Prepare me for real life poker.
April 10, 2009 4:53 PM   Subscribe

How does real poker compare to online?

I've been playing online poker for a while now but have never played for real. I've been invited to poker night at a friends house and am not sure what to expect.

So, aside from the fact that online poker is much faster how is it different? What should I know (or know that I'll have to deal with) before going in that I don't have to know when playing online?

ALso, I'm fully aware that I'm using real money and not play money like online. I've been playing for a long time now trying my best to "pretend" that the money is real and I don't take stupid risks. I've gotten quite good at playing online.
posted by Thrillhouse to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It's a lot slower, there's more interaction (particularly during a friendly home game- expect delays or distractions from chatting, getting up to get drinks, etc.), you have to be able to calculate your own pot odds (some online programs will tell you what your odds of winning are), and the program won't help you calculate anything else, like split pots, side pots, etc. And it's way, way more fun.
posted by bedhead at 5:04 PM on April 10, 2009

If it's a bunch of friends, it will most likely be pretty laid back. If you keep a sharp eye, you might be able to pick up various tells (subtle pauses before betting or a certain card is shown, etc.). I play poker every week with a group of friends and it's always a blast. Just relax and have a good time. Don't try to over-analyze the situation, but do try to win without making a big show out of it. Most guys will take boasting and smack talk up to a point, so don't get too cocky. And good luck!
posted by bjork24 at 5:08 PM on April 10, 2009

I've found that online people play closer to optimal strategy while in real life, even at higher stakes, people are much looser/friendlier. I haven't played a lot of real life poker but at a $2/$4 table in Vegas everyone was shocked whenever I raised pre-flop. Like it was unsportsmanlike.
posted by Durin's Bane at 5:08 PM on April 10, 2009

Yeah, watch out that you're not too serious during the game. Online it's fine because it's not really a social thing, but in real life people get kind of pissy if you raise all the time and are not a gracious winner.

I played once with a guy that would go all in on every single hand before he even looked at his cards. It was a good strategy for him because none of us had the balls to match him pre-flop but damn. I wanted to cut his eyes out because it made the game unfun really quickly and garnered a ton of resentment. You can play to win, to be sure, but keep with the spirit of the game and don't be That Guy if you would like to be invited back.
posted by amicamentis at 5:14 PM on April 10, 2009

Even with play money, you may very well have gotten good at things like calculating pot odds, understanding position, playing good hands and capitalizing on other players' mistakes. Depending on the "poker night" players, playing those fundamentals can pay off almost as well, depending on the others' skill levels. If they're any good, though (unlike the enormous majority of online play money players), you won't see the same returns without a little luck. I say play it moderately tight, observe the other people awhile and you can get a feel for things.

I find the biggest difference (and the thing I miss the most) is keeping track of your chip count, other peoples' stacks, bets, blinds, all the things you take for granted online and that make rapid calculations a lot easier. So, get used to counting chips.
posted by empyrean at 5:14 PM on April 10, 2009

It'll be a lot slower for sure... and you'll only be able to play one table at a time! The biggest thing about playing in real life is that the psychological aspect kicks in. You can't read another person's expressions online, and they can't read yours. If you bluff much, you may find playing in real life more challenging. Work on your poker face before you go to poker night.
posted by JuiceBoxHero at 5:16 PM on April 10, 2009

This is going to vary a lot depending on the group. Have you asked the friend what the game is like?
posted by mr_roboto at 5:25 PM on April 10, 2009

(I assume you'll be playing Hold 'Em.)

There will probably be two decks of cards in play (per table), one always being shuffled in preparation for the next hand. If the players take turns dealing each hand then make sure you're shuffling when you have the backup deck. When you're dealing pay attention so you know when betting is closed and it's time for you to deal the flop/turn/river.

I presume you know how to deal, but if not: deal the hole cards out. Before dealing the flop, turn, and river you burn one card, meaning you throw it in the muck and then deal. The burn cards prevent anybody from somehow identifying the card on the top of the deck. When you deal the flop, good practice is to deal the three cards out face down then flip them all up at once.

