Home Game

I’ve a run but successful home game for many years.  It is, on the whole, my pleasure to run, but it is more than that.  It’s my belief that private games are the grass roots of poker, and just as I have written about the duty of players in public games to make the game fun and accommodating, poker players have a duty to play and host home games.

I’ve also written a bit about home games before, so won’t go into the history of my own, but before I talk about last night’s game, I will offer a few thoughts on why some games succeed and some games fail.

Poker players are notoriously lazy, and barring the kind of critical mass some games eventually benefit from, or there being such a strong player pool that a games succeeds as a matter of course, this characteristic is the first obstacle a host must combat.  Players need to be given all the details of a game repeatedly.  Some need to be specifically reminded about when and where to be.  For example, there have been several players on my list who more than once showed up at my door, curiously, twenty four hours in advance or late.  Another, to this day, never knows what the game or stakes are, despite complete written details, and is usually surprised at what he is playing once he sits down.  I text him occasionally to get him ready. I can laugh at these sorts of players’ disorganization… or I can take it upon myself to make sure they come on the right day and time.

This isn’t a trivial concern, because the next salient fact about running games is that players want a full table.  A poker host is foremost, a host.  Poker is actually second.  Therefore you need to do all the things having guests in your place might require.  I don’t pretend to have the swankiest home in the world, nor is it large enough to make everyone completely at ease, but I do everything I can to make the scene comfortable.

The table is the center and theater of the action, so make sure it is quality, and if possible, unique.  Mine has some drawbacks, including being a little too high, but on the whole works, and its coloring and shape distinguish it from other games- a big part of your success as host.

The cards are true acrylics and I set aside the ones the players don’t like.  As a specific recommendation, do not use four color decks.  I use jumbo sized cards deliberately, as they are easier on everyone’s eyes from any distance.

Chips are very important to players.  They want to shuffle and play with them.   They want to have enough so that stacks are created- avoid that low-stakes live tournament feeling where you about ten chips and feel broke already.  It’s great if someone is winning and has a monster stack, even if it is primarily ante chips- it creates drama and jealousy, which are fuels for action. In fact, having too few small chips is a disaster, as it slows the game as players make change and you as host feel unprepared. Also, avoid cheap chips that are either too light or more likely, too heavy, from the metal slug inside.

Lighting is key.  Despite what you see in movies, poker players do not like the dark. Make sure you have strong general lighting.  I have directional lamp mounted on the ceiling that works as a poor man’s spotlight, and the bright gleam it creates on the table takes you away from the feeling of playing in someone’s kitchen for nickels.

Don’t forget about chairs.  Mine aren’t great, but they are an improvement on the past or in other games, where players are sometimes required to bring their own.  Folding chairs are easily had and storable.

Drinks and snacks are important.  You may be inclined to overdo this as a new host, but it’s better to do it than not do it, at least at first.  The issue is that players may leave if there is not something for them to eat or drink, go to a bodega or for pizza- then not come back.  As I said before, you want the game as full as possible and need to find ways to keep them in their seats.  However, on the whole, this shouldn’t be your concern, because you need to create a culture of players bringing food and snacks for everyone.  Be upfront about this.   I don’t spend a dime on food or alcohol for my game, yet we always have plenty of munchies.

Getting away from the details of the host’s interior, the third important point that the host must attend to its regularity.  For a while, it may be a pain to keep it up, but getting a real rhythm and establishing that the game is not just a one-off bears great fruit.  In the end, we all want to be a part of something successful, and forcing the game to go while you grow your list is of immense long-term consequence.  The time will come when the seats fill themselves, but the first six months need all your attention.  Ask people to come.  Advertise.  Talk about the game with people you meet, even just acquaintances or strangers.  Guys who like sports, guys who sit in bars, really just about anyone who looks like they have some leisure time, enjoy the idea of a poker game.  Women are often curious about the game if it does not sound too serious or have gambled in a casino before.

