An Old School Home Game

My latest article for the 2+2 Magazine, An Old School Home Game, is a bit of a departure from the standard fare. It’s about a very interesting home game to which I was recently invited, and while it contains some strategy content, even that is mostly concerned with the correct plays in games with wild cards and multiple flops. Most of the players were twice my age, and the game itself was older than I am:

Carl asks if I have much money stuck on Full Tilt, and I tell them that yes, in fact, I do. “You know Richard here invented online poker?” I say nothing but look up inquiringly. “He started the World Rec.Gambling Poker Tournament. It’s still played every year. By e-mail.”

This is the moment when I realize that, though these guys are the furthest thing from cowboys and Texas road gamblers, I’m in the presence of a sort of poker old school. These guys were exchanging ideas about the game in the Rec.Gambling.Poker newsgroup before most of us knew what the internet was. They played a meaningful role in the beginning of poker’s movement away from the realm of gambling and gusto and into the realm of mathematical analysis.

The same obsessive passion that drove Steve Jobs and Bill Gates to tinker away in their garages drove these guys to a natural confluence of two geeky hobbies: computers and card games. Though they didn’t exhibit Gates’ and Jobs’ relentless entrepreneurship in monetizing their passions, their early attempts to share their hobbies with like-minded enthusiasts around the world are surely the forerunners of such behemoths of the modern-day poker world as PokerStars and the Two Plus Two Forums.

It was a pretty fascinating experience. Hopefully writing about it didn’t weird my hosts out too much and I’ll get a chance to play with them again sometime.

Do you play in a home game? What’s it like? How long has the game been running? How seriously do people take it? This experience has gotten me really interested to learn more about the cultures of informal games like these, so I’m eager to hear about it!

9 thoughts on “An Old School Home Game

  1. I have a home game with (currently) 13 friends(9 guys 4 girls). We started it about 6-7 years ago. We are currently about to start our 9th season. We play about once a month and the host usually changes to help out driving distances between players as we’re all spread out over the Pittsburgh area (1 player in Ohio). Myself and a few others are a little more serious than the rest of the group. We play a season of 7 games +1 finale. We(I) keep different stats, scores, track of the money, ko’s, etc… It’s a $30 game where $10 is given to the finale pot, $15 is given to the night’s pot, $5 is a headhunter chip. Finale chip-stacks are based on season points compared to the player with the least points for the season with 1 drop or miss. Everyone enjoys our poker league, over the years we’ve had as many as 17 players, as little as 8, usually somewhere in the middle. Winner of the finale gets the finale pot and a Trophy titled “Luckiest Bastard” and the rule is that the winner has to pay for his/her name to be engraved on the plague(sp?) prior to the next season. The trophy is kept by each winner until the next finale and has it’s share of battle-scars. While I’ve made profit every season, I have yet to engrave my name, which I get to hear about on a constant basis… Prior to the season starting everyone “mostly” agrees on the dates to play, we’ll move them around trying to adhere to the masses so less players have to miss a game if possible. We have a ton of fun, I’d say our poker league nights are almost more-so a drinking league that starts the night off with a poker tournament. One player and I make a yearly prop bet for the season, usually based on wins, if there’s a tie we both lose: Bet Examples: My friend had to wear a bikini at the finale one season. Last season I won and my friend had to wear a t-shirt at the finale and at a casino event we were both playing in that had my face on the front with “Fred is my poker God” written. (I was a bad negotiator, though, as I never stipulated anything for the back of the shirt and at the tournament I was lucky enough to sit at the next table over constantly staring at “The guy on the front of this shirt is a Complete A$$hole”. Players who are knocked out early usually play dealers choice cash games($.10,$.25,$.50,$1 chips with usually $20 buy-in) or drinking games, etc… A few years ago we had a pretty mean tournament of Guitar Hero that broke out. I even lost a slap bet that I was promised would never leak onto Youtube.(so far the promise has been kept, as far as I know…)

    • Nice, thanks for sharing. It’s probably not a coincidence that the longest running home games exhibit a degree of organization (ie “season” standings, traveling trophy) and tradition that carries over from game to game and year to year. It makes people feel like they are part of something and rewards them for continuing to come back. I imagine your female to male ratio is on the high end as well, which is great to see.

      BTW if you caught the Carnegie Mellon reference in that article then you probably realized that the game I was describing is also in the Pittsburgh area. My girlfriend just started a grad program at CMU, so I’m spending some time in the city in between my poker travels. Any suggestions for stuff to do around here?