If you mess up while dealing, you generally do NOT start over and re-shuffle and re-deal. Instead, as long as you haven't completely miffed it, you try to reconstruct the deal as best you can. So for example if you accidentally flip a card up, the player who got that card can choose to take it or not. If they don't want it that card becomes the next burn card, you continue dealing with the next player, and then the misdealt player gets dealt the card that WOULD have been the burn card. Point being, everybody gets the same cards they would have gotten had you not messed up.

Enough about dealing.

In live poker, you can't easily tell the exact size of the pot. In my experience casual players tend to underbet frequently, sizing their bets based on the bets on previous streets rather than the growing size of the pot. This is great news. If the folks you play with are like that, you'll be able to get away with smaller bluffs and bigger value bets and they won't notice. They'll also give you great odds on your draws.

(If you want to know what's in the pot you can always stop and count it, or ask for a count. But be sparing, that's obviously a pretty big tell that you're drawing. Save it for when you're calling an all-in.)

In casinos and in some home games there is a so-called "oversized chip" rule. If you throw out a single chip without saying "raise" it's counted as a call, purpose being to get change for your large chip. If you intended to raise, whoops. Even if they don't use this rule at your home game, get in the good habit of explicitly saying "raise" whenever you raise.

"I'll call your $10, and raise you $20." Don't do that. That's a string bet and it's not allowed. Once you say call, you've called, the rest of your sentence be damned. Just say, "I raise."

If this is just a friendly game with casual players, expect it to be very fishy. It will indeed be very slow so resist the temptation to start playing garbage when you get bored. Watch out for "fancy play syndrome". Straight ABC tight-aggressive poker is ideal at most home games.
posted by Khalad at 5:25 PM on April 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

As a long time player in a friend's home game, I have the following etiquette advice.

1. Bring enough money. Make sure you know how much money you might lose in a bad session and bring 1 and a half times as much. Nothing worse than a guy leaving after an hour because he's shot his load.

2. Know the house rules. Sometimes, there are some strange house rules out there. (In our game, a royal flush always beats 5 of a kind. Why? I don't know. But it's not my game.)

3. Find out if this is a dealer's choice game. If so, do they play weird games, like Between the Sheets, or Anaconda, or Midnight Baseball? If it is a dealer's choice game, go online and find a few games that you can call. (Not like, Hold 'Em or Omaha, but like Crazy Pineapple or Triple Draw.)

4. Don't whine. You will be on the losing end of a bad beat. Do not whine. Do not criticize other people's play. Just shrug.

5. Don't gloat. You will get lucky and snake out a winning hand on the river. Don't rub your friend's face in his loss. Just pull the pile in and shrug. Dems da breaks.

6. Make sure you know how to shuffle and deal. And not the old mix 'em all up on the table or the overhand shuffle in the hand. You want your standard riffle shuffle or table strip shuffle. (Here's a tutorial.) Also, be careful when you're dealing cards. You don't want to ruin someone's nut flush because you muck up the shuffle. Deal carefully.

7. Do not bet out of turn and pay attention to the pace of play. Do not make a bet, check, or fold until the player in front of you does so. If someone's having a bad run of luck, betting out of turn may set them over the edge.

8. Take it seriously, but not too seriously. Poker players want to play with people who want to win, but they don't want to play with jerks. Take the game seriously, do your best, but don't go all Helmuth on someone.

Have fun!
posted by davidamann at 5:25 PM on April 10, 2009 [4 favorites]

If you are practicing real strategy, like reading books and trying to get good at poker, at least one of your friends is going to drive you absolutely bonkers by playing "wrong" and still having outrageous luck when it matters most, wiping you out.

That's the thing to watch out for in a home game. People do stupid shit, because they aren't playing for the long-term winning expectation. They're playing for a little fun and excitement. So all those thoughts you have of "he must have __ because nobody would do that unless..." Not true. Just because he's calling your huge raises doesn't mean he has anything. People bluff more in friendly games, even when it's stupid.

Just don't try to make any killings. Bet your hand solid, don't bluff. Win lots of small hands, get out of the big showdowns early so one insane but lucky MF doesn't cripple you.

To see what it's like, play low-stakes play money online. It'll drive you right the hell out of your mind.
posted by ctmf at 5:26 PM on April 10, 2009

For one, you're actually seeing the people in person, so there are more tells available, though practically, the value of tells is often overstated.