One more critical point: let’s talk about money and the stakes.  A cash game is best, first off, if you have some players.  This allows freedom and true adjustability, even in the games you are playing during the session, to make everyone happy.  (However, if you have none at all, and even a bunch of novices, tourney style is affordable and fun.) The stakes, however, are a knob you will have to turn very carefully.  Listen to your players and identify their limits.  Remember that just as you can drive out some people with big games, you also will bore some with small games.

I myself offer a variety of stakes but that was accomplished after a long time.  We started small, and by the time we got fairly big, players were dropping out.  This is problematic, because the truth is that people are moody. If they feel they are not wanted because of their limited funds, they may not come back- even when you reduce the stakes again.

That said, I have a real suggestion that works for my game, something I’ve learned over years of this: the buy-in matters more than the stakes.  As long as you can allows some stubs for the thrifty, fearful, or novice, you can also have the guys who want to play deep.   In other words, do not cap your buy in, but set the minimum to the range you want the play at.  After all, it’s the effective stacks, as you well know, that really matter.

There are a lot of other things I can say.  Keeping yourself happy as the host is an important subject.  Managing situations.  How to get the players to pay for the gear.  Lots of stories, of course.  However, I’ll leave it as is.  Feel free to post any questions if you are looking to run a game or improve yours.

Happy home gaming.




So a couple interesting things happened at last night’s game, which I played conservatively.  I had donked off quite a bit at the last one, and had to adjust my attitude for this and bankroll reasons.  Two hands stick out.

The first was a good use of range advantage, a subject which by coincidence came up in some fairly robust debate among the Coveners.  In this hand, a player who has done well at my game but likes to overplay hands, tournament style, got himself into trouble by not really understanding the cbetting matrix and why it is necessary to be prudent in betting.

He opened very small from EP, 3x, too small, and picked up three callers.  I flatted the button with Q7hh, and on a Q46 board he continued into all of us.  One fold and I overcalled.  In general a competent player will either have me beat or be willing to barrel off the whole way, using his position and EP action to force a bad queen or worse to fold.  However, I don’t want to give up, especially given price, and the fact that he continues indifferently all too often into multiple opponents.  On a turn 8, he bet again a fairly small amount, not even half pot, and I could see that his bet did not mean much, and that he was pushing buttons. He gets one fold, and now I have the choice to bluff catch, fold, or what I ultimately do, represent my range advantage.  The open ender just came in, and with my blocker to several strong hands, and my gutter, I decide I will raise all my continuing hands which called the flop.  He has weak queens he can fold, and which will check call the river if I flat again, forcing me to lose a boated pot.  The best play is to use the board against him, whether I have him beat or not.  I raise and take it down.  What was most +EV for that hand in particular is not so important as what is most +EV for my entire range.  So I was happy there.

A second hand illustrated a NLHE concept, as well as the difference between PLO and NLHE.  In PLO, I three bet a meaningless open raise from a very active player with a marginal but very playable holding, and Gargamel cold called behind me.  Here he has to have a very strong hand, including KKxx, weak AAxx, and pure rundowns.  The action player calls, and checks to me on A109cc.  I do have piece of this and can beat all draws for the moment, and have some weak nut equity. Gargamel raises my cbet, which was repping AAA or the nut flush draw.  Since my three bet was AAxx heavy, and I have no blockers to this hand, it’s pretty clear he has flopped top set.   I can’t continue.

The reason this hand is interesting because of the use of ranges by action to determine what he has to have, but more importantly, the fact that his raise in PLO is probably good, whereas in NLHE it definitely would not be.  On this board, with strong range advantage, there is no NLHE hand I would raise, even a weirdly played AA, and would only call in position.  This is a concept players at the $5 NLHE level simply do not understand, and it allows me to make all kinds of great folds. When you are the PFR and you get raised on AKx by a tight player, you can simply discard all but your strongest hands rather than level yourself, and then with the nuts, win a giant pot.  Correctly playing giant made hands in position on boards like this, which favor the PFR, is critical to getting the most out of your monsters and not letting the PFR off the hook.


  1. In your home game how much of a stickler are you for rules such as posting missed blinds and buying the button and the like?

