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Playing Hold'em Poker against a Maniac
You know the drill. There is someone at your table with VPIP/PFR/AG statistics like 80/30/3.5 and you do not want to play any hand with him, because he always makes big bets.
It seems that each time he plays a hand, he is committed for his entire stack. Every time you are involved in a hand with him, the pot seems to reach at least 40 big blinds by the river.
He always bets or raises, with good cards or garbage, so the only way to know if he is bluffing of if he has a monster is to call his bets up to the river.
No matter what you do, suddenly it seems that your variance has exploded. How do you handle this type of maniac player
Understanding the Maniacs
First I would like to emphasize that you need to use a head up display system in order to spot the playing styles of your opponent. I recommend poker edge because it has the advantage of showing the statistics of all players, even the ones you have not yet met. Otherwise, it will be too late when you realize how maniac this maniac is.
One way to handle poker maniacs is to just leave the table...just kidding! Ok, I am not totally kidding. Nowadays there are so many tables available if you play Texas Hold'em on the Internet at a large site such as PokerStars that you can simply leave the table and join another one.
These maniacs very rarely multi-table many tables or stay a long time, so chances are that you will not see him again. Fortunately these players are rare and you can enjoy online poker without them, so be disciplined and leave the table without trying to make a quick buck.
The other approach to deal with maniacs is to stay at the table, digest the increased variance and try to exploit them. This is what the top professional players do. It is much preferred to sit at the left of the maniac in order to control the betting. Otherwise you must tighten up in order to sustain his aggression.
The key to beating these maniacs is to withstand the huge swings and study their betting patterns. They are maniac but not suicidal (usually!), so they will sometimes fold their hands. They make a lot of wild bluffs but they are not skilled enough poker players to play their good hands the same way that they play their weak hands.
In particular, they do not make the same bet sizes with bluffs or with monsters. Even though all their bets seem disproportionally large, patterns can be detected. Often they will make larger bets with stronger hands. This is very noticeable when they raise preflop. For example 2 BB with T8, 4 BB with 99, 8 BB with AA, etc.
Poker maniacs are heavy losers over the long term and they can be a source of profit if handled properly. They do not play poker to make money but to satisfy their ego and their need to dominate their entourage. They play very loosely and call large bets with very poor odds.
If you play against one of them, the first thing to be cognizant of is that the pots will be much larger than under normal conditions, even for standard innocuous hands.
The second step is to observe them and take notes. After one or two orbits, you will already have a good idea of their idiosyncratic tendencies as they get involved with almost every hand.
Reacting to the Poker Maniac
Try to distinguish the strength of their hands from the size of their bets. Observe how the maniacs play their big hands. Some of them make larger bets with their bluffs in order to force opponents to fold, but they slow down their aggression with real hands in order to get paid off. But this is not true of all poker maniacs.
Each maniac is different. And not all large bets are alike. Focus on the actions of the maniac and pay less attention to the other players at the table. Record all actions of the maniac in order to decipher his hidden playing patterns.
The way to handle is to let them dig their own grave, i.e. let them do the betting and call them all the way to the river with your good hands. Raising maniacs can be dangerous with any hand as they can always 3-bet you, so calling is the preferred action unless you have a very strong hand.
One side effect of having such a maniac at the table is that the table dynamics will change. Sometimes other players will tend to call his large preflop raises and even 3-bet preflop in position, so you must also pay enough attention to the other players at the table in order to avoid getting squeezed. Ideally, whenever you play a hand against the maniac, you strongly prefer to be in position with at most one or two more players in the hand.
Maniacs are losing players because they are way too LAG, so you should seriously consider learning how to beat them. But this is not for the faint of heart, and if you are easily prone to tilting or cannot withstand the wild swings, just leave the table and find better pastures.
It can be very profitable to play against maniacs. You will find many at smaller poker rooms in our top ten list, such as DoylesRoom.