The home poker game is a tricky beast. You have to walk a fine line between socializing and competitive gaming. The best players are able to gab all night long, down a six pack and still walk away with a pocketful of 20s they can toss on to the dresser to impress the wife at the end of the night. Here are 7 tips from a semi-professional to help you join that elite league of repeat winners:
1. Give A Shit
If you walk in the door simply looking to hang out with your buddies and drink a few IPAs, that’s great. Totally fine. Just don’t expect to walk home with part of the pot. Poker is combat with cards and chips. Would you walk onto a battlefield half-drunk and casually expect to emerge victorious? Same thing for the green-felt arena. You’ve got to want to win to even have a shot. Make your decision before you enter the host’s house as to what you want to get out of the night.
With ultra-low blinds, and micro-stakes, your average home game has the tendency to trickle on into the wee hours of the night. How many times have you seen a friend do well early on, only to lose concentration around midnight and shove all-in on a weak hand? You have to have the stamina of Ron Jeremy to make it through a home game. Your enemies will be beer, high-carb foods like pizza and chips and a game that moves at a snail’s pace, especially if guys are periodically getting up from the table to check on sports scores. Hang in there. Victory by attrition is how you win a home game.
3. Hold Out For Big Pairs Early On
You don’t necessarily need to wait for Pocket Aces, but early in a home tournament you should try to hold out for the big hands. Can you win the occasional pot on a sexy suited connector like 7-8 of diamonds? Of course. But that’s the exception, not the rule. Most players can’t help themselves and succumb to the temptation of playing a shitty hand just to ‘see what happens’. Before you know it, you’ll have played a half-dozen of those shitty hands and reduced your stack so much, that by the time you get your good hand, you don’t have enough chips to build a big pot. To really dominate a home game you want to hold out for those big pairs early on.
4. Later On, Open Up Your Game
One rule of pokers that most pros know and most amateurs don’t is that the number of players in the game affects which types of hands you should play. As stated above, you’re going to want to fold small connectors when there are 8 or more players at the table. But once you get down to 7, 6 or less, you can start opening up your range of hands. A King/4 Suited is worth a gamble with less players, because even if you miss the flush, your king might still be good. Whereas with more players at the table, that king will probably lose to a king with a bigger kicker.
5. Raise Your Friends
The single biggest mistake people make when playing a home poker game is not raising before entering the pot. Sure, these are you buddies. And there’s a lot of pressure at a home game to ‘play nice’ and simply limp in. Don’t do it. It’s not that you’re being rude to your friends. It’s about self-preservation. If you start off with an A/Q and you simply limp into the pot by calling the blinds, you’re opening yourself up to getting beat by all types of hands that might limp in behind you. The guy with the 4/5 offsuit is probably going to play “just for the hell of it”. Don’t let him. Raise it up, and make him pay to play. As a general rule of thumb, your raises should be 3xs the big blind almost every single time you enter a pot. Even if you don’t understand pot odds, you can understand this: the more people who play the hand with you, the worse your odds of winning. So thin the herd and raise the blinds every time you are the first bettor.
6. Fold, Fold & Fold Some More
Phil Hellmuth, pictured here, is one of the most successful poker players in tournament poker history. Why? Among other skills, he’s a master of the fold. Phil will lay down hand after hand, sometimes even when he thinks he’s ahead, so as not to jeopardize his tournament life. Better to make a bad fold, then to get knocked out, is his strategy. And it’s paid off.
Consider when he laid down a huge hand before the flop when his opponent pushed all in. Phil folded his big pair only to learn that his opponent had Pocket Aces, also known as bullets. Hellmuth turned to his wife in the audience and uttered this now legendary poker quote: “Honey, honey, I was supposed to go broke on that hand. But they forgot one thing: I can dodge bullets, baby!”
Although you don’t to emulate his temper, you should follow Hellmuth’s lead when it comes to laying down hands.
Most home games allows players to rebuy pretty late in the tournament, so that somebody doesn’t wind up sitting on the couch alone watching a college Basketball game the whole night. Take advantage. Especially if others don’t. If you get down to the final 4 and they let you buy back in, you should. That’s something that would never be allowed late in a professional tournament. A late rebuy absolutely favors the person buying in, even if you start with a severe disadvantage in chips. If you can buy in and be given 10x or more chips than the big blind, you should play (example: It’s 11pm, the blinds are 250/500, and every player is given 5,000 worth of chips when they buy in. That means you are getting 10x the big blind to play. That’s tight, but you should still do it, because the cost of buying back in is cheap compared to the potential winnings).
If you’re the kind of guy that shows up at poker night looking to have some fun and drink some beers, but then find yourself down in the dumps when you go home empty-handed, it may be time to start taking the game a little more seriously. You can still have fun, but focus on winning before you even walk in the door and be prepared to stay late without making stupid mistakes around midnight. Stick to your bigger hands early on, but once players start getting knocked out, open up your range of hands a little more. But most of all? Raise when you enter a pot. If you don’t close the door and prevent crappy hands from entering the pot, you have no one to blame but yourself when they beat you. Put some of these strategies into practice, and you’ll soon experience that joyous feeling of waking your wife up at 1am to show her that thick money roll you just hauled in from your buddies. Like a Neanderthal dragging a plump antelope back to the cave, you have gone out into the world and returned with your prize. You are the man. Now stand there at the edge of the bed like a boss and shower her with singles, fives and tens.