How to Beat Your Friends at Poker (Ultimate Guide 2024)

How to Beat Your Friends at Poker

This article was written by contributor Fran Ferlan.

There are a few things more therapeutic than a home poker game with your buddies. As the old adage goes: the only thing better than playing poker and losing is playing poker and winning. 

Even though home games are a ton of fun, it would be even more fun if you could crush your buddies consistently. This article will give you 5 tips to do exactly that.

A word of caution though: 

If you follow these tips to the letter, you might win so much money that your friends won’t invite you to the games anymore. 

So use these tips to beat your friends at poker at your own peril, and be ready to find new friends if necessary!

1. Play Tight When Your Friends Play Loose

If you’re playing in a home game, chances are you will be playing against a bunch of loose players. 

Throw in a couple of beers in the mix, and they’re sure to loosen up even more. So if you want to win, you have to take the exact opposite approach, and that is to tighten up.

In a typical 6 to 9 player home game, I would recommend playing around the top 15% of all hands dealt to you.

Also, even though some of your friends at the Home Game might not like it, you should always raise if you are the first person to enter the pot preflop.

And if you have a huge hand like AA, KK, QQ, AK etc. you should always re-raise if somebody has already raised.

Now, I know this might be a bit confusing at first, so here is what the top 15% of all hands dealt to you actually looks like. 

Just play the ones in red below.

How to beat your friends at poker

Now, I know that at first this might not sound all too exciting for you (it’s not). After all, nobody likes to fold 85% of all hands dealt to them!

But this article is about developing a winning poker strategy for consistently beating your friends in home games. 

This article is not about how to have fun playing poker. And sadly, the two are inversely proportional.

Sure, you can go ahead an play a bunch of bad hands like:


But it probably won't work out so well for you, if making a profit at the poker table is your goal!  

The bright side is that winning money is my definition of fun in poker though, so I’m more than willing to be a bit "bored" for a while for the prospect of making an easy buck. 

One advantage of playing in home games is that they’re already fun by default. You can just hang out. You don’t need to be splashing chips in every single pot to have a good time. 

You can use the down time when you’re not involved in the hand and pay attention to the action. In fact, the best way to pick up information about your opponents is when you’re not involved. 

This allows you to take a more detached approach, and notice small details you might have missed had you played the hand. 

When you’re involved in the pot, it’s much more difficult to pick up on tells, because you have to pay attention to your own two hole cards and what lines to take. 

When you’re not involved, you have much less information to consider, so you can try to narrow down your opponent’s ranges street by street, pay attention to the betting patterns, the physical tells and so on.

Anyway, back to the topic of playing tight. 

In home games, tightening up your starting hand selection is important for a couple of reasons. 

First off, as already mentioned, chances are you’ll be playing against a bunch of loose players, so you will often end up in multiway pots (i.e. the pot with more than two players involved). 

The more opponents there are, the bigger the chance of someone having a stronger hand than you. This means the more opponents, the stronger your hand needs to be to be profitable. 

For example, Pocket Aces is the strongest starting hand in no-limit Texas hold’em. Against random two hole cards, they have 85% equity (i.e. they are expected to win at showdown 85% of the time).

But if you’re playing against three opponents with random hole cards, you only have about 64% equity. 

See my complete guide to playing Pocket Aces for much more on this, including the best strategy to use.

The second reason you need strong starting hands is the players will tend to get sticky postflop, i.e. they won’t be likely to fold if they catch any piece of the board. 

This means you will usually have very little to no fold equity especially in multiway pots. The more opponents, the less likely it is for all of them to fold. 

By the way, fold equity simply means the percentage of time you expect your opponent to fold to a bet or a raise.

There are two ways to win the pot, you can either have the best hand combination or you can make all your opponents fold. 

Since the latter won’t be the case as often, you need to make up for it with stronger cards.

2. Play Speculative Hands With Great Implied Odds

You don’t need to wait around for pocket Aces all night to get involved, though. You can use your opponents tendencies to your advantage. 

Since your opponents will play a lot of hands preflop and get sticky with them postflop, the value of the so-called speculative hands goes up significantly.

This is called "implied odds" in poker by the way, and recently Nathan made an entire video explaining how implied odds work.

A speculative hand in no-limit Texas Hold’em is the one that isn’t really strong in and of itself, but has the potential of making very strong combinations if it connects to the board. 

Hands like small pocket pairs (pocket Deuces or pocket Sixes, for example) or suited connectors (like Jack-Ten suited or Eight-Seven suited) are great candidates. 

