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Online Draw Poker with a Maniac

You’ve seen advice on how best to play hold’em with a maniac, where to sit in relation to the maniac, and so on. For example, if you sit to his right, you can either build pots by callingMichael WiesenbergMichael Wiesenberg made his living playing poker for 10 years before turning to a career as a writer. His books include 'Free Money: How to Win in the Cardrooms of California'; 'The Dictonary of Poker', and 'The Ultimate Casino Guide.  Check out his writings on everything online draw poker!  when it gets to you, or try to isolate by raising, knowing the maniac will reraise, and forcing others to look at either three bets cold or two more bets. If you sit to his left, you can see what everyone else does before making your move, and similarly isolate or build pots.

The same is not true in draw, with only two rounds of betting. A maniac on your left will burn up your money. You can also make an argument for not wanting the maniac immediately on your right, because of the frequent danger to your big blind—particularly if the other players react properly to the presence of the maniac. But this is generally the best place to have him.

I scanned the list of five-handed online draw games. The statistics for one $1-$2 game showed average pot size, $10, players per flop, 66%. Normally average pot size is $4 or $5—often less—and the players per flop figure is usually under 40%. (Yeah, I know. Draw doesn’t have a flop. But since several games appear in the same list, that’s what’s at the top of the column.) I like to play in games with lots of action and many pots being played. Games that average $3 and have participation under 20% are usually very tight and do not present much opportunity to win anything. The higher-limit draw games were full and had several waiting, including me.

I brought up the screen for this game. Holder666 seemed to be creating all the action. He played all of the first four pots I watched, raising or reraising each one. No one was on the waiting list. I added my name.

The first pot, he opened under the gun for a raise. Only the big blind called. Each took three cards. The big blind checked and Holder666 bet. The big blind called and won with two aces when Holder666 showed a pair of sevens.

Next, it was Holder666’s big blind. ThePhantom opened (no raise). JoeBtfsplk333 called. The button folded. IluvPoker, in the little blind, called. Holder666 raised. All called. IluvPoker and Holder666 took three cards. ThePhantom and JoeBtfsplk333 took one card each. IluvPoker checked. Holder666 bet. ThePhantom and JoeBtfsplk333 both called. IluvPoker folded. Holder666 showed three fours, and both ThePhantom and JoeBtfsplk333 dumped their cards without showing. Clearly each had started with two pair. Had either come in for a raise, IluvPoker probably would not have called, and Holder666 would not have made trips. One of them would have won.

Next, Holder666’s little blind and ThePhantom’s big blind. Everyone folded to Holder666, who came in for a raise. ThePhantom called. Holder666 took two cards and ThePhantom took one. Holder666 bet and ThePhantom folded.

Next, everyone folded to Holder666, on the button, who of course opened for a raise. ThePhantom, who was running low on chips, reraised, in the little blind. JoeBtfsplk333 folded his big blind. Holder666 capped. This left ThePhantom with $4. ThePhantom drew one card and Holder666 took three. ThePhantom bet and Holder666 raised. ThePhantom called his last $2 and Holder666 showed a full house, three sevens and two deuces. He had capped the betting before the draw with two sevens (most likely, although it could easily have been the deuces), and gotten very lucky, because Holder666 showed his cards before leaving the table: three sixes, an ace, and a deuce. He had attempted to disguise his holding by drawing one card, instead of giving himself the maximum chance to improve. The disguise was wasted, because Holder666 was going to draw three cards no matter what. Had ThePhantom drawn two cards, he either would have caught among his two cards a seven, which would have prevented Holder666 from filling up, or he would have caught a two deuces. If Holder666 had started instead with two deuces, then ThePhantom would have caught either a seven or a deuce, also preventing Holder666 from filling up. That is, had ThePhantom taken two cards, he could not have lost the pot. He would have $16 and been able to play for awhile.

I immediately took ThePhantom’s place, and bought $100 worth of chips. Holder666 had about $70 at this point.

I thought that I was in a great spot, because the others didn’t seem to have a clue how to play this maniac.

I waited for the blind to get to me before getting into the game.

Holder666 played every one of the next four hands, raising or reraising each one. He seemed to be on a rush. Twice he beat two pair by drawing three cards to a small pair.

On JoeBtfsplk333’s button, Holder666 raise-opened. JoeBtfsplk333 called. They each drew one card. Holder666 bet, ThePhantom called, and Holder666 showed that he had made a six-high straight. JoeBtfsplk333 did not show his hand, but I was pretty sure he had had two pair. JoeBtfsplk333 rarely raised. He was mostly a caller.

