Home games are awesome. They’re a great way to socialize, and in a lot of ways playing with people you know leads to the best kind of poker. It’s fun to outplay random opponents. It’s even more fun to catch out your mate’s outrageous bluff, or to experience the excitement of a pre-flop race between friends.
Aside from being a good laugh, home games are an excellent way to learn and improve your game. Away from the prying eyes of the pros and online regs, you and your club mates can catapult yourselves to poker stardom.
Here’s why home games make for great learning:
If you don’t yet know your poker ABCs, it can be very intimidating to try to learn at the casino tables or in big online games.
Home games are less scary. They’re often played between friends or poker acquaintances, and they’re supposed to be casual. You can experiment, make mistakes, and learn basic betting actions like calling, raising and folding (a crucial skill!), all without any real repercussions.
Play a few home games and you should start to pick up the basics. As you develop your knowledge, you can learn about which hands to play (your pre-flop range), how to bet for value, how and when to bluff, and more.
Playing styles and personalities
When you play poker at a casino, you’ll quickly notice the different personalities and playing styles of players. The problem is, it might cost you a lot of money to work out who’s playing in what way.
The same is true in online cash games and tourneys. Players have different styles and approaches to the game. Some are more experienced and knowledgeable than others. One of the easiest distinguishments is that some like to sit tight and wait for a hand, whilst others will bet and raise at every opportunity.
Home games are a quick and easy way to understand playing styles and learn to take notes. You’ll often play with the same people in your group or club, so you can get to know how they play over the course of several games.
This is great practice for learning the habits of players and how to turn them to your advantage.
Play with people on similar level
Poker is a bit of a ruthless game. Top players are looking to target weaker ones and make a profit and, no matter how serious people take the game, nearly everyone wants to cash or win. The higher stakes are competitive, and so not really an ideal environment for newer players to learn.
Home games allow you to play with people who are on a similar level, bringing together new and improving players (or allowing experienced players to test each other’s wits and learn from each other’s betting lines).
As your poker game improves, and competition within your home game group gets fiercer, you can help each other to learn and grow just by continuing to play together.
Power of community
Your home games can be about so much more than just the action at the tables. They can form the foundation for your poker community. They provide an opportunity for like-minded players to improve their game by reviewing hands and talking about difficult situations.
Poker is a solitary game in a lot of ways. At least, it’s definitely not a team game. So this off-the-table sense of community is important. It makes people happy, but also it helps them to get better at the game. It’s so important, that many of this year’s SCOOP champions said community is a crucial factor when it comes to winning a major event.
Ask other players in your home games if they would be interested in discussing hands and poker strategy. If certain players in the group are more knowledgeable (there’s always one!), then ask for guidance and advice on tough spots. Work together in this way and you’ll be ready for the online majors in no time.
Try lots of variations of poker
Ever wanted to try your hand at Omaha? How about play in a KO tourney with rebuys? You can set your own formats for your home games. This gives you the opportunity to practice your favorites, or to try variations that you would otherwise never have tried.
It’s something that we took into account for the updated PokerStars Home Game software, which now offers more variations, such as Omaha, 6+ Hold ‘em, Fusion and PKOs and others. You can also set different blind structures, from slow to hyper turbo, to get used to different pacing in tournament poker. This goes for the buy-ins too. You can set them yourself so that no player is excluded, only raising the stakes when everyone is ready.
You could find that you’re actually a whizz at Omaha, or that you quickly master the dynamics of the PKO. In this way, home games can open up entirely new avenues to take your poker game.
Apply skills that you learn away from the tables
Regularly playing in home games is great practice in itself. You can improve even further by learning a concept and then applying it during play. Read poker books, browse online forums and training material, or check out PokerStars Schools for useful strategy advice.
For example, you read and learn about the “C-bet” (continuing to bet after raising pre-flop), and then during your home game you test it out to see when it works well, and when it doesn’t. In the process, you’ll learn more about board texture and player tendencies.
Next time around, you might want to learn about bet sizing, so you use your home game as a chance to experiment with different bets to see which gets the most folds or brings the most value.
Over time, you’ll be adding poker skills to your repertoire that you can take out into the “real world” of poker.
PokerStars Home Games
PokerStars are running a new and improved Home Game Club, with additional features and variations. It’s now available on mobile, so you and your poker buddies can play on the move.
In the main PokerStars lobby, click “More” and then “Home Games”. You’ll then be given the option to join a club, or to create a new one. Follow the instructions to get set up. Then you’ll be able to hold your own online poker home games whenever you want, for fun or practice.