Pocket pairs have the ability to flop really strong combinations like sets (three of a kind) or even a full house, while suited connectors can make straights and flushes. 

Pocket pairs are especially valuable because it’s very difficult for your opponents to figure out what you are holding. 

The problem with speculative hands, however, is the fact that they will usually miss the flop completely, and when they do, you have very little chance to win the pot at showdown.

By the way, I also have an entire guide on how to play small pocket pairs for much more.

So you will usually need to just give up the hand on the flop. But when they do connect, it can more than make up for all the misses. 

So you ideally want to see the flop as cheaply as possible when you get them. If you miss, you can get away cheaply, and if you hit, you can potentially take down a huge pot. 

Speculative hands play better in multiway pots due to the increased implied odds.

Here are some examples of great speculative hands by the way:  


The more opponents in the hand, the more likely someone will be willing to pay you off if you connect with the board. And when you do, you want to build up the pot as quickly as possible. 

Don’t go for deceptive lines like slowplaying, unless you are up against hyper-aggressive opponents. 

And if you’re playing in home games, chances are that won’t be the case, unless someone had one beer too many. In that case, you can just wait and let them donate their chips to you.

But as a general rule, you should play your strong value hands as straightforwardly as possible. Don’t worry about looking too obvious. 

Let your opponents think you’re bluffing, or let them chase their ridiculous draws for the premium price. 

The fact is, you won’t hit those strong value hands nearly as often as you might like, so when you do, don’t make the mistake of leaving money at the table.

This is something that Daniel Negreanu discussed much more in this recent Masterclass poker training.

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3. Keep Your Bluffing to a Minimum

Now we come to arguably the most fun part of poker, and that is pulling off daring bluffs in huge pots. 

Here’s a protip though: 

Don't do it!

As you might have inferred from the previous two points, winning poker is mostly about making bank with your strong value hands, not bluffing with absolute air.

By the way, I discuss this in much more detail in my new Elite Poker University training. 

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There are a couple of reasons why bluffing in home games is particularly ill-advised.

Bluffing can be profitable if your opponents are actually capable of folding. The less likely they are to fold, the less inclined you should be willing to bluff altogether. 

If you are playing in a home game, chances are your friends won’t fold a lot.

Nathan has already written an entire guide on how to beat poker players who never fold. Spoiler alert, it isn't by trying to bluff them!  

Why Do Home Game Players Often Never Fold?

First of all, the stakes usually aren’t as high. If it’s only a couple of bucks on the line, they might look you up, because why not? It’s only a couple of bucks, after all.

Secondly, they might want to make a huge hero call on the off chance you’re bluffing. Between potentially losing a couple of bucks and making a sick call-down, they’ll opt for the latter more often than not. 

Finally, they want to have fun. There’s not much fun in folding. If they have some sort of a drawing hand, they’ll chase their draws no matter the price. They don’t care about the math part of the equation.

And let's face facts as well, most Home Game players are relative beginners. And beginners tend to not like to fold!

Just read Crushing the Microstakes to learn the complete strategy on how to beat beginner level players like this.

With all that said, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bluff altogether. 

After all, if you’re playing against the same people over and over again, they will eventually pick up on what you’re doing, and won’t be willing to give you any action at all. 

To counteract this, you can throw an occasional bluff to keep them guessing. 

Don’t bluff just for bluffing’s sake, though. If you do decide to bluff, do so because you believe it to be profitable, not because you feel you have to. 

Here’s a couple of general guidelines to keep in mind if you decide to bluff in a Home Game

1) It’s easier to bluff one opponent than three or four. 

The more opponents, the more likely it is one of them connected with the board in some way. So save your bluffs for the heads-up pots instead of multiway pots.

2) It’s easier to bluff in position than out of position. 

If you’re playing in position, you have an informational advantage over your opponents, so you can figure out if someone has a weak hand and is likely to fold.

3) It’s better to bluff with some sort of equity to fall back on, if you have overcards or a drawing hand, for example. 

This is called semibluffing, and it’s preferable to bluffing with absolute air. Even if you get called, you still have the option of improving on future streets and taking down a huge pot.

For example:

You have 67

And the flop comes:


You have tons of equity in this hand because you can catch any 4 or 9 on the turn or the river to make a straight. And you can also catch any  to make a flush!

So this would be an excellent spot to go for a semi-bluff.

For much more, there are dozens of detailed semi-bluffing examples in Modern Small Stakes walking you through how to do it step by step.

4. Never Show Your Friends The Bluff

This one might sound a bit counterintuitive at first, but hear me out. 

