Is there anything better than beating your friends at poker?
Well, OK, winning the WSOP Main Event for $10 million might be a little better but bluffing your friend out of a $10 pot ranks a close second.
Home games are generally the first place that people learn how to play poker (although online poker is also an excellent way to get familiar with the game!) and the skill level is usually fairly low as most people are just in it to have fun, which is great.
If you really want to get better at poker, however, there are simple tricks and strategies that you can utilize to get better and hopefully crush your friends.
Here are eight tips to help you dominate your home game (these tips are for a basic No-Limit Hold'em cash game):
1. You Should Bet More Often
This is the single most common mistake that new players make at the poker table.
The reality is that most of the time you’re going to be dealt a crappy hand and you’re also going to miss the flop.
Think about all the times you’ve had a nice drawing hand like 9s-8s only to have the flop come 4h-3h-2h. Here’s the thing though: your opponents are also missing the flop most of the time.
That’s why betting is generally the better idea. You’ve both got crappy hands but the player who bets will win the pot.
It’s very common in home games for six players to limp into a pot. You shouldn’t let that happen. If five people check/limp in front of you then you should fire a bet. Even if your hand is less-than-ideal people will instantly believe you’ve got something. There’s a good chance you’ll get plenty of folds and one more bet on the flop will give you the pot most of the time.
There are limits to this logic, of course, and if your opponent fires back you might want to consider folding but new poker players generally feel very timid about playing trashy hands. They shouldn’t. Bluffing is an integral part of the game and the reality is that the flop can transform your trash into a monster in a hurry.
2. Don’t Call with Weak Hands
This is the flip side of the first tip.
While it’s often a good strategy to bet with weak hands, calling is usually not a good idea.
Generally there are two situations where you should call:
Meanwhile beginners will get extremely attached to premium starting hands in Hold'em like Ace-King and call three streets of action despite missing the board completely.
Put it simply: Don’t be afraid of folding.
3. Don’t Get Too Attached to Premium Pairs
There are some people who claim that pocket aces are a bad hand because they either win an average pot or lose a huge one.
Those people are idiots.
Pocket aces are the best hand in Hold’em and you shouldn’t let disaster situations scare you away from playing them.
You should, however, proceed with caution when the board presents straight, flush or trips possibilities.
One of the most common ways to lose with pocket aces is having an opponent flop a set. There should be some alarm bells that go off, however, when your opponent keeps betting on an unconnected board. You might consider a check on the turn or river if the pot is spiraling out of control.
The same can be said for other premium pairs like pocket kings or pocket queens. You should play them strongly but when you encounter extreme resistance you’ve got at least consider that you might, in fact, be beat.
4. Think About Your Opponents Hand
This might seem like an obvious tip but plenty of new poker players keep their head down on concentrate solely on what’s in from of them.
It’s easy to understand why new poker players get tunnel vision when it comes to their own hand. They’re simply trying to understand the strength of their hand and what they might hit on the board rather than the seemingly infinite holdings that their opponent might have.
Here’s the trick though: Pay attention to how your opponent bets.
If you’re opponent just calls pre-flop then there’s a good chance they don’t have a hand like A-A, K-K, Q-Q. They’d usually be betting so that they get some value from those hands.
Meanwhile if your opponent calls a bunch of bets (instead of betting) there’s generally two possibilities:
There’s obviously a lot more nuance to reading your opponents but that should give you a little insight into why it’s important to think about what your opponent might hold.
5. Avoid Stacking the Calling Sportsbook
It’s generally wise to bet a bit more frequently than you might initially think but there’s one situation where you’ve got to slow down.
If your opponent has called several streets of action and you’ve got trash then there’s usually very little point in firing on the river. New players tend to call a little too often with hands like middle pair and you’re unlikely to make them fold on the river.
The goal in these situations is to avoid playing yourself. New players are fairly predictable and two calls generally means a third one is coming.
Quite often players will fire big bets because their opponent is “supposed” to fold. New players didn’t get the memo so don’t try too hard.
Betting early is often a good strategy in home games but late bets can get you in big trouble.
6. Try to Categorize Your Opponents
Reading opponents is definitely a more advanced skill but, at the very least, you should try to categorize your opponents.
The easiest way to do this in the beginning is divide your opponents in some basic way like this:
There are tricks for playing against each style.
If you’re playing against a tight player than you should consider folding when they suddenly start betting a lot. On the other hand you should calling an aggressive player if you’ve got a decent hand.
People are obviously unpredictable and won’t always act the same way but categorizing your opponents on a basic level is a healthy exercise to get you thinking about more than just the cards directly in front of you.
7. Fold a Lot
This one ranks right up there with betting more.
In standard No-Limit Hold’em you’re going to get dealt a lot of bad hands. You should fold them.
This is especially true when you’re playing a big table with 7+ players. The chances of someone else flopping big and crushing your mediocre hand is very high.
You’ll notice that a lot of the best players tend to bluff with at least something. Maybe 2-2 or 7-8 suited. Bluffing with mediocre hands instead of straight trash gives players some outs if their bluff goes awry.
Hands like K-2, 8-4, Q-8 should just be sent directly into the muck. It will save you a considerable amount of pain if you manage to catch a small piece of the board but get crushed by an opponent with an overpair.
8. Take Risks
It’s easy to forget that the goal of a home game is generally to have fun and perhaps become a better poker player.
The best way to accomplish both goals is to take risks at the table. Because stakes are so low there aren’t any real financial risks so it’s the best time to try some wild bluffs and try unusual strategies. You can always rebuy if things go awry.
The game of poker becomes a much more interesting and nuanced game the moment you start bluffing. The best time to bluff is when the stakes are low.
Finally, remember to have fun!