As we discussed previously, playing in a home game is a very different experience from playing in a public poker room. We get spoiled in public rooms, where every non-abusive player is welcome. There are staff people to keep the game moving, keep the seats filled, deal the cards, explain the rules, provide security, and eject abusive players.
Those who run home games have to do all of these things themselves. Accordingly, they may be more selective about who they let in. As a result, players looking to stay in a game must be more mindful of how they behave to make sure they make the cut.
This article is designed to help players get invited back to home games. Here are a baker’s dozen worth of rules to help improve your chances.
1. Have a positive and friendly attitude
This is obvious. Your overall attitude counts for a lot. If you’re incommunicative, focused only on winning, and generally serious or dour, some will not want to invite you back, especially if you win.
On the other hand, if you’re friendly, perceived as a nice person, and generally upbeat and positive, you’re likely to be considered a welcome addition to the game, even if you win.
2. Stay until the very last hand
You don’t want to be hitting and running. You want to look like you’re there to spend an evening and have a good time. Staying for the whole evening (and offering to clean up) is a good way to demonstrate that you’re there to have fun, make friends, and not just make money.
You want to spend as much time as possible figuring out the game, its players, and its tempo. To do that, you must see the whole thing. Most important, it’s often at the end of a game that players are invited to the next game. If you’re there for the last hand, it will be hard for the host not to invite you.
3. Bring something to the game
It may be unnecessary. The host may rake and provide the spread, the big winner from the last game may cater the next game, or everyone may order out and pay for their own food. But no one ever got upset because a newbie brought a six-pack or a pizza. Compared to the benefit of finding a profitable game, it’s really short money.
4. Show a genuine interest in others and their stories
I’m not saying you need to interview the other players, but listen attentively when they’re talking to you (as long as it doesn’t slow your action). If you can’t listen attentively without slowing the game or folding when a player is proudly sharing a story with you, consider folding.
In the long run, being welcomed into a game because you’re considered a good listener is more important than playing every hand you’re dealt.
5. Share something about yourself
You don’t want to be overly talkative, but don’t be silent. Tell folks what you do. Open up at least a little about yourself and your interests. If possible, try to land on something that they are also interested in. Let them see that you’re more than just a poker player. If they feel they know you, they’re more likely to want to play poker with you.
6. Be generous in all ways
You’re not going to buy their friendship, but make sure not to look like a penny pincher. There’s an odd chip in the pot when dividing it? Toss it to your opponent. Someone hasn’t anted and a few awkward seconds have ticked away? You volunteer it.
If you find out too late that there’s a house rule that makes you a loser when you thought you should be a winner, don’t argue. Learn your lesson, smile, and move on. If you conclude that they’re just looking to fleece the new guy, then don’t come back. But if you like the game and the players, be the peacemaker by generously giving in.
7. Be a good winner and a good loser
You will win and you will lose. How you handle each shows your character and may determine whether you’re someone other players want to have around in the future. When you win, do so silently. When you lose, do so with grace.
8. Try to fit in
Players in different games behave differently. Some games have a lot of drinking and a lot of sports talk; other games are almost completely silent and sober. Some games involve tons of side bets while others forbid them.
When in Rome, do like the Romans. Unless you’re an alcoholic, little ill will come from you cracking open a beer when others do so. You don’t have to finish it. Similarly, if everyone is making crazy side-bets, for short money, you should participate, even if you’re not really interested in gambling.
The key is not to stick out as an overly serious player. Be one of the guys or gals!
Don’t do the following
Sometimes, it’s more important to know what you shouldn’t do, instead of what you should. With that in mind, pay attention to avoid these common home game mistakes.
9. Don’t slow the game
Few things are more annoying than a new player who slows the game. There will be legitimate questions you’ll have; and legitimate times when you’ll need to pause to consider a move. But they should be the exception, not the rule.
10. Don’t grill the host at the beginning of the night about the rules, the structure, or anything else
You’ll have a lot of questions. Don’t worry. The host and the other players are probably eager to fill you in and share with you how they do things. Let them.
Don’t jump the gun with a bunch of questions about everything because that will make you look too serious. As much as you can, try to go with the flow. Have confidence in your ability to figure things out as you go along. If you honestly can’t, ask with a smile for one person to explain it to you.
11. Don’t challenge their rules, practices, protocols, or anything else for that matter – even if you know that your way is better
They make string bets? Don’t call it on them. They don’t allow check-raising? Don’t ask why. They waste a lot of time with each player anteing, while you know they could save time and confusion by having the dealer ante for all? Don’t suggest they change their ways.
Don’t suggest raising the stakes, adding a betting round, that they play with plastic cards, have a bottom card protector, have two decks in play, or anything else. This is their game. They have their rules, practices, and procedures. If they ever want your opinion, they’ll ask for it. You are a guest. Behave accordingly. Save any comments for when you make the cut, down the road, as a regular.
12. Don’t criticize their play or anything else about the game
Enjoy your opponents’ mistakes. Don’t correct them. Don’t try to look like an expert, a veteran, a pro, or a semi-pro. If you win, they may suspect it. But don’t shine a spotlight on your poker skill or knowledge.
Similarly, don’t be negative about anything having to with them or their game. It will just make you look like a jerk.
13. Don’t do card tricks
Especially if you are really good at them, save these for family members or birthday parties with friends. No one wants a skilled card mechanic in a self-dealt home game.