How to Beat Poker Table Bullies
In previous articles, I have discussed methods of fighting back against poker table bullies. These pesky semi-maniacal players in your no-limit cash game or tournament accumulate chips by sheer aggression. They don’t like to show down a lot of hands, they put immense pressure on other players every hand they’re involved in, and they occasionally get lucky and/or have the best hand in order to stay in the game.
Table bullies capitalize on both weak players who don’t have the heart to put money into the pot, and tight-aggressive players who don’t like to put in their money without what seems to be a lock hand. I would probably classify myself into the latter description – as I’m sure many of you would also. I’d like to outline an example hand that I recently participated in to give you an example of how to use their aggression to your advantage.
Slowplay the maniac and trap him for all his chips. Let me set the stage for the following hand: an online casual late-night $2/4 no-limit hold’em cash game. The player directly to my left decided to play table bully by making every hand expensive before the flop and then not hesitating to shove in the rest of his chips on the flop, turn, and river if necessary.
While the counter-strategy to this style seems obvious (wait for monster hands and call the big bets), he sucked out on a couple of big hands against other opponents. Not wanting to turn it into an expensive coin flip, most of us are praying, “PLEASE let me pick up those pocket Aces before this guy dumps his money off to someone else”. Unfortunately for me, the Aces didn’t come. However, the following hand came up:
I was dealt Ad-8c from the small blind. Certainly not a powerhouse, but with the maniac and two other limpers in the pot it seemed worthy of another $2. The bully in the big blind checked to a flop of Ac-8h-4d, giving me top two pair. Of course, table bullies love to take control so I decided to check and let him do just that. It was an unconnected, unsuited board and I didn’t doubt that he was going to bet out. To my chagrin, he just checked.
Play moved on to the early position limper who made a $16 bet. The late position limper folded and I just called the bet. Without delay, the table bully goes all-in! Jackpot! The original bettor thinks for a while before finally folding. The bully had more than I did (about $300) so I already had the checkbox on “Call”. Normally, I might hesitate and worry about a set in this position but rarely (if ever) will I lay down top two pair on the flop with a board like that. I make the call and the bully is forced to show his 7-2 offsuit – the worst possible starting hand in hold’em. I have a scare when a 3 came on the turn, but the river with a K to give me a sizeable pot. That works for me. Our table bully was crippled and busted out shortly thereafter.
I like this hand for its comedic purposes and the awful bluff the bully tried to run, but there is a lesson in its workings. Such players are not uncommon in no-limit hold’em cash games or tournaments, especially online. When a player tries to take control every hand, you should let him do the betting for you when you have a monster hand. If you bet out big to try to build a pot, these bullies will often be scared away. Remember, they like to dominate the action and win pots without showdowns.
This strategy echoes a sentiment Doyle Brunson shared in his book Online Poker: if you’re playing heads-up against a highly aggressive player, let him do the betting for you, fire a second bullet, and then get him for a raise on the river. If you aren’t fortunate enough to get in all your opponent’s money on the flop as I did, you definitely should consider slowplaying table bullies on a harmless board.