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One Reason to Re-raise a Maniac

For example, you are playing in a game containing a maniac who is sitting to your immediate right. Let's call him Fred. Let me specify that he is a maniac who is always hyper-aggressive throughout the hand. Now suppose someone limps in from a nearly position before the flop. Fred raises from an early-middle position, and you in a middle position call with:

A third player, a weak but someone unpredictable player whom we'll call Jake calls the two bets cold behind you. The big blind fold. The limper and Fred call making this a four way pot. The flop comes:

giving you the high two pair. The first player checks and Fred bets out. You think he might have a flush draw, an ace with any sort of kicker, a gut shot draw with or without a pair, two pair, a pair of queens or jacks with whom he is expecting somehow to win, a straight, or a set. Knowing Fred, the weaker possibilities are not at all improbable. You have the best hand, so you raise. Jake calls cold behind you. You think he would make a call with having any good hand such as ace, a flush draw, two pair, or a gut shot draw. You believe that he will slow-play the straight or a set, so you see those hands as improbable for him. The first player folds and Fred calls. It has now become a three-way pot. At least at this point you like your hand.
The turn comes

which is a bad card for you as any king now beats you. Fred checks. Does that mean he doesn't have a king, or does he has one and is trying to check-raise? Though what exactly you should do is still debatable, let's assume you decide to check all the way. Now Jake bets. Not good, but if Fred folds or just calls, thus ruling out the straight for him, you plan to call. You are worry that Jake has king but you know he is an unthinking online poker player. You have seen him many times bet a flush draw when it is checked to him on fourth street, regardless what earlier action, unaware to how scary the board is.

He could be betting two pair even, perhaps thinking, "They checked so I must have them beat." These possibilities and including your chance of filling up on the river would impose a call, given the 8.5-to-1 or 9.5-to-1 pot odds you will be getting. But now the action is on Fred. He raises. "Great" you would think ironically. He appears to have straight. Randomly, he would also have got a set of tens. He might raise with them at this point here.

But this is Fred; he is a maniac and is capable of overplaying something like two pair in this point. He is a habitual bluffer who could have nothing but a pair, thinking that he can steal the pot if no one has a straight, using the threatening card as leverage. You can actually have him beat. If you were head up against Fred you would go to the river. But against two players showing strength then it would be bad for you.

However, instead of calling one big bet with pot odds of about 9.5-to-1, you will be faced with the respect of calling two bets (with the added possibility of another raise coming from Jake) getting more than 5-to-1. You would decide to fold, but you do so with the irritating recognition that Fred's raise in this point may not have meant the same thing as a raise from a "normal" player. Now Jake calls Fred's raise. The river is a blank. Both players check. Jake turns over a

Fred shows

and takes the pot. So his aggressively play forced you out with the best hand, thereby leaving him to beat the worst hand.

Annoying results like this are not uncommon when playing against maniacs in multi-way pots. But in this theoretical example, playing little differently might save you the pot. First consider the kind of hand you have. More often than not, aQ is not worth playing against a raise but against a typical maniac it is possible to play such hand. But note that AQ is a one pair type of hand. You expect to flop top pair and have it hold up to win the pot. This is differentiated with the hand like

which is less likely to win with one pair, but more likely to make a straight or a flush. One pair has a lesser chance of holding up when pitted against multiple rivals. When they are drawing to different hands, there is a good chance one of them is going to get there. Hence with a hand like AQ it is usually advisable to eliminate other players so that you can play your hand against a small number of rivals.

Besides the advantage to limit the field with a one pair type of hand, getting it heads-up against a maniac can eliminate the kinds of trouble in which you found yourself against Fred and Jake. To explain, suppose that instead of calling Fred's pre-flop raise, you re-raise him. Now Jake hesitates to call with his JT. (If he is going to call three bets cold with JT then he is such a bad and good players you want.) For it to be true we'll assume the limper goes ahead and calls the two additional bets to him. Though he might not, such calls appear to be the norm in many games (especially given that he hopes at least one raise behind him). Fred will at least call. So now it is a three-way pot without anyone behind you. On the flop Fred bets, you raise, he limper folds as before, and Fred calls. Now it is a two-way pot, making the turn easier to play.

Though folding of a third player would cause Fred to play differently, let's say his actions are same as in the multi-way situation: He checks, expecting to raise. Though even you can consider a different play (betting) in this as different with the multi-way situation, we'll assume you check along so as to prevent a check-raise and take a free card with this scary board. On the river it is possible that Fred will bet, seeing your check on the turn as a clue that he possibly has the best hand. You will definitely have a safe call.

Observe that the inadequacy of the third player prevented you from being faced with difficult decisions. It is because of the difficult decision that it is possible for you to make costly mistakes. In this case you win a handsome pot which Fred would have taken away from you in the multi-way situation. That's a costly mistake avoided.

Some examples have been discussed about an advantage that can accrue from re-raising a maniac. There are others too, some of which I noted in this essay, "Beating the Berserko: Pre-flop against a Maniac." Note that while a re-raise is often the pre-flop play of choice against player like Fred, it does have its limits. I have many players who randomly re-raise a playing maniac. This is not correct. It is a response which stops from the failure to think about an individual hands as well as their strategy in the overall game. There are cases which represent a call than a re-raise. For example you are in a middle position holding a hand like

and the maniac on your immediate right raises three limpers of changing ability. Your small pair in this case is playable but a re-raise would make it difficult to play it. If you do not think you can knock out everyone behind you as well as all the limpers, then a call would prove to be profitable.

Also, there are cases which you may have a close decision between re-raising and just calling. In this case, you might want to consider that if you very often punish a maniac with re-raises before the flop, he may really adjust his play and avoid making wrong raises. Do you want him to play it better? Also you don't want the other players in the game to become engage to, and start disregarding your re-raises. Therefore, calling much of time with good hands can do better multi-way.

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