Happy New Year!

I hope everyone had a fantastic New Years Eve last night, and are off to a great start on 2007. I was lucky enough to be able to celebrate with my fellow poker blogger and (former IFF, now RL) friend Katitude as she made the trek out West to celebrate the holidays with her family. They welcomed me into their home with open arms last night, and after chatting for a while and laughing hysterically at their children we ended up playing a little poker, if you can imagine that.

When you play a lot of live poker, you learn to control your emotions. I can sit for hours indifferent to my surroundings and unaffected by the cards, the flop, the wins or the bad beats. Even when I play online I have trained myself to remain unemotional, sitting stoically watching the screen. That is one of the reasons I love home games so much. They aren't so much about who wins or loses, they are about the conversation, the laughter, and the trash talking that ultimately ensues.

There were five of us in the game last night, and other than Kat and myself they are all relatively new to the game. We decided to offer them some helpful hints during the first blind structure (a.k.a. her and I trying to teach them everything we know in 30 minutes) so I am sure it was a bit of information overkill, but they picked up on a lot and then we threw them to the wolves. No better way to learn, right?

Best quotes of the night:

"Folding is not a direct reflection of your masculinity"
"Why are you calling that huge raise with nothing?"
"Why are you calling that huge raise with nothing AGAIN?"

Yes, there was a considerable amount of donkey-like play, and I'm proud to say that a very good majority of it came from me. We had a fabulous time though - thanks again S&B, if you are reading this.

One of my resolutions for the new year is to get together with friends and family and play home games more often throughout 2007 - they really remind me of why I love this game so much.

Best wishes to everyone in 2007!

Poker Mentor - Do You Have One?

I am often asked when it was that I first began playing poker, and I find it difficult to answer exactly. Cards have been a part of my life since I was a little kid – from playing Go Fish and Old Maid to learning Gin Rummy and Euchre. 


Being the youngest of almost thirty cousins, I watched with envy as the older kids were allowed to play cards with the adults, while us younger ones played hide and go seek and such. Sometimes one of my aunts or uncles would let me sit in with them for a hand or two, and that was always my favorite time of the night. 


When I was an opinionated and disagreeable teenager my Mom and I played cribbage endlessly. She would be lying on her bed watching television and I would plop myself down with a deck of cards and begin dealing. She never once refused and we would play for hours - even when we were angry at each other. At times not a word was spoken other than the card count…fifteen two, fifteen four, and the rest don’t score…silently taking out our aggression by skunking or double skunking each other. She didn't tell me until recently that she actually disliked the game itself – would have much rather played something different, yet she never complained. I have to admit that I was never really a big fan of crib either; though I very much enjoyed the time we got to spend together.  


Continue reading Poker Mentor - Do You Have One?

Derek's Poker Hand of the Week

handI am going to try to start up a weekly post where I discuss a particular hand that I played. For my first installment, I’m going to talk about a hand that I actually won!

It happened last Monday night at the Blue Parrot. My friend Spaceman was in town and we played in Ferrari's home game. We were playing $2/$4 Limit Hold'em.

I was playing tight all night. I really didn't have a choice. I wasn't getting any cards and my brother Dr. Pauly and the Rooster were running over the table.

Here's the hand in question. It involved three people.

Mike (Big Blind - BB)
Ferrari (Under the Gun - UTG)
Derek (Middle Position)

I never really played against Mike but Ferrari and I have played together plenty of times. He's aggressive and he plays a wide range of hands.

I found 10-10. Ferrari limped in and I raised. Mike called my raise and Ferrari re-raised. For a second I thought he might have limped in with a monster hand like A-A or K-K. I re-raised to find out. I capped out the betting. Both Mike and Ferrari called.

Continue reading Derek's Poker Hand of the Week

Home Poker vs. Casino Poker

devilfishAshley Adams at Poker Player Newspaper wrote an informative article called Home Poker vs. Casino Poker.

He discusses the obvious and subtle differences between the two places where you might play cards. Ashley also explains why different styles of play are necessary for playing in both home games and casino games.

Earlier this week, I played in a home game at the Blue Parrot which is run by my friend Ferrari. I played there with my brother Dr. Pauly and several other bloggers.

Continue reading Home Poker vs. Casino Poker

Poker Home Game Checklist

People used to go to out for dinner and a movie on the weekends, but now it seems there are more and more home games occurring. If you are planning to host one, there are a lot of things that you need to plan for in advance. Following is a basic checklist of ideas that you may want to consider before starting the tournament clock. 


