Texas Holdem Tournament Strategy – Winning vs. Aggressive Players

  • March 25, 2021

The Texas Hold’em poker phenomenon has taken the country by storm. There are reportedly over 100 million active poker players worldwide. Poker’s popularity is largely the byproduct of technology and several recent trends: 1) online gaming, where players engage and socialize in real-time over the Internet, and 2) the broad publicity created by high profile TV shows like the World Series of Poker and World Poker Tour.

With all the poker-mania, there’s an amazing shortage of quality information to help people learn how to play properly and become great players quickly. This is the first in a series of Texas Holdem strategy articles aimed at helping players learn how to win at Texas Hold’em poker. Tournament play is a popular, fun sport. These articles will help players understand how to approach tournaments, which differ greatly from regular “ring game” play Online betting sites.

This installment deals with the most-asked question: “How do I deal effectively with aggressive players?” Many players struggle against “maniacs”, the aggressive, wild players who play most every hand, somehow seem to pull cards out of thin air, and often manage to dominate the table.

Here’s what actually happened in a recent poker tournament. I entered a tournament at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida, about 20 minutes from my home in South Florida. This weekly $300 entry-fee tournament fills the poker room with 220 players every Monday night.

The blinds start at 50/100 and go up every 15 minutes. I spent the first 30 minutes just hanging out and occasionally limping in to see a flop. The reason for “treading water” was to study my opponents and their playing patterns very closely. There were a number of solid poker players, but right away I spotted the aggressive ones.

I was sitting in the middle, directly across from the dealer. There were two “wild men” to my right. These two participated in most every hand, and agonized with themselves whenever they had to throw a hand away. This was hilarious to me, and it was also very telling. I knew these dudes were doomed from the onset, yet they were extremely dangerous if they caught something with one of their trash hands. These types are great targets, but only when you know how to play them correctly. If you do, you’ll end up with most or all of their chips in your stack. The key is to get to their chips before someone else does.

There were some squeaky-tight and solid players, as usual. Finally, there were two other players to my left who knew one another very well and spoke what sounded like Russian. These two played very aggressively. They rarely called or checked. They would bet or raise the pot significantly, so if they played a hand, you knew they were going to bet it big and you’d better be prepared to push a bunch of your chips into the middle. As a result, the table became tight overall, except for these four players who controlled the early action and dictated the table tempo for the first hour or so. They gambled with wanton abandon, trading chips with each other as the rest of us just observed and wished for a real hand to materialize.

It became apparent that our maniacs were playing mostly garbage hands, and using assertive chatter in an attempt to intimidate everyone. They were enjoying pushing everyone around with their aggressive betting and raising style. Humorously, they got into a number of showdowns, causing all of their trash hands to become openly exposed; e.g., 69 off-suit, Q3 suited, etc. I definitely had these guys pegged now – if only I could get a strong hand…

Later, one of my Russian “friends” came in over the top of a bet I’d placed with a huge raise, then smiled at me as he leaned his head back as if to say “Go ahead. I dare you”. My middle pair just wasn’t strong enough to engage with him, but I remembered this little “lesson” and my mistake. He’d used this tactic many times against the others and I should’ve expected it. I also realized that we had not seen any of his supposed “big hands”, as he always mucked them. Whenever you see an aggressive player dominating, and then mucking all those supposed “great hands”, you know you’ve spotted a target.

We played on, with the two maniacs to my right getting busted out by the Russian contingent. It’s been an hour and fifteen minutes – and I still haven’t seen even one decent hand yet! This is, unfortunately, typical poker.

After about an hour-and 45 minutes, I finally pick up a pair of wired 9’s (99). Now I was hoping the flop would yield a set (trips). Sure enough, it came: 9, K, 5. I was elated and jumping up and down (inside). I was finally in a position to make my move, and hoped it would be against one of my aggressive Russian friends with their big stacks.

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