess I just have a different philosophy than you about taking down this kind of pot early. I mean, again, if there were not two of a suit on the board so the flush was not something to be concerned about, then that's different. Just as it would be different if the flop hadn't come with an Ace and a King, both likely cards to connect with Newin's hand for pairs, trips, and possible straights, all of which could materialize to beat your flopped trips. I am still having a hard time understanding why you would pick this hand to try to string your opponent along, when you know it is a flop / board that can work to beat your trips in so many ways. I've played flopped trips more or less the way you did in this hand more times than I can count, but not on flops with two hearts and rarely ever on boards with an Ace and a King.

In general, when I flop trips, I am salivating when I see an Ace and a King on that flop along with my trips card, because I know that the presence of those two high cards means I can bet more strongly with my trips, since I know someone is likely to have hit something nice with a flop like that.

2. To me, the biggest reason to bet more than the minbet on the flop is something I mentioned in my comment yesterday, but which you didn't seem to have picked up on at all in your responses and today's post: it is to camouflage your continuation bets later in this game. By betting the pot (or at least closer to the pot, rather than minbetting it) here with a strong hand, this helps provide you with the cover you will need 10 minutes later when you raise it up preflop with AK, get two callers, and then want to bet out on the 842 rainbow flop. There, a minbet is basically suicide for your hand -- this is why Harrington advocates continuation bets of at least half the size of the current pot and why I tend to go larger than that with my c-bets. If you only c-bet (between half and full size of the pot) with your strong preflop hands once they've missed the flop entirely, and otherwise just minbet with your monsters, good players are going to pick up on that right quick, and then you're going to have trouble collecting a nice pot with either your strong or your weak hands. Now I didn't see how you played any other hands in this tournament, but make no mistake one of the biggest reasons I generally play my strong flops strong is that I play many weak flops strong as well, and you gotta keep your opponents honest and off-balance. The only way all of my continuation bets on the flop and turn work is that I make a similar or identical-sized bet on the flop when I've nailed the board as well as when I've missed. Your concept of just minbetting when you've made a big hand gives up all this wonderful free camouflage for your c-bets going forward. This lack of camouflage is probably worth far more chips than anything that was available to you in this hand, no matter what Newin did.

Again, your play obviously worked well so I don't see how anyone can question the results. But I am really surprised that you haven't been sucked out on by a flush or straight enough times (like I certainly have) in similar situations to this for you to want to ensure that you bet to price this guy OUT after the two suits and two high cards on the flop. Instead you're focusing on pricing the guy IN on a flop where you have likely the best hand right now, but where your trips could easily be behind with the turn of any number of cards. The flush and straight possibilities clearly make flopped trips vulnerable here, and on my vulnerable hands I think it makes far more sense to price opponents out of the hands early (such that you really don't care if they choose to chase and call your larger bet anyways, because then you are getting such great pot odds on their money with your current favorite hand) than to price opponents in when my hand can be beaten as easily as with a flush, an inside straight draw, etc.

At 2:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting. I saw him make the comment about folding to more than $40 on the flop.

He made top pair in an unraised pot but he's willing to just assume he's beaten by a better ace?

A lot of hands just limp from MP that A2 is ahead of, like any small pocket pair, some suited connectors, possibly some two gappers, etc.

What I want to write about more is his play instead of your play, but it's your blog. Check/calling all the way down OOP is kinda nitty.

I'll just reiterate that your line was completely successful in that it got the hand to show down when you had him crushed.

Also, I don't like slowplaying at all. I only do it with absolute monstrous hands like Quads if it's an unraised pot, and so on.

At 3:15 PM, Blogger Jordan said...


1) I am conscious of the flush and straight possibilities, and that is why I bet low. The pot is not worthwhile to protect just yet on the flop. Also, too many people see two flush cards and worry about the flush. Meanwhile, I'm facing two players who are in the blinds. They don't have to call anything preflop, so their range is HUGE. I think it is a mistake to worry too much about the flush. It's a monsters-in-the-closet situation. Likewise, the straight has to be an inside straight draw (check that board), so I technically did price that out, since the odds are so slim. As for a full house, if he has AK then I'm in trouble. More likely, though, he has Ax and hits a set of Aces to my full house and I get paid big when he check-raises me.

2) Continuation bets. Well, first off, it wouldn't be a continuation bet, since I limped preflop (I didn't raise preflop). But regardless, if he folds on the flop after my large bet, do I then show my set? If I don't people will actually value my continuation bets LESS later, since they think I am continuation betting because I have previously gotten away with it. If I do show, then they will think that I'm showing BECAUSE I plan on making BS continuation bets later. Therefore, betting big on this hand to build up an image for later really does nothing but squander the here and now. Instead, I make some bucks and later I can bet low with a bluff and scare NewinNov out of a hand.

Tom, I think everyone is forgetting the pot size. I think we can all agree that it is stupid to chase a hand worth 60 in a tournament when you have TP shitty kicker. Right? It isn't so stupid to call a min bet though. Hence, I don't knock him for not thinking he was ahead. Why get into a raising battle with TPSK. If he did that, everyone would be calling him a donkey. Also, I think my image did come into play a bit here and encouraged a call-down strategy. Also, don't knock New. He won the friggin' tournament, so one small hand at the beginning does not reflect his overall skills or even how he played this tourney.

