Slow play (poker)

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Slow playing (also called sandbagging or trapping) is deceptive play in poker that is roughly the opposite of bluffing: betting weakly or passively with a strong holding rather than betting aggressively with a weak one. The flat call is one such play. The objective of the passive slow play is to lure opponents into a pot who might fold to a raise, or to cause them to bet more strongly than they would if the player had played aggressively (bet or raised). Slow playing sacrifices protection against hands that may improve and risks losing the pot-building value of a bet if the opponent also checks.

David Sklansky defines the following conditions for profitable slow plays:[1]

  • A player must have a very strong hand.
  • The free card or cheap card the player is allowing to his opponents must have good possibilities of making them a second-best hand.
  • That same free card must have little chance of giving an opponent a better hand or even giving them a draw to a better hand on the next round with sufficient pot odds to justify a call.
  • The player must believe that he will drive out opponents by showing aggression, but can win a big pot if the opponents stay in the pot.
  • The pot must not yet be very large.


Relationship between slow playing and bluffing

Against observant opponents, the frequency of bluffing affects the effectiveness of slow playing, and vice versa. If a player's table image is that of an aggressive bluffer, slow playing is less important because his opponents will be more willing to call his usual bets and raises. Similarly, if a player is perceived as a "trappy" player (uses frequent slow plays), his bluffs are less likely to be respected (i.e., more likely to be called) because his opponents expect him to slow play his strong hands.[2]

Check raising as a slow play

A check-raise is not necessarily a slow play. Often, the purpose of a check-raise is to drive out opponents from a pot, which is the opposite of the goal of a slow play.[1] However, within the context of a single betting round, check-raising can be employed as a slow play.

Even in games (such as California lowball) where the check-raise is not allowed, one can make other sandbagging plays such as just flat calling instead of raising with a very strong hand and then later raising.

Fishing for the overcall

Fishing for the overcall occurs when the last card a player is dealt makes him a very strong hand, an opponent in front of him bets, and there are more opponents yet to act behind him. While the player might normally raise with his hand, just calling may encourage the opponents behind him to overcall when they would have folded to a raise. For this play to be used profitably, one or more conditions like the following must be met:

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