I think that playing with people, especially friends, is a better reason to play 'correctly.' You'll find that in addition to not wanting to lose money, you don't want to appear dumb.

Things also really depend on whether you're playing for significant amounts of money or not. I have no experience playing with friends for anything more than a $5 buy-in, so the money is in some sense symbolic. That makes a lot of the financial concerns much more minor, makes not wanting to look dumb more important, and means that people won't get so worked up when you mess up (like acting out of turn). If you're playing for a lot of money, things will probably change.
posted by bsdfish at 5:30 PM on April 10, 2009

don't bluff I should say, don't EVER bluff. Until you get a reputation for never bluffing. Then rarely bluff.

4. Don't whine. You will be on the losing end of a bad beat. Do not whine. Do not criticize other people's play. Just shrug.

Well, whine a little bit, good-naturedly, enough to make the winner feel pleased. Don't be serious about it though.
posted by ctmf at 5:31 PM on April 10, 2009

Home games can be a lot of fun, I play weekly with a bunch of friends and it's nice to socialize and still get to take a bit of cash home sometimes ;)

I might suggest playing on line for real money rather than just the play money option before the home game however. I found a big difference in the way people play when they can't just top up every time they run out of chips.

A 2 or 5 dollar tournament style will give you a lot of hands to play and get a sense of how that works without risking much money.

I did that for a couple of weeks before I played my first home game and even though the pace is faster online it helped me a great deal.

I do have to agree with the comments above though that it's good not to take it too seriously, definitely be there to win but there will always be people there who can make it not fun for the whole table by being too serious or conversely by ignoring some of the etiquette that really makes the game flow better and more enjoyable for everyone.

Good luck and have fun - it's by far my favorite way to spend an evening with friends.
posted by Weaslegirl at 5:37 PM on April 10, 2009

wow! lol should have previewed before posting... lots of good direction there.. that will definitely be all you need to get ready !!
posted by Weaslegirl at 5:39 PM on April 10, 2009

Wow, What a bunch of awesome answers! You guys ROCK!

Well, after reading these I realize that I'm now more confident yet less prepared but thats only because I now know WHAT to prepare for. Thanks again!!!
posted by Thrillhouse at 6:10 PM on April 10, 2009

First of all, if you want to be a better player, online, live or both, stop playing with play money. It's good for teaching you the basic rules and hand rankings, but after that it will only damage your game.

That said, there are some big differences between live and online. I'll just throw everything I can think of out here. Don't be intimidated or feel like you have to absorb all of it at once, though. Chances are your friends won't have all this down either.

If you're playing in a home game, you and your friends will have to deal cards and enforce the rules along with worrying about playing the game itself. Rules enforcement can get a bit sticky because there are variations of rules and there might be no clear authority. They might handle misdeals, angling, string betting, acting out of turn, and other issues differently depending on the game. I wouldn't ask about everything all at once when you turn up, but if something comes up, it's good to remember how they deal with it.

When you're dealing you will have to keep track of who is still in the hand, whose action it is, what the bet is, etc. You'll want to make sure when it's your turn to deal, you're shuffling and dealing and not, say, organizing your chips after winning a hand.

As far as tells go, if it's your first time playing, your hands will probably shake no matter what. This might be to your advantage as it could give people false reads on you. In order to minimize other tells you could give out, you might think about waiting to look at your hole cards until it is almost your turn to act. Other than that try to make your actions consistant. Some people check verbally in a dismissive fashion when they have nothing and silently with their hand when they have a monster. Some people bet round numbers when bluffing and strange numbers when they have a hand. Don't worry too much about tells though. Amateurs play them up far too much and no one can read your soul if you're not wearing sunglasses.

Because there is no computer to help you size your bets and count the pot, you will have to do it yourself. Remember that a raise has to be at least double the size of the inital bet or previous raise and that a bet on any street has to be at least the size of the big blind. As far as counting the pot goes, it might be easier to do it by going through previous actions in your head (preflop raise to 10 with 3 callers = 30) or by eyeballing the pot. Find out what works for you.

Clearly state what your action is before doing anything with your chips. This will help you avoid string betting, cut down on confusion, and speed up the game. If you're calling a bet, say call, then while you're puting the right number of chips in the action can continue. If you're raising a bet, say raise, then you don't have to worry about it being misinterpreted as a call.

