Articles by Annie Duke

Playing the Maniac

Female poker players will find that their opponents often play them differently than the men at the same table. One of the most common types of player that woman will come across is the “maniac.” The maniac can be described as a super aggressive player with a loose style of poker. Men will often fall into this category when playing women, raising and bluffing far too often. The smart female player will have an arsenal of tools in her poker toolbox to maximize profit against a player like this. And, of course, this applies to men as well, since there can be a maniac at any table.

Playing an amped up game is the main characteristic of this type of player. The maniac shows aggression on steroids—he plays very loose poker, raising and bluffing way too much. Clearly, this is generally a non-optimal style of play. But the maniac does have one thing going for him—when he wins a pot it is much bigger than it is supposed to be. Because his style is so aggressive, he creates big pots for himself. Bigger pots are the maniac’s reward for playing so fast and loose.

Many people take the wrong tactic in playing a maniac. They decide that since the maniac is playing so loosely, that they should open up their game against him by not only playing more hands, but playing those hands more aggressively. The theory here is that since the maniac is playing so many hands, that you should lower your hand values yourself. And since the maniac is raising every street, you can raise him back with much weaker holdings because the probability increases significantly that your hand is the best hand against a guy who plays everything. The premise of this is true—if you are facing someone who raises a lot then your weaker holdings go up in valuation against him. And generally in poker when you think you have the best hand, you should raise. Good logic – but wrong execution. All this accomplishes is turning you into a maniac as well.

The problem is that building huge pots for the maniac plays right into his hand. The one important feature of maniac play that allows them to survive is that the pots they win are much bigger than they should be. He creates huge pots so people are much more likely to raise him back—even better yet, cap it with the maniac. So if this is his big advantage, should you be aiding and abetting him? Should you be helping him create huge pots? No.

The way to punish a maniac is to keep his pots small. And the way to do this is to isolate him whenever possible if you think you have the best hand, and then go totally passive. If you are on his left, re-raise the maniac to knock the rest of the field out of the pot. If you are on his right, raise into him knowing he will re-raise and knock out the field. Now you have him isolated.

Now what? If you are in position and the maniac is betting into you after the flop, just call. If you are out of position, just check and call. The reason for this tactic is this: chances are that he is bluffing. If you raise, you will get him to fold and lose all the money he would have continued to bluff off on later streets. Against a maniac you should wait until the river to raise when you think you have the best hand. Never discourage him from bluffing off his money. This is probably the most important aspect of playing the maniac, make sure you allow him to bluff every last penny. This means that the pots you win are bigger than they would be if you were to raise when the maniac had nothing.

But just calling accomplishes another important thing as well. When the maniac does have you beat, he makes not one extra bet from you. While just calling will often make a bigger pot for you by letting the maniac bluff off extra bets, it makes a smaller pot for the maniac by not rewarding him with extra raises. The fact is you will win the majority of pots from the guy because when you enter the pot against him you will almost always start with the best hand against him. By keeping the pots small, you reduce your variance against him—winning lots and lots of normal sized pots, enough of which are much bigger than they should be because you don’t discourage the bluff. And when he does suck out on you, his pot is much smaller than he would like it to be to reap the rewards of his maniacal ways. When he does just plain have you beat, it is the same thing.

If you are always isolating the maniac and then only raising on the river, you will maximize your profits and reduce your variance against those people trying to prove how much they can bully a girl!

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