How to Beat Your Friends at Poker

Final Table

What's the only thing sweeter than busting random opponents at a poker table?

Busting your friends at a poker table.

If you're a semi-to-regular poker player with a solid understanding of the game, chances are you're miles ahead of most of your friends when it comes to Texas Hold'em strategy.

But that doesn't guarantee you'll beat them at your regular home game.

Even though you have more experience and have read more articles and books, none of this will be useful if you don't adjust your game to their individual levels of play.

Who's at Your Table?

Almost every home game is going to have a standard cross-section of playing styles.

These for the most part are made up of:

  • Pre-beginners
  • Beginners
  • Intermediates
  • Intermediates who think they're pros

Every action you make at a poker table is part of a poker conversation you're having with the other players.

If you're making advanced moves, far beyond the scope of your friend's poker comprehension, it's as if you're speaking another language.

If you want to be the one walking away from the table with the biggest pile of chips, there are some very simple formulas you can use to maximize your edge against each type of player.

The $5-$20 buy-in range - which is pretty much the standard in most non-pro home games - is generally going to bring out a lot more beginners and low-end intermediate players than high-end intermediates or semi-pros.

These are the key playing styles you'll need to tailor your poker game for.

Player: Pre-Beginner

Typically a friend of a friend, or a girlfriend of a regular, these folks have never played poker before let alone a structured game of Texas Hold'em.

Donkey hat
Usually a friend of a friend.

They don't know any poker rules, they don't have any idea what you're talking about and they're clueless as to what's happening on the poker table.

This kind of player should be viewed as an antique army-surplus landmine. They're completely unpredictable.

So although you should have no problems walking all over them, sometimes stepping anywhere near them will take off your legs.

They'll move all in with the nuts or with absolutely nothing.

They also have no idea what they hold, making them impossible to get a read on.

Your Best Strategy: Avoidance

The best way to deal with the pure beginner?

Let everyone else play the guessing game.

You'll have an easier time getting those chips from the other players anyways.

An Example:

You raise from middle position with K Q. The button calls and the Pre-Beginner min-re-raises from the small blind.

You both call to see a flop.

Flop: Q 10 8.

The Pre-Beginner opens for a bet about twice the size of the pot.

Although there's a decent chance you're ahead, there are lots of hands that have you beat here.

Rather than play the guessing game, hope the button makes the call instead. Fold and wait for a better spot.

Player: Beginner

Although these players understand the raw fundamentals of poker, they only ever play the most basic strategies.

Expect first-level poker with all decisions made purely on the strength of the two cards they hold.

These players are effortless to handle as you'll always know exactly what they're doing and what they're holding.

If they show strength, they have a strong hand. If they show weakness, they're going to fold.

They also are known to commit 90% of their stack into a pot then fold to a final bet, leaving them with one or two chips.

Ed Betlow
Best way to beat beginners? Aggression.

Your Best Strategy: Aggression

The best way to consistently beat these players is to play a very aggressive poker game.

Your goal is to try take down almost every hand dealt at the table.

When these players try to play back at you, or show any signs of strength, ditch the hand and let them have it.

An Example:

You raise the first six hands dealt at the table. Each time, you either steal the blinds or any callers fold to your continuation-bet on the flop.

The next hand, with two callers on the flop, your c-bet gets raised by a beginner.

To a true poker beginner, your image means little to nothing.

You just got raised because he has a legitimate hand. Fold out, and raise the next pot.

Player: Intermediate

If you play with the same players every week eventually most of them will become intermediate players.

These players have a basic understanding of the game and are starting to mix up their play a bit.

Most importantly, these players are making fewer mistakes than the beginners.

Your Best Strategy: Aggression

The best way to deal with intermediate players is the same way you'd approach playing a beginner.

Put heavy pressure on them with aggression and force them to fold out of most of the hands they play.

When someone plays back at you, ditch your hand or punish them if you actually have a good hand.

If the other players show strength early, they probably have a hand.

Let them fight amongst themselves; you want to be the aggressor rather than the caller.

The King
Best approach against intermediates? Heavy pressure.

Example:

After you've been annoyingly aggressive at the table, intermediate players will start to get upset.

Every time they've had a hand they wanted to play, you made them fold.

Every time they've been dealt a premium hand and raised, you've folded.

They'll call your raise with A K and see a flop of A 10 7.

This is where they think they're finally going to give you a taste of your own medicine.

Unfortunately for them, you're holding 10 10. But the key is to play the hand exactly the same as you've played your junk hands.

Expect to be check-raised. Then, either instantly raise them back or just call.

If you call, they'll bet out the turn where you can raise them.

