Watching that scene from Rounders where Matt Damon steps into the den of high-stakes poker ran by Teddy KDB you might get a picture of all poker home games being filled with badass gangsters. Well, this is simply not the case – having played in a bunch of home games over the years, I’ve seen many different ways to run a home game, in good and bad. Like many others, I played my first hand of poker in a home game with friends, where none of us had any clue on stuff like strategies, bet sizings or the like!
Before jumping into a poker home game, you should find out a few things so that there are no unpleasant surprises to disturb the playing experience. In this guide we have covered for you the essentials that one should check after getting an invitation to play live poker in a home game. Some of them are the same type of things you’d look to find out when playing in a new casino for the very first time, but some are inherent to home games only – let’s get started!
How much is the rake?
Depending on your goal, the rake structure of the game might be one of the most important things to consider or not important at all. If you just want to have fun and enjoy playing, you don’t have to worry about much. On the other hand, if your goal in poker is to make money, the amount of rake you pay will play a huge role in determining your winrate.
In a game that has a high rake you need to make a few adjustments, the first one being ditching some of the borderline hands preflop that you would normally play. They simply become hands that have a negative estimated value due to rake, and there’s not much you can do but just play more conservatively preflop.
As a rule of thumb, you should aim to play in a home with no more than 5% rake and a rake cap of 3 or 4 big blinds. Yes, there are home games with rake as low as 2% and even no rake at all, but those games usually require every player to shuffle the deck and deal out cards when they’re on the button. And some games might go as high as 10% rake, or alternatively have a decent percentage like 5% but no rake cap. It’s very hard to win in those games, but if they play absurdly loose and wild it’s worth considering to take a seat.
Who are the people running the game?
The safest route is participating only in a home game where the people who run the game are actually your friends. Now while this might be optimal, it’s rarely the case when you hear about a new home game – what you need to do instead, is ask around other players if they know more about the game and how well it is organized.
Trust is of utmost importance here, since you’re risking your own money. Ignoring a simple due diligence about who is in charge is not recommended, as there are too many stories about games with outright cheating being discovered by the players.
Is there full transparency about house players?
Some home games will have either prop players or staked players to create action. As long as it’s a transparent practice and the organizer of the game lets everyone know what’s going on, there nothing wrong with this – it might actually prove to be a good thing for the game to run more often and the action being good (depending on the level of those players of course!)
How do they handle buy-ins & cashouts?
In games played with money, handling buy-ins and cashouts is one of the areas that should have absolutely no flaws. Our advice: Find it out before sitting down in any game!
Basically when you sit down in a game, you need to trust that 3 different things won’t happen: Game being rigged, you being robbed or you not being paid in case you win. So, first you should find out if you need to bring cash with you or are you playing with credit. After that, find out if winnings are paid out with cash, check or wire transfer. And lastly, in case the game gets robbed, ask if you will still be paid according to your chips at that time. Although it’s not such a big risk usually, it’s better to be safe than sorry here!
What kind of security measures are used?
There are cases where home games have been stiffed, and you need to consider the following things here:
While not directly related to the security, are there any rules about how much notice you have to give ahead of time in case you’re winning and want to quit?
A quick story about the last point: I heard about a game being played while visiting an exotic city where I didn’t know too many people, and before buying into the game I asked about if there are rules of quitting a winner. The answer was I must stay for 2 more hours in case I am winning. I politely refused to play in that game, since I didn’t know any of the players and was meeting the organizers of the game for the first time – it just all sounded too sketchy and I wouldn’t feel comfortable playing in that kind of environment!
Who are the dealers of the game?
Unless the game is very nitty (which shouldn’t be the case in a home game!), a great dealer will significantly impact the quality of the game and the general atmosphere in a home game. Get to know the dealers and you might get info from them about the best times to play, and probably about a few other crucial details about the game as well!
Is the game a serious or a splashy one?
While playing in a casino can be profitable at most tables, in a home game the rake can quickly eat into your profits. Therefore you should try to find out what kind of strategy most of the players are using. What you should be looking for here is splashy & loose preflop action – games where people are spewing their money away are the most profitable ones, as you can bet big with your value hands and give yourself a huge edge this way! To read more about poker strategy, check out our separate article Poker Strategy Explained
Poker home games are usually played for fun and give new players a taste of the game. While emphasizing the fun and communal sides of poker, a home game offers people an easily accessible way to get some poker experience on their belts. If you find a home game that fills all the criteria mentioned in our guide, you should definitely give it a go!