A Primer for the Shorthanded Limit Hold'em Maniac
2006 Jason Kirk  

One of my favorite games to play at lower limits is shorthanded limit hold'em. You get to see more hands per hour and the pots tend to be larger than they are at full ring tables of the same limit. Those are great reasons to play, but not the best - the best reason to play is that the opponents are some the most easily manipulated you'll ever come across. If you're willing to act the part of the complete maniac, you'll double your fun (and often your profit too).

The first step to exploiting your status as the table maniac is to properly loosen your starting hand standards. Luckily that's not a problem in a shorthanded game, where the smaller number of opponents leads both to the blinds coming around more often and to hands that would be considered weak at a full-ring game turning into powerhouses. It doesn't often take much strength to win in a shorthanded game. Something important to remember when you're playing loosely before the flop, however, is not to play too loosely after the flop if you face resistance. Know when to toss medium-strength hands. Losing as little as possible when you drop a pot helps to maximize your gains when you win big pots.

The next step is taking a vow to raise whenever you're first into the pot before the flop. There are no exceptions to this rule: if you mean to play a hand, forget about limping in. You'll be giving yourself better odds on later streets if you end up playing a draw, and you'll also intimidate more passive players and even anger some others who will get fed up with your unbridled aggression. That's one of the most valuable effects of never letting up on your gas pedal - you'll turn a lot of your opponents into calling robots who never consider whether they're behind. They will always think you're bluffing and call you down whether their hand is weak or not.

The final step is to be able to change gears by slowing down on your aggression. At least, you want to appear as if you're slowing down. What you really want is to appear to your opponents as if you're slowing down when you're actually just playing fundamentally sound poker. One way to do this is to avoid playing the more mediocre hands in your range when out of position. Another is to avoid playing hands in the small blind that aren't worth re-raising if you face a raise from a player in late position. These two tactics alone can be enough to allow you to fold hands often enough to appear as if you're slowing down. Then if you suddenly wake up with a premium pair you'll find your opponents are still willing to call with hands that are huge underdogs. They're likely to believe that you're taking a stab at the pot, thanks to your hyper-aggressive image.

Once you've established a carefully crafted image as a maniac at the table, you're ready to begin having fun. You'll notice in a very short amount of time that players get irritated when someone raises every hand. They begin calling raised pots more often regardless of the strength of their hands, which means they're getting their money in as a significant underdog on a regular basis. They begin to bluff-raise when they're heads-up with you, never giving you any credit for having a hand. These are all good things for you - when your opponents are making their decisions based on their desire to bust you, they're ignoring their own well-being at the table and leaving themselves vulnerable.

With all your opponents on edge and completely unable to read you, your main task is to keep things as chaotic as possible. Sometimes, for instance, I like to go ahead and raise when I have position even if I think I'm behind, just to build a bigger pot that will entice others at the table to build a big pot with loose calls. There's more money if I do manage to hit a hand, but there's also the slight edge you get from tilting the other opponents at the table who end up stuck in a hand once you fold on the flop. They'll lose the hand when they call down with 4th pair against the other guy who woke up with aces, and they'll hate you for getting them involved in a pot and then bailing without much cost to your stack. That sort of subtle manipulation will distract most low-limit opponents the same way a red cloth distracts an angry bull - they'll find themselves completely unable to concentrate, and there is no opponent I'd rather face than one who can't focus on the game before him.

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