If you upset them enough early, they'll make an emotional all-in and you'll win a large pot.

Player: Intermediate Who Thinks He's a Pro

Depending on where you are, these players will range from extremely rare to the majority of your game.

It's important to spot these players early as you need to take a slightly different approach when taking them on.

There are a few telltale signs of a delusional intermediate:

  • He'll talk about how great he is at poker
  • He can't wait to talk about the exact odds your hand has
  • He likes to use the expressions "pot committed" and "pot odds," regardless of the relevancy to the situation at hand

Your Best Strategy: Wait for the Dumb Move

These players play the same game as the regular intermediate but with a few twists.

The occasional move or bluff will come out of these players.

Crazy Hoody
Wait for this guy to make a dumb move.

Fortunately for you, their skill level isn't high enough for them to make consistent quality moves.

Lean on them, let them bluff and wait for them to make a dumb move at the wrong time.

Luckily, these players typically have serious ego problems.

Snapping them off can cause immediate tilt, and since these guys think they're pro they also think they're ballers so they'll be sure to rebuy.

Example:

Unless you have the hand locked up, when these players make a strong play that smells like a bluff, chances are you should just fold.

It's far better for you - both short term and long term - to let them run bluffs rather than have them stack you on a bad read.

Play the same game you play against the intermediate players and wait for them to make a move at the wrong time.

They'll pay lots of attention to the texture of the board but will have little understanding of the betting story.

Bluffs from these players are only as in-depth as, "he can't call unless he has a king in his hand."

Luckily you not only know that he doesn't have a king, but that he has to believe you have one if you move in over the top.

Related strategy articles:

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Jack Elever 2017-06-14 15:01:04

Did you forget to include 'beginners who think they're pros'? haha, I've made a small fortune whopping the asses of people who used to play Facebook Texas hold 'em and think they're Phil Ivey!

hahashishi 2012-04-02 04:56:49

I played an intermediate wannabe pro at a home game. He talked too much and i was able to understand his train of thought. He played very ABC and I managed to win the SnG when we got heads up by raising my rag hands preflop and limping/calling my strong hands. He folded frequently to my preflop raises and played me when I limped or called (with my good hands). He had a tantrum and left very soon after coming second to myself, who in his eyes was a complete novice. We still laugh about it today.

ChrissyC 2010-12-15 13:41:48

Great article, loved reading it, its very true! However I think you should have included a section on the maniac player and how to play against them. At the home games I play in there is always at least 1 if not 2 of these players. Is the best way to play these players to just sit and wait for a big hand then shove on them or is this just too predictable? How do you play against these players?
Thanks

Andrew Collings 2010-10-27 18:25:47

I couldn't stop laughing when I saw the 'intermediate who thinks hes a pro' category. For home games it is unbelievably true. One person will always see themselves as the 'most experienced', and they will happily rattle off pot odds and hand odds all night. Unlike most other articles, this one gives an effective way to deal with home games. I've played quite alot of low stakes poker online - its only until I played the professionals that I realised how many leaks were in my game. In regard to home games, I have began to start winning more and more thanks to this article. Remember, theres no point in trying to read a pre-beginner!

Sean Lind 2009-11-30 21:09:39

grrrr,

Thanks man. As for your question, aggression is still important. If 80% of hands go to showdown anyways, you want to be forcing players to fold when you can, and when they won't, you're value betting the fine edges.

Chances are they're not going to fold, so make sure only to bet when you have a decent shot at having the best hand. I don't meant he nuts, just the best hand.

grrrr 2009-11-29 06:02:00

Awesome article, very informative and well written. As most people have intimated, i too think i could place myself in the wannabe pro category, something i've been working on lately.

My only problem with this article is that I play a home game with guys who are such bluff-stations that the only way you can honestly win is to have the best hand at showdown. I'd say about 80% of hands go to showdown, maybe more, how can you be aggressive against these guys without running good?

bennie99 2009-10-08 10:41:00

haha good atricle. Alot of the players who I have played with are really beginner call stations who will call any pair or draw down./ Whilst this is great if you running well, when you are not, it's very diffcult to win as most of the time they just don't fold! Always easier to bluff or steal pots with players who have some idea of what they are doing than call stations who have no idea.

Corey Bugess 2009-09-16 17:57:00

Great advice, i'll keep it in mind.

Chris 2009-09-03 18:16:00

This is a great article! I could probably be put in the Intermediate who thinks he is pro category. I will look at correcting that.

Great read and great advice.

AusLoco 2009-08-21 04:23:00

Ditto Morten. Thanks for sparing me a lot of home game grief and Monday apologies!

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