Being a Bully by Gus Hansen
Many players understand the concepts involved in building a large chip stack during a tournament. What they don’t understand, however, is how to use their chips effectively once they’ve gotten them. Once they’ve accumulated a lot of chips, many players want to control the action, but they haven’t thought through how to take command of the table.
When I’m the big stack in a tournament, being the bully is always my first consideration. I want to eliminate players, continue to build my stack, and avoid dangerous situations. If I can create a scenario where I’m the table captain – meaning I dictate the size of the pots – the rest of the action becomes easier to read. I can frequently steal the blinds and antes, and if someone else re-raises, it’s pretty easy to put them on a hand because I know they can only play back at me with really strong cards.
One of the first keys to becoming an effective big-stack bully is to stay aware of your fellow players and the size of their stacks. Don’t give short stacks easy access to all-in moves with any Ace. If you raise with a hand like 9-8 suited and a short stack comes over the top and pushes all-in, then you’ve created a bad situation. Even if you’re getting the right odds to call, you don’t want to double anybody up.
You also have to recognize those players that won’t stand for your bullying or who are just trying to survive and make the money, but are so low in chips that they have no choice but to push. At some point every player reaches their breaking point. You should be conscious of that moment so that you don’t needlessly hand over chips to someone who is ready to play back by pushing all-in and putting you to a tough decision you don’t want to face.
Sometimes, being the bully means that you’ll have to make a crying call even when you don’t want to. For example, if I feel like the short stack is pushing with any Ace, I’ll sometimes gamble even if I think I may be behind before the flop. If I’m holding something like K-Q suited, I’m going to try to knock the player out of the tournament. I’ll basically play with anything down to K-8 suited, because if he has something like pocket 6s or a naked Ace, it’s a choice I can live with.
Of course, being a bully doesn’t mean you should let your aggression outweigh good sense. Playing smart poker – raising at the right times against the right opponents – is always something to keep in mind. For example, if you’re raising on the button with a weak hand like 10-6 against two small stacks in the blinds and one of them pushes, you’ve created a bad situation that you really could have avoided.
If I’m raising in these spots with hands like K-9, J-10, A-9, I’m not worrying too much about getting called or re-raised by a short stack. But with 10-6 off-suit, you have to think – maybe I don’t need to lose a bunch of chips with this hand and double someone up. A good rule of thumb here is to ask yourself if your opponent would push with 10-6 themselves. The answer is, probably not. They would have folded with 10-6, so you created a bad situation by raising with it in the first place.
When you’re trying to be a bully, try to think about what your opponent would do if they were holding your cards. Put yourself in their position and reverse the hands. If you think they would push all-in with the same hand you’re holding, then your hand is strong and you should be a bully and push. If they would have folded your hand, then you should probably let it go too.
There are some hands you’re going to play no matter what, and if you’re behind, you can’t worry about losing. Just say to yourself – that time I was unlucky, next time it will be different. If you raise with A-8 on the button and the blind pushes with A-10 – well, it happened. Put the hand behind you and move on.
To be a successful bully, you have to be willing to take some risks and to lose some chips. Remember, it’s OK to lose the occasional battle in order to win the war.