Poker Party—You Don’t Need To Dance

There’s nothing like it at the poker table—a player decides to “throw a party.” There are myriad causes, but the result is the same; the party-thrower’s chips are always on the move.

To be a proper party host (or hostess) they must raise and re-raise frequently. A-list partying means double straddling (even if the bet is dead), and occasionally going all-in preflop before they’ve looked at their cards. After the flop, well, folding is frowned upon. They should bet at nearly every opportunity, raise when given the chance, and be extremely sticky.

The partier becomes the center of attention. In fact, this is enough motivation for some people. But sadly, the party rarely ends well for the party host; if you throw caution to the wind, you should expect your money to follow shortly after.

Maybe you’ve been there when the party-thrower hits every necessary card, wakes up with monsters when they should have nothing, and vacuums every chip off the table. In the nightmare scenario, they come to their senses at exactly the wrong time, and cash out before they can give it all back. But those events are rare and we will speak of them no more.

If we agree we don’t want to be the person throwing the party, then the question remains, what do we do when we’re guests at the party?

Parties at the table elevate not only the mood, but also the betting and raising. Everybody wants to be in a pot with the host. So the partier raises, and somebody else 3-bets to isolate themselves heads-up with them. Of course, everybody at the table knows what’s going on, and a third player puts in a cold 4-bet to punish both the partier and the 3-bettor. Next thing you know, stacks are going in and nobody has much of anything.

I’m sure this is fun for the party host; this is what they came for. For the rest of us, it’s like our first school dance; we think it could be fun, but we’re not sure of the steps. So how do we have fun at a party?

Here’s my recommendation—you don’t need to dance every song.

More directly, you don’t need to play in every pot the party host plays. Not least because that’s going to be all of them, and your bankroll can’t take it. As I noted above, and to mash a couple of metaphors, the water gets very choppy when one player is throwing a party and everybody’s trying to dance.

Here’s the good news (that’s easy to forget)—you will still get dealt premium hands during the party. Remember, the cards don’t know there’s a party on, they just go where they’re told. So you can pretty much play your regular game, and just wait for good cards.

“But Lee, all that money flying around; I want a piece of it.”

You will get a piece of it. Look, it’s pretty much a rule that you never get all of it. But when people are splashing around with silly hands trying to dance with the party-thrower, there’s so much more money available to win. Consider the situation where the party host raises for the fifth straight time, and the guy a couple of seats behind him 3-bets, intending to isolate him heads-up. Now you wake up with pocket jacks. Pocket jacks isn’t usually a cold 4-bet hand, but in this case, it rates to be massively in front of both of the opponents. Put in a big 4-bet and see what happens. Yes, there’s going to be some variance there, but when you get to put in a 4-bet with a hand with obviously the best equity, you’re banking Sklansky$.

Here’s another way to think of it—does the house like a party-thrower? Obviously, more frequent, bigger pots mean more rake. Think of yourself as a different version of the house. You are going to get your fair share of the pots, as you always do. But when the party is on, the pots are bigger, and you’re playing them with more equity because your opponents are playing marginal hands so they can dance with the host.

Here’s my list of poker party tips:

  • DON’T DANCE EVERY SONG. It’s seductive, but you’ll end up throwing a party yourself, which will not go well.

  • It’s best if you’re across the table from the party host. Too near them and you get caught in the craziest of the action. Distance means some crazy raise/3-bet/4-bet sequence can break out before you get to act with your kings. This advice goes against the classic suggestion to get on the partier’s immediate left, but I’m sure it’s correct.

  • Be sure you’ve got the chips in front of you to take advantage of the silliness by others, particularly the party host. At a minimum, keep your stack level with theirs (if house rules permit) so that when you wake up with a premium hand you can dance all the way to the river.

  • Stop trying to sneak into pots with suited connectors; you’re rarely getting the right implied odds. But if the implied odds are right, do see flops with your pocket pairs. Party scenes can turn sets into diamonds.

  • Parties are an expected value (EV) bonanza. But they come with the price of extra variance. If you get all-in preflop with AK versus the party host’s 94, there’s about a one-in-three chance they will win the pot. If you got to do those all night, you’d print a car, but you don’t. That might be the only shot you get at the host’s stack and a third of the time, they’re going home with your chips. C’est la guerre; check your entitlement at the door.

As I said at the top, there’s nothing like a party at the poker table. Strap in and enjoy the ride.

Just remember—we can dance if we want to…



Lee Jones has been in the poker industry for over 30 years. He writes at the Global Poker blog, plays poker every chance he gets, and coaches poker. You can contact him at www.leejones.com.