Out of all the different player types in poker, maniacs always give me the most trouble. These are the players that raise a lot of hands, bet frequently and make huge raises out of nowhere. These players are tough to play against because they are unpredictable and they put us in uncomfortable spots for lots of money.
The good news is I’ve finally learned how to deal with maniacs in cash games. One of the main things I’ve learned is that you can’t bury your head in the sand. If you’re intent on staying at the table, you’re going to have to play a few big pots against these players and take a little risk.
First: Is It a Poor Maniac or a Skilled Player?
There’s a fine line between strong maniacs and chip spewing donks. It is vital that you identify which category your maniac falls into. Chip spewing maniacs donate a lot of money to the table by reloading frequently, making big calls and bad bluffs. These players can quickly amass big stacks by luck (and by tilting other players), but you can tell if he’s bad by looking at his showdown cards and comparing that to how he plays each hand on the flop, turn and river.
Skilled maniacs are extremely dangerous. These players should just be avoided. If the table maniac in question seems to have an uncanny knack for slipping out of traps and escaping when his hand is beaten, you might be up against someone who has dropped down from high stakes play. It’s tough to distinguish the difference sometimes, but skilled maniacs do not make poor calls or ill-timed bluffs.
If you’re playing against a bad maniac, it’s safe to continue. If you’re playing against someone who seems to somehow slip away from all danger zones, it’s not even worth playing against this player. There is much easier competition out there.
Don’t Turn Into a Rock
One of the most common reactions to maniacs is to tighten up and only get involved when you have the nuts. This is a bad idea because it makes your play very see-through. If you constantly fold-fold-fold against a maniac and then suddenly come alive, he’s going to know exactly what you have. You cannot hunker down forever.
Having said that, you also don’t need to get too tricky. Just play a traditional tight-aggressive game in which you play strong hands before the flop and continue after the flop if you connect with the board. Eventually, you’ll catch something strong when the maniac decides to pull another bad bluff.
The toughest part of playing against a maniac is knowing which hands to show down with. There will be times when you’re forced to play big all-in pots with nothing more than top pair, top kicker. You can get a decent idea of how strong your hands compare against the maniac by noting every hand he shows down. Eventually, you’ll get an idea of what kind of hands the maniac is willing to take all the way.
Slow Playing vs. Fast Playing
When you hit a strong hand against the maniac, there are two routes you can take to grow the pot. You can check/call on every street and let the maniac take the lead. On the other hand, you can bet into the maniac and let him put in big raises. This second option builds the pot faster but it can also scare the maniac away.
There are a few things you can consider when choosing between slow playing and fast playing against the maniac. Look at how he has played the past few hands. Does he like to bet when it gets checked around or does he tend to check behind and try to hit big hands for cheap? Does he like to raise people when they bet or does he try to make hero calls?
One thing I’ve learned when playing against maniacs is that recent history plays a big role in deciding how to play strong hands. If the maniac has been running the table with little opposition, you can check check/call all the way down. The check/call line takes advantage of the comfortable routine that the maniac has established at the table.
Another example of using recent history is to play to the maniac’s ego. Let’s say in the last couple of hands, other players have placed big bets and forced the maniac to fold. You happen to catch a big hand against that same maniac. You can act like you’re joining in on the party and throw a big bet at the maniac (but leave yourself enough chips so that you look like you can still fold)and let him come over the top with a big raise.
These are just a couple of examples of using recent history to take advantage of maniacs. There is an infinite variety of situations that you can get into with a maniac. The main point here is to pay attention to the recent history at the table and try to use that to your advantage. You can play as if you’re scared, angry, tilting or whatever based on what has been happening at the table lately.
No matter how well you play against maniacs, you’re bound to experience some violent ups and downs. Maniacs make you play big pots with limited information and there’s no way you can get it right every time. Sometimes the maniac has nothing, sometimes he has a draw and sometimes he has the absolute nuts. However, if you use these tips and keep your cool no matter what happens, you can eventually get the best of the maniac.
If you start to lose your cool, it’s time to quit the table. It’s never fun to quit against someone that you think you can beat, especially when it feels like an admission of defeat. However, that is not the way to think. Money is the bottom line in poker. If you’re not playing your A game, there is no reason to continue.