    I recently started a home game with guys who are accustomed to the $20 tournament buy in games. Including myself, only 3 guys have ever been in a casino to play cards and I easily represent 95% of our combined experience. Maybe even more.

    The issues I referred to above came up and nobody seemed to care for what I had to say, despite my essentially being the only one who understood them.

  2. You should enforce all the rules that you can. As your players get better, they will eventually appreciate that you are making it fair for everyone, and you should explain it that way if questioned.

  3. I have played in this home game.

    Initially, it was designed as a small scale model of casino games and enforcing the rules was a way to learn the rules. It has since remained mostly the same with the exception of no max buy in. The rules are enforced.

    skors, if you understand the rules for posting and buying the button, I think it is important not just to enforce, but to gently teach these rules. Many home game players head to the casinos where violations of the rules can be more costly. Explain that. Also, explain the rules occasionally in teaching moments. Don’t be a dick, give people a pass according to your judgment occasionally, but make sure they know it is a pass and what the rule is. All games have rules and people are ok with that. People have more difficulty with surprises and inconsistency.

    Focus on feelings though… I’ve been in casino situations, where all the players acknowledged and corrected an obvious error happy to move on, but the dealer called the floor anyway and the floor ruling was context free, but accurate, strict and unforgiving… and it caused hostility. Don’t do that.

  4. Yes, that was a runout I should try to win the pot. I happen to have a strong bluff catcher but at the time I was getting away from bluffcatching as a tactic. I did seem to think weak queens could fold, yes. Not sure how reasonable that is in retrospect or if that is how I want to use q7hh going forward.

    Certainly the idea of fighting for runouts that favor my range and not villain’s is an important one.

    Looking back I’m not sure what his small raise means – it could mean he is in the lower parts of his distribution and this is the wrong board to fight! But that is doubtful, especially if it is the guy I am thinking of.

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The OOP Lexicon is a user-developed poker glossary.

Absolute Position
Being last to act (e.g. closest to the button) postflop.

Advancing Leverage
Aggressive actions intended to shift the leverage point closer to the current street.

A bluff or value hand which is a natural candidate for balancing another hand because of their shared qualities, such as AA and AK; usually helps planning range splitting and line construction.

Auto profit threshold (APT)
A bluff made with positive expectation resulting from the opponent under defending vis-a-vis bet sizing. The inverse of MDF.

Choosing to support either value bets or bluffs with their converse.

A bet is a proposition.  It’s the first offer on the pot with regard to the outcome of the game. Each player, in turn, has the opportunity to lay or change the price on the pot to the rest of the players. “The language of poker.” The bet, as opposed to the raise, is most often and most easily allied to the merged pricing construction.

To remove combinations of hands from a range based on cards in your hand or on the board.

Cards which influence our combinatorial assumptions. Ex: We face resistance on T76ss while we hold As7d. Both our cards act as blockers. Our ace of spades blocks (limits) a number of flush draws our opponent could hold, while our seven blocks a number of two pair and sets our opponent could hold. *See also Block and Unblock

Blocker Bet
A small bet made by an out-of-position player.

Board Texture
The available community cards and the set of conditions which inform its relationship to a logical range.

The worst hands in a betting range.  Depending on context this could be the worst hand in a value bet range or the bluffing section of polarized range.

A range descriptor indicating a range shape with a specific high or low boundary.  A range bounded high won't contain some number of the best linear hands ranked from the top down.  This is equivalent to a "capped" range.  A range bounded low won't contain some number of the worst linear hands ranked from the bottom up.  This is often useful to describe a range that doesn't include any air or very weak hands.

A strategic mode in which a player is attempting to deny their opponent(s) equity share of the pot through aggression. Often referred to as “denying equity” or “buying up equity”.

A range is capped when it represents little to no nutted combinations as confirmed by prior action.

A continuation bet. A bet made by the player with initiative as a continuation of their initiative on a prior street.

The ability to accurately range an opponent based on all available information at a decision point.  An understanding of your hands exact equity.

