Poker Insanity... or is it?

I just had one of the most enjoyable poker sessions I’ve ever had.

I was playing a low limit game while waiting for a seat with higher stakes, and the guy sitting to my right was raising every pot before the flop. Not most of them– ALL of them. It took two orbits around the table before I realized this guy wasn’t completely insane.

My first clue was that, despite his awful (and predictable!) pre-flop behavior, his play after the flop bordered on brilliance. He was outplaying everyone at the table– including me– after the flop. He was aggressive when he had the best of it, and had an almost intuitive sense of when he was beaten. It was, by far, the best post-flop play I’ve EVER seen at low limit. Something was clearly up. I really enjoyed watching this guy– it was fun to watch him put a whole table on tilt, and then play circles around them.

I mentioned to him that it had taken me a few hands to realize he wasn’t nuts… he laughed and said he’d take that as a complement. When we both got up to take our seats at the higher limit table, he explained what he’d been up to.

He had been playing what he called “practice drills” at the 3/6 table while waiting for the bigger table to open up. He was raising every hand pre-flop, and trying to exercise his post-flop muscles to see if he could out-play his opponents enough to overcome his obviously negative-expectation play before the flop.

This is a unique and interesting way to improve one’s game– he had to use every element of expert poker play to overcome his pre-flop disadvantage: he had to read people, practice selective post-flop aggression, cut his losses when he obviously had an expensive second-best hand, etc. He took some big swings, of course– I saw his stack go up and down in 20 and 30 big-bet increments in that couple hours, but there was a clear upward trend. Of course, because it was just 3/6, he was risking only a small amount of money in the name of improving his game.

On another positive note, I got to see him deliver some excellent beats with “The Hammer” over the course of the evening. When he cracked one guy’s pocket aces with 7/2 offsuit, the guy was on super-mega-tilt for the rest of the evening. It was hilarious, and profitable for the whole table. (Well, except for Mr. Aces, who finally went home after tilting away a few more C-Notes.)

I once played for 2 hours at a 2/4 table without looking at my cards to see if I could read the players well enough. (I wore sunglasses and pretended to look at my cards so nobody at the table would know what I was up to.) It was really fun, and it was an interesting way to get a sense of just how much you’re really missing when you’re overly concentrated on your own cards. I simply played position, the texture of the board, and my opponents’ reactions to it. (I wound up +2 big bets for the 2 hours.)