Maniacs and bad beats

I stayed home and played PokerStars again last night, and suffered my first “bad beat” – I lost a hand I was pretty sure I had won.

I sat down at one of their virtual poker tables not long after I came home from work, and during the first round I observed the other players. One guy was raising almost every hand before the flop. At the level I play, it’s typical for players to see the flop (i.e. not fold their first two cards) about 20% of the time. This guy was not only seeing the flop but raising more than 50% of the time. This is what’s known as a “maniac,” someone who will raise aggressively even with mediocre hands.

Maniacs scare novice poker players, because they force you to shove a lot of money into the pot if you want any chance of winning hands. They can be very frustrating. Once you get a little experience, however, you realize they’re great people to have at the table – just wait until you get a good hand and then call them and clean them out.

So I got dealt a suited AJ and the maniac raised pre-flop. “Now it’s time to roll up my sleeves and go to work,” I thought, and happily called.

The flop was garbage – let’s say 295, three different suits so no threat of a flush on the board. Maniac bet. I only had Ace high at this point. Against a conservative player, I’d get out, but I was reasonably sure the maniac was trying to scare me out of the pot. I called.

The turn came, and I was delighted to see a Jack. So the board was 295J, and I had a pair of Jacks. Maniac bet again. I snickered as I called. “Now I’ve got him!” I thought.

The river was a 10. So I still had top pair. He bet again. I thought to myself, “If he were a more conservative player, I’d worry he paired up two of the low cards on the flop, and he’s staying in with two pair. However, he’s demonstrated that he’s willing to stay in with almost nothing. I think that, at best, he also has a pair of Jacks. But in that case he still loses, because I’ve got the Ace kicker.” So I raised, and he re-raised. “Wow, he’s really trying to get me out of this pot,” I thought. I called him.

To my horror he turned over JJ. He had what’s known as a “set,” three of a kind where two of them are hidden. Sets are almost impossible to defend against because you never see them coming. And you especially don’t expect to see them from a player who routinely calls and raises all the way with bad cards. But even maniacs hit a lucky hand now and then.

It’s all part of learning the game… sometimes you lose hands you expect to win. A few hands later, the maniac went all the way holding a 78 with face cards on the board, and someone cleaned him out, just as I expected would happen. Shame that it wasn’t me. Needless to say, I never made it out for celebratory 25 cent Wednesday beer at the Rooster.

Going to experiment more with my poker style tonight. The good thing about online poker is, the other players can’t see what else I’m doing. So I think I’ll keep the random number generator at open, and consult it to determine how many times the big blind to bet/raise when I get a premium hand, when I get a low pocket pair, when I get suited connectors like the 8 and 9 of diamonds. If I don’t make the same bet every time under the same circumstances, I’ll be much harder for my opponents to figure out.

Not much news today, but what I’ve got will go up in the next post in a few minutes.