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Online Home Games

by Greg Raymer |  Published: May 06, 2020


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First, I wish the best to all of you reading this, and hope that the impact of the pandemic has not gone beyond what you can deal with. The impact on poker is unimportant compared to all the other effects this is having, but please let’s not forget all our friends who work poker as a job, the dealers, floorstaff, administrative workers, custodians, cashiers, and all the others who worked at our poker rooms, and who are currently without a job. As players, this has been an inconvenience. For them, it has interrupted their livelihood. I can’t wait until I can see all of them again, and play with all of you.

None of us can play live poker anymore. And most of us, at least in the U.S., do not have access to well regulated online poker. However, there has been a surge in real money private online games played on various apps and websites. These apps are technically play money games. The app or website does not handle money directly, if at all. Instead, as a player you are invited to join a private club that runs these play money games on the app, and you settle up in cash with the organizer of the games.
Many of these games consist entirely of players who know each other in the real world. I wish to provide some advice if you are now playing such games.

There are two main ways the money gets handled. Some of these games require that you deposit money up-front, before you can play, with the organizer. This is similar to how it works in the large, international online poker sites, such as PokerStars or Party Poker. You must pay in advance, depositing money on the site, and they hold it for you and let you play with that money. Whenever you wish, you can cash out all or some of your money, and it is sent to you. But if you want to play in the cash game that has a $100 minimum buyin, you must have $100 or more in your account.

Some of these private clubs work like this. However, many of them work on a credit model instead. You tell the organizer how many chips you want for a given game, and they put those chips on the table for you. They track your results, win or lose. At a given time, maybe once a week, they have all the players “settle up.” If you have lost over that week, you send that amount of money to the organizer, or they have you send it to another player who has won. If you are one of the winners, money gets sent to you.

My main advice is to be very careful if you are playing on a credit model. It is very easy to lose track of just how much you have lost. You keep texting the organizer to give you another $100, and then at the end of the week, you find out you lost much more than you realized. Just like buying stuff on a credit card, it is easy to lose track, and spend/lose more than you can easily afford. And that is the main point. Whether it is poker, some other form of gambling, or spending money on luxuries, you should never go beyond what you can easily afford. Going too far is a sign of addiction. If this happens to you, please seek professional help.

If you want to play in a game that uses the credit model, consider instead asking the organizer about pre-funding your play. If you can easily afford to lose $200 in a week, then transfer that much in advance. And then, if you lose that amount, tell the organizer that instead of giving you more chips, you wish to be cut off until you send in another advance payment. This way, you won’t accidentally go past your comfort point.

Also, remember, this is real money. Don’t play while also doing other things. Many of these apps work on mobile devices. But if you’re playing on your phone while also watching TV, or shopping at the grocery store, or whatever, you likely will play worse than if you were totally focused on the game. You will miss out on a lot of the information available to you, and will make more mistakes. If the results of this game matter to you at all, then only play when you can be fully focused on what you are doing, and playing your best possible game.

Most important of all, have fun! This is a game; the entire point is to have fun. Even if you are playing for a living, if it’s not fun, you should quit. For a recreational player, find another hobby that is more fun. For a pro, quit and find a job that is more fulfilling. Focus on having fun first, and on playing your absolute best second. If you do that, it will likely work out well, and you will both have fun, and achieve your best result. ♠

Greg Raymer is the 2004 World Series of Poker main event champion, winner of numerous major titles, and has more than $7 million in earnings. He recently authored FossilMan’s Winning Tournament Strategies, available from D&B Publishing, Amazon, and other retailers. He is sponsored by Blue Shark Optics, YouStake, and ShareMyPair. To contact Greg please tweet @FossilMan or visit his website.