A Few Weeks Before 

Continue reading Poker Home Game Checklist

Poker Home Games: What Not To Serve

pizzaI received an email from a reader asking me to discuss food served at a home poker game. Though this may sound a little trivial, the idea has definite merit. Besides, it is Friday night and we could use something a little lighter than all the tragedy surrounding the hurricane disasters recently. 


So, in the spirit of the weekend, I have compiled a top 5 list of food not to serve at a home poker game. 


Continue reading Poker Home Games: What Not To Serve

Poker Home Game Guidelines

homegameThe weekend is here, and that means that a lot of people will be playing in home games. If you are thinking of hosting one, there are a few things that you should take into consideration.


  • Will you be running a tournament, or playing cash games only?
  • Who are you going to invite?
  • Set a start time and an end time to the game, unless you are running a tournament. Make sure that you are willing to host the game until it finishes.
  • Who has the final word when it comes to settling disputes?

Continue reading Poker Home Game Guidelines

Poker Clock

Poker ClockI played in a 20-player home tournament this past weekend. It was my first time in a home game that big and it was a lot of fun. You gotta enjoy flopping quads with the money looming. My buddy Joe did a great job running it, particularlay since it was his first time managing multiple tables. The main takeaway was the usefulness of a good tournament clock. Without the monitor indicating time left and the blinds and antes for each level, I think the task of balancing tables, coloring up chips, and keeping the players informed would've become pretty overwhelming. Luckily, before the tourney Joe had downloaded Poker Clock, which performed admirably. It's not freeware, but if you are in the habit of hosting multitable tournaments, the $40 price tag seems pretty reasonable. It has everything you could want from tournament software: real-time stats, audio prompts, a flexible display, payout calculators, templates your can modify and save, and a bunch of other features. It's definitely worth a look, considering the 14-day trial version isn't crippled -- usually a good sign of a solid piece of software.

Build your own: Texas Hold'em table

If you're like me, you've already replaced your dining room table with a full-size Hold'em poker table (pictured at right)...

Well, you're probably not like me, but if you've always wanted to own your own Hold'em table there's never been a better time to be in the market for one. Seemingly hundreds of companies are marketing professional-quality (and crap) Hold'em tables both online and in magazines like Card Player. A Google search for "Texas Hold'em table" turns up 980,000 results. Prices range from $200 to more than $7500 for very high-end furniture examples.

Or...if a trip to Lowe's or Home Depot is your idea of a good time, you can just build your own! Jeff Croft has one of the best instructional posts on the internet for constructing a home-built Hold'em table, and it's even entertaining along the way. A high-quality, sturdy table can be built at home for around $125 (not including beer and pizza costs). So what did I do? I found a guy who builds 96 x 42 versions out of his garage and sells them on Ebay for around $240. Since he was in suburban Chicago, I was able to pick up the table in person and save shipping costs (which will kill you on this heavy item). A tip: stay away from the $120 range tables on Ebay, they are of extremely cheap quality.

Saturday Night Poker

While Harold is doing it up right out there in Vegas this weekend, I'm stuck in Indianapolis. Although miles away from the closest actual poker room, I always find ways to get in a game. Last night I was able to play in a nice little charity event put on by a member of my local poker circle, Jay N (it's like Tony G, but he's also known as 'whojedi' online). Proceeds from the event went to help fund Rupert's Kids - the charity founded by local Rupert Boneham, of Survivor Pearl Islands fame.

Jay always hosts solid tournaments for friends and associates; good food and good times. Unfortunately, I've averaged about a 26th place showing in events held in connection with Jay and didn't improve much this week with a 17th place finish. I actually played solid poker this week (as opposed to my usual 'on tilt' in large fields where people call 1500 reraises with J9 offsuit). After my stack was severely damaged when my KK was cracked by a desperation A3 off, I chose to push all-in in a three-way pot situation with K2 spades (massive value when the blinds were threatening) and was bounced by AA that held up. As consolation, however, I went home with a fantastic Card Player-sponsored door prize of Barry Shulman's book, 52 Tips for Texas Hold'em Poker.

Despite my performance, I am happy to report that a Johnston family member went home with the top prize. At around 1:30am this morning, Derrick Johnston was able to come back from a dominated heads-up chip situation and win the event. Brett Weaver finished second, while tournament host Jay finished third. Congrats to my poker-playing partner who, with the win, has now pulled into an even tie with yours truly for local Hold'em tournament wins in the past 12 months. The battle for Johnston family honors is really heating up as summer approaches. Thanks to Jay and all who attended (as well as Card Player magazine) for an excellent night!

