Outplaying the Slowplayers; Short-handed Games are Not Fun; Opponents Aren’t Friends at the Table


slow poker
Poker Strategy With Ed Miller: Outplaying The Slowplayers

Miller Explains How To Take Advantage of Slowplayers

by Ed Miller
There’s one type of opponent that seems to drive many players totally nuts. The guy who slow plays everything. When he gets aces preflop, he limps. When he flops a set, he checks it twice. When he flops top-two, he calls once, checks it back once, and then min-raises the river.

These opponents drive people crazy, in my opinion, because their style of play maximizes the chance that a bet will blow up in your face. Thought you were betting for value? Nope, he flopped a set. Thought your bluff was a lock to work? Nope, he played a flopped flush like it was six-high.

In my experience, most people hate it when bets blow up in their faces. It’s one thing to call a bet and be beat. They put you to a tough decision, and you guessed wrong. It happens. It’s another thing to be the one making the bet — and then to find out that you were completely wrong about where you were at in the hand.

It can be embarrassing. It can feel like you completely owned yourself.

But here’s the thing. You have to get over it. You can’t let these moments of frustration paralyze you.

Let’s break down what these slowplayers are doing. Whenever it’s your turn to act, you basically have two choices (besides folding which ends the hand). You can be passive (check or call) or aggressive (bet or raise). If you think about all the possible hands you can have at that point, you are really putting the hands into two different buckets. Most people create these buckets in a predictable way. The bottom pairs go in the passive bucket. The sets go in the aggressive bucket. The gutshots go in the passive bucket. The flush draws go in the aggressive bucket. And so forth.

Because these buckets are fairly predictable, we know that if we bet after a passive action, we can expect certain outcomes. We might know that a bluff will usually work. Or we might know that our hand is likely good.

Slowplayers alter the fundamental makeup of these buckets, such that the outcomes we get are not as expected. Specifically, they tend to take premium hands that most people put in the aggressive bucket, and they put them instead in the passive bucket.

This does two things. First, it spikes the passive bucket with a small array of strong holdings. This means your bluffs won’t work as often, and your value bets will be less profitable. Second, it removes strong hands from the aggressive bucket. This leaves the aggressive bucket overloaded with bluffs and marginal hands. Therefore, unless the slow player chooses to bluff only rarely or chooses to be passive with nearly every hand, you can bluff-raise very profitably, and you can also call down with your medium strength hands.

In practice, this means that people who slow play habitually are essentially unable to be credibly aggressive which means that they can’t get much value for their good hands, nor can they bluff effectively. This is a pretty big hole in their strategies.

Let’s recap the strengths and weaknesses of a slow player strategy. A strength is that slowplayers are harder to bet against. Your bluffs will work less often, and your value bets will be less profitable. This means that you should value bet and bluff less against this sort of player than you would against a more typical player.

A weakness is that slowplayers lose value for their good hands, give free cards too much, and in many situations cannot bluff credibly. This allows you to lose less with second-best hands, it allows you to draw cheaply to long-shot hands, and it allows you to bluff-raise profitably against certain types of bets.

In additional, on top of these weaknesses, slowplayers often also play too many hands preflop. This blunts their strategic strengths by spiking their passive bucket with extra weak hands. It also enhances their weaknesses since they will be unable to salvage the value of weak hands by bluffing with them.

So how should you play against these players? Here are four adjustments I would make.

1. Take a few more free showdowns.

As aggressive players it is ingrained within us to bet for value any time we think we may be ahead. This heuristic works fairly well against typical players, but you have to pull it back against slowplayers. I read a hand on our Red Chip Poker forum where a player bet J-J on a K-Q-4-2-7 rainbow board against three players after it had been checked around on the flop and turn. It’s a good, thin bet against typical players, but against three slowplayers I’d check.

He ended up running into a flopped set of fours!

2. Bluff-raise more.

One of the big problems with slow playing is that it weakens your betting range. If you are playing possum with all your good hands, then what exactly are you betting? For most people it’s medium-strength pairs and draws — hands that usually can’t withstand maximum action. Slowplayers are always vulnerable to getting bluff-raised.

3. Fire fewer second and third barrels.

Bluffing doesn’t work quite as well against slowplayers, but you can’t stop bluffing entirely. It’s giving up way too much to allow a slow playing opponent to force you completely straight. Besides, slow playing opponents — just like everyone else — get dealt way more bad hands than good ones.

What I do against slow playing opponents, however, is I am not so quick to keep firing when called. Against a typical small stakes opponent, getting called might say to me, “I’ve got something, but it’s not really good because if it were I would have raised.” This is the sort of hand you can often get a fold from if you bet bigger the next time around.

Slowplayers, however, will tend to be a lot stronger than that, on average, after calling a fairly big bet. They might not get dealt big hands any more often than anyone else, but after calling $150 on the turn, they are a lot more likely than the typical player to call $500 on the river.

4. Don’t worry too much about getting owned.

You’re going to make bets that backfire against these guys. That’s the one thing they do well — they turn your bets back onto you sometimes. Don’t worry about it. Accept it. Think about the hands they play where they flop a set and get one small bet’s worth of action. Think about the times they flop a set, give a free card, and end up stacking off against a turned gutshot.

Play your game. Make the above adjustments. And when you get stung by their slow play thing, just let it go. If you play solid, you’ll have the edge. ?

