Is fun any fun?

September 27, 2007

So, why do you play poker? I play for money. It’s fun playing for money. I might lose everything I brought, I might end up breaking out the checkbook at the end of the night, but I never could imagine sitting down and playing cards if money wasn’t involved.

Until recently.

Lately, after watching more poker on television, I’ve played around with a few Texas Hold ‘Em sites online for free  – mainly PokerStar.net and FullTiltPoker.net – (as well as my travel video game!) and found myself just as serious and calculating with my gameplay as I am when I have $50 in chips stacked in front of me.

So, why would anyone want to play poker for fun? Personally, I think it’s easier to learn the game when there’s no money on the table. However, and follow me here, this only holds up if you have a strong history of actually playing for money and know what it’s like to drop a huge pot. What I mean is, having played for money before gives you perspective if you sit down in a no-money game, and still want to practice how to act in different situations.

Everyone’s opinions vary (hence the opinion part), so let’s take a look at what are the benefits and downfalls of both money and non-money games.

Money

1.) The most obvious – profit: You can parlay a talent for reading people and smart, patient betting into a nice supplement to your day job salary if you….heh, heh…..play your cards right. I assume making money is the major draw for most new poker players, and for most veterans, as well. As well it should be, since you’re putting in valuable time, you want to see a return on it at the end of the night.

2.) Prestige: Aside from the bucks, there’s the gold watches, the pictures up on the walls of the casinos, the desire to be the best, be it in a professional circuit tournament, or just the best in your office or your local gym, etc… To me, it seems like the prestige goes hand in hand with excelling in a MONEY game. While being the top ranked player on a free poker Web site might be nice, people will be wondering why you haven’t taken the jump into the “major leagues.”

3.) Adrenaline: I don’t have to say much here, but there’s nothing like the sweating and shakes that I get when I’m sitting there with one stupid call between me and a healthy 3-digit pot. Or if I’m the one making the stupid call.

Non-money

1.) A relaxed atmosphere: Nothing’s on the line, you can separate yourself from your nerves and tells and learn the fundamentals of the game without the stress to go with it. You can take the time to analyze the smartest play without having to factor in how much you may win or lose. Is that a positive? Sure, it can be. But like I said before, you have to be able to understand what you move would mean if you were playing for money, and be able to make a decision with that in mind. That is, of course, if you’re trying to improve yourself as a player and not just playing to kill time.

2.) To counter an earlier positive – the lack of debt: You can’t lose what you don’t put in the middle. Therefore…….wait for it……..if you’re playing for fun, you’ll never lose anything! Tends to be a positive for those of us who’ve gone home without enough money to stop by McDonald’s for an egg mcmuffin. And I was damn hungry, too.

3.) Family: Poker actually can become a family game right up there with Uno and Scene It (so hard to convey sarcasm through the Web.) But it can be fun to play with family or non-gambling friends. Bust out a bag of pretzels and cookies and you have your chips. Everyone has fun and spoils dinner at the same time.

So there you go, while playing for fun may not seem like “real” poker, there are some benefits to diving in without your bankroll by your side.

But the question you have to ask yourself is – is playing for fun still fun?

Poker Home Games – Idiot’s Blackjack

September 15, 2007

Hey, it’s my birthday today! Time to give a few people a call and round up a game for this evening. All I need to do first is dig out a few cigars (preferably unsmoked ones), and tire my wife out before it gets too late. What was that? Nevermind.

In the meantime, however, let’s talk about another fun home game that really isn’t based around poker. But everyone needs a break from poker every now and then anyway, so having a few games to throw into the mix keeps things fresh, and sometimes spawns new and more inventive ways to take your friends money :)

You will find, however, there are chances to bluff and make smart bets in this game, as well.

Here we go with idiot’s blackjack. It’s actually called something else, but I prefer not to call out an entire group of people here. I know my friends who read this (and actually came up with the game, or at least introduced me to it) will yell at me for not staying true to the real name of the game, but they can deal with it.

1.) Any amount of people really can play this game. You can always add a second deck if you think you’ll be short on cards.

2.) One person begins as the dealer (this is a lengthy game, as everyone at the table will get an opportunity to be the dealer for two full hands.)
3.) Unlike regular blackjack, each player does not play against the same dealer hand. Instead, it is a succession of individual one-on-one matches between the players and the dealer. The dealer’s cards are discarded after each one, and a new set of two cards are dealt for the dealer to take on the next player.

4.) The ante per each player is $2.00. It can be more, or less, that’s just what we used to play with. The dealer ante’s, as well. One nice thing for the dealer is that he or she can’t lose more than the ante during his or her deal.

5.) There will be two unique rounds of blackjack per deal. During the first round, there is a limit to how much you can bet, usually whatever the ante is. This way, it keeps money in the pot for the second round.

