Playing with Maniacs

Poker is a game of situations and decisions. Most of these situations are rare, but some recur with some regularity. With that in mind, we conclude this series on pre-flop play with a look at several situations and people that you will encounter often enough to discuss.

Specifically, we will take a look at:

  1. Games with a maniac
  2. Late position posting
  3. Small blind play
  4. Big blind Play

After making this list, I find that I have enough to say about maniacs to make a whole lesson out of it. So we will make this a two-part lesson and just focus on maniacs this time.

 Games with a maniac

For some reason hold’em seems to attract maniacs. Having one or more in your game increases your volatility and definitely adds to the challenge. But the opportunity for profit is definitely there.

Before we examine the types of maniacs you will encounter and how you should deal with them, let’s explore a couple of things that many maniacs seem to have in common:

One of the things a maniac learns is that everyone always assumes he has nothing (and, of course, they frequently are correct). Maniacs therefore make many value bets on the river because they know they will always get paid off. Who would throw away a pair when left alone with a maniac on the end? Similarly, maniacs in general cannot be bluffed. They know you think if you bet with noting you might win, since they probably have nothing too. So maniacs call very liberally, expecting to be bluffed.

  • Maniacs want to win. It may seem to you, sitting there watching the maniac play, that the maniac is there to lose. Here he is, raising every hand, betting without looking sometimes, and generally doing stuff you do not find in poker books. In spite of that, the maniac does not think “I guess I will go to the cardroom tonight and blow off two or three racks as fast as possible and head back home.” The maniac wants to win large pots, make a huge stack of money, and go home way ahead. And have a ton of fun doing it. He will probably lose, sure, but he wants to win. The most important way you can take advantage of this fact is on the turn. If you raise the maniac on the turn, and he reraises, he has a very good hand. This action is not a typical maniac raise. It shows a real hand. Many people have been burned by not realizing that a shift has happened between the flop and turn.
  • Maniacs are comfortable in crazy games. While most players play with a maniac just part of the time, the maniac is always in a game with at least one maniac (himself). He is in his element, comfortable with lots of pre-flop raises, isolation plays, tilted opponents, huge pots and excess action. Being accustomed to the game gives the maniac a significant psychological edge over his opponents.
  • Maniacs affect your opponents. In maniac games you need to observe how the action affects your opponents. Generally, the presence of a maniac makes them play looser and puts them on some form of tilt. Playing looser is usually the wrong thing to do. Going on tilt is ALWAYS the wrong thing to do. If you need one general principle, play tighter in maniac games.

Now that we’ve seen what they have in common, let’s look at how maniacs differ. Most people don’t see these differences. One maniac seems the same as another. In fact, there are very important differences between maniacs, and they require fundamentally different strategies. The most important thing is to define your maniac. I divide them into three types:

  1. The pure maniac plays poker to raise. He (female maniacs are a very rare breed) will raise with any two cards, bet or raise the flop and frequently bet the turn without regard for opponents or board texture. The best thing about this player is that he plays predictably, and you should always welcome predictable opponents into the game. Make an effort to sit on the right of the pure maniac. You always want predictable opponents on your left, and the pure maniac meets the definition. From his right you essentially have the button every hand. If you want to eliminate opponents, raise preflop, allowing the maniac to three-bet you and usually getting a small number of opponents. If you want to play against a large field, call and let the maniac raise, allowing your opponents to call too loosely, then reraise the field. Of course, with a maniac on your left, you will not be able to play many hands, but that is fine, and you will be able to manipulate pot size when you do get a playable hand.
  2. The partial maniac is much harder to play against. . This player raises a lot, but sometimes calls or even (rarely) folds preflop. Sometimes, he allows his “rush status” to define his maniacal tendencies, raising all pots after he has won one before stopping if he loses several times in a row. Since he is unpredictable, you want him on your right. You want to know when the pot will be raised so you can take appropriate action. As always, you need to play tighter when this person raises, even when you suspect he has nothing. When the price of admission goes up, your standards need to go up as well.You should usually three-bet him when you do find a hand, unless your opponents, so accustomed to tossing in whatever number of chips seems required, no longer respect any raises. Then, somewhat contrarily, you need to three-bet most with hands that want volume. You need to assess the mental state of your opponents before you can decide which type of play will work.
  3. Finally, we come to the expert maniac. This player, sometimes sitting in a lower limit game while waiting for a game at a more interesting limit, or just blowing off some steam, plays very well post flop. Regardless of his pre-flop raising frequency, you want this player on your right. The expert player will almost always play well after the flop, and you will want to know whether he checks, bets, or raises before you have to act. Even if he raises every hand, and looks like a predictable maniac, his post flop variety and reasonable play make him unpredictable for the more important parts of the hand. Do not try as hard to isolate this player, as you may well get heads up and be outplayed. Instead, three bet only with truly premium hands, and allow others in when you simply have very good values.

