Texas Holdem Tournament Strategy - Winning vs. Aggressive
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.
This installment deals with
the most-asked question: �How do I deal effectively with aggressive
players?� Many players struggle against "maniacs", the
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
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.
sitting in the middle, directly across from the dealer. There were two
"wild men" to my right. These two participated in most every
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
the 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.
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 virtualcitys, 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
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.
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.
To prepare my
trap, I delayed and muddled around for about ten seconds, and then
casually "checked" verbally and using my hand in a chopping
motion, with a
slightly disgusted look. Next, the younger Russian moves in with a big bet
of 3,000 chips. I was sure I had him now. As expected, everyone else
quickly folded and got out of his way � except me. This fellow had pushed
everyone around and I was finally properly armed and ready to do battle on
my own terms. Note that this had been my "battle plan" all along. I was
deliberately targeting these aggressive characters, knowing that when the
time was right, their ill-gotten stacks would become mine!
action came back around to me, so now it was just the two of us heads-up.
The two Russians said something to each other that the rest of us couldn�t
decipher. I delayed and bobbed my head around as if to be struggling with
my decision. Then, I motioned with both hands and uttered �I'm all-in". I
knew this series of actions would likely trigger an aggressive reaction,
since my �check-raise� made it appear as if I was trying to steal this
pot! A check-raise almost always triggers a full-tilt response from an
He immediately called me - he was so aggressive
(and pot-committed) that it was like a fish taking the bait and running
for deep waters - hook line and sinker! I threw my pair of 9's over,
revealing the trip 9's. There was a low murmur around the table from the
other players. My young Russian friend reluctantly flipped his five/trash
hand over - he had a pair of fives (with a King over-card showing on the
board!). He was definitely angling to drive me out of this pot with his
ascertive play � one too many times�
You see, no one actually gets
that many great hands in poker - nobody. If someone plays 30% to 40% or
more of the time, they're just "gambling" and bluffing. This guy thinks he
has a "good" hand, because he actually had a real pair � something he
doesn�t often have when pushing everyone around with mostly aggressive
betting as his only real weapon.
The turn came and it wasn't a five
- then someone pipes up and says "he's drawing dead". Believe me, you
never want to hear that when you're in a virtualcity! I looked over as he
said something in Russian to his buddy - another violation of tournament
rules, as everyone is compelled to speak English at the tournament table.
It wouldn�t matter, as he stood up, grabbed his jacket and left after
receiving some consolation from his friend.
His older friend glared
over at me and uttered something derogatory in Russian. I had no clue what
he said, but I knew from his tone that I didn't like it. I also knew I'd
gotten under his skin by taking down his buddy and raking in all of his
chips. I responded with "what's that, I don't understand what you're
saying since you're not speaking English?� loudly so everyone at the table
could hear me.
He mumbled something about his friend...I smiled and
said politely with a smile "I deliberately laid that trap for your friend
and he fell right into it!", pushing the knife in deeper, knowing he'd be
gunning for me anyway - might as well make sure my next trap was fully set. This also signaled to everyone else at the table that whenever I
checked or limped, it could be extremely dangerous if assumed to be a sign
of weakness - something I�d leverage later as the blinds and antes rose
and the proper time to bluff and steal blinds actually arrived.
After a slight
pause, my Russian friend noticed that
everyone was now looking at him. He looked down at his chips and said
"nice play" with a reluctantly polite tone.
Boy, I was
battle plan was definitely becoming field-proven here - and my next target
was clearly sighted. It had taken careful observation, planning and a lot
of patience to wait for the right hand, and then play it correctly to take
this highly-skilled, aggressive player out and rake in all of his chips.
About ten minutes
later, it was tournament break time, after
two hours of play. I counted my chips, which totaled 14,900 (we started
with 5,000 each), then grabbed a quick bite to eat, reflecting on what had
just taken place.
Within ten minutes of returning from break, I
finally picked up a serious starting hand: Cowboys (KK). I knew it was
time for my new Russian friend and me to tango, so I fired out a bet of 3
times the big blind: 3,000 chips, bait that I was sure he couldn�t turn
down. Sure enough, he bit - big time. His all-in raise came almost
instantaneously, before I could even get my bet onto the table. He was
totally ready to engage, and had been laying in wait for me - just like I
had planned. I had set him up by taking out his friend and then
challenging his poker ego in front of everyone. He just had to retaliate
against me � it was a totally predictable �full-tilt� response from this
kind of player.
This is what the game of poker is really all about
� having a well-defined strategy, the patience to wait for the right
and then executing properly. It�s what makes poker a game of strategy
instead of a game of chance (for some of us).
He raised by going
all-in with around 8,000 chips to my roughly 14,000. I quickly called his
all-in bet. Everyone else quickly folded and got out of our way.
flipped my pocket kings over, then looked him straight in the eye and just
smiled. Then someone says "Yeah! Now we've got some action!" He sighed and
flipped over QQ - he actually had a real hand for a change. That's one of
the problems with these kinds of "semi-solid, aggressive"
players, like my
Russian friend here, and other poker greats like Gus Hansen. You never
really know exactly what to expect from them. Of course, my opponent
could've held pocket rockets (AA), but I'll play those KK cowboys strong
each and every time I get them, since there�s only one hand that can beat
them heads-up. I also knew this aggressive player on tilt was likely to be
overplaying his hand, improving my odds significantly.
turn and river came and went without another Queen and it was done - my
cowboys stood up and I had all of both Russian�s stacks, which included
most of the other two poor maniac�s chips (who lost to the Russians
earlier). This instantly made me by far the chip leader at our table with
well over 22,000 chips!
I went from having an average chip stack to
being the table chip leader, against tough, aggressive opponents, within
less than half an hour by:
a) Playing solid, reasonable tournament
b) Not taking big, undue risks with weak or "drawing"
c) Studying my aggressive prey and where the chips were
d) Formulating and refining a battle plan while observing
the game progress,
e) Remaining patient while waiting for the right
hand to make my move, and
f) Executing this plan with precision
against a predetermined opponent, and on terms of my choosing � not the
There was no luck involved at all � except that my
opponent didn�t hold AA or pull some lucky cards with a trash hand � which
was simply playing the odds in my favor.
I started out with a
high-level strategy to target aggressive chip leaders, and go after them
with strong hands from the right position. I planned this before I ever
arrived at the casino that day, or knew who these players would be. Then,
I refined my plan once I knew for certain whom the evening�s targets would
be and how I�d provoke them. It certainly helped that I caught two decent
hands during those first hours of play.
Unfortunately, I later lost
to a legitimate full house, but made it into the top 40 � it
The key to playing against aggressive and maniac players
is having a viable Texas Holdem strategy you can profit from when you get
some good hands. If you have a good plan, you can convert it into a
formidable stockpile of chips - a stack that you�ll definitely need as the
blinds and antes increase and the tournament field narrows in the latter
This is how I approach Texas Holdem strategy for
tournaments now - at least when the tables are full with 8 or more players, some of them aggressive and
maniacs. So, the next time you
encounter wild and aggressive players at your poker table, get ready to
have some fun! It's like Tae Kwon Do - using the opponent�s own energy and
momentum against them.
In the next installment, we�ll detail this
Texas Holdem strategy more formally, along with exploring some other
tournament tips for playing better Texas Holdem poker.
Until then �
Rick Braddy is an avid writer, Texas Holdem player and pro software
developer and marketer for over 25 years. His websites and software specialize in helping
people become better Texas Holdem poker players. If you're a poker player,
be sure to visit his BetterHoldem.com websitetoday and
learn how you can play better Texas Holdem, too.