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Handling A Wild Player

by Ed Miller |  Published: Jan 07, 2015

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Ed MillerRecently, a number of members of Red Chip Poker have posted a series of hands on the forum that share some similarities. In each example, the player posting the hand was up against a relatively short-stacked player who was playing wildly and erratically.
And, in each example, the player posting the hand made the unfortunate mistake of folding a fairly good hand to the wild player’s all-in.

My comment on each of these hands was that when you play against wild players willing to throw their short stacks around, you have to gamble with them. I took that advice to heart in a series of two hands when I encountered a similar player in a $2-$5 game in Las Vegas.

In the first hand, this player had about $160. It folded to him in the small blind, and he limped. I’m normally happy to chop the blinds, but this player didn’t seem familiar with the concept, and instead of trying to explain it, we just played.

I had 8Spade Suit 8Heart Suit, so I raised to $20. He called.

The flop was KDiamond Suit 10Spade Suit 6Heart Suit. He checked.

It’s not a good flop for my hand, but in this scenario, where my opponent is likely to have any two cards, I’m still a favorite to have the best hand. I can get called by sixes and lower pairs, I get called by straight draws, and I also thought my opponent might decide to call or shove even with no pair and no draw.

He checked, I bet $25, and he called.

The turn was the KClub Suit. He shoved all-in for $115 into the $90 pot.

It’s not a great spot for me, but I’m getting close to 2-to-1 on a call. In my experience, players holding a king rarely play this way once their hand turns into trips. They would typically check the turn or bet smaller.

I thought he could have a 10, a 6, or possibly two unpaired cards—though obviously I couldn’t fairly rule out a king either. He’s roughly 50/50 to have either a ten or six, and I thought the chance he held no pair was probably as good as the chance he held a king. I’m likely an underdog to win if I call, but since I’m getting nearly 2-to-1, I felt compelled to call.

I called, the river bricked, and he showed 10-2.

It’s hard not to second-guess yourself after you lose a hand like that, but shortly thereafter, I played another hand against the same player. This time he has a $250 stack.
The wild player limped in from early position. Another recreational player limped, and I raised to $25 with ADiamond Suit JDiamond Suit from two off the button. The blinds folded, and both limpers called.

The flop came ASpade Suit 6Club Suit 5Club Suit. The wild player checked, but the next player bet $35 into the $75 pot. In my experience, this sort of bet is often a challenge to the preflop raiser. “Do you have an ace, raiser, do you?” is the main idea. Frequently, the player making the bet will hold an ace, but typically with a poor kicker.

So I thought my A-J was probably ahead. I considered raising, but I thought my chance to get value from my hand was greater if I allowed the wild player to stay in the pot. So I called.

The wild player didn’t disappoint, as he shoved all-in for $190 more into the $180 pot. The original bettor folded, and I snap-called.

The wild player showed QClub Suit 10Spade Suit for no pair, no draw, and, as expected, my ace held up.

Even though I felt I had made the correct play at the time when I called with the eights, whenever you call an all-in with such a weak hand and lose, you have to at least consider that you made an error.

But, after I played the second hand, I felt very good about my call with 8-8 on a K-10-6 board. Straight draws abound. Hands like A-Q, 8-7, and many in-between have at least a gutshot on this board. It would be unusual for this sort of player to fold any of these draws to my flop bet. When he shoves the turn, I think he can have almost any hand he called the flop with—with the possible exception of trip kings or a full house, which he might try to play slower. If he can shove the turn with any straight draw, any ten, any six, and possibly just ace-high, my call with eights is a slam dunk.

The Adjustment

The members at Red Chip Poker who posted similar hands with similar players, but who ended up folding to the all-in instead, failed to make a somewhat difficult adjustment.

One of the first things you learn when you begin to take no-limit hold’em seriously is that you often need to fold. When opponents put pressure on you with big turn and river bets and all-ins, you can’t make a habit of calling. If you do, you’ll see a lot of nutted hands and lose a lot of stacks.

So players get in the habit of folding to these big bets. It’s mostly a good habit, but folding is a good play only because many small-stakes players are unlikely to launch large betting campaigns without strong hands.

“They usually have two pair or better if they raise the turn.” It’s a rule of thumb that often applies in small-stakes games. When this rule is true, folding is the smart play.
But some players turn this idea on its head. Not only do they not usually have two pair or better if they raise, they are instead looking for spots to shove all-in with nearly any two cards. Usually these players begin to act this way only with a relatively short stack (perhaps 50 big blinds or shorter).

Nevertheless, you should not be looking for reasons to fold to these players. Instead, you should be looking for a reason to call if the math of no-limit hold’em dictates that you get odds on an all-in call, you always stand to win more money than you stand to lose. You usually have to feel like you’re a big underdog to fold, and, when you have something halfway-decent and you know your opponent could be shoving with air, you rarely should feel like a big underdog.

Final Thoughts

Don’t let wild players trip you up. They work almost opposite of typical small-stakes players. Instead of being fearful, they are reckless. So instead of leaning toward folds against them, you should lean heavily toward calling. Sometimes you’ll call them and they’ll show you a bad hand that’s slightly better than yours (like my opponent did in the first example). This can be frustrating, but don’t let it deter you. You should be just as ready to give action the second time around, because that may be the time you get all the chips. ♠

Ed’s newest book, Poker’s 1%: The One Big Secret That Keeps Elite Players On Top is available now at his website edmillerpoker.com. You can also find original articles and instructional videos by Ed at the brand new site redchippoker.com.