Home Game Starter Kit

Chronicle Poker KitChronicle Books has the best designers, I swear. I just saw their home game in a box, POKER NIGHT: All you need to Bet, Bluff, and Win by Scott McNeely. It's really cute, and I don't mean that in the kiss-of-death kind of way. I mean that in the perfect gift for your non-poker playing friends kind of way. Illustrator Gilbert Ford did a bang up job in making this a really fun set. Besides the red box and cool pics, what I love about POKER NIGHT is that this isn't all about Hold 'Em. Scott taught other poker game basics and added cool variations like Psycho Shelby, Baseball, and The Good, The Bad, & the Ugly, and Deuces Diablo, among others. Those just starting out will appreciate the cheat sheet of which hands beat which, but seriously, go buy it for your neighbors or your neighbors' kids and increase your future winnings at the next block party.

Home Games, Playboy Style

In the April issue of Playboy, Phil Gordon gives his take on how to host a home game. My favorite line is right up front, "You haven't truly played poker until you've spread a seven-card-stud game on a twin bed in a neon-lit motel room." Uh huh, that's what I'm talking about. But Phil goes on to discuss the components of a top-notch home game that will leave your friends begging you to host another. This article is all about having class...from Kem cards, to quality chips, whether you should offer Talisker or Laphroaig, the ideal size of a game (both player-wise and wallet-wise), and most importantly....how to book a martini-making red hot beauty to make sure the guests never go thirsty on your watch.

Think you've already got this covered? Then buy the issue for Phil's "Ten Definitive Rules for Strip Poker." Er, I mean, Miss April—a beautiful blonde psychology student from New York. (The article is not available online)

Home Game Highlights

AcesI played in my local Wednesday-night game last night and there were some interesting hands. It was limit hold 'em, which is certainly not my game, but the evening was enjoyable nonetheless. Danny, who runs the game, always does a nice job. There were quads hit by the same player several times. Aces were perpetually going down in flames, prompting a loud round of applause when they finally held up. And the hand of the night, which belonged to me, solely through dumb luck and perpetual chasing of gut-shot straights:  I held AK, the board showed a queen-high straight (with three diamonds), and my raise on the river brought two callers: KK and KQ suited (not diamonds, thankfully). The other hand that had gone all the way to the river before folding? AA. Sorry, Danny.

Home Game Basics

You want to start your own home game, but you don't know how? Well, there's no one method to achieve a well-balanced friendly game, but here are some pointers for the uninitiated:

  • Play for money. Poker without money isn't really poker, in my humble opinion. It doesn't have to be high-stakes, that's for sure, but the money involved needs to mean something to everyone playing. College students might play for enough money to buy a six-pack. Bond traders probably bring enough for a three-star dinner in the city. Don't play for peanuts. Or bragging rights. It won't serve you well. (Of course, it goes without saying that you'll also need to know what you can wager according to your local laws.)

Continue reading Home Game Basics

The Craze

vanity fair

As if The Travel Channel, ESPN, BRAVO, and FSN hadn't already brought poker to the mainstream—Vanity Fair kicked it up a notch. Now it's mainstream mainstream. To be said like a teenage girl would ask her friend, "Yeah, but do you like him like him?" The article is a run down of who's who in Hollywood poker, as well as a peek into some of their home games. They reeled us in with the A-list names we could recognize like Brad Pitt, Ben Affleck, Tobey Maguire, and Leonardo DiCaprio, but those aren't even 1/50th of them.

I was enjoying reading "Poker's Wild" by Duff McDonald, but had to laugh every so often because I just couldn't follow the name-dropping. To amuse myself I reread the story while counting the aces mentioned. The 50th name didn't even get me half way through the article. Still, I'm willing to bet that Norby Walters, Charles Durning, Vince Edwards, Rod Steiger and Jerry Vale won't care if I don't recognize them in print or on the street. Or Mitch Glazer and Joe Foristal, for that matter.  McDonald—don't forget his name, he's the author—does a good job of briefly explaining where everyone can be recognized,  but the real kick is in hearing about the home games. Chris Masterson (Francis  on Malcolm in the Middle) and Laura Prepon (Donna on That 70s Show) have a $2,000 buy in game, while Scott Baio and Alec Baldwin play at Norby Walters's $1 minimum game.

Wanna get more goss about "Poker's Wild?" Poker News and the New York Daily News are talking.

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