Home Games are Awesome

Home Games are Awesome

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Nick Wealthall on the humble home game.

They are pretty much the most fun you can have with a group of friends or friends and the odd stranger in your own home without the neighbours complaining.

The first time I ever played poker for money was in a live home game. I can still remember the faces of the people there, some of the hands and the smell of my own fear. I suspect I wouldn’t have the same vivid recollections if it had been in a 1 cent / 2 cent online game.

I’d wanted to play for a while having seen poker for the first time on a holiday that ended with a couple of days in Vegas. I watched a game in the Luxor – there was a man in it wearing an actual cowboy hat; magic.

After reading Big Deal and a couple of other books I came to a couple of irrefutable conclusions. 1) poker was the single coolest thing I’d ever found and 2) I would definitely be world class at it almost immediately.

One of my friends had a semi-regular game he played with his friends. I didn’t know his friends that well but he got me an invite.

I’m not exaggerating when I say I could smell my own fear (it’s faintly lavender… which is odd) – I was properly nervous. Apparently this was a game in which you could lose £50 or even slightly more!

My friend Mark wanted to look out for me as he knew it was my first time so he briefed me on the players. Most of his ‘pep talk’ centered around his slightly mad buddy ‘Gil’. Gil, I was told, was a proper gambler who couldn’t help himself as soon as the pot got big he’d try and bluff big and to win it.

The game started and we were playing 5 card draw. You know, the one they used to play in the movies before they decided to make poker scenes authentic by introducing Texas Hold'Em, before deciding even that was way too complicated for audiences so they should have someone watching it at a bar and explaining everything that happened (I’m looking at you Casino Royale).

Everything went really well for at least 15 minutes before I accidentally picked up a hand. As is traditional with home games before anyone’s losing money everyone was in the hand. After the draw I held 2 pair – tens and something smaller than tens. In my head this was a monster… I mean in reality it’s a monster but then again 2 pair has this unique ability in poker to fluctuate between being a monster and being almost worthless in the same hand.

I was confident and betting but then less confident when I got check raised all in (wait he what now??.... is that even legal??). Suddenly my poker virgin eyes no longer saw a monstrous two pair but 5 tiny unrelated cards that were getting increasingly blurry. This was for all my chips, just 15 minutes into my poker career. I would be broke in the game - humiliated - and at something I was definitely going to be awesome at.

At no point did my eternal panic allow me to remember a single thing said to me in the pep talk I’d received 22 minutes earlier. At no point did I think – that’s funny I’m sure someone recently told me something about this exact player doing this exact thing. I quietly slid my cards into the muck as Gil started laughing and showing some pile of junk or other. Mark just stared at me looking disappointed.

After that I gave myself a pep talk, got lucky a lot and ended up slightly drunk, and slightly frazzled at 3am up a good £20 or so. Oh and of course I was totally hooked.

If you haven’t played in a home game recently you owe it to yourself to find one. I just broke a barren spell of a couple of years without one and have spent the couple of days since chastising myself heavily (I have an ‘areas of improvement’ session with myself at the end of each day)(I don’t) for leaving it so long. You need to get the elements right.

So the first thing to add to your check list is make sure you have the right mix of people. They need to be different types of people, personalities but they must all be serious about winning the game while also being able to take a loss.

Second you need booze. Now I’m not advocating the use of booze or saying it’s essential (I am I just need plausible deniability on this one) but there’s an exactly correct amount of alcohol that loosens the game, loosens people’s speech play and banter quotient and makes the whole thing more fun.

Finally you need a mix of games. You can’t be sitting there playing 7 handed limit holdem. You need dealers choice and a whole heap of wild shit going on. I’m talking split pot games, games that use so many cards you have to reshuffle the discards to complete them, replacement card gamers, games with two flops, wild cards and more. The more you have to figure out the game you’re playing as you go, the more fun!

Anyway stop reading this and start.

Just before I go you should know that wasn’t my favourite home game story, just my first one. My favourite home game story involves a D-list celebrity going on full blown tilt and storming out. Except that when we started the process of laughing at his ridiculous tilt he was still in the hall way sorting out his coat. He shouted back ‘I’m still here you know’ then slammed the door on his way out. The rest of us giggled like school children.

Like I said – make sure everyone in the game can afford to lose the stakes you’re playing at and that everyone knows it’s part of the game. Follow that rule and you’ll have the time of your life.

Tags: Nick Wealthall, home games, columnists