      • Awesome, I usually check your site while taking quick breaks at work and I can’t get to 2+2 from here(blocked) so I missed the CMU reference… I’ll have to check out the full article at home. Pittsburgh has a ton of things to do or nothing at all, depending on who you ask. I’m not sure what you’re looking for, but Pittsburgh specific things would probably have to include checking out the views on Mt. Washington and West End Lookout, Ride on the Gateway Clipper, Ride on an incline, eat at The Lemont, Go to the Pittsburgh Zoo, Carnegie Science Center/Museum/Andy Warhol Museums, check out the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra or something else at Heinz Hall and/or the Benedum Center. Eat a Primanti’s sandwich or O fries(anyone in Oakland can tell you where to go for the O). Check out Carson Street-Southside, all you can eat ribs at Double-Wide grill on Tuesdays and there are a bunch of bars there for afterwards. The Strip district and downtown has some nice bars/restaurants, too! I’m not sure what’s good there except “Six Penn” and “the Carlton” and a place called “Lidia’s”. The Waterfront has a Dave N Buster’s and a couple places for food and drinks. Get some Louisiana Lickers at Quaker Steak and Lube. Kennywood is doing something called “Holiday Lights” but I’m not sure exactly what that is… For gambling you probably already know there’s the Rivers casino downtown or The Meadow’s casino about 25 minutes south of Pittsburgh. A friend and I might be at the Rivers Casino Tuesday night to play in the 7:30pm nightly $60(+10+5) tournament.

        • That’s quite a list, thanks! I’ve been to Rivers a couple times (just on weekends, sorry) and the Andy Warhol Museum, but the rest is new to me.

          • You’re Welcome/Sorry for the long list, wouldn’t want you to get bored. I finally got a chance to read your article and thought it was hilarious that they hated “follow the Queen”. Some of those games were new to me and I’ll definately try to add them to my group’s repertoire. We play a variation of follow the queen: “Queen and what Follows”, meaning Queens are always wild. Another difference is if no queens show up and therefore, no wilds, everyone antes again and another hand is played(even players who folded the previous hand are back in). This doesn’t happen often, but the pot gets really large(for $20-buy-ins) if it does. One time we got to a 4th hand before we saw a queen. 2-card-Guts can get pretty crazy, somebody always adds in “Do you have it!?” and then someone else requests to get the results from Moe(These guys probably wouldn’t get that reference?). I also understood how you felt disadvantaged based on their large number of years playing the same crazy games. I find a LOT of times I’m asking other players what I’ve got when there are a lot of wild cards in the games(straight flushes over 5 of a kind,etc…). Drinking does(n’t) help… When it’s my choice/deal, a lot of times I pick a game where it’s more “luck” to help my non-edge since I figure random is better than being at a disadvantage. I think it helps add a more carefree element to the games also. I’ll pick “Pass the Trash” where you get 3 chips and the loser pays out a chip each round till there’s only 1. I’ve also been known to pick Razz or Badugi or something like that where nobody knows how to play, let alone play well. We also created a variant of Blackjack where we’re playing against each other instead of the dealer that I find pretty fun, but with a skill factor involved since it’s still Blackjack.

  2. We have a 1/1 NLHE cash game that has been running every weekend (usually Saturdays) since 2005. We have a “core” group of 8 with a pool of 15 -20 others that show when they can. We have lost at least 20 others over the years to re-location and another 20 or so to loss of interest or long term lack of funds. Since we know one another well, there are always quite a few attempts to out-level one another. Although most of us take the game somewhat seriously, we always have a lot of fun.

  3. Four of our core players (including myself) played Magic the Gathering together before we got into poker. It’s a heck of a lot easier to recruit guys our age into a poker game than it ever was trying to recruit new magic players. Originally, in 2005, we had 4-6 players per week. Then, we grew to 6-12 per week by 2006. Since 2007, we have never had a shortage of players and hopefully, we never will. I can tell you that having a regular game every week at the same time helps a lot since everyone just knows the game will occur every Saturday and people just show up if they want to play that week. No one has to wonder if we are playing or not on a given weekend, we are just show up. Since those that arrive late have to wait for a bust out to get a seat, we are usually full from the beginning of the game to the end and we play from 3:00pm to Midnight every week.

  4. I’m from Calgary so our local casino action on a weeknight is sometimes lacking, especially in the tournament department. When I moved back here I found a group that posts games in an online forum where anybody can rsvp and there’s usually at least a game a week in the $30-50 range. The feeling that I got when I started playing with these guys is pretty relatable to you saying you realized you were in the presence of some kind of poker old school, the majority of players are at least a decade older than me and they’ve been running these games since the days you’d show up with a roll of nickels and you wouldn’t even use chips. One of our game hosts runs a ‘Calgary Series of Poker’ with a tourney for all the standards and plenty of mixed game tourneys thrown in too. These guys have definitely given me a great place to build up my live experience and doing it rake free with good people has been a lot of fun.

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