Everyone has played against many poker bullies.
Not the kind of bullies who call you names, but the type that push everyone at the table out of pots by relentless aggression.
These players will bet and raise you until you feel you have no choice but to fight fire with fire. You start betting and raising back, but ultimately this only favors the bully.
“Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.” – George Carlin
The whole point of the bully’s strategy is to rile up other players and cause them to play out of their comfort zone. This inevitably leads to massive mistakes that the bully can capitalize on.
Fight Fire With Water
Water is the element most closely associated with tranquility. Just like water beats fire in real life, patience beats aggression in poker. But how much is too much?
Most players realize that the bully is not playing a profitable range of hands, and then they make their biggest mistake – they tighten up…too much.
The result that can be observed time and time again is that a player will wait for ages for a good hand, finally call or raise the bully after being so patient, and the bully completely withdraws from the hand, either by checking or folding.
Why does the bully do so? Because he’s not stupid. He know’s that you think he’s an idiot and that you are just waiting for a good hand. So once you perk up and get involved, he’s done.
Then either two things happen:
You return to being patient and keep folding bad hands and the pattern repeats itself
You get frustrated from waiting all that time and getting nothing out of it, which leads to tilt and bad decisions
Neither of these are winning strategies. However, there is a third.
Play Your Regular Solid Game and Crush the Bully
Wait, isn’t this obvious? It should be, but because of the reasons we already looked at above, it isn’t intuitive for most players.
Here are the facts:
You play a solid tight-aggressive (or similar) game with good hand selection
The bully plays an extremely wide range of hands, many poor ones
If you just play your regular game, you will typically win over time.
The Right Adjustments and the Wrong Adjustments
Adjustments are very important at the table, but many players either make the wrong changes, or over-correct.
The wrong adjustments are to play too tight and try to trap the bully. This only works against the most careless bullies. The right adjustment is to play your standard pre-flop range, but to keep his range in mind post-flop.
Since you are getting involved in a decent amount of hands, he’s not going to automatically shut down if you play back.
Remember that his range is significant weaker than your average opponent. Here are the adjustments you should make:
Call less often with draws; either fold with weak draws or raise and commit with semi-strong draws
Call more with top pair and similar medium-strength hands: These hands act as bluff catchers against a bully
You will have to fine-tune these two adjustments to the specific bully, but as general principles they remain effective.