Home poker games can become nitty affairs sometimes. So can public games in casinos and poker rooms, for that matter.
Sometimes, for long periods of time, no one wants to gamble or get out of line. Sure, you can take advantage of nitty players by stealing blinds. But how much fun is that? And once your game gets the reputation of being a rock fest, who is going to return?
What you want to do is find ways to increase betting, calling, and raising, even among relatively straightforward, typically tight players. Over the years, and in hundreds of different homes and public poker games, I've learned a few sure-fire ways to induce action at the table. I present five of them for you today.
Nothing is more likely to make players nitty than a silent stare-fest. You know you're in trouble when everyone is just looking silently at you or someone else when the flop hits. Talking can go a long way toward helping people lighten up and distracting them.
Don't worry about the subject matter. They like sports? Talk sports. They want to talk about their latest romantic conquests? Listen and ask lurid follow-up questions. No one else seems particularly garrulous? You tell a story.
The more they're engaged in conversation, the less they're focused on playing tightly and following their predetermined nitty strategy. I'm not suggesting you slow the game with your talk. But pepper the evening with it, and and keep it light and fun. There's nothing more of an action killer than angry political disagreements.
We all know that a straddle — a third blind, generally twice the size and to the immediate left of the big blind — is generally a negative EV play. But straddles do induce action, in several ways.
Straddles help build pots, of course. They also can encourage by example increased looseness in others, tempting some of the friskier among the group to try to put pressure on the straddler with a raise, especially from late position.
What you'd like, ideally, would be the option of a button straddle. That is arguably at least an even EV play, anyway, and it will raise the stakes as the blinds grow weary of folding to the small raise. As the pots grow, others will want to stick around for more flops, further loosening them up in the process.
3. Raising Light
When it comes to raising light, the key is not to scare away the timid, or put too much at risk with too large a raise when you hold a hand you might not be raising for value.
A large raise gives a tight player with a borderline or worse hand a good excuse to fold. Meanwhile a small raise is likely to get calls from those who are already in, building the pot and increasing action.
Like a straddle, a small raise at or near the button will help to create a large pot for later streets, making a tempting target for even the nittiest of players, loosening them up. You may need to ignore your typical raising requirements in the interest of building action and pots when you have the advantage later in the hand or later in the night. Keep the raise small to minimize your risk while increasing your potential gain.
4. Food and Drink
When hosting a home game, having a ready supply of food and drink available not only encourages players to stick around, but can also help with inducing action as well insofar as refreshments help build a more friendly atmosphere for socializing.
And, of course, for those who partake in adult beverages — and many poker players do — alcohol generally tends to help reduce inhibitions and can have a subsequent effect on the looseness of the game. (This is one not-so-subtle reason why casinos serve drinks to those who gamble.) When hosting a game I always have plenty of food and drink available, and when visiting someone else's game it's a good practice to bring a bottle or six pack.
For more on this aspect of home game hosting, see my earlier "Hosting an Awesome Poker Game at Home: Drinks and Snacks."
Finally, your general affect helps determine the mood of the players around you. A serious expression or frown tends to make your game too serious and tight. Smiling tends to relax people, creating a happy mood, something that loosens people up and makes for more action. Happy players are more often calling players.
Smiling is contagious, too. You create that easy-going, happy-go-lucky calling mood by being that happy, friendly, engaging guy who helps others have a good time at the table. Even when they lose, they'll have a better time doing so and will be more likely to return.
Truly and genuinely smiling (and laughing pleasantly as well) has another positive consequence. Studies reveal that when people smile, they not only project a positive image, but they also release chemicals into their system that are good for them, promoting overall health, well being, and longevity. So smile, build pots, win more money, encourage people to return, feel better, and live longer!
One last word of caution about all of these action inducers.
In the process of lightening up the mood, making others feel better and inducing more action, you, too, will be tempted to play more loosely and carelessly. So as you're smiling at others, make sure to keep an eye on your own play.
If you can keep the mood light, creating the illusion of action on your part, while not actually playing as loosely as those whom you are playing against, you will find a real reason to smile at the end of the night.
Ashley Adams has been playing poker for 50 years and writing about it since 2000. He is the author of hundreds of articles and two books, Winning 7-Card Stud (Kensington 2003) and Winning No-Limit Hold'em (Lighthouse 2012). He is also the host of poker radio show House of Cards. See www.houseofcardsradio.com for broadcast times, stations, and podcasts.