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It can be so infuriating playing against a maniac. It feels like you never get to raise. They are always three-betting you. It feels like you can’t call any bet on the flop, because you’re going to be facing turn and river barrels every single time.
What do you do in this situation?
If you’re playing cash, you can try to get off the table. Many rooms in North America will have enough weak competition to feast upon. You won’t have to focus on trying to beat this prolifically aggressive player.
However, in tournament scenarios, you’re often left with no choice but to face the maniac.
What most people do is continue opening too much and complaining. This is not a strategy. This is what the maniac sees every day. The maniac is ready for this.
Other people like to open less. Playing tighter is another strategy you can use, especially if your table is about to break. However, if you have to play an extended session with the maniac, this basic strategy is not going to get the job done.
Let’s discuss a couple of different plays you can use versus maniacs to trap them into a bigger mistake.
Let’s say the maniac is to your left, and is three-betting every time you open. How do you adjust?
The first adjustment you have to make is facing facts. You’re not going to be able to open 10-7 suited or something speculative now. He is too good to allow you to do that. He will punish you. Start opening hands that would love to get reraised. If the maniac is truly targeting you so much you will not need much of a hand.
One time, I was playing a World Poker Tour event over in Prague. The guy four to the left of me wanted to three-bet me every single time I opened.
My strategy became dull. I would open from my 40-big blind stack only with hands I wanted to move all-in with over a three-bet. Since these players were three-betting so much it didn’t take much of a hand to shove over them. A-10 offsuit, 7-7, and other hands like it are normally risky four-bets, but in this case they kept easily getting through.
I ended up barely final tabling that event despite not getting many hands. Those three-bets became gifts to me.
Let’s say you’re a little deeper stacked, and can’t easily four-bet over a three-bet. What do you do?
This is where things get riskier, but can also get much more profitable. You’re still going to open a range that wants to get three-bet. This can be premium suited connectors, big cards, and pairs. This time when you get reraised, you are just going to flat out of position. Even if you have aces or kings, do not four-bet. He is depending on you to do that, so he can know to get away from the bluff. Do not tip your hand. Slow play the premium hands.
This is where the art of no-limit hold’em takes place. You need to know you’re dealing with a real maniac. Many players reraise frequently preflop but can’t follow through post-flop. You’re going to need to think through the entire day. Was this player the type of person to fire on multiple streets? Did they do that frequently? Are they truly an aggressive player?
What this maniac is likely picking up on is that people fast play their hands on coordinated boards. If there is a flush draw or straight draw out there, most players will raise or check-raise with their sets or two pairs. That means when they call on the flop, they are limited to one pair. The maniac notes this and keeps firing on any scare card after an opponent just calls on the coordinated flop as opposed to raising. The maniac then tries to represent any draw that comes in.
You’re going to flip the script on them when they do this. You’re going to start with a good, concealed pair or one that you flopped. You’re not going to fast-play it and make things easier for the maniac. You’re going to look agitated like you don’t want him to bluff. You’re going to call defiantly on a coordinated board.
Your opponent is going to know you likely would have raised your two pair or sets on the flop or four-bet preflop with your biggest pairs. The maniac will then follow through and try to bluff you off of your weaker pairs. It is your duty at this point to call down.
It goes without saying, but this is a high-variance play. This is real back of the playbook stuff. You will either have a huge stack after running this play or the maniac will have backed into something. You’re going to have to accept either option if you want to open up your game. This is why you should always play responsibly with a recreational budget.
Try this play out first in a lower stakes game. Rebuy if it doesn’t work out.
Another play you can do versus the maniac happens when you are in position. You can enact this same trap by just smooth calling out of the big blind with your bigger pairs as opposed to reraising. When the flop comes coordinated you can just flat their continuation bet with your sets, two pair, and overpairs.
Your maniac opponent will have assumed you would have reraised preflop with your best overpairs. They are also assuming you would raise on the flop with your best combinations when there is a draw out there. Again, they are assuming your range is capped at garbage pairs. They’re going to keep firing versus this range and try to represent every draw. Let them go after you and reap the high-variance rewards.
One final play you can do versus a maniac is call out of the big blind with a big ace. If the board comes ace-high with no draw, go ahead and check-raise your big top pair.
This puts the maniac in an awful situation. Most people in your spot would have reraised preflop with the best aces, so they’re assuming those aren’t in your range. Even if people do call preflop with big aces they usually wouldn’t check-raise a single pair on the flop. Your range looks like a pissed off bluff that represents nothing or a set that for some reason isn’t slow playing.
Unfortunately for the maniac he sees a lot of frustrated aggression once he applies pressure to everyone. If he has any kind of pair, he is going to be forced to call down based on how polarized your range looks.
Again, all of these plays are high variance. Make sure you’re dealing with a real maniac who can follow through before you enact any of these strategies. There are actually far fewer true maniacs than most people believe. If someone is just reraising constantly that doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily follow through post-flop. ♠
Alexander Fitzgerald is a professional poker player and bestselling author who currently lives in Denver, Colorado. He is a WPT and EPT final tablist, and has WCOOP and SCOOP wins online. His most recent win was the $250,000 Guaranteed on America’s Cardroom. He currently enjoys blasting bums away in Ignition tournaments while he listens to death metal. Free training packages of his are provided to new newsletter subscribers who sign up at PokerHeadRush.com