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.
How to Beat Your Friends at Poker
All poker games - and definitely every poker home game - will have a standard cross-section of playing styles. These for the most part are made up of:
- 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 - will 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.
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.
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.
You raise from middle position with KQ. The button calls and the Pre-Beginner min-re-raises from the small blind. You both call to see a flop.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 will make fewer mistakes than 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.
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 AK and see a flop of A107. This is where they think they're finally going to give you a taste of your own medicine.
Unfortunately for them, you're holding 1010. 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.
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.