Poker home game: The view from the other side of the table

February 21, 2020inPoker

Last month in this space I told you about a regular home game I play — a fun, low-stakes affair where a small group of us play a one-table tournament once a month.

The story included an observation about seating arrangements in home games, and concluded with a suggestion about how you might ensure fairness in your home game when it came to deciding where everyone sits.

I talked about how relatively speaking I’m a newcomer to the game which has gone on for at least 10 years (maybe longer), since I have only been taking part the last year-and-a-half or so. My newbie status thus prevents me from being too eager to suggest any changes to how the game is run. To be honest, the game is so consistently entertaining I haven’t really seen much need to think about how it could be changed.

However, as I talked about in that article, the fact that we all tend to sit in the same seats every time we play could potentially be a problem in certain home games. Getting stuck having the game’s best player on your left every time you play might not be so fun, if you think about it. My suggestion was in such cases to draw for seats each time in order to guard against such potential inequity.

I wanted to follow up that story with another one about the same home game since it provided both an ironic postscript and a new lesson I thought might be worth sharing.

The night that earlier article was posted, I went to the game and discovered a few new faces had come to play. Actually they were old faces who had played before during the game’s long history, but they were new to me.

There ended up being 10 players total, which meant things were a bit more crowded around the table than usual. Also, when the “new” guys took their seats I had to grin as one of them had taken my usual chair. I ended up sitting opposite where I usually do, and as the game began I was inwardly chuckling about how the entire premise of my earlier article was being contradicted.

The fellow to my left was a younger guy with whom I had played a few times. He wasn’t one of the players who shows up every time, though, and so I can’t say I remembered his style of play until seeing him in action again.

Soon I realized my new seat wasn’t necessarily the most advantageous one at the table. That’s because while most of the players in the game played a generally tight-passive style that didn’t tend to cause too much consternation, my new neighbor was the opposite. In fact, he was the wildest, most unpredictable player of the bunch!

One way he distinguished himself was by raising and reraising constantly, and often for inordinately high amounts. That is to say, when the blinds were 10/20 and most players would either limp in or open for 40 or 50 or 60, he preferred betting 300 or 400 or 500 (no shinola!). He’d keep the pressure up postflop, too, and after being involved in a few such pots early in which he either earned folds or showed down better, he was soon the chip leader.

I lost some chips to him in one skirmish, and before long was finding it hard to get involved as I knew whenever I called an open or raised myself he would be in there, too, with all those chips. I spied my usual seat across the table, well away from the maniac. I had to laugh.

Speaking of laughter, my neighbor was involved in the night’s most hilarious hand as well, one in which he raised preflop, then barreled big on both the flop and turn. A tight player called him at each step, then after the turn my neighbor lost track of the action and tabled his cards a street too soon, producing an uproarious response from the table.

Incredibly, only his opponent had failed to see his cards, and so his opponent was the only one at the table who didn’t know he had been bluffing with absolute air. However after his gaffe my neighbor couldn’t bring himself to fire a final bluff on the river, and ended up conceding the pot.

Eventually I was able to grind back to a workable stack, then after a couple of fortunate hands had above average chips myself. As it happened, me and my loose-aggressive friend made it to heads-up at which point it no longer mattered that he was sitting on my left. After a longish duel, I managed to fade a final flip to win.

As I mentioned, I realized early on how I’d perhaps drawn one of the least desirable seats at the table. But soon after that I also became conscious of how the circumstance had forced me out of my comfort zone in a most constructive way.

I’ll admit I might be influenced a tad by a positive result. But looking back on the game, I realize one of the most rewarding aspects of the night was the unexpected pleasure of having been greeted with a new and different challenge.

We are often told to practice smart game selection and try if we can to find games in which our skill level exceeds that of our opponents, thus increasing the likelihood of our profiting. The same goes for seat selection — in cash games, anyway, where we do have an option to get up and change our seats if desired.

It can be both fun and satisfying in poker, however, to embrace situations where everything is not so predictable, forcing us to adapt and exercise otherwise little used mental muscles. Of course, it is probably best to choose low-risk environments before deliberately putting yourself in such uncomfortable spots. Say, a fun, relaxed home game, or lower-than-your-usual-stakes games when playing online.

Play a new game. Pick a new seat. Recognize the value that can come from sometimes playing the game from a different perspective — even from what might seem a more difficult one.


Photo: “Poker Night,” TineyHo, CC BY-SA 2.0.


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