Ed’s newest book, Poker’s 1%: The One Big Secret That Keeps Elite Players On Top is available now at his website edmillerpoker.com. You can also find original articles and instructional videos by Ed at the brand new site redchippoker.com.

short hand table
Short-handed poker games are unpopular, here is why
by Irene Edith
A full table in Texas Hold’em cash games usually has nine or 10 players. As the session progresses and it gets later into the night, players leave and are not replaced.

Sooner or later, the table may be down to five players. That’s considered short-handed. Many poker players do not want to play in such games – with five or fewer players involved. It could soon bring the table to a close.

Some players will announce, “Deal me out.” One or more may get up from the table to take a break. The others sit there frustrated; they don’t want to play in such short-handed games.

The Reasons

Why do players reject short-handed games? There are at least three good reasons:

(1) The cost to play is significant and adds up;

(2) The players’ cost for the Blinds increases;

(3) The pots are smaller when you do win.

Any money (chips) removed from the table by the casino prior to or during the play of a hand is taken away from the players – never to be seen again.In a typical low/middle-limit game, the dealer (without being auspicious) calmly and quietly removes chips from the pot to be dropped at the end of the hand, through a slot on the table, into a container just under the table.

The Rake

The rake typically is $4. Each hand add to this the $1 Jackpot drop plus the tip (typically $1) to the dealer. That adds up to $6 per hand paid by the players. Some people regard this as the “cost to play.” With an average of 33 hands played per hour that adds up to $198 per hour!

With nine players sharing this “cost,” each player’s stacks are reduced by $22 per hour. During a five-hour session, that is $110 that could well account for each player’s buy-in, even if he wins his fair share of the pots. It’s hard to overcome.

That’s at a full table; but the fewer players at the table, the more costly it is for each player remaining. This is especially the case in low and middle-limit cash games frequented by recreational players. As the number of players falls, the casino does reduce the rake somewhat – but not enough to help the players much.

Blinds more costly

Sure, the Blinds remain the same amount regardless of the number of players at the table. But, recognize that being in the Blind is usually a losing proposition.

With fewer players, you must put up for the Blinds that much more often. Playing at a table with five players, expect to be in the Blind almost twice as often. Result: It costs you even more than you realized.

Smaller pots

With fewer players at the table, the number of players contesting each hand is bound to be much smaller. As a consequence, the pots are also much smaller.

Considering it all

Add all these together and you can readily see why most poker players shy away from short-handed games. It has become a poor investment. We just cannot afford it.

When I discussed my figures with another senior-citizen poker player, he commented, “That may be why most players in casinos are losers.” And then he added, “Perhaps that’s why so many players are leaving casinos to play in home games.”

In defense of the casinos, I explained they have huge expenses and are in business to make a profit. Nevertheless…

We invite your comments. Email to IreneEdith@GamingToday.com.


no friends
No one has friends at the poker table
by George Epstein
There are many ways playing poker is different than playing gambling games like slots and roulette. One way is you are competing against live people.

Just like you, they seek to go home winners; but few achieve that goal. It has been estimated 80-90 percent of the players are losers. An occasional win keeps them coming back for more.

Playing poker, you are matching your skills against those of the opposition. They may act friendly and be all smiles, but they are your opponents – the enemy – and have a hankering for your chips. You can almost feel it as they size up your stacks. They may seem friendly and engage you in pleasant talk, but, make no mistake, they are your foes at the poker table.


Fortunately for you, the majority are PokerPigeons. The term was coined by a dear, departed friend. Dr. Phil T. was a highly successful medical doctor who owned a large medical treatment facility and several healthcare facilities. It was he who taught my wife and me how to play winning poker.

For the most part, he emphasized starting-hand selection. That’s the biggest mistake PokerPigeons make. Were it not for them, we could not expect to go home winners most of the time.

Most are recreational players. Unlike pros, they do not play to earn a living, so they usually can afford to lose. And most of them will lose. One of the members of our Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group asked me a logical question: How can you tell who are the PokerPigeons at your table?

Good question. My response was straight to the point. Just look to see who are the players who consistently pay to see the flop more than one out of four hands dealt, especially from an early position. I don’t think it’s any secret. According to the Hold’em Algorithm, the vast majority of hole cards dealt to you are not worth your investment. Save your money. Muck your hand; then sit and watch the game as it is played out.

At the showdown

Here is an opportunity to get valuable information. At the end of the hand, even if you are just an observer, try to see the hand each player started with. If nothing else, it will confirm your assessment of each opponent.

The Table

We love to have lots of PokerPigeons at our table. They provide the money to make the game profitable as well as enjoyable for the rest of us. We call the winners PokerSharks. Fortunately, there are relatively few at most poker tables.

Indeed, if there are three or more PokerSharks at your table, you may want to change tables. It is hard to win against the PokerSharks. Why try? If you prefer, you can always take a break from the table. Sometimes, as players come and go, the character of the table will change during that time. Incidentally, that’s one reason I prefer cash games over tournaments.

Sometimes they win

Of course, there will be occasions when the Pigeon has a great starting hand; and then, too, he is entitled to his share of good luck. If you happen to lose a hand to him, just grin and bear it. “Nice hand,” you smile to him – while deep down you think, “Darn it!”

But, remember, in the long run, you are the PokerShark and will add his chips to your stacks. Besides, if he never wins, he may decide to quit the game. Let’s keep him coming back for more.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at GeorgeEpstein@GamingToday.com.

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