There’s been a lot of talk about slow-rolling in the wake of the delightful incident on the Irish Open FT between O’Dea and Gann. If you haven’t seen it, where have you been? Here it is:

It’s caused uproar and division within the poker community, which I found interesting. Whilst I understand that slow-rolling is not a popular move at poker tables, it’s not like Gann stood up and whacked O’Dea in the paddys! What is it about a slow-roll that incites so much rage?

Some people are arguing that slow-rolling is just a c*nt’s trick, whereas some think it’s an important part of a valid psychological game, and there are a few who are confused as to what slow-rolling actually is.

I’m going to start there, with what I think is the best definition of slow-rolling:

“A slow-roll is when, at point of showdown, a player fails to quickly to expose their holding, especially if they have the nuts, or it is very likely their opponents are beaten.”

So, technically, Gann didn’t slow-roll because it was not officially showdown in the hand in the clip. It’s been labelled a slow-roll because any half-witted player knows that Gann was never passing. For any new players reading this, we know he wasn’t passing because folding the nuts is always a very bad move in poker (jot that speckle of genius down and read it aloud every day).

This opens up an interesting point regarding player intent. I have mentioned in a previous post how difficult player intent is to ascertain, and how easy it is to lie about after the fact. English law might offer a bit of help here. Under the law of this great country, a crime is divided into two factors, actus rea (the physical act of the crime) and mens rea (the mental intent to commit the crime).

The Law is an Ass, but it takes one to know one.
The Law is an Ass, but it takes one to know one.

I want to consider whether a slow-roll is always a slow-roll, even if the intent to slow-roll is missing from the scene of the crime. Sometimes slow-rolls happen genuinely without intent, maybe someone is inexperienced and doesn’t realise they’re winning, or that it’s even time to turn over cards, or maybe they’re geriatric and moving their arms is difficult, who knows?

The longest slow-roll I’ve ever seen came from a regular customer of mine, who I shall call Brad. I know him well, and he’s a top guy, a really genuinely nice man. He’s also a bit of lush, and he loves to have a beer or twelve. He satellited into a 25/25Series for about £5 and the exact second the bubble popped he started drinking, he didn’t care from that point onwards. He’d been up for 48hours, partying and getting mashed before he’d even started playing day2, he was more than thrilled just to be in the money!

Brad made the final table, and he was pretty sloshed, so I kept an eye on his drinking. This is not favouritism, I have a duty to make sure people don’t punt when they’re too drunk, and also, I don’t get paid enough to mop-up sick, so noone’s getting too leathered in my cardroom. It played down to six handed and Brad was annoying the other players by being a bit tipsy, but he was clearly the least experienced at the table, so they were all still happy he was there to spread his stack around.

Brad was utg and flatted. Utg+1 instantly shipped and it speed folded back round to Brad who then spent at least 3 minutes messing about with his chips. At this stage of a game, especially one with a solid structure, players are usually reluctant to call the clock, but I could see they were getting angsty. I gently asked Brad if he knew the action was on him. He considered his action for about another minute before announcing ‘Call’.

Should I call his pre-flop raise? Hmmm.
Should I call his pre-flop raise? Hmmm.

Utg+1 instantly flipped over 1010, and looked happy enough, he was short, he wanted the race, or possibly even the underpair, that Brad had needed to spend six whole minutes deliberating over. Brad looked at his cards, took a swig of the water I’d got him, and flipped over AA. The table went bat-shit crazy; if Brad had whipped out a picture of himself face-fucking a five year old, the response probably would have been more accepting.

The guy with 1010 was quietly horrified, but he didn’t get involved in the vocal vitriol, it was all from the other four players. To this day, Brad denies this was a slow-roll, because (his words) “I didn’t mean anything by it, I was pissed and messing with chips.”

I believe him, as I said before, I know him well, and he’s a daft muppet, but he wouldn’t try to piss anyone off deliberately, even to win money; I honestly believe he was drunk, wired and had no idea how much time was passing. I’ve told him that I believe him, but that he is still Captain Slow-Roll, because even though I believe he lacked the slow-roll mens rea he was very much responsible for the actus rea. He may not have meant anything by it, but he still did it. Brad won the hand with his AA, but every player was calling for a 10 to hit on every street. They all wanted Brad punished. I opted to give him a warning, as it was a first offence. The other players thought I was being a proper soft-arse, they wanted me to wear his balls as matching earrings.

The players’ responses show that it is not just the act of slow-rolling that constitutes a crime at a poker table, but the reason behind the slow-roll. Browsing the internet to find out a bit more about slow-rolling will provide evidence that this is true based on the words that people use to describe it.




“a subtle way to rub it in someone’s face”

“not nice, generally done by people who hate eachother”

These are not emotionally positive comments, and despite being advocates of a game based on deception, misdirection and ruthless attack, poker players have a cruelty-line and if you cross it, they will unite as one to dub you a massive wanker.

