Is there any way to increase or decrease a player’s advantage in poker? Golf has a handicap system so that players of different skill levels can compare their statistics. It means that Tiger Woods can compete against anyone in the world and get comparable statistics after the round.
Handicap in games is a term for something that decreases the skill gap between players, either by changing the scoring or gameplay.
Handicaps in chess were popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, especially when money was on the line. Certain pieces were removed or rearranged, meaning weaker players could get a chance at beating strong opponents.
But what is a handicap in poker?
It’s not easy to handicap a game where players don’t have a skill rating. In chess, ELO points rate a player's skill, which allows us to adjust their advantage the correct amount. In poker, there is no ELO system, but there are still ways to use a handicap.
Here are 6 ways that you can handicap your poker home games.
6 Ways Players Create Handicaps in Poker
Poker is a difficult game to handicap, but not impossible. Some of the handicap methods in this section only affect individual hands, while others affect the entire game.
These handicap methods can be used to add a twist to private home games.
If you want to set up private online games with your friends, PokerStars is one of the easiest places to do it. Bring your friends together to play cash games and tournaments for real money or play money stakes.
Check out our full guide to setting up online home games for free.
Betting and Checking in the Dark (Blind Actions)
The meaning of a blind or “in the dark” move is an action made before the betting round has started. For example, imagine a few players at a poker table. The preflop action ends, but before the flop is dealt, one player announces “Check”. That’s called checking blind or checking in the dark.
It’s “blind” because you are acting before seeing the information other players will soon have.
Betting or checking blind is a handicap because your opponent gets an information advantage over you. That being said, it can also seriously confuse players in live poker games, as opponents won’t have much experience reacting to blind actions.
A straddle is a handicap in poker that increases the size of the pot immediately. Before players have received their cards, one player can put out a raise, usually two times the big blind size. If the cards have been dealt, no straddling is allowed.
Usually, this can only be done by the player who is first to act in a hand of poker (Under The Gun position). In a live game, a player would announce “straddle” and push out a 2x bb raise.
As soon as a player straddles, the stakes increase, but it has cost them chips. They are creating action and potentially making a huge pot (which they have the chance to win), but they have invested chips without seeing their cards, which is a clear handicap.
You can straddle at GGPoker wherever you are at the table. Just select the Straddle option in the bottom left corner and choose the amount. If you are feeling especially wild, you can always do a No-Look All-In, but we don’t recommend it.
There are better ways to invest your money and build a bankroll. Get into some lower-limit cash games or try some of the smaller tournaments with buy-ins between $1 and $5. Even small tournaments at a large site like GGPoker can have huge prize pools.
Whether you’re looking for convenient cash game action, tournaments with big prize pools, or spin & go poker, one of our trusted poker rooms have it. If you aren’t concerned with straddling, but still want to play on a great poker site, we can help you choose.
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Calling Without Looking at Cards Preflop
When things get loose and relaxed in live cash games, some players will call preflop bets without seeing their cards yet. To be clear, this is not a profitable play in the long term.
It’s hard to think of a larger handicap than calling bets or raises without looking at your cards.
A player would only choose to do this for two reasons:
- They have made enough profit for the session and are comfortable losing some of it.
- They believe they can use their postflop skills to win the pot.
Exposing a Card to Their Opponent
One of the most dramatic things that can happen at the poker table is an exposed card. Sometimes, it happens accidentally, either from a player or dealer making mishandling a card.
Other times, it’s done on purpose, as a poker strategy.
If you think carefully about the card you expose, you might be able to influence an opponent. This can easily backfire though, as you’re about to see. Exposing a card might make your opponent’s decision easier.
Here’s a great example of an exposed card in live poker that went terribly wrong for the player who exposed it.
The exposed card made it much easier for Andrew to call Harry’s all-in on the river. With an 8 of diamonds exposed, Harry can not have a flush or a set. The only hand that Andrew loses to would be 8-4, which is quite unlikely.
Harry was notorious for wild plays at Live at the Bike around 2017, and there are lots of clips on YouTube still.
Harry’s exposed card drama video: Link here
Adjust the Buy-Ins at Your Home Game
If you want to give more experienced players a small handicap, you can adjust the buy-in for your private tournaments.
This doesn’t affect a player’s ability to play, but it will adjust the stakes in favor of less-skilled players. The risk for the more experienced player becomes higher and the possible upside increases for less skilled players at home games.
In a home game tournament, you might set a $50 buy-in for most players, then a $65 or $75 buy-in for experienced poker players.
This is a huge handicap, but it could be a lot of fun during your home games.
When you are dealt your cards, the players should randomly select one and take a look, but leave the other face-down.
Players now have 50% of the information they usually have, which will make decisions much more difficult. The method that Doug Polk used during his session was to give more value to Ax and Kx hands. He also used probability to estimate the value of the hidden card, giving him slightly more