Closing Action
Acting last where no subsequent action is possible behind you.  For example calling a UTG raise in the BB or calling in position postflop with no players behind.

Cold Call/Cold Bet
An action is considered “cold” when it comes from a player entering into the pot has not previously put chips voluntarily in the pot. Ex: the UTG opens, the BTN 3bets. If the SB were to call or raise, it would be a cold-call or a cold-4bet.

The branch of mathematics the deals with finite number sets. Used in poker in determining the amount of combinations of certain hands in a range.

When a blind that is not the biggest blind calls the amount of the biggest blind. Ex: At $2/$5, action folds around to the SB and the SB completes. Meaning they just call. The BB can complete when there is a straddle.

A capped range that contains only middling value hands. A range without the polarized portion.

Logical advancement of combinations across streets.

Dark Side of the Deck
The large swath of hands, often off-suit, that fall outside of conventional playable recommendations. Counter-equity hands.

Dead Money
Money in the pot that is not being fought for.  A passive player creates dead money when they call a bet preflop and looking to play fit-or-fold postflop. Dead Money is often confused with the money in the pot.

Delayed Cbet
A cbet made on the turn by the preflop raiser when the flop checked through.

Delaying Leverage
Passive actions intended to maintain a likely late street leverage point, or possibly to avoid a leverage point entirely.

A strategic break from one’s standard construction as an exploit of a particular player’s profile or construction.

Diminishing Medium Value Category
A Seidman concept in which when one’s middling value hand range is too small and transparent to our opponent and thus either that range should be shifted into the top of a polarized range or the nutted portion should be shifted into the medium value range. Ex: AQo or TT being 3bet preflop.

A cbet that is less than the preflop raise. Ex: BTN opens to $25, we 3bet to $90 from the SB, BTN calls. On the flop we cbet $70.

Dry Board
A board texture that yields relatively few logical hands value. Often containing one medium or high card and disconnected low cards. Ex: Q53r, T622r.

Dual Mentalities
A Seidman concept in which when we decide to go postflop with a weak hand against a nutted range, we should either be looking to out flop it or steal the pot away. We base our decision against the player type we are up against and never go post with both mentalities at once.

Dynamic Board
A flop texture in which the runout is very likely to change the order of top ranking hands. Ex: 954tt, 742r.

Effective Stack
The smallest stack to VPIP in a given hand. Their stack decides the amount of money that can be played for or threatened before an all-in.

Effective nuts
A value hand that can be played for stacks as if it were the actual nuts.  This is a relative hand ranking based on range assumptions and opponent type.

A measure of how well the equity of a hand is deployed. Efficiency can also be used as a measure of what is risked vs what is gained for a given bet size.

Either/Or Philosophy
A Seidman concept in which a particular street can be a very good spot for value, meaning our opponent is never folding, or a very good spot to bluff, meaning our opponent is never calling, but that those spots cannot be concurrent.

Borrowed from economics, a measure of the sensitivity of a range or hand relative to the price offered.  Ranges (or hands) described as elastic will narrow, sometimes quickly, in response to increases in price.  Those described as inelastic will not.

The percent pot share of a holding or range on any given street if the hand were to go to showdown with no further betting action.

Equity Pusher
A analytic approach to the game in which a player views the correct actions only through the lens of their hands equity vs. their opponent’s range. Often this player type has a lack of understanding of overall strategy and plays their range face up with few bluffs.

Expected Value
The mathematical formula for how much a player’s action is expected to make with their hand vs. their opponent’s range. EV = ($towin * %ofwin) - ($tolose * %ofloss)

Face Up
A player is playing their range “face up” when their actions directly correspond with their desired outcome. Ex: A player bets half-pot three streets with a range that has no bluffs. A player 3bets to 7x with JJ.

False Polarization
Otherwise known as Faux-Po; a polarizing action taken with a merged range.

The result of losing your entire table stakes. All the way down to the felt.

A call of a cbet with a weak holding with the likely intention of taking the pot away when the opponent shuts down. Often done by an in position preflop caller.

