|February 1, 2005
You play in those $1/$2 blind, $100 maximum buy-in games that have become popular. Maybe you play online cash games with $.25/.50 blinds. Or perhaps youíre in any of a thousand games in dorms, living rooms, clubs and (dare I say it) schools across America playing what has become known as Baby No Limit Hold Em. Well, good for you! Not enough time or attention has been spent on this most popular form of the Grand American Game.
On the other hand, if youíre a high stake poker professional or purist who sees the cap on the buy-in as something that renders the game silly or pointless, please read no further. Wouldnít want you guys to think thereís any money to be made here. Please go away. Leave this game to those of us who love it. This column is not for you.
Now, for the rest of you... Itís amazing what a gold mine these Baby No Limit games can be, isnít it? And as long as you can keep the sharks away and the unsuspecting fish continuing to swarm in, well, it will stay that way. Even so, there are some things that deserve special attention. Let me address one of them.
Maniacs. Yeah, those guys who seem to go all-in so frequently that they risk pulling a muscle. So, what can you do about them and their bankroll-threatening ways?
Letís be clear for a moment. Iím not talking about the very aggressive player who is also quite tight - the guy whoís willing to commit all of his chips from time to time but who seems selective about it. No. Him Iíd label a solid, tight-aggressive player. Weíll deal with those types another time.
Iím talking about the wildman - the crazy - the Berserker. You know the scene: Small Blind $1; Big Blind $2, fold, call, call, $50! That guy!
First of all, resist the temptation to be a policeman. Just because you suspect that he has little or nothing behind that solid stack of red chips doesnít mean that you always have to prove it by calling him or raising him back - even though it is tempting to do just that. Let others patrol the game in that fashion if they wish. But youíre going to adopt a different approach.
Step One is to recognize that he is wild and to remember it. I donít mean just for that hand but for the rest of the time heís sitting at the table with you. Make a mental note and keep track. In fact, if you have a playerís notebook, make a written note. Try to get a name (introducing yourself with a smile and handshake is as good a way as any) and make a written note in your book for future reference. If you donít have a playerís notebook, start one.
In general, you are going to avoid him unless you are strong. Thereís no reason to put all of your chips in play if you are a small favorite or a big dog. Wait until you have something that is at least fairly strong before you take him on. Hereís what I mean.
I was in a $1/$2 home game the other night. Itís typically a great game - there are many short-bankrolled, timid players who are pretty easy to read and push off pots - even when the pots have grown. Most of the players have the attitude of the serious poker player, from having watched too many hours of poker on TV, but they donít really have the chops. So when I play I generally clean up.
This night I arrived late. There was a player whom I hadnít met before. I had heard about him though. The other players who often say to me, "Hey, you should meet Allan. Heís a great player, man. You canít push him around. I think heís from Russia or something." Stuff like that. This guy had a reputation of being a tough player. In a way, I was eager to see him in action.
Sure enough, I was seated a few seats to his left. First hand Iím in, as the Big Blind, a couple of guys limp in and then it gets to him and Allan the Russian raises to $20. "I have NOTHING!" he shouts, "ABSOLUTELY NOTHING - J-3." Everyone folds to me. Part of me thinks that I should stand up to this bully. I look down and see Ah-6d. "Hmm," I think for a second. But I fold. Itís a folding hand - even if the guy is a bully. No reason to risk $20 with nothing but a naked unsuited Ace in awful position after the flop hits and with two guys yet to act after me. No thank you. $10 maybe - just out of curiosity - but not $20.
Sure enough, though, someone does call him, a short stack who went all in for $15. Sure enough, Allan shows down J-3. Other guy has Q-8 suited. Allan hits a Jack on the Turn and wins the pot. Everyone rolls his eyes or laughs nervously.
A couple of hands later. Allan once again raises to $20. I look down and see K-Q suited. Iím in the cutoff now. I call. Iím not crazy about the call but I figure Iíve got a strong hand that can improve to a better hand than this guy may catch if heís raising with garbage again. We go to the flop heads up. Flop is A 7 3 two suited (not my suit). Allan goes all in for $180 or so. I have $75 left. Nope. I fold again. He may have been bluffing. May not have had that Ace. But if he did Iím a dead man. Why risk it? Just for the satisfaction of catching him if heís bluffing? No. Thatís losing poker unless you have a great read on someone. Donít make the mistake of trying to prove youíre better than a superaggressor by calling him down when you donít have a strong hand. Itís not worth it.
Anyway, back to the story. Allan continued to do this for about forty minutes. Then I caught an interesting hand. I was in the six or seven seat with a pair of 9s. Allan raised it to $20 in front of me. Had he just called I would have raised it to $10 or so, to knock out the stray high cards and to buy the button if possible (meaning, to knock out all of the hands after me so I would be last to act after the Flop and thereafter). But with him raising, I figured that my call would be enough to stifle the rest of them. So I just called and we took the flop heads up.
Flop came 2 2 8. Allan, with about $300 at the time, pushed in a bunch of chips and said loudly, "A HUNDRED DOLLARS!" Sure, he could have had a deuce. He could have had a pair of 8s. And he could have had a pair higher than 9s. But after watching him make this move with little, and after watching him watch me fold to his maniac-like bets and raises, I figured that it was much, much more likely that he had a couple of over cards - or maybe a hand like 7-8. I figured to be a big favorite.
So I, with about $200 at that point, raised him all-in. He called. Wildmen rarely fold. Sure enough, he had an A-6 and my 9s held up. (I was about 70:30 pre-flop and 85:15 on the flop in case you were wondering).
You see, the key is to keep your starting standards pretty high but then not to back down just because he goes crazy, if the flop doesnít look to you like it helped your opponent. You may lose all of your chips, but poker is a game of probability, not certainty. If you have a hand after the flop, you need to stand your ground against a maniac.
Also, since he has been the mad aggressor, you can lay back and wait for him to bet. Then come over the top if you think you are far ahead and that heíll call... Just call if itís closer - or if you are so far ahead that you donít want to risk him folding. In any event, you can usually depend on these guys to initiate or escalate the action. So prepare for it.
But donít become infected with his mania! Be aware that there are other players in the hand as well - some of whom may have you beaten even if youíve correctly pegged the wildman for a crazy bluff. Itís easy to become so fixated on this freak that you forget that you may also face action from other players after you. If possible then, if you have a pretty good but not a great hand, you can try to isolate the mad raiser - hoping that your aggression on top of his aggression will scare everyone away but you and him. Heads up duels are a whole lot easier to win than multi-way affairs.
Maniacs also have a contagious effect on other players. So make sure to keep your head while everyone else about you is losing theirs.
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Ashley Adams has been playing poker for 42 years, since learning the game literally at his grandfather's knee. He's been playing seriously (and winning) in casinos, poker rooms, living rooms and kitchens all over the world, for the past 12 years. He started playing seriously in 1993 at the poker room in Foxwoods Resort Casino and he's been winning just about ever since. He's won No Limit HoldĎEm and 7-Card Stud tournaments in Connecticut, Massachusetts, California and Nevada.
He is the author of Winning 7-Card Stud (Kensington 2003) and articles in Card Player Magazine, Poker Player Magazine, Live Action Poker Magazine, Southwestern Poker Magazine, 5thStreet Magazine, and numerous online sites. He is under agreement for his next book, Winning Low Limit/No Limit HoldĎEm, due to be published by Kensington in early 2006.
He is by profession a union organizer and negotiator, representing broadcasters, health care workers and now teachers. He has two daughters, both of whom play poker.