At 3:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Take it as a knock against him if you want. I don't really care.

Fact is, it's pretty nitty to check/call on three streets no matter what the level the blinds since you never really know where you stand.

His line could have been to lead out on the flop and either fold to a raise or check/fold the turn depending on your bet. Would have saved chips.

Winning one tournament doesn't require much more than luck and a basic skill set. Ask Moneymaker or Varkonyi.

You'll probably take that as a knock, too.

At 4:30 PM, Blogger CJ said...

The semantics of "slowplaying" vs. "strining them along" is irrelevant. It's the exact same play. It's risky when you're vulnerable and not risky when you're not. That's the bottom line.

Anyone who decides to slowplay a vulnerable hand or decides to slowplay into a scary board is asking to get sucked out on. I never believe in "pricing someone in" to get more out of a pot. Too often, that results in losing the hand.

Here's the thing... sometimes you'll win a pot that's not very big. If you slow down enough to make the pot bigger, you risk inviting the suckout.

In an unraised pot, it's not unreasonable to think a player is holding two random hearts, they don't even have to be big. There are also TWO straight draw possibilities (broadway and the wheel). In fact, the 4 on the turn completed one of those draws and opened up the possibility of a 4 card straight on the board on the river.

Slowplaying should be done when you have a very strong hand and a board that lacks real threat. That's the way I play.

You're play worked this time, but you invited a suckout. As long as you're okay with that, that's fine. But, when someone does hit that card to beat you, you're not allowed to curse the luckbox ;-)

At 5:00 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

Look, people, what is the goal in any hand of poker?! What?! Is it to avoid being sucked out on?! Cause that's all anyone seems to care about.

No. The goal in any hand of poker is to win as much money as possible (or lose as little as possible). That's it. That's what I did. You can all push NewinNov out and have your 40 chips, but a set, I'd say you played it horribly. If you think that the right play is to push out a player and win 40 chips (or do it at the turn and win 120, assuming you bet 40 on the flop and he called since we know hes folding to anything more), then go ahead. But you are wrong, plain and simple.

And CJ, I was willing to let the hand go if a true scare card came up and he put in some real aggression. BUt with my read, there WERE no scare cards.

Open up your minds and put aside your Harrington or other book smarts for just one minute. Jesus!

At 5:24 PM, Blogger NewinNov said...

Some excellent additional feedback. It's really great that people take the time to contribute to these posts. This must have been what happened when Lederer et al learned his poker skills in NYC albeit without the internet. Sitting around, discussing hands and debating moves. This is what makes poker so worthwhile, having reasonable, intelligent people come up with rational yet disparate arguments.

Good point Tom, I was a bit of a calling station on that hand. Guess that goes back to the idea if High really even had an Ace or was just playing me, my hand could have been good the whole time. Perhaps I was thinking he had the King but I didn't want to raise since the betting was so small but normally it is a good idea to raise to clarify where you stand, totally agree.

Also like the distinction between slow playing and stringing along. As long as you are in control and can sense if you are getting trapped yourself, great idea and seems to me an advanced concept as most people rather play 1-2-3 poker and are adverse to slow play. When I see a possible flush or straight on the board and I have a hand, I normally overbet because I just don't want the chasers to catch, especially during my low cash games where everyone likes to chase. But it probably is better in the long run to just bet to give bad odds. Again, great stuff.

At 11:38 AM, Blogger MrGoss said...

I hate being behind, but before I read this post I want to comment on your latest "YD."

I like the play, but would have made the flop bet 30. The 1/2 pot here would have bumped it up a bit but not more than would be tolerable. I also may have made the turn bet a bit stronger, but the 60 is half pot (using my 30 flop bet), so keeping with the 60% you used that would make the bet say 70-80. Then the river bet was very smooth giving him the price to call. I had put him on AQ or Baby Ace with a possible Wheel draw. Nice play in my opinion.


At 11:47 AM, Blogger MrGoss said...

Just finished the "red diaries" additions and the latest post. Excellent follow-up writing by you J. I like the river bet you made versus a bigger river bet because of the forecasting to the rest of the table. It keeps you looking a bit weak, but also adds some doubt because you obviously know something about poker to vary your betting pattern. A pot bet there announces to the whole table that you were purposely trapping the whole way. Something to think about when you make your MTT-Live run. Good luck and well played.


At 11:54 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

Gross, I'm glad you get it. Thanks for the comments and your vote of confidence.

At 9:29 PM, Blogger TwoDiamondPhillips said...

As a sufferer of Superchronic Slowplayitis, I have to say that I like to show many faces when I play with a regular crew. I just feel that playing this way and planting in the minds of my opponents(and thats what they are) this feeling " Holy #@%^, I dont have a read on this guy" Thats my goal. I like to be the guy that people use words like Enigmatic, Kamikaze, Loose-Cannon when they describe me. I does well for me. Or at least thats what the devil on my right shoulder tells me. But then again I played with His Honor, Mr H.O.P himself and he did what I suppose he does quite often, he disposed of me like you would a plastic bag after its been filled with your dogs feces after a walking.


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