If cards are our landscape and chips are our currency, then the rules of the home game are our laws. It’s not the World Series, it’s not the World Poker Tour, but rules and a clear understanding of them by all players help insure an enjoyable game.
The basic set of rules of poker that most card rooms and home games operate under is called Robert’s Rules of Poker. Written by Bob Ciaffone, Robert’s Rules serves as a guide for behavior at the poker table and gives a basic outline of the rules for most variations of poker. Many of Robert’s Rules follow very closely with the rules put forth by the Tournament Director’s Association (TDA), an international organization founded in 2001 to “draft a standardized set of rules for poker tournaments.”
These sets of rules cover a lot of things about how to play the games and cover a lot of behavioral problems, but we’re going to highlight a few frequent “problem spots” in home games and try to help you improve the environment of your game without seeming like a dictator or “rules maven”. Many of these rules are also good rules of behavior once you take your game into a casino or tournament, where there are penalties for inappropriate behavior.
1) Don’t splash the pot. When making bets, you’ll sometimes see less experienced players throw their chips into the pot haphazardly, making a big splash and causing a commotion. This has the unintended side effect of making it very difficult for other players to see how much the bet is without asking, and generally slows the game down. Instead of randomly throwing chips into the middle of the table, simply slide your chips out in front of your cards so that they can be seen by everyone at the table.
2) Don’t make a string bet. A string bet is considered angle-shooting, and is never allowed. Angle shooting is using a motion, action or other behavior to try to elicit information from another player. A string bet is exactly what has been popularized by television and film depictions of poker, when a player says something like “I’ll see your $5 and I’ll raise you $10.” This two-part betting is called a string bet. It is perfectly acceptable to raise a bet, but all you need to say is “I raise $10,” or “I raise to $15.” It is even acceptable to just say “raise” and push the amount of chips you want to bet out in front of you. But you must put your chips out in one motion unless you state raise before you make any move forward with your chips, then – and only then – can you reach back for more chips. String bets are one of the most frequent and unintentional violations at a home game, but can make serious players very angry, no matter the intent.
3) Act in turn. Action takes place in a specific order, and acting out of turn not only confuses other players, it can have unfortunate consequences. For example, if you go all-in out of turn but the player to your right was planning to make a bet, you have allowed that player to possibly save a bet by your actions, costing you money.
4) One player to a hand. We’ve all seen the cases where a friend of a good player is sitting in for his first game, and he is showing his cards to his friend for advice. This is a serious infraction, and can’t be allowed to happen even in the friendliest of games. If the friend has been dealt cards and already folded, then he/she has information about the hand that the friend doesn’t have, and can influence his/her decision based on that information.
Here’s an example. Peggy Sue has Q-3 clubs in early position and folds. Her boyfriend Beauregard has 3-3 in late position. Their friend Bubba Ray raises preflop to thin the competition and Beauregard flashes his 3s to Peggy Sue looking for advice. Well, Peggy Sue knows that Bubba Ray is a solid player that could be raising with any middle pair or better starting hand, and she knows that one of Beauregard’s two remaining three’s is gone, having folded it herself. She shakes her head at Beauregard, and he folds when he would otherwise have called, costing Bubba Ray money that would have been his had Beauregard played the hand on his own.
5) Don’t talk about a hand while it’s in progress. Beginning players and casual players have a tough time forgetting about their hole cards once they’ve folded, and will often verbalize disgust at themselves for folding when the flop comes out very coordinated with their hand. This is similar to the one player to a hand rule, as a big reaction from a player who has folded makes it apparent that some of the matching cards to the board are now in the muck, and this particular noise can cost a player an opportunity to bluff at a pot.
6) Never, ever chase the rabbit. So many times a player is on a big draw and folds, asking to “see the last card”. This is called chasing the rabbit or rabbit hunting, and is absolutely terrible. That last card didn’t come into play, doesn’t exist and should have no bearing on your impression of how you played a hand. It is simply bad form, like stepping on another player’s lie in golf.
7) Leave the shades and iPods at home. A friendly home game should be just that, friendly. It should be a rare time in this over-trafficked, over-extended world to actually interact with real live people. So why would you come into a home game looking like the Unabomber? Most home games are relaxed affairs, with very little money changing hands, so there’s no need to break out your Greg Raymer sunglasses. Add in the fact that many folks have games in a room of their house that is less than impeccably lit, and your shades will not only not help your game, they may actually contribute to you misreading the board and looking even more foolish.
8) Be polite. You are, after all, a guest in someone’s home. Even if your goal is to take their entire bankroll, you should still be nice. Don’t swear unless it seems acceptable, don’t smoke unless they have ashtrays around, don’t get belligerent when people draw out on you, and don’t berate the table for bad play. This is generally a good idea whether you’re playing in a home game or the WSOP.
These are just a few simple tips to help you keep your home game fun and profitable, and they’re not bad rules to follow when playing in casinos, either. So take a look at Robert’s Rules, always follow the Golden Rule and enjoy your home game.