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Poker Tournament Strategy: Avoiding the Maniacs

Obviously you cannot win a poker tournament if you are not still in a poker tournament. And naturally this can and should make you more cautious about certain decisions, because especially early on in tournaments, there is always the maniac factor, which states in no uncertain terms:

There will be someone at your table so crazy, who plays so wrong, that they are liable to shove all in with even the most marginal of drawing hands. And of course, of course, these maniacs will at times hit these maniac draws…and that can mean that you are now out of this tournament.

Maniacs are common in tournament poker and they take special pride in taking more sane-thinking players down in a blaze of glory. It's what they do and they love it.

It is therefore mandatory that you develop a strategy to deal with kamikazes before you play tournaments, because they most assuredly will be flying at you.

Identifying the Maniacs

The first thing you want to do, when you're facing a maniac, is to identify that person as such. In a casino or home game tournament, this is usually a visual thing: you can see the crazy look in the person's eyes, you hear their crazy talk, and you see their crazy bets.

In online tournament poker, you may be able to identify maniacs to some degree through the use of poker tracker software. Maniacs frequently play a lot of tournaments, don't go very far, and have consistently negative accounts over the long term. But still they play a lot of poker.

That's the stat sheet for your typical online tournament maniac, but whether you're playing in a casino or online, the number one sign is that the player cannot wait to utter the fateful words:

"I'm all in."

Maniacs thrive on the ego rush those words provide. Like cocaine addicts, they may know that the next line will hurt them long-term, but the momentary feeling of pleasure matters more.

It's important to realize, too, that mania is not necessarily a permanent condition; a player could just be on tilt for this session, but still be categorized as a maniac.

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Warning: Do Not Avoid the Maniac

Ironically perhaps, the best strategy for dealing with tournament poker maniacs is to not avoid them, but rather to hope to see them. When you see a maniac at your table, you should be happy.

You are sitting across from someone who is begging to double up your chip stack.

Are you really going to turn that offer down?

Let's take an example of a poker play that makes perfect sense to the maniac mind: going all in before the flop with Ace Queen in the hole. This is the kind of maneuver that a maniac can't wait to pull off, it is that rush of adrenaline and phallic ego like a rocket blasting off into the sky.

Meanwhile, you are sitting there with Ace King.

By the numbers, you are an 89 percent to 11 percent favorite, with A-K, to beat A-Q.

But at the same time, you may be fearful of a Queen falling on the flop and you get knocked out of a tournament that you've been waiting to play for weeks.

Get your entire chip stack in with that maniac immediately!

If you're not going to take that bet, what bet are you going to take?

This is an extreme example, but it illustrates the point: the best way to deal with a maniac is to get the odds on your side, get that player all in, and then double up your chip stack. You certainly do not want to avoid confrontations when the math is highly in your favor.

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The One Maniac Worth Avoiding at All Costs

That being said, there is one maniac worth avoiding at all costs, and that is the maniac within yourself. Naturally again, other maniacs have a unique ability to bring the maniac out in you.

Let's say, for instance, that a wild, senseless maniac has gone all in before the flop with 8-8, another favorite maniac move. You also go all in, with your K-K. All the way up to the river, you are looking great, you are a tremendous favorite to win the hand. And then guess what card falls on the river?

An 8, of course.

You are beat and now you are out of the tournament.

This is the kind of thing that drives many a non-maniac into mania. It's also the reason why poker players say, "That's poker." That is, in fact, poker. You will get beat by miracle on the river, worse players will draw runner-runner to rake in your whole chip stack.

When that happens, you have to be satisfied that you played well. You have to find a way to smile and maybe even congratulate that maniac and then say goodbye. Getting mad won't help anything. Continuing to play poker the way it should be played will.

Monitoring your psyche for signs of tilt, and then setting yourself straight, is a major part of playing winning tournament poker.

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