One of the times two pair got beat by an odds-defying draw, EuroGuy987, two to my left, raise-opened on the button. Holder666 reraised on his big blind, and EuroGuy987 capped. Holder666 drew three cards on his big blind, and bet. EuroGuy987, who had drawn one card, thought for a moment before calling. I could almost hear him sigh as he did. Holder666 showed three jacks. EuroGuy987 showed that he had had aces up. He didn’t have to show the cards. Some people in online games like to show their cards when they get beat in big pots. I guess either they’re looking for commiseration or else they want to prove they weren’t playing substandard junk. Sometimes they get the commiseration. I have seen others at the table type into the comment box, “Tough beat,” or the equivalent. I guess that’s why they keep showing, for the intermittent reinforcement. I don’t show hands when I get beat. And I’ve had pat full houses beat by lucky three-card draws, worse than 250-to-1 shots. Why show? Poker is a game of limited information, and I certainly don’t want to provide observant opponents with gratuitous information about how I play. If they want to know what I had, let them bring up a hand history.

My big blind next. JoeBtfsplk333 folded. EuroGuy987 limped. IluvPoker folded. Holder666, not unexpectedly, raised in the little blind. I had a pair of jacks, and called. Everyone drew three cards. Holder666 bet. I did not improve and folded. EuroGuy987 raised. Holder666 reraised. EuroGuy987 called. Holder666 took the pot with four eights. EuroGuy987 showed his three queens, and immediately left.

INeverFold2 took the empty seat. I wonder where these players come up with their names. INeverFold2 is one of the tighter draw players and doesn’t play many pots. Maybe he dazzles them with his footwork in the hold’em games.

The first pot INeverFold2 played of any consequence, he limped on my big blind. Everyone folded to Holder666 in the little blind, who, of course raised. I had a pair of nines, one shy of my big blind calling requirements for a bet plus a raise. And with INeverFold2 already in the pot, I knew I was at best second, and maybe third. I was likely about a 4-to-1 underdog. Even though I was getting 5-to-1 for my call, the times I improved and lost anyway, I would likely lose several bets after the draw. This cut down my implied odds. I folded. INeverFold2 called. Each player took three cards. Holder666 bet and INeverFold2 called. Holder666 bet showed a pair of tens, and INeverFold2 took it with aces and kings.

Damn! I thought. Wish I’d had the hand. The pot would have been capped before the draw, because I would have raise-opened and reraised when Holder666 raised. And then I would have raised after the draw. Well, the less money the others took from Holder666, the more he had to give to me. And I was in perfect position to get it. Money flows clockwise around a poker table, and more of it should stop in my seat than any other.

Holder666 was winning more pots than he was losing, apparently still on his rush. On one, JoeBtfsplk333 reraised before the draw with three aces. High trips was about the worst hand he was willing to “gamble” with before the draw. Holder666 capped. JoeBtfsplk333 drew two cards and Holder666 drew one. JoeBtfsplk333 bet and Holder666 raised. JoeBtfsplk333 called and Holder666 showed the flush that he had made. JoeBtfsplk333 did not show his cards, but I saw them when I retrieved a hand history.

Apparently EuroGuy987 had been watching from the rail all this time, for he typed into the comment box, “How can anyone play like that?” A few minutes later he typed, “I had to get out.” I guess he couldn’t stand the action. He had left the second-best seat at the table. Mine was the best, mainly because the others weren’t playing their hands properly. But to have the button on Holder666’s big blind was great. You could see what the others did before it got to you, and then choose either to raise or call, knowing that Holder666 would likely reraise. My big blind was a dangerous spot, because often the other players would limp on big hands. When Holder666 then raised in the little blind, I needed good cards to play, much better than if it were just Holder666 and me, because the others might be way ahead of me. They would limp on two pair or trips, as well as any other hand. Draw isn’t like hold’em. When a hand is behind in draw, at the very best that hand is a 3-to-1 dog, and often much, much worse.