I always hate it when some pontificating expert (me, in this case) tells us where to sit in some situation or other. Don’t they realize that when you get to the table, generally there is only one seat open? That you can’t just rearrange the table to suit the article you just read? While it is nice to get to the best possible seat eventually, what do you do while waiting for people to leave so you can rearrange yourself? In maniac games, the answer is to play very tightly (sorry) and be on the lookout for traps. Your savvy opponents, if there are any, will be using the maniac as leverage against you. Beware of calling one bet post-flop if you have a mediocre hand, for it may well be three bets to you before it comes back.

Sometimes, you will find you have been invaded by multiple maniacs in the same game. The presence of more than one usually means that nearly every pot will be capped, since they will keep raising regardless of their hands until the rules force them to stop. It hardly matters where you sit, but it matters a whole lot which hands you are going to play. Typically, in multiple maniac games, the table becomes immune to these raises and resigns itself to playing whatever hands they feel are appropriate no matter how much it costs. After all, they came to play, and the pots are very big. If you live in California and play low limits, you are probably already aware of how common these games are there.

Hand selection becomes crucial in these multi-way (five or more opponents) capped-pot games. Here is how you should play. Play any pair or any suited ace from any position. Call all of the pre-flop raises. Look at the flop. If you started with a pair, see if you flopped an overpair or a set. If so, bet and raise like crazy. If not, fold as soon as you can.

If you started with a suited ace, see if you flopped either a flush or a flush draw. If so, start betting and raising like crazy. Do not slowplay this or any other hand, in a multiple maniac game. If you have no flush or flush draw, you almost always need to hit your hand twice in order to continue. For those who do not know the term, it means you need to have two pair or trips to go on. The only exception is a pair of aces with a large kicker, or top pair with (of course) an ace kicker. Play all of these hands cautiously, but you will need to stay in with them. With all of those players in the pot, and the pot size dictating that your opponents are getting terrific odds to draw out on you, one pair will simply not win very often.

You will notice I am recommending you actually throw away AKo, and the suited connectors that a lot of people like to play in these kinds of pots. With AKo, you are usually trying to make one pair stand up, which is a bad bet with lots of opponents staying to the river because of the price the pot is laying them. Suited connectors work OK in pots where you can get in late for one bet, or maybe even two with a lot of opponents, but for four of five bets, you simply cannot get value. You will be chasing with non-nut draws because of the pot size. If you must play suited connectors, restrict yourself to KQs, QJs and JTs. At least you could make a large flush or a top straight.

Maniac games can be fun, in a bizarre way, and you can make money. You need to keep your emotions on an even keel, because you will be subjected to large swings. If you stick with it and maintain control, you will play very few pots, stay in even fewer, get drawn out on frequently when you do stay, but still make enough money in the rare pot you do win to show a sizeable profit.

Next time we will continue with Part 2 of Lesson 6 by looking at situations where you have to post a blind before you get to see your hand.

Lesson created by Barry Tanenbaum.