Several years ago I learned a lesson in one of North America's finest card rooms, it was an experience that put into perspective to me the difference between my local tables, and a world class game. I had only recently made the jump from the kitchen to the casino, and though a patient and disciplined style had served me well at the local $3-$6 I still considered myself unproven in a more elite setting. Previous marathon outings were sending me home well up, but only after very long sessions.
I'd find myself playing to the limit of my lucidity, spending 10 or 11 uninterrupted hours until fatigue made my judgement questionable. At my local tables, a tight, aggressive style would always win out over time. I was in on few hands, but taking full advantage of my chances on the action that I saw.
My key to success was recognizing my advantages early, when I had them, and forcing players out with aggressive bets and check raises on the preflop and flop. If I were showing top pair on the flop I'd make no secret of it, and try to scoop that pot with a bet or raise before anyone settled in for a draw. I would try to win my big pairs early, and make it expensive for players to see turn and river cards. If I wasn't hit by the flop directly (less than 4 of a high flush or straight) I would generally fold on a bet and wait for another opportunity.
It was a style that was bringing me some success, but at a very slow pace. I began to find that in long games when playing 1 in every 8-10 hands, it was becoming difficult to stay focused. Later that year I found myself in Las Vegas at the $4-$8 tables at Mandalay Bay looking to try my skills for the first time at the next level. It was a very slow night at the tables, it was well after midnight during the week, and I was only in town for about 18 hours all told.
With all but 8 hours left in my stay there was not much time to dig the trenches for a hold'em game, but I had to play just for the experience. I sat down at a table of about 5 very quiet and reserved players, immediately I assumed (likely correctly) that I was the mark. The game was $4-$8 spread limit Hold'em with a double kill rule, meaning that if a player won two hands in a row, the stakes doubled for the next hand. The first thing I noticed about the game was the pace.
This room played at a much faster pace than my local casino, and there was very little deliberation from the players on what their next move was. Clearly this was a table full of more experienced players than I was used to sitting with. Luckily I was versed enough in the game to keep things moving well when play was put to me and I didn't expose myself as outclassed immediately. I ritually folded from the get-go as I got acclimatized to the table, advertising the tight game that had kept me winning at home.
As I got comfortable, I began to see some action. With J-10 down I anted in early position. Two others called and we were three in before the flop. The flop came A-J-7. Knowing my J was all but worthless to the Ace, I checked. To my surprise, the table checked around, and no one laid claim to the ace. The turn card showed as a 5 and there were no flushes on the board. Suddenly my J was huge, so I bet. The player to my left called, the other folded. We were off to the river, which washed up a 9.
I didn't see this card helping my opponent, so heads-up I bet on my pair of Js. Much to my surprise, my opponent raised. I knew he didn't get any help from that last card, so unless he had pocket Qs, 9s or 7s down, I was in fine shape. Cautiously I called rather than reraise. I showed my Js, and boom there it was, the Ace down to beat me. I was baffled! If this guy had the aces, why didn't he bet them at the flop's the lesson. I had been slowplayed on what was a weak hand. When a table is thin on players, it's generally thin on action.
To get the most out of a marginal hand when opportunites are few and far between, this player chose to NOT represent his Aces to keep people in the pot and betting. He knew his top pair would not be good all night, but it was definitely worth more to him at the turn than at the flop. Had he bet on the aces, he would have likely folded me and possibly the third player. By checking, he risked our two $4 bets to keep us in for the bigger turn bet of $8 and in this situation the $8 ride down the river as well. I found this phenomenon continued all night, as players were less likely to posture on the flop, but leave the action for the more expensive turn and river bets. I attributed this to the fact that there were few players at the table and thus fewer opportunities for big pots.Is this a better strategy? That depends. As I said, this device is best used when there are fewer players, as there are fewer hands to be seen. A pair of aces would likely not survive the Turn at a full table.
However with few players, not representing top pair in early or middle position can provide several advantages. First off, a player can survey the hands and possibly check-raise if a bet is played. Second, the onus is shifted onto the other players to establish the bets, and your hand may be perceived as a drawing hand. In late position, bet the aces. Don't let the table get a card for free that may make your hand worthless.
Maximizing your pot odds is a key to successful poker playing, so be aware of to do this, and how others will try to achieve the same ends at your expense. Under the right circumstances, slowplaying is a great way to keep your opponent off balance and increase your take. Good luck!