But I guess the action was too much for EuroGuy987. Some players just cannot play against maniacs. Give me one in a draw game anytime. The only time I would leave a draw game that had a maniac was if he was immediately on my left. Draw is too much of a position game. If I knew that I would be raised most of the time I had the little blind, I would effectively have to give up the little blind most of the time. I would not want to have to make a stand with a pair of sevens or worse every time, so I would have to dump a hand I could limp with against most other players. And I couldn’t call with marginal hands that I might otherwise play when the others limped, because of the likelihood of being raised. No matter how well you play, if you can’t play most hands, you’re going to lose. With someone like Holder666 to my left, I would leave the game and put my name on the waiting list. And hope he survived till I got back.

Holder666 and I mixed it up a few times. He drew first blood. On my big blind, he came in, as always, for a raise. I had two pair, nines and fives, and reraised. Holder666 capped. No surprise. We each drew one card. Holder666 bet. If my pair had been jacks up or better, I would have raised, but I just called. Holder666 showed tens and deuces.

He was up to about $90 at this point.

On my button, he raise-opened as usual. I had a pair of queens. I did not want to give the big blind odds to draw, so raised. INeverFold2 would not have come in with less than two pair at that point, since he could be pretty sure the betting would be capped. Holder666 did not let me down. Of course, if INeverFold2 had been the one to open, I would not even have played. But the way Holder666 was playing, queens was an odds-on favorite. Holder666 and I both drew three cards. He bet. I didn’t improve, and called. Close. He had jacks.

On my little blind, Holder666 raise-opened on the button. I had the same hand I had lost to him with earlier, nines and fives. I reraised. I’m not superstitious. JoeBtfsplk333 folded his little blind. Holder666 capped. We each drew one card. Holder666 had lost a few pots, and had slowed down just the tiniest bit. He had been limping on some of his come hands, or, if someone opened, he had just called. I thought the chances were higher than usual that he had two pair. I checked, and he bet. Well, no way I was going to toss my hand, so I gritted my teeth and called. He showed that he had paired queens drawing to a flush.

Over the next half hour, Holder666 lost back all of that $90 he’d amassed. I got maybe $45 of it, and the rest was spread around the table. His lucky draws quit coming through. He bluffed—or maybe he thought he was betting for value—almost every hand, and got called. Ironically, he lost his last chips in a bad beat. He capped it before the draw against INeverFold2. INeverFold2 drew two cards and Holder666 stood pat. INeverFold2 bet and Holder666 went all in for $1 more. Holder666 showed a pat full house, eights full of deuces, but INeverFold2 took the pot with kings full of nines. Holder666 immediately left, and I never saw him again. I keep a list of live ones, and he occupies a prominent place on the list, but I suspect he was just taking a break from no-fold’em hold’em, where in the smaller games, any two cards can win and a maniac is much more likely to be successful.

A few hands later, I got summoned to a $3-$6 game. Nothing remained in the $1-$2 to make it worth staying, and I left.

The others at the table just did not get it. They did not know how to play against a draw maniac. They kept limping with their short pairs and come draws. In a draw game in which one player is raising almost every pot, you have to play good cards, and you have to play them in position. You must not be afraid to put in several bets with medium-good holdings. You must never limp, and you must not play the same hands you can play in a weak-passive game. If every pot is going to cost you three or four bets minimum, you can’t draw to straights and flushes, because you will never get pot odds or even implied odds to do so. If you’re heads up with the maniac and you’re drawing to a straight or flush, if you miss the hand, you have nothing with which to call his bet. And you can’t bluff, because he will either call or raise after the draw—unless he was also drawing to a straight or flush, and even then he might raise if he misses. If you have a pair of kings or aces, you must raise-open to freeze out the other players. If you limp, for example, with kings, someone calls behind you, and the maniac raises, now the big blind gets odds to draw to a medium pair. You call, and then the other caller, too, has odds to call one more bet. You may be the favorite to win the pot, but you are not a favorite against the field. In a four-player contest, you may win a third of the time, but that means you lose two-thirds of the time. While your expectation is positive, your fluctuations will be extreme. Better to raise-open, because playing one-on-one with the maniac you should win more than half the time.

And something to remember that many players forget when they’re playing against a maniac. Even the livest player can pick up a hand. Don’t be surprised if you get a big hand beat. You may have two pair or better, but if someone is capable of capping the betting before the draw with a flush draw, he will make that hand nearly one time in four. And if someone regularly raises with any pair, if you play properly, you should be willing to cap with a big pair, certainly with two pair. But if he already has you beat, you’re going to lose at least 75% of the time, maybe more.

This article originally appeared in Card Player Magazine.  © 2006 Michael Wiesenberg.

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