AngusD switched from pro chess to poker two decades ago and has been professionally involved in the game on numerous levels since the very beginning of online poker, including playing as a poker ambassador both online and at major festivals around the globe. He has written much about the game over the years, and brings to YPD a wealth of experience in all aspects of the poker industry. Meanwhile, his many years on the pro chess circuit (he’s an International Master and prolific author) afford him an interesting perspective on the psychology of poker.

· Published 23.03.2021 · last updated 23.03.2021

Online poker tournaments attract all kinds of players from all four corners of the globe, and one particular type of player we inevitably find ourselves up against is the so-called ‘maniac’…

This is a rather odd description and is, in fact, quite misleading, as it suggests such players have lost all rationality and logic, causing them to play like a maniac, with no control or measured thought. New players who believe that it is easy to beat such opponents would be making a serious mistake. Moreover, it’s by no means unusual to see maniacs adding chips to their stacks with apparent ease as a tournament progresses. And often these are our chips that are migrating from our stack to the maniac’s, as we allow ourselves to be bullied time after time.

Typically, we might call their pre-flop raise with a decent hand that misses the Flop, after which we’re loathe to invest more chips in the face of the maniac’s scary-looking bet. Earlier, we tried going along with them by calling their sizeable continuation bet, but their continued aggression on the Turn – again with a bigger bet than we’re used to seeing – was simply too much.

If this is a familiar scenario, then you’re no different to many players who allow themselves to be consistently and ruthlessly exploited by maniacs. In my pro chess days, when the then Soviet Union ruled the world with a seemingly never-ending supply of ostensibly invincible players, an English friend of mine had a cavalier, gladiatorial style of play that unsettled his Soviet opponents. Ironically, the solid, calm products of the Soviet Chess School would normally dismantle overly aggressive, ‘loose’ players with unflappable ease, but this particular player had no fear, and his uncompromising, ‘maniac’ approach had his opponents afraid to the point his style was described by one of the Soviet Union’s (and hence the world’s) elite Grandmasters as like ‘a drunk machine-gunner’…

Of course, my friend’s whole strategy was totally sober, well thought out and skillfully honed, and executed. It’s exactly the same with successful poker maniacs who, in reality, couldn’t be more serious in how they play the game. Compared with the vast majority of players, maniacs have an excellent understanding of human nature and how certain behaviors apply to poker. Most players tend to be more concerned about themselves, but a maniac’s game-plan is based on how deeply they appreciate their opponent’s habits. A key example of exploitable behavior is the tendency toward conservatism and prudence that, in a poker environment, manifests itself in taking the safety first, risk-averse route when we feel that there is insufficient justification to make a stand. This weakness is the lifeblood of maniacs who, during a tournament, are constantly on the lookout for such victims.

The beauty of the maniac’s strategy is that they can operate without needing to factor in their hand strength to the same extent that others do. Consequently, they are free to turn any table into a profitable hunting ground. They observe, probe, and act accordingly, picking their spots. We can turn this to our advantage by identifying them and simply reacting to their attempt to assume the initiative by 3-betting them for value with a range that we know is going to be considerably superior to theirs. Maniacs use measured aggression when they think they can get away with it, as opposed to raising at random like actual maniacs. So, when someone fights back at them they are not going to want to throw away their cumulative gains by having the tables turned on them and calling our reraise with a mediocre hand. Of course, sometimes maniacs will be getting busy with a strong hand, but most of the time we’ll either force them to fold to our counter-aggression, or we’ll be ahead should they call with a weaker range.

3-betting maniacs is a very useful weapon that should be part of everyone’s bag of tricks. Failing to take advantage of such opportunities in tournament play means missing out on chance after chance to keep adding chips to our stack!

Have fun…

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