The home poker game has traditionally been a North American fixture – however, a flood of televised poker tournaments institutionalized regular poker gatherings at households around the world, particularly Australia. Friday and Saturday night poker games are now a firmly entrenched favourite, whether a $5 tournament with drunkards allowed unlimited rebuys, or a five-and-ten cent cash game afterward. Indeed, most days of the week residents in capital cities will find licensed premises running a free poker night. These occasions are a competitive yet social activity that combine mind games with a touch of maths, a pinch of luck, and frequently a slice of profit. Defeating friends and acquaintances earns a player glory (and perhaps a few extra meals for student participants) until the next game takes place the following week.
Most home games one attends will have a strong theme in that a majority of the competitors aren’t particularly good at playing poker. They may only play for the social aspect, enjoy a small gamble, or simply be fooling themselves about their own ability – nonetheless, possessing just a small amount of knowledge will give you a large edge on the field.
In online poker, that same rule holds against the vast majority of the player base who participate due to their recreational playing style, particularly if you’ve made a good choice of poker room.
The cornerstone of any winning poker player’s arsenal is an ability to defeat weak players. A quick browse through popular online forums often reveals a low limit player asking whether they should move up to higher stakes, because “the donkeys keep sucking out”. This is, quite simply, a flawed approach. If you can’t overcome inept players, you won’t win against more clever opposition.
There are many different ways to win in poker, and of course, just as many ways to lose. Substandard home game players come in a number of varieties, but usually share some common characteristics:
- Little to no awareness of the size of their chip stack, or the current pot
- Incomplete knowledge of quality starting hands or showdown hand rankings
- Tendency to lose a lot of chips in “low percentage” situations
It’s extremely noticeable when a rank beginner plays poker in a home game. They’ll fumble chips, need constant reminders that it’s their action, and regularly peer at their hole cards to decipher their meaning. As they become more comfortable, they’ll be smoother in their movements and more familiar with the tempo of play, but poor habits remain in their game to be exploited. Consider the following scenarios that happen at home games every week:
1) Jim, a newcomer, throws in a call at 25/50 blinds as first to act. Three other players limp in behind, and the blinds call to see a flop of 8 / 4 / 2. He bets 50 on the flop after the blinds check, two players fold and then the button raises to 200. The blinds fold. He calls 150 more into a pot that now contains 700 in chips. The turn comes down as a King, and he immediately bets 100. The other player thinks for a moment before calling. The river is a Ten, leaving no flush possibility on the board. Jim fires out another quick 100 chips and once again is called by the player on the button. He shows two black 8s for three of a kind, and the button flips over 4 / 2 for bottom two pairs.
2) Later in the same game, with blinds at 100/200, Jim limps in once more as first to act. The same opponent raises to 800, and the rest of the table folds before Jim calls another 600. On a flop of A / Q / 2, Jim checks and calls a bet from the button of 1,000 chips. He checks and calls a bet of 1,500 chips on the the turn, a Ten. On the river, a 3, he checks and the button moves all in for another 4,000 chips. Jim calls quickly and flips over pocket 6s, then exclaims with disappointment when the button shows Ace Queen for top two pair.
3) Jim is allowed to rebuy, and promptly limps in the next hand at blinds of 200/400. The player next to him calls, and the big blind moves all in for 3,000 chips. Jim calls quickly and flips over 5 / 6, expectantly waiting for the community cards to be dealt. The other player shows A / A and subsequently takes the pot.
Jim’s decisions in these situations are not uncommon for home game participants. In the first example, he flopped a strong hand but didn’t know how big the pot was, so chose to bet whichever chips were first to his hands on the flop, turn, and river. He squandered an opportunity to win a large pot against an opponent flopping a strong but second-best hand in two pairs.
In the second example, Jim didn’t take into account his opponent’s actions before the flop, on the flop, on the turn… indeed, at any point in the hand. He had a pair of cards and was staying in the pot. In fact, he felt rather unlucky that his opponent held an ace.
In the final example, his propensity to play every hand caught up with him when he didn’t consider the strength of his holdings relative to the action.
Overcoming players like Jim is the basis of a strong, winning game – particularly in no limit hold’em. Home game winners are the players who oblige week after week.
When dipping a toe into the world of online poker, there are a number of lessons to be learnt from home games. Firstly, don’t buy into games that could annihilate your bankroll immediately – small stakes games allow you to keep your head above water even if you are eliminated from the first few games you play, just like the regular $5 home tournament.
Secondly, employ a “tight” strategy before the flop when choosing which hands to play until you have more information on your opponents. At the low limits of online poker, you’ll find plenty of players like Jim who love to be in as many pots as possible. Attempting to bluff these players is often hazardous. Once the game has progressed, you’ll be able to use the information you’ve gained to your advantage, even without seeing individual faces.
Despite the fact that players online are given precise information about their current stack size, their opponents’ chip counts, and the size of the pot, errors are still constantly made in the same way as home game participants. Whether through laziness, poor judgement or sloppy play the opportunities are available for competent players to maintain a steady profit.
The major adjustment from home to online poker comes in the speed of the game. Cards are shuffled instantaneously and dealt swiftly, decisions must be made more quickly and blinds raise at an elevated pace. This often acts to ‘amplify’ a wild player, where they make mistakes at a greater rate.
So when you log on to a poker room online, remember you don’t need to change your game – weak players online are making the same mistakes they do live – they’re just more readily available on the Internet!