If you manage to bluff someone successfully, your first instinct is to flip the cards over with a self-satisfied smirk. It’s understandable. It serves as a nice little ego boost, and it’s fun as hell. 

While it may feel good in the moment, it could actually hurt your game over the long run for two reasons.

First of all, if you show your bluff, you’re not only giving away free information to your opponent, but to the whole table. 

And you’re not just showing them the bluff, you are showing them your hole cards and how you played them.

For example, here is a big bluff that Nathan recently made with Queen Jack. Notice that he does NOT show the bluff!

Furthermore, if your opponents are paying attention, they can reverse engineer the hand in their head and figure out your tendencies, (i.e. your actions, bet sizing, or even some physical tells). 

And no matter how good you think your poker face is, you do have physical tells. Everybody does. 

So from a strategic point of view, it makes absolutely no sense to give away free information like this, other than feeling smug about it for a couple of minutes.

Secondly, if you really want to get your opponent riled up, (that’s why you’re showing the bluff in the first place), it’s better for them to not know. 

If you show them the bluff, they might get pissed for a brief moment, but they’ll get over it soon enough. 

If you don’t, they’ll keep ruminating about it long after the hand is played. They’ll keep replaying the hand in their mind over and over. People hate not knowing things. 

They hate it even more if you refuse to tell them. That’s because people have a need for closure. They need to know how a story ends in order for it to make sense. 

Think about how livid you’d be if your favourite show got canceled before the last season.

Bottom line, if you want to consistently beat small stakes home games, it is extremely important that you learn how to get in their heads.

And you do that by constantly keeping them guessing. When they ask if you had it, you just smile and tell them to call you next time and see.

Because of course, next time you will not be bluffing!

5. Don’t Tell Them What You Know

If you’re playing against the same people over and over again, over time you’ll pick up on some tells, be it physical tells, betting patterns, or some leak in their game.

By the way, everybody gives off tells in Home Games, no matter what they say. Here are 9 extremely common amateur poker tells.  

Whatever it is you learn about them, you want to keep it to yourself though. 

Similar to the previous point, you might feel the need to show off your deductive abilities, but in poker, information is power. 

Giving it away makes absolutely no strategic sense. You might say that it doesn’t matter, it’s just a friendly home game, and fair enough. 

But this article is about winning poker, not being friendly. Like the great Doyle Brunson said:

"Poker is war. People pretend it’s a game."  

You don’t want your opponents to know what you know, as much as you don’t want them to know what you’re up to. 

You’ll also want to refrain from calling them out on the mistakes they make. 

If they catch their two-outer on the river and crack your Aces, don’t try to explain to them how completely asinine their play was. Your ego might be bruised at the moment, but look at the big picture. 

Would you rather they didn’t make any mistakes? You wouldn’t. 

The fact that mistakes sometimes get “rewarded” is what makes poker profitable in the first place, so be thankful for it. 

It means you are playing in a profitable game, and the fact they won a pot because they made a mistake makes it more likely they’ll do it again. 

You can only get lucky so often before math catches up to you. So instead of berating them, simply smile, say: “nice hand," and move on. 

How to Beat Your Friends at Poker (Summary)

So how do you beat your friends at poker every time? 

Well, sure you can study a bunch of advanced poker strategy training. But the best poker strategy is simply playing a style opposite of the one your friends are playing. 

If you’re playing in a lax home game with a lot of chip spewing, your best bet is to simply tighten up, wait for a good hand, and value bet it relentlessly. 

If you only do that, you’re already way ahead of the competition.

You don’t need to sit around waiting for pocket Aces all day, though. Try getting involved with speculative hands that have a huge potential upside if they hit. 

The goal is to see the flop as cheaply as possible (i.e. with decent pot odds and implied odds) and make bank once you hit it hard.

If you feel your friends are on to you and aren’t giving you action, it might be time to switch gears a little bit. 

Throw in an occasional bluff, but don’t do it just for the sake of bluffing. Do so only if you think there is a reasonable chance of your opponents actually folding.

If you do manage to pull off a big bluff, avoid the urge to show it. Sowing a seed of uncertainty can go a longer way than feeling cool for a few moments.

Lastly, never tell them what you know. In poker, information is power. Giving it away freely makes no strategic sense. 

This goes especially for the situations where your opponents make a mistake. Leave your ego at the door and don’t correct them. Being right is great, but making money is better.

Finally, if you want to know the complete strategy I use to consistently beat small stakes poker home games, make sure you grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

How to Beat Your Friends at Poker