Playing poker in the comfort of your own home is a nice departure from the modern casino and online poker games, where players are more worried about analysing their opponent's 3-betting range than socialising. Home poker, in contrast, is about getting together with the same friends/co-workers 1-2 times a week, playing for low stakes, having a few drinks, listening to music and chatting about your lives.
Dominating Poker Home Games
The skill level isn't as good as what you'll see online or in casinos, but that's only to your advantage if you master the nuances of home poker. Let's discuss how you can dominate your home game by knowing how it differs from conventional strategy, spotting your friends' (frequent) tells and focusing in the distracting home environment.
Strategy Adjustments in Home Games
Barring any potential shark who's a friend of your friend, your standard home game will feature a mix of these players:
- Total beginners (new to your weekly game, clueless on strategy...maybe even rules)
- Experienced home players (pick up knowledge from games, possibly read an article or two)
It should be little surprise that your average online pro doesn't find playing five hours' worth of £5-£10 sit-and-go's at your house to be worth their time.
But that shouldn't bother you because: 1) this creates a fun playing environment and 2): even at the upper range of these players, you can exploit their weaknesses. The key, however, is adjusting to their style of play from what you might see online or in live tournaments.
For instance, WSOP champion Tristan Wade advises 'making a 3x the (big) blind pre-flop raise' to show strength while limiting the number of players who see the flop. However, in a standard home game, where players want to see more flops, you may get 4-5 callers with a 3x the big blind raise.
Assuming this happens, your chances of winning the pot diminish with how many players are seeing the flop. Instead, you could tighten up your pre-flop range and make a 6x the big blind bet (or whatever is appropriate in the situation) to hopefully isolate one player.
Looking at another example, you might have raised pre-flop with 8-8, only to totally miss the flop of J-7-5. In this situation, a pot-sized continuation bet could knock a skilled player out of the hand. However, your standard home game player might call with a pair of jacks, 7s or 5s despite your c-bet. A better option could be checking and seeing what kind of hand strength they show.
You know your home game and what adjustments can be made better than anybody else. But if you're looking for some good practice until your weekend game comes around, try playing £1 Sit-And-Go games or low-stakes cash games online. The players you find here will usually represent who's sitting at the home table.
Spotting Tells is Easier in Home Games
Physical tells are a little overrated in live cash games or tournaments, where you may only see certain players once and then they're gone. However, tells are especially important in home poker games because you may play with the same group 5-6 hours a week, all year long. And given that alcohol is usually present and you're in a social atmosphere, players don't pay much attention to what tells they're offering.
If you're at a loss for where to begin when spotting tells, start with the arms. Research from Tufts University shows that poker players reveal the most information about their hand strength through how they put out chips. For example, if a player uses a smooth, fluid motion when setting chips out, they are confident and likely have a strong hand.
Another thing that you can do is pay special attention to players' eyes. When an opponent’s eyes quickly look at their chips after seeing their cards, it means they like their hand and are thinking about betting/raising.
Other things to pay special attention to involve how your opponents react in different situations. What are their mannerisms like on a good flop? On a bad flop? How do they act when bluffing on the river? Do they nervously sip beer while hoping you'll call their monster hand? You may not be able to answer these questions straightaway. But if you pay special attention, especially when their hands reach the showdown, you'll pick up subtle cues over time. If it helps, try analysing one specific player for a few weeks (without creeping them out); one by one, you'll get a better picture of how the regulars play.
As for concealing your own tells, a 'poker face' isn't the best way to accomplish this. Instead, a study appearing in PLOS One states that the 'best "poker face" for bluffing may not be a neutral face"', but rather a friendly face that conveys trustworthiness. In other words, being yourself rather than trying to mimic Phil Ivey is the best way to hide hand strength.
As alluded to before, most home poker games last several hours. And it can be tough to focus while still being sociable, especially if you're drinking, listening to loud music and hearing your friends ramble on about their fantasy football teams. So it's helpful if you have some go-to tricks that'll allow you to strike the perfect balance between socialising and still being competitive in your home game.
Let's start with the most-obvious factor here — drinking. We all know that alcohol is a great way to relax and quickly break down social barriers when you're playing poker. However, we also know that having a few too many pints will leave you forgetting even the most basic of poker strategy. But did you know that a moderate amount of beer can actually make you a better thinker? University of Chicago research shows that two beers increases your "working memory capacity," or the ability to remember one thing while you're doing something else. Applying this to your home game, you can enjoy some alcohol and actually improve your ability to focus on multiple aspects of poker.
Next tip: put that smartphone away! Chances are everybody at your home game has a mobile device, and they'll be checking it quite frequently. Unfortunately, smartphones and tablets have lowered the average attention span from 12 seconds to just eight seconds since 2000. That's worse than a goldfish! And while your home game isn't exactly the main stage of the WSOP, you still want to have some concentration ability.
If you're still having trouble focusing with the music and conversations happening around you, let's go back to our earlier tip about focusing on one player. Odds are that you won't be able to take in everything that's happening during the game because of the constant distractions. Given how research shows that most of us are terrible at multi-tasking anyways, you're better off analysing one player at a time. This helps you stay focused while not overloading your brain and participate in conversations.
Once again, home games differ greatly from the average live or online tournament — both in terms of competitiveness and the atmosphere. You don't want to be the cutthroat player who barely says anything and is obsessed about winning your friends' money, but you also don't want to donate your own funds on a weekly basis. So take the tips in this guide to heart and remember to adapt to the situation based on who's playing.