7 Tips for Beating Your Friends in Poker Games

by Kevin Roberts
on February 25, 2018

If you love poker, you probably have at least a couple of buddies that share your passion. You gather once a week, have some beers with snacks, and spend hours playing your favorite game. It’s never about the money in such an environment. It’s a matter of pride, and of course, the right to brag until the next time you meet on the table.

The casual nature of home games makes them different from the play in a casino or online. Usually, all players are way looser, there’s more bluffing, and people mostly have fun. If you want to beat them, you need the right strategy. In this article, I can give you seven tips that would help most of you defeat your friends in poker games.

Before I begin, I would like to say that I exclude home games that are actually pretty serious. Like, hiring a house with security and collecting rake serious. I will be talking mostly about games between friends, where the stakes are small, and the main point is to enjoy a good night with your pals.

Don’t Be Afraid to Bet Big with Strong Hands

In standard poker games, it’s not always easy to get the best out of your strong hands. Sometimes you have to slow play or value bet to get something at all. Most players are cautious with their money, and unless they hit something too, your  best hands go to waste.

Fortunately, this is not the case when you play home games. Most of your buddies will chase draws, call with bottom pairs, and all kinds of trash. Also, they will tend to overplay hands like a top pair with a weak kicker all the time.

This is why you shouldn’t be afraid to put on some pressure and bet big. After all, your main target with a strong hand is to build a large pot and win a lot of money. You have the perfect conditions to achieve that, especially pre-flop and on the flop. People are more than willing to pay too much with mediocre hands in these phases of the game.

There are some exceptions, of course. If you are facing only one or two opponents, you could try to slow down a bit, especially if they play tight.

Avoid Bluffing

This one is connected to the previous tip, and the logic behind it is very similar. The players you’re facing in home games will be loose and won’t really care if they are going to lose a couple of bucks. It’s about having fun, and the action is the best way to enjoy poker.

Obviously, you should have that in mind when you consider making a bluff. I’m not saying you should never do so, but be careful. Chances are, someone will call you with a semi-decent hand.

If you insist on bluffing, here are a couple of things that will help you recognize if the timing is right:

  • Number of players: if you are facing more than two players, you should never bluff. If the number is two exactly, you should almost never bluff. Being heads-up is the best option.
  • Street: as already mentioned, the flop and the pre-flop are where people are simply not folding. If they miss on the turn or on the river, you could actually get them to fold every now and then.
  • Position: always bluff when playing last. This will give you the chance for a second or even third barrel more often if your initial attempt fails.

Still, bluffing is almost always wrong in home games, so make sure to avoid it most of the time.

See Many Cheap Flops with Speculative Hands

Hands like low pairs or suited connectors work best when you face a lot of opponents. The reason is simple. When they hit something, it’s usually big, and you want many people playing.

This is why home games are the perfect environment for such hands. You will often be able to see a cheap flop. Furthermore, a lot of people will be willing to pay good money to see your sets, straights, and flushes.

You should be trying to reach the flop for the price of a couple of blinds max, especially from late position. This will give you the opportunity to see many flops, and sometimes even one big hit could be enough in home games. Getting a straight or flush against a couple of players has brought me my biggest pots.

That doesn’t mean you should try to reach the flop at all costs, though. Remember, the trick is to get there cheaply.

Don’t Try to Steal the Blinds Too Much

Stealing the blinds is essential in most serious poker games where you are looking for all the small edges you can find. They help you win some cash every now and then, but also balance your ranges. Your opponents will never know if you are stealing or holding a strong hand. This helps a lot in the long run.

Well, forget about the first paragraph if you’re playing against your friends. First of all, it would be close to impossible to steal the blinds. People will be limping, calling raises…you almost never have a good opportunity to do it.

On top of that, your image doesn’t really matter. Okay, if you play like a nit or like a maniac, most people will notice. Everything in between appears the same to the regular guy who’s had a couple of beers and doesn’t care much.

Finally, it’s pointless to steal the blinds because that’s simply not the way to beat your buddies. The big pots and the major mistakes are the main factors in such situations. There will be situations where you can win a couple of buy-ins, and that will make the difference at the end of the day.

Don’t Compete for Every Pot

Since you will see all kinds of stupid plays when going against your pals, you will be tempted to contest most of the pots. It’s only natural because every single hand feels like an opportunity to win big.

While this is true to an extent, it doesn’t mean you should play trash and chase stuff like gutshots or backdoor flushes. If you start doing it, you’re no different than anyone else on the table.

The key to home games is to find the best balance between taking enough chances and not making too many mistakes. To achieve that, you should restrict yourself from trying to win each and every hand.

Don’t Overplay Strong Preflop Hands

The likes of aces and kings are the strongest pre-flop hands and might bring you a lot of money. However, they are just a pair if they don’t improve after the flop. And since you will often face multiple opponents on the flop, you should always be careful.

Don’t overcommit. The best approach would be to play big pairs very aggressively before the flop. It will give you a chance to actually narrow down the field to only one or two players. At the same time, you will be building a large pot while you’re ahead. These are your two main goals, and it’s worth the risk winning a small pot if everybody folds.

If the opposite happens and you face a couple of people on the flop, you should slow the tempo. Check what the board is, evaluate your chances, and don’t feel obliged to go all the way on only a single pair, even if it is aces.

Don’t Get (Too) Drunk

All the tips so far have been related to your poker strategy, so I decided to close the list with a more general bit of advice. Having a drink or two is obviously part of the experience when playing with friends. There’s nothing wrong with that, unless you go too far.

First of all, getting wasted is rarely a good idea. If you mix it with gambling, it gets even worse. It will drastically reduce your chances of beating your friends.

On top of that, you could end up being the annoying guy that spoils the fun of the whole group. Stuff like not waiting for your turn, spilling stuff on the table, and becoming grumpy are not cool. Don’t be that guy.

Final Words

The tips in this post should certainly help you beat your buddies. However, don’t forget that home games are meant to be fun. Don’t take them too seriously and don’t get obsessed with winning. This will ruin the whole thing for you and your pals.

You can enjoy the evening, be casual about it, and still go home ahead most of the time.

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