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Hand Review: Out of Position Against a Maniac

Poker at the Potawatomi Hotel and Casino
  • Take the poll and say how you'd play this WSOP Circuit hand from out of position against a maniac.

  • How far to take ace-high versus a maniac barreling away? That's the question on Mo Nuwwarah's mind.

Covering live poker tournaments for a living affords me the opportunity to see countless thousands of hands played out, many of which offer interesting and potentially valuable insights into how players — both amateurs and professionals — play the game. In this ongoing series, I'll highlight hands I've seen at the tournaments I've covered and see if we can glean anything useful from them.

The Scene

We're going to take a break from the PokerStars Championship Bahamas for at least a couple of weeks and look at hands played in a much colder location by a less famous poker player. The author made the drive to Milwaukee for a weekend of tournaments in the World Series of Poker Circuit Potawatomi series, and the following hand comes from the $365 Turbo event on Sunday.

Actually the tournament wasn't all that turbo as it had 30-minute levels. The villain in this hand had been playing extraordinarily aggressively, three-betting a ton preflop and generally just being willing to put a lot of money in the pot with a wide range of hands. Prior to this one I had seen him show down hands like {8-Clubs}{3-Clubs} and shove in 50 big blinds with {a-Spades}{10-Spades}.

The Action

We were at 200/400/50, and with a stack of about 35,000 I raised from middle position to 925 with {a-Spades}{q-Spades}. My opponent in the hijack, with a stack of about 26,000, three-bet to 2,300, and I called.

The flop came {3-Clubs}{8-Spades}{8-Clubs}, and I checked and called 2,300. On the {9-Diamonds} turn, I checked and called again for 3,200. The {2-Diamonds} river completed the board and I checked a final time. My opponent shoved all in for about 18,000.

After thinking it over a while, I decided to fold.

Concept and Analysis

This hand illustrates how it can be tricky to play against psychotic-seeming opponents unless you have the absolute strongest of hands.

Preflop, I came in for my standard opening size at this level and then found myself facing a three-bet from a player with a maniac style. I had been opening a little less than usual to protect against this exact scenario, but {a-Spades}{q-Spades} is one of the stronger hands I'll have here and certainly ahead of his three-betting range.

Four-betting for value is definitely an option, but I think flatting is usually best against players like this. Tons of the value against them comes from letting them barrel off against you, and he'll likely be betting boards that are good for my hand. He also might fold some of the hands I have dominated if I four-bet. So, while it's certainly going to show a profit, I decided to try to win a bigger pot by keeping him in and playing postflop.

The flop comes basically as dead as possible — {3-Clubs}{8-Spades}{8-Clubs}. This is an easy check-call as I could have the best hand, my six outs (aces and queens) are very likely clean, and there's a spade on board for a backdoor flush.

The turn brings a {9-Diamonds}, which might help some of his barreling range like {j-}{10-}-suited or {q-}{10-}-suited. My opponent sticks with another fairly small bet, and I think it's still much too early to consider folding what could be the best hand.

Where things really get crazy and interesting is the river. It's a complete blank, so the final board reads {3-Clubs}{8-Spades}{8-Clubs}{9-Diamonds}{2-Diamonds}. I felt like there was a good chance my ace-queen was best on the river and planned to call a lot of river bets. However, my opponent shoved all in for about the size of the pot.

I still thought hard about calling, as his play doesn't really change my thought process much. If he thinks I'm calling down as light as ace-high, this is a great way for him to force me out and take the pot with his weaker hands.

He could also be shoving for value with hands as weak as {a-}{9-} or even {7-}{7-} if he has a good read on the situation and knows I'm going to call down light.

Ultimately, what pushed me to a fold was the fact that some of his bluffs might even beat me here. If he has {a-}{k-} or {3-}{3-}, I'm going be sick if I call and lose. However, it was not an easy decision, as this is pretty much the perfect board to barrel off with stuff like {k-}{j-}.

The way this player ended up busting — four-bet shipping it off with {a-Spades}{7-Spades} against a tight-aggressive opponent with {a-}{q-} — only made me wonder even more if my fold was correct. What do you think?

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