The convergence of positions, stack depths, and preceding actions at a given decision point.

A mathematical formula developed by Phil Galfond for calculating the expected value of one’s range construction vs. an opponent’s holding.

A computer programming term that means "garbage in, garbage out" which also applies to poker forums when a poster seeks an in-depth conversation about a hand, but fail to provide pertinent information such as stack sizes, bets sizes, table dynamics and player tendencies.

Game Theory
The applied science of combining mathematical models with logic to craft winning poker strategies.

Game Theory Optimal
A set of strategies is GTO if no player can unilaterally deviate and increase his average profit. ~ Will Tipton.  GTO does not mean best possible response, highest EV, or maximally exploitative play.

Implied Odds
Additional value likely to be accrued if you make your hand on a later street.

Sometimes referred to as the betting lead, a common situation in which the passive player yields to the aggressive player postflop, or the last aggressor continues betting on subsequent streets.

A bet or raise intended to force out the rest of the field in order to play heads up against a weaker opponent who has entered the pot through limping, raising, or posting the blinds.

Loose aggressive player type. Generally overused and inaccurate.

A bet made from out of position after a passive action. Often referred to as a donk bet on the flop.

He knows that I know that he knows I know.

A bet or raise that signals the hand will be played for stacks.  Within reason, it is accomplished by betting with a sizing that will create RSP equal to 1 on the following street.

Limp First In

A consecutive range of hands decreasing in strength from top to bottom; generally meaning value hands. Equivalent to "merged."

Lockdown Board
A board on which the nuts have often already been made.  More prevalent in PLO but sometimes useful in no-limit, for example on monotone flops and boards with available common straights e.g. JT9, T98, 987, etc.

1) A range of hands that includes both strong and medium value; 2) in reference to medium value; 3) the merged construction describes the natural representation of a wide range through a bet.

Mini Stop-N-Go
A Seidman concept, a line taken by a OOP PFR where flop is check/called and turn is lead.

Minimum Defense Frequency (MDF)
The necessary defending (calling/raising) frequency to prevent an opponent from auto-profiting.  The inverse of APT.

Natural Action
A check, bet, or raise which is exactly suited to a player's range and situation (e.g. a pfr's continuation bet on AK2r).

A player who will not put chips into the pot without a very strong and sometimes only nutted hand.

The best possible hand.

Nuts-To-Air Ratio (NAR)
In a polarized betting line, the ratio of value to bluff.  As used by Seidman, not limited to polarization but sometimes used to label general opponent tendency of value to bluff.

Old Man Coffee. Typically an older, retired player that likes to play bingo with ATC, but will only continue with the nuts.

The first voluntary action. The first action or bet to voluntarily enter the pot.

A bet that is more than the size of the pot.

Perceived Range
Refers to the range of hands that your opponent thinks you could have in a certain playing situation. This can be interpreted and thus misinterpreted from your playing style and position at the table.

A range consisting of very strong and very weak hands.

Post Oak Bluff
A small bluff on a late street that has little chance of winning the pot.  Generally interpreted as “gutless” in the past but now fulfilling certain functions as betting efficiencies are understood.

Positional Protection
When the strength of a range is perceived to be capped or uncapped based on which position an action is taken from.

When an action or player is perceived to have strong hands in its range.

Protection Bet
A wager which denies equity to hands which will only give action if they significantly improve; "a value bet which does not want a call."

The rejection of the offered price and the laying of a new higher price.  Raises represent a more narrow range of hands and trend towards polarization.

Range Advantage
Implementation or study tool that refers to 1) most basically, equity measurement of one range against another; 2) or also including a combination of further factors including availability of nutted hands, the nuances of the runout, and positional protection.

Range Manipulation
Deliberate line work/bet sizing made to narrow a range or keep a range wide.

Range Switch
A deliberate change in range composition made to thwart a player who is reading our range too accurately in any spot.  Reduces transparency, fights assumptions, and wins the leveling war if implemented correctly.

Ratio of Stack To Pot
RSP. The stack to pot ratio at any point in a hand, generally used post-flop as opposed to Stack to Pot Ratio.

