The Psychology Behind Poker Home Games

The mental game tips you'll need to improve your home game

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Poker Home Game Psychology :

Poker psychology is a complex subject in many live and online poker games, where players are constantly trying to figure out how their opponents' minds work. Your average home-game player, in contrast, is more concerned with trying all the different snack mixes than what's happening on the poker table. But while home-game poker psychology is less sophisticated than typical live casino/online games, understanding it certainly helps you win more money from your friends. So let's discuss how you can gain the poker-psychology upper hand by manipulating the environment, bluffing your fellow gamers and ensuring that you always play your best.

Influence Your Home Poker Game: Sight, Smells And Sounds

If you're the host, then you can really rig the game for yourself! We're not talking about marking cards or any form of cheating, but rather gaining a psychological edge by manipulating certain factors.
 
Research has proven that people are more likely to engage in immoral behaviour when lights are dimmer. So if you want to loosen up your poker game and encourage risky bluffs from your opponents, dim the lights and play premium hands to collect their money. On the other hand, if you're a loose-aggressive player, you can keep the lights bright and make your opponents play much tighter.
 
Also consider the way the room smells where you're holding a poker game. A psychology study found that a simple citrus scent makes people very generous. How this translates to poker is up for debate, but you could surmise that your mates will let their guards down and not care about losing as much in a citrusy room.
 
Finally, the music you play can also have an effect on other players. This is especially the case if the music has lyrics that the other players will listen to, thus distracting them from the action. Meanwhile, if you've already heard the songs lots of time before, you're less likely to be thrown off your game.
 
Remember that even if you're not hosting the game, you can still manipulate some of these factors by turning on an extra light or two and changing the music volume.
 

How To Bluff — and Avoid Getting Bluffed:

There's nothing more psychological in poker than bluffing. Of course, to successfully bluff the average home-game player, you need to understand how their mind works.
 
First off, your friends aren't usually going to fold to a 3x the big blind pre-flop bet like a live or online player might. Standard home-game stakes just aren't high enough to scare most players and they want action. So if you try bluffing or semi-bluffing with a small pre-flop bet, chances are you'll get 4-5 callers who want to see the flop. A better idea is to wait until after the flop, when many home-game players imply their hand strength by checking or betting.
 
Long-time poker author Ed Miller suggests this is especially easy to do if an opponent bets pre-flop then suddenly start checking. This indicates that their once-strong hand has missed the board and they're likely to fold. So even if your hand is weak after the flop, you can bluff (if they check) and steal the pot. If you bet half the pot in these situations, you only need to force your opponent to fold 33 percent of the time to earn a long-term profit.
 
Assuming your home game is a sit-and-go (SNG) format, another opportune time to bluff is in the late stages of the tourney. Most of your mates are merely trying to make it into the money, so they'll play less aggressively as the SNG winds down to the final 4-5 players. This is when you can open up the range of hands you're playing, bet more aggressively and force players to fold as they tighten up.
 
By now you may also be wondering if the famed 'poker face' plays a role in bluffing your friends out of their money. And the truth is that it does play a role...just not how you've seen Hollywood portray it. A study revealed that rather than trying to give opponents an emotionless, icy stare to conceal your bluffs, you're better off keeping a positive face that conveys trustworthiness
 
And this fits in better with the whole concept of a home poker game anyways, where socialising and fun take precedent over mimicking poker pros.
 
So how do you avoid becoming a bluff victim yourself? One of the easiest ways to avoid getting tricked by your friends involves watching their arms. In 2013, Tufts University discovered that arms — not facial expressions — reveal the most about their hand strength. 
 
Specifically, when opponents are timid in their arm movements, they are showing less confidence and more likely to be bluffing. On the contrary, fluid arm motions indicate confidence and good hand strength.
 

Playing Your Best In Home Games:

Not everything regarding home-game poker psychology has to do with bluffing and your opponents. It's also highly important to make sure that you're in the right mindset to play your best.
 
Much of this begins with simply being positive at the table. Chances are that chatting with and being around your friends will keep your spirits up. But, no matter the stakes, a long string of bad cards and constantly losing will cloud your future judgement. So if luck isn't going your way, a simple trick is to smile and think about positive things. Research from the University of Michigan State shows that this simple action tricks your brain into feeling more positive, which keeps you playing better poker.
 
Another factor to consider is alcohol consumption, which is especially prevalent in home games. We're all well aware that too many drinks will force you into reckless decisions at the poker table. But does this mean that you can't enjoy a few pints with your mates while playing? Absolutely not! In fact, a study from the University of Chicago shows that two beers actually increases your ability to think on multiple levels. Further research from the University of Manitoba shows that moderate alcohol consumption won't negatively impact your decision making.
 
Poker is definitely a mind game that features plenty of psychological elements. And the better you master these concepts — from bluffing to setting up the perfect home game (for yourself) — the more money you stand to make off your friends.
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