The Maniac

Poker Player Analysis

I'm sure you've heard the saying, "Poker is not a card game played by people; it's a people game played with cards." That quote speaks volumes by itself and is as accurate as it is catchy. However, simply hearing those words will do very little to further your effectiveness as a player. The oft quoted phrase refers to the psychological aspects of the game. At its root, poker is a game about effective decision making. Being aware of betting patterns, playing styles, tells, and even personality types will help you to make good decisions at the table.

Poker players can, largely, be lumped into a few basic categories. The act of identifying the category or range of categories a specific player may fall into is called profiling. In this series we'll discuss some of the more common player profiles. We'll even talk a little bit about how to identify specific profiles. The main purpose of this series, though, is to learn how they think, and how they play. We'll learn what parts of their games are effective and why. We'll also learn to find the proverbial "kinks in their armor". In short, we'll learn what makes them tick, and how to most effectively dismantle them.

I'd like to start this series by discussing one of the most frustrating players to play against, "The Maniac." The maniac plays way too many hands. He's actively involved in too many pots, constantly raising and re-raising with sub optimal hands. If he smells any weakness at all, or believes one more bet might just take the pot down, he's gonna go for it. The maniac bluffs with a high frequency and doesn't mind getting in there and splashing around. He thinks that poker is a game about aggression, and in some regard, he's not wrong. Despite the fact that he is consistently taking the "worst of it" by playing bad hands in bad situations, there are a few natural consequences of his style that give him at least a chance of survival. The immense majority of these players will self destruct eventually. A few of them, though, are able to evolve their style into one that actually wins in the long run.

First let's talk about what a maniac does have going for him. He wins more than his fair share of pots, especially small pots, uncontested. Very often no one makes a hand. When no one makes a hand, the pot is said to be an "orphan pot". The maniac is more than happy to claim most of these poor little orphan pots. Another natural result of over aggressive play is that it conceals the strength of your hand. When he does make a big hand, the maniac is likely to be paid off on it. Some of these super aggressors will play practically any two cards, particularly from late position, which adds an element of deception to his game. These "accidental edges" exist in even the least experienced maniac's game. They follow naturally from playing a large number of hands and launching hefty and frequent attacks at pots.

If the maniac is reasonably experienced he actually has some other, more subtle, advantages. Very often, after a pre-flop raise or two, the flop will expose three unrelated, small cards. Two solid players will have to maneuver for these pots carefully. They both know that that flop was unlikely to have improved the other player's hand. They also know that they both know that. This is where some of the toughest situations in NLH reside. When a known super aggressive player is involved in one of these situations he will often be able to win the pot uncontested simply by leveraging his opponents understanding of how he plays. Because the other player(s) know the maniac could have any two cards in his hand, he will usually be able to bet at some of those random low card flops like 362 rainbow, and just take it down without a fight. While these obnoxious maniacs deliver more than their fare share of suck-outs, they are, ironically, less often sucked out on themselves. They have a suck out prevention method built right into their game. It's just not easy to call a pot sized bet with your gut shot straight draw, even when your opponent is a total psycho. Now, before you get any ideas about becoming one of these despicable monsters, let's talk about why most maniacs are losing players.

Most maniacs lose because they play too many hands, and it follows that they are often starting with the worst hand. That fact alone is a huge disadvantage that is difficult to overcome. You can't just keep taking the worst of it and emerge victoriously unless you have something else going for you. There in lies the secret. We want to take advantage of the fundamental problems in our aggressive friend's game, while not allowing him the benefits that usually follow.

How to Play Against a Maniac

Ideally, you want to use a maniac's aggression against him. They're relatively easy to trap. The trick is to make sure that you are not trapping yourself in the process. A tactful and savvy loose- aggressive player is able to steal enough blinds and small pots to stay afloat while setting the stage for taking down the occasional monster. These jack pot hands come when the maniac makes a huge hand and his opponent makes a second best hand. That's the pay off for his risky style. There is a right and a wrong way to play against a maniac. Getting in raising and re-raising wars with them is the wrong way.

Many players think the correct thing to do against a maniac is to loosen their raising requirements. They figure that they can discourage the maniac from bullying by picking some medium strength hands to re-raise with. That actually is true in a sense; only, the last thing in the world you want to do is discourage your opponent from being reckless. You also have to remember that the maniac is able to survive because when he does have a strong hand he wins bigger pots than other players would likely win. When you play back at a loose- aggressive player with a suboptimal hand you are setting yourself up for a big fall. What are you going to do when the flop comes out A 4 5 and you hold A9 against the maniac? Chances are you'll either win a small pot or you'll lose a large one. That's not good poker, and as a matter of fact, that's exactly what the maniac wants you to do, whether he knows it or not.

There are other players who are quite sure that playing even tighter than normal is the best way to deal with a maniac. They don't want to get involved with a guy that's gonna be raising and re-raising until they have a huge hand. That's when they intend to "bring the hammer down." That's what they think should happen. The reality is much different though. If you wait for the nuts while your maniacal opponent helps himself to all of the blind money you'll be whittled away to nothing pretty quickly. Also, if the maniac has any clue at all, he's going to realize that you only play super strong hands, so he's just going to avoid your trap and then go on to whittling away at your stack after he dumps to your strong hands. That's also not the right answer.

The trick to winning at NLH is to lose less on the hands you lose and win more on the hands you win. The best way to do that against a maniac is simply to call more and raise less. The biggest mistakes the maniac makes are bluffing too often and playing too many hands. You don't want to discourage these mistakes; you want to capitalize on them.

We know that the maniac survives by stealing pots uncontested and by winning more money on his big hands than he should. By calling more and raising less you will thwart both of his "survival mechanisms" at once. He's making mathematically incorrect plays by entering pots against you with weak hands. He's taking the worst of it frequently by "gambling" too much. Naturally, then, the maniac should self destruct. Your job is simply to make facilitate his self destruction.. In short, you're going to starve him. When you call with a strong hand against a super aggressive player you will accomplish two goals in one. You'll encourage him to continue bluffing at you if you have him beat, and you will lose less money when he has you beat. You'll do most of your raising before the flop and on the river. On the flop and the turn you'll let your opponent do your betting for you. In essence, you're turning your opponent's game on its head. Intead of letting him collect the juice for his flamboyance, you'll collect it!

The most important things to remember when playing against a maniac are; call more and raise less. Don't become a maniac yourself by lowering your hand requirements and getting into raising wars with sub optimal hands. Don't trap yourself while you're trying to trap your aggressive opponent, even a maniac wakes up with a hand every once in a while. Don't do anything that would discourage the maniac from playing recklessly, rather embrace his recklessness. Perhaps the most difficult task you have when playing against a maniac is keeping your ego in check. It's OK to let him think he's in control. That's perfect. Don't let on to the fact that you're onto him, just keep playing the victim and wait for your opportunity. When it arrives, don't let him onto it by re-raising. It's more profitable to just let him bluff off all of his chips. I use to hate playing against these super aggressive players. They use to look like big, scary monsters. Now they look more like big, shiny ATM's. Until next time, Good "Luck!"

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