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How to Beat the Poker Bully Part 1: End the Enabling
"You won't win this battle."
My coach was right. My nemesis was the Managing Director. I was nothing but a minion.
But I was as comfortable dealing with bullies as Cate Hall is at dealing with racist, sexist, whateverist tweets. It was the only thing my father taught me.
“Look, Lee. The next time a kid calls you names, stick the head in’em”
A little too Roman Gladiator for my taste, but it worked. I'd step out of the scrap the worse for wear but I wouldn't see them again. Off they would trundle searching for a punching bag that didn't punch back.
There will only ever be one winner? We’ll see about that.
The Table Captain
When I began playing poker I was always the Table Captain. Introducing the game to people enabled this. I had the only chip set in the valley.
I held the first-ever £100 Freezeout in my kitchen. Wayne ‘Bill’ Jenkins won the £1,000 winner-takes all prize.
As I played in bigger and better games it became obvious that being a Table Captain without the skills to back it up can leave you with a sizeable dent in your bankroll.
I needed a different approach. And so it was to the coach that I turned and my lessons on how to beat the Managing Director.
Make Him Feel Like The Boss
I didn't stick the head into my MD, but I still fought tooth and nail. I was challenging; always questioning, and refusing to get down on one knee.
My coach taught me that my boss would perceive my actions as a lack of respect. Respect and status were his prime concern. The coach advised me to massage these needs and let him be the boss.
When I first encountered bullies at the poker table I would get so angry I wanted to snap a stick of celery. I would offer up stubborn resistance by getting into violent raising wars.
This might work in the playground but it makes no logical sense on the poker table.
Then I began to allow the player to be the boss. I would compliment them and try to become bezzie mates.
Instead of warring with them, and introducing a high-variance line into my play, the bully started to feel respected and in turn he or she started to respect me. Focus would then shift from my spot on the table to somewhere else.
Everyone, or Just Me?
If you're being bullied at the poker table, the first question to ask is 'why?'
There is a world of difference between someone bullying you because they have position versus someone who thinks you’re a fish.
Look around the table and ask, ‘Is the bully picking on everyone, or just me?’
I help people quit alcohol and when people relapse I get them to dive deep into the associated triggers.
I recommend that they record all of these triggers so they can analyze the data and find patterns.
We can adopt the same approach with the bully.
Bullies Don't Like Resistance
If you feel bullied, start recording the action on your smartphone. Over time, take a look at the data.
If it’s purely a positional play, then ask for a seat change. If there is a theme, such as three-betting you light and then c-betting 100% of flops because you are folding, then adjust your play accordingly.
And take a moment to consider your body posture. How confident do you look? Does it seem like you know what you are doing? Do you look like a fish?
Bullies don’t like resistance. They will steer clear if you look like you could put up a good fight.
Discover how you are enabling the bully. Then end the enabling.
What Makes a Bully a Bully?
All bullies at the poker table have the same thing in common - aggression. Bullies will bet, raise and re-raise with impunity until someone forces a change.
A bully will open with a wider range of hands and is likely to barrel more frequently. As a recreational player I have reacted to this understanding in two different ways.
1. I quit.
I get fed up of seeing them get to the river with 72o and stacking my AK on an A7Q42 board in a three-bet pot, so I gave up.
2. I go to war
I start calling with trash and increase my aggression. Narcissism 101.
The smarter approach is to fold your trash and widen your value calling range.
Lay some traps and introduce a four-bet strategy. Be bold and keep the pots small.
Shower your opponent with the shame of always getting to the river with pants around their ankles.
The Danger of the Ace-High Call
Here is a bad habit to avoid. I would end up on the river playing for stacks making calls with Ace high.
It felt good but it was idiocy. Poker, like a dog, is for life. Play the percentages over the long term.
Stay out of spots like this - the variance will eat you up like key lime pie.
What Type of Bully Are They?
There are two types of bullies.
2) a hyper-aggressive fish who thinks he's the dog's bollocks because in 1997 he won a big pot with 63o.
Your first job is to figure out which camp they light fires in. If their marshmallows are roasting over the first one, then find a different game or stay out of their way.
If they're in the second camp, broaden your calling range and be prepared to get to showdown more frequently while trying to keep the pots as small as you can.
Use The Bully
If the bully is a fish then he's likely driven by ego and a desire for action.
Use this to your advantage by talking to him frequently. When you're forced to fold at showdown, ask the bully to show.
More often than not the premium hands end up in the muck and the bluffs and mediocre holdings will be turned over in front of your face.
Be Smarter Than The Bully
I had a leak that was larger than the largest leak in the world.
I would get to the river in one of these ridiculous raising wars with the bully and would always call irrespective of the play. I was all-in from the moment the hand started.
It was a long time before I learned that folding when I don't have the best hand is a two-finger salute to the bully. But you don’t have to show them the two fingers.
Keep them to yourself. Be the better man. But don’t be afraid to fold. Break poker down into what it is - one hand at a time.
If you fold with the worst hand then you have beaten your opponent.
Learn From The Stoics
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
I doubt Marcus Aurelius played poker but if he did he would have had a nice win rate.
Bullies used to drag my emotions out of my heart like a ventouse on a fat baby. My ego couldn’t take it.
I needed to be the Alpha male. I wanted all the food. I wanted to bang all of the women. I wanted to be the Daddy. I wanted all the money.
Frustration. Anger. Rage. Tilt.
It’s not the bully who is causing you to lose money. It’s your thoughts. Change your thoughts; change your reality.
The Fight With the Boss; The Final Round
I never did listen to my coach when it came to the battle with the MD.
I took another route. I got out of his way. I refused to play his game. I left.
My coach was right; there was only ever going to be one winner.
But what if my coach was Dominik Nitsche and the game was poker and not business?
Would I have listened to the three-time World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet winner? We will find out in Part II.