Throughout the years I’ve played in some serious high-stakes home games in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. And I have certainly seen my share of crazy antics, angle shooters, and hidden opportunities for profits. Based on those experiences, here are my top 10 things you need to know before playing in live home games.
1. What is the rake?
If you are going to play poker, enjoy the atmosphere, and have fun then this isn’t hugely important.
If your goal is to make money then this is one of the most important things.
Most games are going to be 3-10% with a varying cap on how much they can take out of each pot.
In general you want to shoot to play in games that are 5% capped at 4 big blinds, at the very most.
If your game happens to be incredibly wild you may be willing to be more lenient on the rake you are willing to pay.
My advice is if you do choose to go ahead and play in a game with really high rake play very conservative preflop. All of the hands along the borderline of profitability preflop are now likely unprofitable due to rake.
2. Who’s running the game?
If you are going to be playing in a game and risking your own money you should know who’s in charge and what their story is.
Your best bet is to do some research ahead of time. Ask whoever invited you to the game and anyone that might know anything about it. A quick google search is also a quick and easy way to gain some more information.
3. Who’s playing for the house?
Often times games will have either prop players or staked players that are there to create action.
If for instance I’m running a game and I have seven players willing to play, but need 9 for a full game, I might decide to stake two players so that the game can run.
There’s nothing wrong with doing this, it is important that whoever is running the game is transparent and lets you know what’s going on.
4. How are the buy-in and cashout’s handled?
This is huge and a 100% must know before sitting down in any game.
In every home game at some point there is going to have to be a certain element of trust. Trust that the game isn’t rigged, that you won’t be robbed, and that you will be paid if you win.
You definitely want 100% clarity on this issue ahead of time. Are you playing on credit? When will you settle up if you win? Should you bring cash with you? Are they going to pay you by cash/chip/check/wire? If someone stiff’s the game will you still be paid?
Clear these things up ahead of time of you know exactly what you are getting into.
5. How much notice do you have to give ahead of time when quitting a winner?
This is surprisingly a big deal to many players, especially recreational players.
Chances are if you are in a game where someone would take it personally that you won money and quit that you want to be invited back.
Ask whoever is in charge ahead of time what good guidelines are, then give as much notice as possible when you are ready to leave.
This may be the difference between being invited back and given the cold shoulder.
Sometimes home games are robbed. You will want to reach out ahead of time and ask whoever is in charge if there is security. Where is the game being held?
Has it ever been robbed?
Is there a security guard on staff?
7. Get to know the dealers.
The dealers in these games often times have all the gritty details of the goings on of the game. While they work for whoever is running the game they also work for tips. If you tip them well and make conversation chances are you can get answers to some important questions.
In general, largely because of the rake, you want to play in home games that are very loose preflop and splashy postflop. You basically want to play in games where people are just spewing money away.
The best way to capitilize off of these players is to play tight
(NOTE: download my preflop ranges here)
By betting big and driving value with strong hands preflop you are going to give yourself a big edge.
9. Reraise as many hands as possible preflop.
If you really want to capitalize on playing with players who are too loose preflop and don’t play well postflop, you want to 3-Bet them preflop.
By 3-Betting Preflop you:
- Offer yourself the opportunity to win the pot preflop with no rake at all.
- If there is a flop the rake will be smaller as a % of the entire pot
- You are playing a bigger pot with a hand that is stronger than your opponent range
- One of, if not the biggest problems amateurs face at the table is dealing with 3-bets and playing in 3-bet pots postflop.
Honestly this is really the dream. If they play too many hands preflop and ESPECIALLY if they are unwilling to 4-Bet preflop you are leaving tons of money on the table by not 3-betting them.
One thing to keep in mind: In most cases 3-Betting aggressively will come across as giving action, though some players may take it personally and could cause you to not get invited back. Just be aware of this and tread lightly.
10. Don’t be too sure in your opponent’s abilities.
I once played the following hand in a home game:
I raise [AQ] in the CO to $300.
BTN and BB call
Flop [Ad-7s-5h] (Pot $950)
I bet $600 on the flop.
Turn [Ac] (Pot $2,150)
I bet $1400 on the turn.
CO Raises to $3,200
River [Jh] ($8,550)
I check, he bets $5,000.
At this point in the hand I am thinking to myself, this is really the worst hand I have here. I would check [AT] and worse on the flop and I would have given up all of my bluffs on the turn. Not to mention it looks like I have ATLEAST trips, if not a full house, yet he just bet a very modest $5,000 into $8,550 on the river, which my first instance lead me to believe he was begging me to call.
I thought about it for a while but decided I just had to know what he had.
I called and he flipped over…
I was shocked. He said “Gah, I thought you had [KK]”
The take away here is that some of these players are really just very new to the game. They might not realize the impact of the line you are taking.
When I bet the turn I am basically saying I have trips good kicker or better or a bluff. This is definitely not the range of hands you want to raise , a hand which makes it less likely I have a hand like  or [T9], and then follow up the river with a medium sized bet once I’ve called.
This is a perfect example of when a player folds trips vs someone who is only mildly acquainted with poker strategy.
Don’t fold a big hand to a crazy line unless you are 100% lock sure he’s got you beat.