Every decision you make at the poker table either makes you money or costs you money. Once you realize that, you’re on your way toward becoming a winning poker player.
The fancy plays, the starting hand charts, the pot odds lessons, and everything else you have been cramming into your brain takes a back seat to making the most profitable play with the information you have as often as possible. One of the biggest leaks in most poker players’ games is “fancy play syndrome” at the low levels.
How Bluffing Too Much and Slow Playing Are Related
The two biggest problems are bluffing too much and slow playing. While bluffing is an important part of any poker player’s game, I want to talk about slow playing in this post because I think it can actually be more costly. However, as you will see they are related in many areas.
At the lower limits, most of your opponents aren’t good enough to know when they should fold. This is why your bluffs rarely work, and this is why slow playing huge hands will cost you money in the long run.
I understand why you may feel like you need to play your monster hands slowly to try to keep other players in the hand, and I know the exact situation that pushes you to do this more. You have been sitting at the table for what seems like hours folding poor hand after poor hand, and you finally land a high pocket pair, hit a set on a rainbow board, make a bet and everyone folds. You instantly decide the next time you will not be so aggressive on your big hands and let the rest of the table catch up a little bit so you can win a big pot.
This type of thinking, making decisions based on a single instance or limited information, is what keeps the losing poker players from ever becoming winning poker players. You need to make every decision based on what is going to be the most profitable play in the long run, not by some knee-jerk reaction to an isolated situation.
You have probably figured out why you have to bet your big hands at the low limits, but just so I am crystal clear, here is an explanation. The main reason you bet aggressively at the low limits with your best hands is because the tables are filled with players who will chase, giving you more profit in the long run. You need to get as much of your opponents’ money in the pot when you are a favorite as possible.
Players at these levels will chase with hands as poor as second or third pair and three to a flush after the flop. This is the type of situation you want to take advantage of by giving them the opportunity to call your bets.
You also need to bet into three or more opponents with your best hands to either get a long shot runner runner draw to fold or at least make them pay such a high cost that they are losing money even when they win. What I mean by this is that just because a player hits the miracle card (or cards) they need to win, if they did it 100 times they would lose money overall.
Of course all of this advice is best used in combination with how well you know your opponent’s playing tendencies. The reason you have seen so much advice about always paying attention at the poker table even when you aren’t involved in the hand is because it’s so important. You need to learn which opponents will fold a hand where they are clearly beaten and which ones will hold onto a hand with just top pair, or even any pair, until the bitter end.
Slow Playing Pre Flop
While I don’t see this as often as slow playing after the flop, I do see players limp in with aces and kings from time to time. The only time you should ever consider doing this is at a table where almost every pre flop hand is raised and you will have an opportunity to push all in after the raise with the player who raised calling your push. These games exist, but they’re not real common.
The reason you raise pre flop with AA, KK, and QQ is to get as much money as possible in the pot when you are a favorite and to get a few players to fold. You don’t want to play even your best hands against five or more opponents.
Of course, playing these hands is always profitable in the long run, but if you let too many opponents see the flop with you one of them will probably hit something. By betting aggressively you often can thin the field to one or two opponents, giving you the best chance to win a nice pot. Plus, if you have KK or QQ you want the players holding ace rag to pay as much as possible to have a chance to draw out on you.
Slow Playing Post Flop
I covered slow playing after the flop quite a bit in the opening section, but the main thing to remember is the low limit tables are filled with chasers. The most profitable play against chasers is to bet your best hands and keep betting them until you win or they fold.
The best poker players make the most profitable decision more often than other players. As you saw above, slow playing your best hands at the lower limits is not the most profitable way to play.
Keep striving to make the best possible play every single time and you will find your long term poker profits continuing to go up. As you move up in limits you will need to adjust your playing tendencies, but even at the top levels you need to bet your best hands more often than you slow play them.