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How to Beat The Poker Bully Part 2: Think Math, Not Ego
Dominik Nitsche is a 3-time World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet winner, a World Poker Tour (WPT) Champion and an ambassador for 888Poker.
And he is still a pup.
In How to Beat The Poker Bully Part 1: End The Enabling I gave you some insight into how I dealt with bullies playing in the amateur games.
But what about the stronger games? I asked the young pup Nitsche how he deals with the rabid dogs on the elite poker circuit and this is what he had to say.
Bully is a Misnomer
Nitsche believes that thinking in terms like 'Table Captain' or 'Bully' is incorrect.
“Every good player realizes that poker is played one hand at a time,” says Nitsche. “The goal is always to make the best decision possible.”
Traditional poker 'bullies' amp up their aggression and bet and raise at a higher frequency. Nitsche says this way of playing is neither right or wrong.
The term Bully is a misnomer. All that matters is playing each hand optimally.
Poker is Not About Ego
Poker pushes your psychological boundaries. In Part I I wrote about the schoolyard bullies and how my Dad taught me to fight aggression with aggression.
Thinking like my Father is ego-based. In winning poker, ego is the enemy. As Nitsche explains:
"Think about it this way. Is the guy open raising 73s from mid-position making a profitable play?
"It might be if the people behind him are playing too tight. Is he making the right play three-betting you with 92s on the button?
"Unlikely, but that's when you need to start thinking about adjusting your strategy. Poker is not about ego."
But if poker is not ego, what is it?
Poker is Math
"Poker is about making the correct mathematical decision," says Nitsche. "If someone plays too loose and aggressive they become exploitable.
"Your strategy should now change to exploit their weaknesses. The same theory stands if they play too tight."
Think about the persona of a bully: a grandiose, larger-than-life personality. Exploitable isn't the term that one would use when you see them in action but Nitsche makes it seem so obvious.
A bully is one of the most exploitable players in the game.
Play each hand mathematically correct and, if that creates the persona of a bully, then that's a by-product of changing our strategy depending on the actions of the other players at the table.
If we are at a table of competent players and we happen to be running hot, then we may appear to be a bully. Given what we have learned from Nitsche, though, we can then assume that the other players may feel we are playing too loose.
Adapt, and we can use that knowledge to our advantage. But how do we exploit the Bully?
Find The Spot, Aim & Fire
Every poker player has a weakness. Professionals like Nitsche eke out their edges by finding them. It's David vs. Goliath 101.
It’s not about finding the right stone. It’s about finding the right place to aim.
"In my opinion, people who are extremely aggressive are easy to play against," says Nitsche. "You don't even need to change your game that much.
"Make sure you open a solid selection of starting hands and the rest should take care of itself. That's a good way to counter a frequent three-bettor."
Nitsche continues with this advice:
"I wouldn't tighten up your opening range just because one player at the table appears to be three-betting you a lot. Continue with strong suited connectors, stronger off suit Broadway hands and pairs.
"If your opponent keeps on going crazy then you can consider four-bet jamming if stacks are 50bb or less and you have a suited ace or pocket pair.
"Another great way to deal with them is to set a trap pre-flop by just calling their three-bet with aces. If they are three-betting a lot of hands they will be folding to a lot of four-bets, and we have to be mindful.
"You can also four-bet as a bluff but I find that either folding or calling is usually the better option, unless like previously stated stacks are 50bb or less where you can consider jamming.
"If you are deep, four-bet folding doesn't hurt at badly as you think it will."
There you have it. Really easy to play against.
If you can drop the ego, resist turning the game into a testosterone-filled tussle and play the poker fundamentals sprinkled with some savvy, then there's no need to be concerned about a player who appears to be running over the table.
Not As Many As You Think
Poker bullies aren’t even as prevalent as you think they are. As Nitsche explains:
"Nowadays people have learned to deal better with aggression so unfortunately you won't find a complete maniac or bully that often anymore.
"If you do they usually won't be around for very long. In full ring poker you simply can't run a table over. Unless everyone is playing way too tight of course!"
Know When to Kick the Chair
Did you notice the use of the word 'unfortunately' in that last statement? Players of the calibre of Nitsche love playing against bullies. Think about that.
Don't be a bully. Instead, remember to play each hand optimally with a focus on the right mathematical play.
If you do face a bully, which will be rare, then don't sweat when it comes to folding hands that are near the bottom of your opening range.
It's not about ego. It's about the right play. Your job is to be patient, hand them some rope and know when to kick the chair.