Do not take your hole cards off of the table. Keep a few chips on your cards when you are not looking at them so that the dealer doesn't accidentally think you've folded and so that when somone mucks their hand forcefully they don't end up mucking yours as well.

That's all I can think of at the moment. I'll come back if and when I think of more.

On preview: I should say, don't EVER bluff. Until you get a reputation for never bluffing. Then rarely bluff.

If this poker night is a tournament, as the vast majority of home games are, then you will need to bluff. Some moves you definitely want to avoid, however, are the bluff-call and the open fold. :P
posted by ODiV at 6:12 PM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Can you even play for real money online anymore? I thought this was banned.
posted by Thrillhouse at 6:28 PM on April 10, 2009

"If this poker night is a tournament, as the vast majority of home games are"
What is a tournament compared to what I'm used to?
posted by Thrillhouse at 6:30 PM on April 10, 2009

It means nothing if you win at online free poker, but if you can maintain discipline amongst the chaos of free poker, you've built yourself a pretty good foundation.

Typically, you may not ask for a count in anything but a pot-limit game. The dealer will stack the money in like denominations making it easier for you to count. The dealer is not going to count the pot. In your particular home game they may allow it.

You have to be aware of sloppy play, such as people not being ethical by not putting the correct amount of money into the pot, showing their cards to people not in the hand, exposing their cards on the table, giving advice to other players such as, "You have to call him!" Or, "He's obviously bluffing!" Or, "Fold! You don't have anything!", etc. Advice is strictly prohibited.

Don't bring extra money into the game with you. Home games often get robbed. Don't carry it on your person. If you find you need more money retrieve it from your car.

Should you win the pot don't ever ask to see the other person's hand. The technical rules state you are entitled to see the losing hand, but don't do it. If they concede take the money and don't say a word. Three reasons: 1. You'll embarrass the loser. 2. Everyone at the table will think you're an asshole, and 3. Occasionally the losing player will have made a mistake and will have the winning hand, which obviously means you lose.

Typically you do not have to worry about wild and crazy games. Usually crazy games are limited to low-stakes games, so no need to worry. If you're playing for significant money you will play the games you play online. By far the most common high-stakes home games are no limit Hold 'Em and pot limit Omaha (high only or 8 or better). If they're playing for large dollars and they are playing anything other than these three, you shouldn't be there.

Advice I once read in the book but don't remember who to give credit: Bluff frequently until you get caught then never do it again.
posted by Fairchild at 9:00 PM on April 10, 2009

Should you win the pot don't ever ask to see the other person's hand. The technical rules state you are entitled to see the losing hand, but don't do it.

I believe only the last player to show aggression needs to show his hand. More here.
posted by null terminated at 10:32 PM on April 10, 2009

(oops, I should've read the last part of the page I linked to)
posted by null terminated at 10:33 PM on April 10, 2009

In a tournament-style game, you get an equal amount of chips as everyone else at the beginning, and when you run out, you're out. You have to be a spectator until the game is over, then the whole thing can start again.

In a cash game, you can buy another stack of chips (usually in certain increments, like $20 worth) when you run out (between hands, not in the middle of a hand.)

I've played both, but I've seen cash games more often at home games because the last 3 players can really drag out a game for hours, and it's no fun for the people who are out already. Possibly related, I've always played games mostly held for fun (although the stakes could be up there), not serious gambler's games.
posted by ctmf at 2:24 AM on April 11, 2009

Not going to bother about strategy discussion etc., but the most important thing about playing in a home game is to follow the action, and not be the dick well into his eighth beer who takes two minutes on every decision because he doesn't realize it's his turn to act. Also, know when you're in the blinds (or antes) and get them out there. Let the game happen.

And yeah, if it's going to be your button next hand and you're not playing, shuffle up so you can get cards in the air as soon as the hand is finished. With a flesh and blood dealer it can be hard to get 35 hands in in an hour; with a rotating deal you're going to get fewer still, even if you're quick about it.

Also, it's probably byob. Don't be the guy not drinking at a home-game where everyone else is drinking. nobody likes the guy trying to take his friends money when they're all trying to have fun.
posted by cmyr at 11:18 AM on April 11, 2009

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