Hey there! Long time no speak! I’ve actually been at an internship in Kentucky all summer and just recently returned from there. It was a great experience, but sadly Kentucky is a state with absolutely no action. Thus, I didn’t write any entries for my blog since I was without poker all summer.
However, since coming back I’ve been hitting up the poker rooms late and doing surprisingly well for a guy who hasn’t played any poker in two months. In fact, tonight I walked away from a cash table with $840 at the Electric Stick – not too shabby for $1/2.
But my experience tonight makes me want to write and share it with you, because I feel that the table I was playing at was an experience that any poker player who’s been around for a while has most certainly encountered.
I’m talking about the big-shot gambler. You know exactly the kind of person I’m describing: the guy who straddles for $20, raises $100 pre-flop with rags, and shoves all-in with nothing. These people can be an absolute gold mine, but their randomness is precisely what can make them dangerous. I know that I’ve had my fair share of aces cracked by a drunken gambler who shoves all-in with deuce-seven off suit and flop a two-pair.
The first thing I’d like to say is that you have to be careful when dealing with the risk-taking gambler type. I find that there are two people who tend to fit this role: really good players, and buffoons. We’re all familiar with the idiot who treats the poker table as if it’s a roulette board, but it’s that latter character – the sneaky professional – that I want to comment upon more.
Believe it or not, some of these risk-takers have method to their madness. They’re few and far between, but when they sit down at your table they can hustle you for your entire bankroll if your not careful. Their gig usually goes something like this: they sit down at the table. They’re very loud, friendly, outgoing. They bet big, show that they shoved in with crap, and give off the general impression that they’re a gambler.
Once they’ve established this table image, they reverse their strategy completely: they start playing tight and playing well. Since they’ve gained a reputation of being a gambler, people are mre likely to call them when they shove all-in holding the nuts. Of course, they’ll still take a few gambles just to maintain the table image. But 9 times out of 10, they’ll actually be playing good hands, and because they gave off that initial impression as a gambler everyone just chalks their success up to luck and keeps playing loosely against the con-artist, who has now adopted a TAG strategy. (P.S. – You can thank Doyle Brunson for developing this strategy. He talks about it in his book Super//System, which is a great book FYI)
Most gamblers, especially at small-stakes game, are going to simply be bad players. But you have to keep your eyes out for the hustlers as well, because if you’re not careful then they can rob you blind and send you home with an empty wallet.
Why am I bringing this up? Because I’m pretty sure I met someone who adopted exactly this strategy at my poker table tonight. He definitely maintained the gambling image: he wasn’t afraid to straddle for $30, re-raise your $20 raise to $100, or shove all-in with his $500+ chips pre-flop. I admit I was fooled by his act at first as well. But then I noticed a few things that made me become a little more suspicious of his persona.
The first thing I noticed by chance was that he ordered a beer, took a few sips, and never finished it. Whenever someone does this, I usually interpret it that they’re using the alcohol as a prop to signal to other players “Hey, I’m a huge drunkard!!! Gamble with me!!!” I know not everyone chugs beers, and some people drink them slowly and cut themselves off after one. But this guy was different: he took maybe 1 sip off of his drink, and then never touched it. That struck me as peculiar, especially since he was buying some of the other players at the table drinks.
I kept an eye on him, and noticed that whenever I got involved in a pot – especially if I raised pre-flop, he would always fold. I gave off the image I was tight as a rock (which I do admit, I am a tight player) and so he wasn’t dumb – he knew to fold when I got into a pot. This led me to understand that although the guy was a risk taker, he wasn’t an idiot.
What really gave it away though was that after an hour or so of sitting at the table, he’d make really bold raises. Raises to the tune of $150 pre-flop. He’d get a caller or maybe two, the board would run to showdown, and he’d win with a good hand like AQ or JJ or something like that. Everyone could dismiss it due to luck, but after seeing him pull that trick a few times, I knew it was more than just luck: this guy was a genuine hustler.
And I don’t say that to degrade this particular mans strategy. I think it’s a wonderful idea, and clearly for him it worked: when I left the table, he had about $2000. At a $1/2 table. I won’t deny that some of this was due to luck. Maybe I’m over-analyzing things, but I think this guy was taking a page out of Doyle Brunson’s book and adopting the “Crazy Gambler” persona and then exploiting his table image.
Anyways, that’s one thing I wanted to write about. Most of the time, especially at lower stakes, when you encounter a gambler they’re just going to be stupid. And the neat thing about gamblers is that their stupidity tends to infect the entire table. After enough pre-flop action with $50 bets, the whole table starts to bet crazy. When you’re sitting at this type of environment, how do you deal with it?
Trust me, I know how frustrating it can be to play at a $1/2 game where it’ll cost you a minimum of $30 to see a flop. And I know it’s even more frustrating to be unable to put opponents on any sort of a hand range given the crazy action. It can be frustrating to the point where you want to move. However, I think moving from this kind of a table is one of the most stupid decisions you could possibly make: a game with this kind of action is a poker players dream come true!
The ideal strategy, from my experience, is twofold. The number one most important factor in a game where people want to gamble instead of play poker is to play tight, tight, TIGHT! You can’t afford to see every flop. And in those flops you do see, you’re going to want to maximize your chances of taking home a big pot. If 4 or 5 people call on average, and each person is contributing $30 pre-flop, then if you get involved that will be a $150-$180 pot at minimum. You don’t need to win a bunch of those pots to have a good night: you need only take down one and I’d say you’ll have a great night. As annoying and boring as it might be, you have to be patient. Wait to get Big Slick, or Pocket Aces/Kings, or another top-tier hand. Your patience WILL pay off.
The second factor is to not be afraid of shoving. Although your table might have a case of gamblers fever, that does not mean every player at your table will be stupid. If players see that you consistently fold and call once in a blue moon, if someone raises to $30 with 2 limpers and you shove all-in, people are going to respect that because you’ve established a tight table image. I know it can be gut-wrenching in tough times to gamble such a large ammount without even seeing the flop, but remember: when you sat down at the table, you implicitly agreed to the possibility of losing it all. It’s always a risk, but you’d be surprised at how often people will fold to someone who shoves with a respectable table image: even if everyone else at your table is a gambler. And if they call? Well, assuming you took my previous advice, you’re still in great shape.
I know this has been a long entry, but hopefully I’ve imparted some knowledge onto you regarding the gambling persona, what to watch out for, and how best to deal with them. Let me know in the comments if you have any other advice, suggestions, stories, etc!