How to Win Texas Hold 'em Home Games: Strategy and Player Types
Texas Hold 'em poker is the most popular poker game in the world. It's also incredibly popular for home players. However, the kind of Texas Hold 'em played in the World Series of Poker differs greatly from the kind of Texas Hold 'em played at the average home poker game. Understanding those differences can be the difference between winning and losing consistently at your home poker game.
Develop Winning Play at Your Home Game
The Texas Hold 'em poker home game is more ubiquitous than oxygen these days. Everyone either has a home poker game or is involved in a home poker game. You can't walk more than ten feet and not overhear somebody talking about how his aces got smashed by his idiot friend who decided to call his all-in with 7-4 off-suit and then made a flush with his four on the river.
While many people enjoy their home poker game for its comraderie, others want to walk away winners. Particularly for the skilled player, the home poker game can be a continual source of frustration because the poker played there is so unlike the poker one reads about in book after book after book written on the subject. Fortunately, with a little self-control, there is a way to win consistently at the home game no matter how erratic the play might be.
My current working strategy, which has produced about 90% winning sessions over the last six months, is that folding is a home game player's best friend and that it only takes a couple of big hands to make the night profitable. Generally, in the home game, the majority of players cannot control their impulses and cannot fold hands that normal poker players would always fold. Taking advantage of this fact is one, crucial way to win consistently, and a way to keep losses under control when luck starts working against you, which it will.
Knowing who the players are who can't control themselves and taking advantage of them is vital. I am at my worst when I play too many hands, call down too many bets just to see the other guy's cards, and get aggressive in situations where it's unlikely to pay off. When a poker player plays this way consistently, he or she usually becomes desperate due to the simple fact that you're going to miss more hands than you're going to win.
One of the great things about a home game is that the players are usually the same from week-to-week. This offers the above-average player the opportunity to really benefit from knowing how his friends play and taking advantage of their habits. Keeping track of a few, simple behaviors will be profitable in the long run. Watch what your friends do when they're all-in. Watch what they do when they raise, when they call, when they fold. Watch how they react on different flops. These will all prove to be profitable observations.
One characteristic of the home game that drives good poker players crazy is the fact that so many players are in so many hands. "Community pots" - pots where every player bets the minimum amount and is in the hand before the flop - are common. Another common occurrence in the home game is getting called by multiple players, no matter what the bet. Players in a home game of varied skill will call and continue to call when they're holding mid-pair, low-pair, or need two clubs to make their flush. What makes this frustrating to the good players is that because so many players stay in hands, cards frequently emerge that make their hands better - they make two, low pair, they hit an inside straight, or whatever. Holding top pair in a home game is a hard hand to play. Holding two pair in a home game is also hard. Often, it's beneficial to try and keep multiple players in the hand to increase the size of the pot even though it's technically bad poker. Betting players out of a hand may result in winning the hand, but may also reduce the amount of money you are winning in a really significant way.
Let me describe some of the personalities that frequent our home game and I'm sure you'll see some parallels to the personalities you see in yours. Then, you can think about how you can take better advantage of those players.
Which Poker Player Are You?
Types of Poker Home Game Players to Watch Out For
1. The Best - this guy is the hands-down, best player at your table. Ours is a former executive who's in his 60's and retired. He wins large amounts of money on a consistent basis. He never shows his cards when he doesn't have to. He's aggressive when he's got a lot of chips (which is often), and doesn't play as well when he's short-stacked. When he's in a hand, he almost always controls the size of other people's bets by bet-sizing amounts that other people have difficulty raising, which produces a lot of calls from other players and allows him to draw to hands when he's chasing. He rarely displays any tells and can read other players better than any other.
2. The Worst - this guy is hands-down, the worst player at your table. He's been playing the game for years and years and years and still, literally, doesn't understand how to play. He's also ADD and can't pay attention to anything for more than a few seconds. If somebody is holding up the game because they're not dealing or not betting, it's likely him. He's annoying in many respects due to his lack of appreciation for the game. Whenever he bets, almost everybody else will call because he plays so many bad hands. Even if he wins big during the course of a night, he's almost sure to lose that money.
3. The Expert - this guy knows more about poker than anyone else at the table and likes to chit-chat about poker etiquette and strategy whenever possible. He bets his low pairs hard pre-flop and often does well at the table, although he also suffers some big losses on a regular basis due to his inability to adjust to table dynamics when three or four people call his 10x raise with a pair of sevens. When he's playing well, he can often cause the best player at the table trouble with his aggressive play.
4. The User - usually these players are pretty lovable. In our case, weed is the drug of choice for our user players, though quite a few drink too. Many players are thrown off by this player's ability to conduct himself at the table well. His play is erratic and while he'll do well in spurts, he'll also get beat often. He knows how to play, but often plays by his own rules and likes to bluff for the thrill.
5. The Calling Machine - this player always has to know what his opponent has and will call a wide range of hands no matter what he's holding. Though he knows how to play and understands the game theoretically, his main problem is that he can't fold. He also plays far too many hands overall.
6. The Face - ever notice there are just some guys who can't help themselves and react, positively or negatively, to every flop? We have one guy at our table who practically announces what he's holding by his reaction to the cards on the table. He's easy to make money from because when he doesn't hit his card, you always know it. He's overall a good player, but his tells hurt him.
7. The Newbie - there's always new blood coming in and out of a home game and often the newbie can be the hardest to deal with. Sometimes they know the game. Sometimes they don't. Often they walk away from their first game with a pile of cash because they understand it just well enough to be dangerous and usually they're pretty careful betting during their first appearance.
8. The Raiser - this is a player who comes mostly for the comraderie, but who also plays pretty aggressive poker because he's unconcerned about the outcome. He likes to win, but doesn't mind losing and will call and raise liberally throughout the night. He'll go on huge winning streaks and frequently takes home big pots, but can lose just as easily. He'll call anything and play any hand.
These are most of the types that I see in my home game. In Part 2 of this article, I'll go over some specific strategies for dealing with each type and go through some hand examples to help better understand how to read these players, which really isn't all that hard if you pay attention.