6.) Betting – If you are the player, and it’s your turn to play the dealer, you’ll get your two cards, and at that point will have to make a determination as to how much you’re going to bet. It can be nothing, it can be half the ante, or it can be the full ante. After the bet amount is set, you proceed with your hand, hit, stand, whatever you want to do.

***A few things to clarify, each player’s hand will be one card up and one card down. At no point is anyone dealt two cards up. Also:

– Dealer wins all ties

– There is no splitting or doubling down. It is simply who gets closer to 21 without going over.

– if a players busts (and they must admit it since the have a hole card), then the dealer automatically wins, meaning the dealer doesn’t have to play out their hand.

7.) There are no casino rules for the dealer. He can choose to hit on 17, he can stand on 12. In fact, this is where some smart bluff technique on the part of the player can net you some quick money. Let’s say the player has a 9 face up, but only a 3 face down. He can choose to bet the max and stand, making the dealer believe he has 19, and thus forcing a dealer who typically would stand on 18 take a hit, and risk busting.

Why would the dealer care, you ask? You’ll see very shortly.

8.) After the first round is complete, the max bet limit is history for the second round. Each player, when it’s his or her turn, can bet the pot, and of course, can lose the pot.

9.) When the deal comes down to the last player and the dealer, these two get the opportunity to negotiate with the remaining money in the pot. (See, this is why the dealer wants a big pot at the end). Based on the strengths of the two hands, it can become a 50/50 split, a 90/10 split, or one may choose to refuse negotiations altogether and take his or her chances with the hand they have. (Obviously if you’re dealt 21, you won’t be in the mood for negotiating.)

After the last hand with the negotiation, the dealer gets all of the remaining money in the pot. So if the last person to play only bets a portion, regardless of whether he wins or loses, the dealer claims what’s left for himself.

10.) After one deal is complete, the deal shifts to the left and the two hands are repeated. This continues until everyone has had a chance to deal.

Now, if you start with a $5 ante and the dealer’s giving himself some strong hands, you realistically could see a nice $50 pot when it comes down to negotiating time. And by negotiating, I don’t mean “You give me the money and I let you live,” which is how much of my high school years sounded.

Have fun with this one, it’s a great game that offers a totally different challenge to those who think they can read their friends. Since one typically has no need to bluff in blackjack, it can be interesting to see how they react to being in the situation in this game.

Hit me, baby.

By the way, did you know you can play blackjack on AbsolutePoker.com – that’s right.

Poker Home Games – In-Between

September 4, 2007

Whatever you want to call it, I hate this game.

I hate this game so much, it’s beyond a love-hate. It goes so much further into the depths of hatred that whenever it’s brought up for a game, I cringe at the thought of histories greatest pot matches, many of which I’ve either witnessed or was a victim of myself.  I would rather play poker on BodogLife than play this game.

And why is it that the game is inevitably brought up? Someone has to tempt fate and throw out the most unforgiving game of made up, home game cards ever created.

Anyway, my personal disgust for this awesomely horrible game aside, it is a staple of most home games. And although it’s more of a break from poker than anything resembling poker itself, it still builds up huge, mounting, gargantuan pots and causes people to hurl chairs, punch walls, scream hysterically in the streets, and possibly kick a nearby dog.

1.) The deck is shuffled, cut and the dealer begins by dealing two cards, face up. The two cards will be spaced far enough apart for a third card to be placed between them after the person who’s turn it is has made his or her wager.

The object of the game, of course, is to have the third card be in-between the numbers of the other two cards.

Example: 3 Hearts, 10 Spades. If the middle card is a 6, you win. If the middle card ends up being a 2, or a King, you lose.

2.) Once the first two cards are dealt, the person declares how much he is wagering that the third card will fall in-between the other two. The deal then continues around the table until the deck runs out. The cards are then reshuffled and dealt again.

3.) Many house games have a rule limiting the amount you can wager (Half the pot usually) until everyone has had one turn to bet. Then, as they say, all bets are off. You can declare POT!!!!!! on a King, 2 spread….and you may just be lucky enough to be the winner.

4.) The rules of payment are simple. If the middle card is in-between, you win what you wagered. If it’s not, you lose what you wagered to the middle.

5.) Now, if the middle card is equal to one of the other two cards – for example a 2, K…and then a 2 in the middle – you must then pay double your wager to the middle. How’s the pot bet feeling right about how, eh?

6.) If two cards in consecutive order are dealt, your turn is just passed. If two of the same card are dealt, you must put in a predetermined amount to the middle ($1, $5, whatever.)

7.) Game ends when someone finally clears the pot, which I have seen take hours.

There is little strategy really, but one choice to note. If the first card of your turn dealt is an Ace, you have the option of it being high or low. If the second card is an Ace, though, it’s always automatically high.

Like I said, I’ve seen people do some crazy stuff after losing a pot bet, especially when they had to cough up double their wager. Luckily we weren’t playing at my house when it happened.

And, if you’ve ever entertained by the serious potential of one day seeing a home game pot tease 4 digits, this is the game to try.