Taking a hand to showdown and realizing its full equity.  Generally used with regard to passive actions.

The mutual exchange of chips resulting from similar play and ideas.  Reciprocity is a common bi-product of group-think.  A true edge by definition cannot be reciprocal.

Relative Position
A player’s position measured against the aggressor's position.  Generally this is used going to the flop.  For example, if UTG raises and several players call behind, calling in the big blind would give you the best relative position.  You will act after seeing how the field responds to a likely continuation from the preflop aggressor.  In the same scenario calling immediately after the preflop aggressor results in the worst relative position.  You will have to act immediately after a continuation without seeing how the remaining players will respond.  Strong relative position confers an information edge.

The ability of hand to maintain equity across streets against a betting range or as part of a betting range.

Reverse Implied Odds (RIO)
Hands that often win small pots or lose large pots suffer from reverse implied odds.

Popularized by Mathew Janda, a descriptor for how well a hand retains equity over streets of play.  Hands described as robust have equity that does not suffer as an opponent's range becomes stronger.  Often these hands are currently both strong and invulnerable, or have the ability to become very strong by the river, relative to the opponent's range.

Fourth and Fifth Street cards following a given flop texture.

Scale of Protection
Poker theorem which states that the more protected or strong an opponent's range is, the higher the degree of denial or retention a counter will require.

Sklansky Bucks
Dollars won (or lost) in expected value regardless of actual hand result.

Any one of many possible poker archetypes found at low stakes games.

A reraise made after a player has raised and one or more players has called in-between.

Static Board
A flop texture in which the runout is unlikely to change the order of top ranking hands. Ex: AK7r, KK4r.

A passive action followed by an aggressive action, out of position.  For example, a call followed by a lead on the next street.

Streets of Value
A crude shorthand measurement for how much betting a hand can tolerate and still be best at showdown more often than not.

Tight aggressive opponent type. Generally overused and misapplied.

TAG's Dilemma
The paradox created by having a top-heavy range played so aggressively that it misuses equity vis-à-vis position and holding.

The Great Range Fantasy
The common idea that we know our opponent’s range and frequencies precisely; most commonly seen in post-hoc analysis to justify microedge decisions.

Thin Value
A bet that is only slightly more likely to be called by worse than by better. Associated with the merged pricing construction and bet-fold lines.

Three Fundamentals
The most fundamental variables for decision making: position, stack size, and community cards.

The best hands in a given range.

Two-Way Bet
A bet that expects calls from worse hands and incorrect folds at the same time, a simultaneous value bet and bluff line.

The psychological effect of feeling like you’re losing because your stack size isn’t as large as it once was during a session, even though it’s more than what you’re in the game for.

(e.g. You bought in for $100, ran it up $450, but now only have $175 in front of you.)

A hand that has no negative card removal effects on the target range.  Bottom set, for example, unblocks top pair top kicker.

A range that is perceived to contain the nuts in any given line.  Capped ranges may become uncapped during transitions for example from preflop to flop, or flop to turn.

A turned nut straight after raising flop with a gutter.

Value Owning
Making value bets with a hand that has less than 50% equity when called.

Voluntarily Put Money In Pot (VPIP)
The frequency at which a player limps, calls, or raises preflop.

Volatile Board
A flop texture where equities will often shift on the turn and river.  See “dynamic”.

An illusory cooler where one player makes a massive mistake equity mistake and loses his stack with a strong but second best hand; also known as a Jam Basket.

Wet Board
A board texture that allows for a lot of logical hands to continue. Often made up of medium rank connected cards. Ex: KT9tt, Tc8c6s-7c-Ac.

“Walk In, Fuck Shit Up, Walk Out” a hashtag used by instagram poker players.

Winning Player
A forum poster who offers reciprocal advice under the guise of questionable positive low stakes results. A weak player or fish, in general.

Young Man Coffee. Is very much an OMC, but younger.  They usually only continue with the nuts, often under the illusion of playing a GTO style.