Few people play their first Texas Hold’em game at a Vegas casino. For most people it’s either at a social gathering or a friend’s basement tournament. Once you start getting pretty good, you may start hitting casinos and even trying to go professional.
Then the day comes when you go to a home tournament again and you are startled to realize that you feel out of place. The truth is that there are some very key differences between playing at a casino vs. playing at a friend’s house.
Here are some guidelines on the differences to help keep you from pissing off your beer buddies at a social game and still take home a win:
1. Trash talk is great at home
When you’re playing with friend and friends of friends, there’s a lot more you can get away with.
In your friend’s basement, you can say things like, “So you going to raise or fold? Which is it, are you a pussy or a fruit?” and people will laugh and have a good time.
If you do that at a casino, there’s a good chance you’ll get thrown out or at least warned by the dealer. More important than that however, even subtle trash talk at a casino robs you of your ability to see the situation, since you’re trying to be witty instead of coldly observe the behavior and reactions of people at the table.
Of course, with online poker sites, there is a lot you can get away with in terms of trash talk but it’s more likely to cost you your concentration as well, since the games move a lot faster online.
In a home game, trash talking is not only tolerated but a good strategic move as well. Everyone will be bonding over jokes and insults, which will distract them from the game at hand. The one thing you have to do is make sure you don’t get lost in the laughs and drama, as this is the quickest way to lose your competitive edge.
2. Alcohol rules all change
If you’re playing poker in a casino, you’re almost guaranteed to do better if you’re not drinking alcohol. This is one reason why you’re offered complimentary drinks while betting when you go to Las Vegas.
Now if you’re thinking I’m going to saying it’s better for your game to drink at a home tournament, you’re absolutely wrong. It’s true that it is less of a disadvantage to drink at a home game since other people are sharing the handicap, but any alcohol will still hamper your decision-making or awareness as you play.
On the other hand, not drinking at all during a home tournament will make you look uptight and overserious. I’m actually not a big fan of drinking out of social pressure, but the truth is that you are hurting the vibe if you abstain from alcohol, a lot of the time. If you refuse to drink, you may actually not be invited to future games. Of course, if you have any real problem with alcohol, that trumps everything.
The good thing is at home poker tournaments, you’re unlikely to be handled a bunch of shots, so there won’t be any real pressure to over drink. If you just nurse a beer or two, then you’ll blend in enough that you won’t be hurting the vibe.
3. Rules are more up for grabs at home
One benefit of online casinos and live casinos is that the rules are etched in stone. Whether you know the rules or not, they are not changing for anyone, no matter how persuasive you are and no matter how passionately you feel that you’re right.
At home games, everything is different.
You are pretty safe assuming that the order of winning hands will remain the same, but most other standards of play can vary depending on who is hosting the event, who’s dealing, and who else is playing in the game.
One of the rules that will be in question is how much blinds should go up, and by how much. You will have active say in that debate.
Another question will be if people can rebuy, how many times, and when the deadline will be.
You will, of course, want to argue your side based on what serves you at the moment for your game. The way to be persuasive about it is to use an external standard, such as how things worked in World Series of Poker one year, or at the casino up the street. Just claiming that your way is better will not be enough to make a difference a lot of the time.
And speaking of disputes…
4. Disagreements, arguments, and flat out fights
Now, that last one should be pretty rare. If you’re being a gentleman, not cheating, and not associating with crazy overzealous drunks, you probably will not personally end up in a fist fight. You could potentially witness one, but your physical safety is pretty much a safe bet.
However, you are by no means immune to passionate disagreements about how you deal, whether your joke about your chip stack counted as a real bet, or if you were clear enough that you were folding.
There was one time when I was at someone’s house named Greg, and he was dealing. My cards accidentally flipped over at one point, and I was quick to spin them over before more than two people saw.
What Greg did was flip over my cards and say, “It’s not fair for just a couple people to see them. Unfair advantage.”
I was naturally pretty peeved about this, and said, “What rules say that??” He said “Greg’s rules.” After an awkward silence at the table, he said “I’m sure there’s a similar rule online.”
After that, he never enforced that rule again, because the rest of the table didn’t agree, but it just goes to show that a lot of this is up for debate and can elicit conflict.
Overall, the home games are clearly more chaotic and disorganized. You have a much better chance of winning, but they are probably the least efficient way to make money long term in poker. Have fun and enjoy the variety of the experience.