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The turn came and it wasn't a five - then someone pipes up and says "he's drawing dead". Believe me, you never want to hear that when you're in a showdown! I looked over as he said something in Russian to his buddy - another violation of tournament rules, as everyone is compelled to speak English at tournament table. It wouldn’t matter, as he stood up, grabbed his jacket and left after receiving some consolation from his friend.
His older friend glared over at me and uttered something derogatory in Russian. I had no clue what he said, but I knew from his tone that I didn't like it. I also knew I'd gotten under his skin by taking down his buddy and raking in all of his chips. I responded with "what's that, I don't understand what you're saying since you're not speaking English?” loudly so everyone at table could hear me.
He mumbled something about his friend...I smiled and said politely with a smile "I deliberately laid that trap for your friend and he fell right into it!", pushing knife in deeper, knowing he'd be gunning for me anyway - might as well make sure my next trap was fully set. This also signaled to everyone else at table that whenever I checked or limped, it could be extremely dangerous if assumed to be a sign of weakness - something I’d leverage later as blinds and antes rose and proper time to bluff and steal blinds actually arrived.
After a slight pause, my Russian friend noticed that everyone was now looking at him. He looked down at his chips and said "nice play" with a reluctantly polite tone.
Boy, I was elated! My battle plan was definitely becoming field-proven here - and my next target was clearly sighted. It had taken careful observation, planning and a lot of patience to wait for right hand, and then play it correctly to take this highly-skilled, aggressive player out and rake in all of his chips.
About ten minutes later, it was tournament break time, after two hours of play. I counted my chips, which totaled 14,900 (we started with 5,000 each), then grabbed a quick bite to eat, reflecting on what had just taken place.
Within ten minutes of returning from break, I finally picked up a serious starting hand: Cowboys (KK). I knew it was time for my new Russian friend and me to tango, so I fired out a bet of 3 times big blind: 3,000 chips, bait that I was sure he couldn’t turn down. Sure enough, he bit - big time. His all-in raise came almost instantaneously, before I could even get my bet onto table. He was totally ready to engage, and had been laying in wait for me - just like I had planned. I had set him up by taking out his friend and then challenging his poker ego in front of everyone. He just had to retaliate against me – it was a totally predictable “full-tilt” response from this kind of player.
This is what game of poker is really all about – having a well-defined strategy, patience to wait for right hand, and then executing properly. It’s what makes poker a game of strategy instead of a game of chance (for some of us).
He raised by going all-in with around 8,000 chips to my roughly 14,000. I quickly called his all-in bet. Everyone else quickly folded and got out of our way.
I flipped my pocket kings over, then looked him straight in eye and just smiled. Then someone says "Yeah! Now we've got some action!" He sighed and flipped over QQ - he actually had a real hand for a change. That's one of problems with these kinds of "semi-solid, aggressive" players, like my Russian friend here, and other poker greats like Gus Hansen. You never really know exactly what to expect from them. Of course, my opponent could've held pocket rockets (AA), but I'll play those KK cowboys strong each and every time I get them, since there’s only one hand that can beat them heads-up. I also knew this aggressive player on tilt was likely to be overplaying his hand, improving my odds significantly.
The flop, turn and river came and went without another Queen and it was done - my cowboys stood up and I had all of both Russian’s stacks, which included most of other two poor maniac’s chips (who lost to Russians earlier). This instantly made me by far chip leader at our table with well over 22,000 chips!
I went from having an average chip stack to being table chip leader, against tough, aggressive opponents, within less than half an hour by:
a) Playing solid, reasonable tournament poker,
b) Not taking big, undue risks with weak or "drawing" hands,
c) Studying my aggressive prey and where chips were sitting,
d) Formulating and refining a battle plan while observing game progress,
e) Remaining patient while waiting for right hand to make my move, and
f) Executing this plan with precision against a predetermined opponent, and on terms of my choosing – not opponent’s.
There was no luck involved at all – except that my opponent didn’t hold AA or pull some lucky cards with a trash hand – which was simply playing odds in my favor.
I started out with a high-level strategy to target aggressive chip leaders, and go after them with strong hands from right position. I planned this before I ever arrived at casino that day, or knew who these players would be. Then, I refined my plan once I knew for certain whom evening’s targets would be and how I’d provoke them. It certainly helped that I caught two decent hands during those first hours of play.
Unfortunately, I later lost to a legitimate full house, but made it into top 40 – it happens…
The key to playing against aggressive and maniac players is having a viable Texas Holdem strategy you can profit from when you get some good hands. If you have a good plan, you can convert it into a formidable stockpile of chips - a stack that you‘ll definitely need as blinds and antes increase and tournament field narrows in latter stages.
This is how I approach Texas Holdem strategy for tournaments now - at least when tables are full with 8 or more players, some of them aggressive and maniacs. So, next time you encounter wild and aggressive players at your poker table, get ready to have some fun! It's like Tae Kwon Do - using opponent’s own energy and momentum against them.
In next installment, we’ll detail this Texas Holdem strategy more formally, along with exploring some other tournament tips for playing better Texas Holdem poker.
Until then – good luck!
Rick Braddy is an avid writer, Texas Holdem player and pro software developer and marketer for over 25 years. His websites and software specialize in helping people become better Texas Holdem poker players. If you're a poker player, be sure to visit his BetterHoldem.com website today and learn how you can play better Texas Holdem, too.