The tone of the game


Intro

Although most poker sites on the internet talk at length about the various technical rules regarding correct poker play, the first (and most important) thing you need to decide on is how formal or informal your game is going to be. There are plenty of sites on the internet explaining intricate rules about the smallest issues that can arise. The problem is that most home games are very laid back games where a bunch of friends get together to both play poker and have fun. It is important that the players and the host of the game are both on the same page about how formal the game is.

Players

Part of that responsibility falls on the players that come to the game. A guest at a home poker game should have enough social intelligence to recognize the particular tone of the game. When you go to a home game where everyone is being serious, then you shouldn't be doing things like flipping over another player's cards if they didn't give you permission to. On the other hand, if you are a guest at a game that is very laid back, you shouldn't complain if someone does something that breaks the rules but doesn't really matter. For example, I have played in plenty of games where the host will get a phone call and he'll fold out of turn in order to get the phone. In a laid back game like this, it really doesn't matter. Someone who complains will come off like a jackass.

Host

While a guest has the ultimate responsibility for his behavior, I think a good host will communicate the tone of the game to any guests who are invited. If you post an ad that says "just a bunch of friends playing poker and having fun" then that should get the point across that the game is not too serious. If you run a more serious game where rules matter, then it would be wise to communicate those rules to the player (either posted online, sent to the player by email before the game, or printed out at the game).

Advice

Here is some advice about the tone of a home poker game:

  • The more outsiders you have at a game, the smarter it is to have established rules. When people play poker with their friends, they may not mind getting into an argument about something during the game (i.e. whether or not someone's forward motion constituted a bet). But when you are playing with people you don't know, arguments may be more likely to get out of hand when the conflict is between two strangers. This is for a couple of reasons. First, two people who are arguing are more likely to resolve this conflict because of the mere fact that they are friends. Second, people are way more paranoid about getting scammed or cheated by strangers than their friends.

  • If there is a lot of money at stake (like a multi-tourney that has $1,000 first prize or something) then it is a good to have hard rules - even if the game is very informal. Believe it or not, there may be casual games with high stakes where the pots are a few hundred dollars. But money is money - and if there is a lot of money at stake, then it is best to be clear about the rules.

  • Don't assume that a game is not serious just because the stakes are low. I have been to $1 poker games where people were anal about the rules. The bottom line is, people are often strict about rules because they are anal people - not because there is a lot of money at stake. The personalities of the people playing in the game will be the most influential factor on the tone of the game.

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