I think ‘cruel’ is a very good way of describing a slow-roll. It’s not actually cheating, it’s not physical harm or verbal abuse, but most players identify slow-rolling as ‘cruel’. If we look back at the wise words of the law again, we can see that the legal definition of cruelty is “inflicting unnecessary suffering.”

The word ‘necessary’ is very relevant to why poker players hate a slow roll, but love a check-raise with the nuts. Both are hard to take when you’re on the receiving end, but the check-raise is necessary to increase potential winnings  (which I’m told is the point of poker) whereas the slow-roll is not. When you play poker, you have to accept sometimes you will inflict suffering onto another player, because knocking other people out and taking their money is what we’re here for, but most players wouldn’t advocate ‘inflicting unneccessary suffering’.

Poker can be a rush; to have all your money in the middle and have a flood of joyful excitement seep through you, only to have it whipped away and have a hollow numbness left in its place feels awful! At no time does the massive emotional pressure poker/gambling puts on humans become more apparent as when they are standing on the hair-thin line between losing and winning. A slow-roll seems like a way to rejoice in the pain of another, to take an extra minute or two to gloat, thereby making it so much worse for them, without any hope of increasing your profit on that particular hand.

Ze Germans call this ‘Schadenfreude’; it’s become re-popularised as a modern concept since an episode of the Simpsons where Homer rejoices in Flander’s misfortunes. SimpsonsA close translation into English is ‘harm-joy’, literally, taking joy in the harm of others. Roman and Greek literature and all the books of the five major world religions denigrate this human instinct towards ‘harm-joy’. That Schadenfreude is something humans loathe is not a new concept, and it is certainly not unique to poker.

Sometimes you can’t help it in poker. If I knock you out, I’m going to be happy about it, although I’m not going to leap on the table and do a victory dance whilst rhythmically flicking you the double-bird as you put your coat on. We all have secret Schadenfreude, but public Schadenfreude is not generally a winning social move, and I don’t think that’s any different at a poker table.

Slow-rolling would seem like a fine example of public Schadenfreude. When you do finally turn your cards over, everyone at the table will know that you sat there for an extended amount of time, quietly enjoying your glory, whilst another player suffered unnecessarily; they will want to punish you and then rejoice in your ensuing misery, it’s human nature.

If I can take you back to the story about Brad- four orbits after his epic slow-roll, he was eliminated by another player who had AA, and slow-rolled Brad to the max. Brad didn’t care, he had a 50000%ROI on that tourney and was happy as a fat kid in a cake shop, but the rest of the table laughed at him as he left. Despite being a nice, chatty, friendly guy he had become a pariah because as Schopenhauer said, “To feel envy is human. To savour Schadenfreude is diabolic” and the other players were punishing Brad because, in their minds, he’d been diabolically savouring his moment.

If you're contemplating a call with the nuts, you're a slow-roller.
If you’re contemplating a call with the nuts, you’re a slow-roller.

I have encountered the argument that slow-rolling is a psychological attack, an attempt to tilt a player so that you can exact a psychological advantage in a future hand. I see the logic, but the same principle also applies to calling people rude names, making sexually explicit comments about an opponent’s mother or throwing a nugget of shit across the table. It doesn’t state in my rules that a player can’t throw his own faeces at his opponent, but please be assured I would bar him if he did.

Why? Because he broke a rule that shouldn’t need writing. You don’t shit on people, you don’t call their mam a slag, and you don’t inflict unnecessary suffering.

Most cardrooms do address ‘slow-rolling’ under the table etiquette section of their written rules, and repeated breaches of etiquette can result in full penalties up to a player’s club membership being revoked, so these players who think it is an acceptable part of the game are, currently, wrong. Players who think a slow-roll is okay need to up the campaign to encourage others to leave their hatred of Schadenfreude in the carpark, because at the moment, the rules support the anti-slow rollers.

To conclude, I have to judge whether something is a slow-roll on the act, not the intent, because the intent is too hard to ascertain, you’d have to know a player as an old friend to understand them, and that is entirely unhelpful towards a consistent application of rules. Whatever your reason for a delayed exposure of your cards at showdown, you are a slow-roller. If it’s because you have no arms/hands, the other players will let it slide, otherwise, they probably won’t.

After consideration I now hold the opinion that slow-rolling is not an example of poker skill, but poker Schadenfreude. I do concede that a very tiny percentage of players (I guess at 1%) may actually have the human interaction skills for slow-rolling to form a valid part of their meta-game, but this is so top level, I think it would be fair to say it is not an applicable excuse in the vast majority of situations.

I cannot stress how important mutual respect between players is to the longevity of live poker, we have to maintain a playable environment, and at the moment, given the level of human revulsion towards Schadenfreude, I do not think slow-rolling can be included as a consistent option within a game of poker. Personally, I hope it never will.

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