Fighting the Bully

A common occurrence at a tournament poker table is the presence of a bully. Especially at holdem, whether the poker form is limit or no-limit, someone in the game may be doing a lot of raising. A sound holdem player is supposed to play only about fifteen to twenty percent of his starting hands. The bully plays thirty to fifty percent, and almost always raises if no one has opened yet. How you choose to cope with a bully has a lot to do with your tournament result. What should you do?

One school of thought is, “fight fire with fire.” Don’t let the bully run over you. Defend your blind. Raise him when he bets. He is on light hands, so you can scale down from your solid normal standards to keep him from thinking you are a pushover.

Another school of thought is, “Don’t let a money-pusher throw you off your game.” The bully is going to put down some heat after the flop, so give yourself a chance to build a hand that can take that heat. Sit back, wait for a good hand, then pick him off with it.

Can both schools be right? I believe they can. The school you belong to should be dictated by the blind structure. If the players have a lot of money in relation to the blinds, it does not matter if the bully tries to steal a little bit. For example, when the blinds are $5-$10 and the players have $500 worth of chips, as is the case at the beginning of many tournament events, the player that jumps out in front by picking up another $15 or $30 in blind money is not going to hurt your chances much. Let him boogie around playing high-risk poker while you wait for the right weapon to duel with. But if the blinds are a matter of life or death, like playing with a $50-$100 blind when you have less than a grand, you are going to have to run some risks to fight for that money.

To sum up, say to yourself, “Are the blinds up high enough to fight over?” If the answer is no, wait for a solid hand. If the answer is yes, the bully is probably playing correct poker strategy for that portion of the tournament, and you have no choice but to make a stand.

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