How to Beat Your Friends at Poker
There’s a right way and a wrong way to play poker – and it all depends on who the other people at the table are. For example, if you’re playing in a tournament and you’re surrounded by top professionals, you have to knuckle down, concentrate, and use your most trusted poker strategies to extract every chip possible. However, figuring out how to beat your friends at poker requires an entirely different approach.
If you’re at a home game, or even at a live casino with your buddies, you’re better off playing a less competitive style overall than you would at the tournament tables – or at the anonymous tables at Bodog Poker.
That’s assuming you still want these people to be your friends after you’ve played. Poker is ultimately a social game; if you come in like Christoph Vogelsang with your turtleneck pulled up over your face, you might win that night, but you won’t be invited to the next game, or anything else for that matter.
Unless you spend your time facing off against the Vogelsangs of the world, playing a simpler “ABC” style of poker will usually make you the best poker player in any room you walk into, including the micro- and low-stakes rooms at Bodog Poker. The world’s top players don’t play “GTO” (Game-Theory Optimal) poker in these situations, either; that style only works against tougher opponents, where you need to focus on minimizing your losses rather than maximizing your gains.
To help you get the best results while you’re playing in these more casual games, whether it’s a home game or online at Bodog, we’ve put together this list of five basic poker tips you can start using right away – no deep study or computer analysis required.
1. “Play Simple”
Nobody likes to be outsmarted at the poker table. The moment you give someone the impression that you’re more strategic than the rest, they’ll be a lot more hesitant to enter pots with you. So try to resist the urge to expose your intelligence at the table.
Jennifer Tilly was and remains the master of this approach. Her bubbly persona had already been established on the movie screen well before she paired up with Phil “The Unabomber” Laak and started learning how to dominate the felt. In the real world, Tilly is usually the smartest person in the room. Want to master how to beat your friends at poker? Be like Jennifer – except for the wardrobe, unless you’re confident you can pull off that look.
2. Give the Illusion of Action
Generally speaking, “tight is right” when you’re at the poker table. But if you play too tight, and fold too many hands while waiting for a big pocket pair, you’re throwing a wet blanket over the table. Not only will people avoid giving you action because they’re worried you have a monster hand, they’ll also think you’re just no fun to play with overall.
There are ways around this that don’t involve playing a dangerously loose style of poker. Daniel Negreanu is highly skilled when it comes to opening marginal hands that others might normally fold – baby suited connectors with gaps in them are right up his alley. Consider limping with these hands instead of open-raising; this will keep your risk level low and also help generate action while disguising how sharp a player you are.
You should also join in every time other players want to “flip” the next hand; this is when everyone just turns their cards over pre-flop and all five community cards are dealt to see who has the best hand. You’re not winning or losing anything in the long run by flipping, but you’re losing social value if you don’t.
3. Show Bluffs
This goes hand-in-hand with Tip No. 2. You won’t be bluffing all that often if you’re playing mostly ABC poker, but when you do and you win, make sure you turn those cards over and let everyone know about it. This is one of those rare instances where it’s okay to put one over on your friends and give them the needle. They’ll be more likely to think you just got lucky – and they’ll probably overestimate just how often you’re actually bluffing.
Because he is playing all those marginal hands like Six-Three suited, Negreanu will gladly flip those cards over when he’s able to run a bluff through. It’s a really effective way to put other pros on tilt at the tournament tables, but as always, be more careful with that needle when it’s your friends.
4. Don’t Run Over the Table
If you were playing at the final table of the World Series of Poker, the last thing you’d want to do is pass up an opportunity to collect chips. But you should do this frequently when you’re playing a more social game. Keep your friends in the game rather than knock them out; you might want to consider loaning or even giving some chips back if you’re good enough buddies.
Watch some of Doyle Brunson’s high-roller cash games if you haven’t already, and you’ll see what we mean. There’s a fine art to doing this without seeming patronizing, and Brunson spent decades developing this part of his craft in some of the toughest environments you can imagine.
5. Keep it Fun
This tip neatly summarizes everything we’ve discussed so far in how to beat your friends at poker, but it also covers a larger concept that all poker players should keep in mind. If you’re enjoying yourself at the tables, that emotion will infect the other players around you, and they’ll be happier to give you their money. If you’re miserable, on the other hand, you won’t get that action, but why are you even playing in the first place? Whether you’re at Bodog Poker, a casual home game or the toughest tournament tables, keep it fun, and you’ll get the greatest reward this sport has to offer you.