I'm sure you won't have to go back very far to remember the last time you were in the following situation. You are well into a slow-going session of $1-2 no-limit hold'em (or whatever you typically play). You know your opponents well and are confident that you'll be able to grind out a profit before the night is over. Pre-flop raises have been pretty standard and no one at the table has done anything to surprise you. Then, all of a sudden, it happens.
The once empty seat to your left now reeks of alcohol and cigarette smoke. The source of the stench is a cocky young fellow, flaunting a thick wad of Benjamins and the remnants of what was formerly a double of Jack and Coke. The dealer politely asks your new neighbor if he would like to come in now or wait until the blinds pass. Deal me in, deal me in, he says with a slur. When it is his turn to act, he reaches for a small stack of red $5 chips, and throws them into the middle announcing a raise; grinning, you're relatively certain he never even looked at his cards. The game just changed.
The minute your drunken neighbor sat down, every last player at the table gained a piranha mentality. The friendly game you had become comfortable with just turned into a nine-on-one feeding frenzy. His bets are reckless, he bluffs every other hand, he shows his cards every hand and he'll call your $100 bet on the river because he thought he had a flush. The dealer gives him a stern warning after he spills his drink on your seat. Don't worry about it, you offer in a sincerely forgiving tone. Pants dry, as you flash a wink toward the dealer.
Poker players live for situations like these who wants to work for their money when there's someone at the table willing to give theirs away. Still, you must be careful not to beat yourself, or you'll end up getting busted by the drunken playboy who can't even sit up straight. It can be frustrating to watch everyone else at the table rake pot after pot, while you can't manage to put a hand together. But no matter how maddened you become, do not try to force anything.
Never justify calling a large pre-flop raise with less than mediocre cards, just because you know your opponent is capable of raising with worse. Your J-7 suited remains a heavy mathematical underdog to most acceptable starting hands and you know you're not going to be able to bluff him out of the pot if you don't make a hand. Be patient and selective. When you do finally walk into a hand like aces or kings, you can almost always limp in with it, knowing you'll be able to plant a re-raise on your man when the action comes back around.
You'll also want to take advantage of pot odds in position whenever possible, but try to avoid going heads-up against a drunken maniac with a weak starting hand just to try and get a piece of his action. Your time will come, and when it does, it will be the easiest money you never had to work for.
By Garry Gates
Article courtesy of Vegas Poker 24/7 rakeback program. Get 30% rakeback at AbsolutePoker.
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