Thursday, April 07, 2011

Location, location, location

I have written a few times about playing against bullies and maniacs--for example, here and here. I inevitably talk about the importance of position. (Dang it. There was another long-ago post, I'm sure, about how I was faring badly seated to the right of a maniac at the Flamingo, until a seat opened on his left, I moved, and the tide turned. But now I can't find it, no matter what search strategy I use.)

In February of 2009, Shamus mentioned in one of his posts an interesting article by Rolf Slotboom, in which he challenges the conventional wisdom of trying to sit to the immediate left of a maniac. Among other points, he notes that everybody likes to adjust to the maniac by doing more check-raising, and if you're to the maniac's immediate left, you're likely to be caught in the trap with him. If, however, you're on the maniac's immediate right, then you're the last one to act after his bet, and you thus force the check-raiser to spring his trap before the action is back to you. This was the first time I had ever read a argument against the usual tactic, so it definitely caught my attention and got me thinking. About month later I was up against another maniac, on his immediate right, and that article was one of the reasons I decided not to move, as I explained here.

A recent issue of Card Player magazine had two columns dealing, in large part, with the question of position with respect to a maniac.

First, Todd Brunson explains his reasons for preferring to be a few seats to the maniac's left. Unfortunately, Card Player has recently revised its online format, using Flash, so there's no easy way for me to copy and paste a paragraph of the argument. But he makes many of the same points that Slotboom did. Most prominent is that other players will try to take the first seat or two to the left of the maniac and use raises to isolate him. If you are to their left, you can use the observation of what they are doing to trap them between the maniac and you, rather than you being the one that gets trapped in the middle, as can happen with the conventional advice.

Roy Cooke doesn't advocate any particular spot, but discusses how your strategy changes depending on where you are relative to the maniac.

Over the last five years, I have come to feel much less anxious about being stuck with a maniac on my left, probably because I have become more deft at the techniques of using his aggression against him judo-style. I find that I can manage myself from anywhere, for the most part.

As a rule of thumb, though, the more smart, adaptive players there are at the table, the more I want to be on the maniac's right, forcing those smart players to reveal their intentions before I have to act. Conversely, the more timid and unimaginative the opposition is, and the more I see that they are hunkering down and tightening up against his aggression, the more I'd prefer to be the one pulling the isolation moves from the maniac's left. The latter remains my most frequent choice, because the games I mostly play in are not exactly teeming with smart, flexible, observant players. (When they are, I try to find a softer table.)

But all three articles--Slotboom, Brunson, and Cooke--are worth reading and mulling over. The more tools and flexibility you have at your disposal, the better prepared you'll be for whatever situation you might find yourself in.


HighOnPoker said...

I recently read a article from Mike Caro (it may have been an old article, I do not recall the circumstances). In the article, Caro mentioned that the biggest mistake people make against bullies is to try to out-bully them. It's actually quite obvious advice, when you think about it, but he advocated calling light against a bully, but not trying to out-bully the bully for a variety of reasons. I wish I could recall the specifics of the article.

The point is, I suppose, that "conventional wisdom" in poker does not necessarily equate to good advice. In a way, its almost a contrarian's game.

Rakewell said...

High--check the 2nd link in the post for a little surprise.

HighOnPoker said...

I wouldn't be surprised if I first found that Caro article through your linked post. I, too, am a big fan of Caro and credit him with a lot of my live poker game. It is surprising to me when others do not give him due respect, but then again, I have to remember that Caro's shtick is such that most people probably don't get past the character.

Crash said...

I was able to copy Card Player's Flash material by taking screen shots of it (using a mac.) Their whole format is irritating now.