House Of Cards: American Poker Players Move Home Games Online During Pandemic

Sean Chaffin April 9, 2020 1177 Reads
More poker players are moving their home games online.

With many recreational and professional players now in self-quarantine, many are now playing even more real money online poker. For many, that means missing out on their regular home games with friends.

Not yet able to ditch social distancing, players have taken their games with friends online. That includes using traditional real money online poker sites, play-money social games, and poker apps catering to players looking to play with friends.

Many are still finding a way to play cash games, sit and gos, and sometimes even multi-table tournaments. Some players may settle up for a few bucks later and others play simply for bragging rights. Either way, poker among pals remains alive and well – despite Americans’ extended staycation.

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An appetite for online poker with friends

With live poker stalled and casinos locked up tight, online operators have reported record fields and prize pools in the US. Friends playing their “home games” online may be a segment of the poker market not widely considered part of this.

Free poker apps, like Pokerrrr2, seem to be popular options. Several of these cater to players who are looking for their own club or game. Venmo or PayPal payment methods are often used to settle up if a bit of cash is involved. 

Andrew Langston, 27, from York, PA, works as a production planner at a paper mill. He and some friends previously held a monthly live tournament with points and a year-end champion.

Unfortunately, that had to be put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, Langston now hosts games a few nights a week using a free-money app to get the job done.

“I lived in Charles Town, West Virginia, for a few years,” he says. “So my two home game groups [in WV and PA] combined into this app. It’s been cool to have other people play against each other.”

Langston’s group doesn’t play for major stakes. However, they find a little cash on the line is more fun and plays more like the real thing. Players buy-in using Venmo beforehand and play No Limit Hold’em, Pot Limit Omaha or PLO Hi/Lo.

“Usually, we just run two $10 tournaments,” he says. “It’s more for fun than anything, but a little money in the pot makes it so people aren’t shoving every hand like the free play-money apps.”

Reuniting through online poker

Certainly, playing poker online isn’t quite the same as mixing it up in person. But it at least offers some opportunities to battle it out and communicate. The sudden interest in playing online has allowed some to reconnect with friends.

Josh Wolff, 36, works as a salesman for a food company in northwestern Pennsylvania. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, he and a few other players have been playing small tournaments on Friday and Saturday nights.

“We’re averaging around 12 players per tournament, but it’s growing,” he says.

Unlike most Americans, Wolff and his friends can play legal real-money online poker. They use the PokerStars PA Home Game feature. This allows players to set up their own club and run a game or tournament with friends.

The feature has been around since 2011 and is now available to PA players. The house takes a 10% rake as in a traditional online tournament. Those outside a legal jurisdiction can play for free using the .NET version of PokerStars. Other operators offer similar options.

Wolff and his friends play tournaments from $10 to $30. Many haven’t played together in quite a while, but the game has brought the group back together.

“It’s been a blast,” he says. “The bulk of the group is a bunch of us that used to play in a home game every Wednesday about 15 years ago. Now that most of us are married and have kids, we haven’t been able to assemble the same group since. So this makes it a lot easier.”

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Twenty bucks and plenty of fun

Poker may be a strategic game played for money, but the social aspect also sets it apart. And at a time where millions of Americans are cut off from others, playing online can bridge the divide between friends and loved ones.

Some players even up their game with video or Twitch streams. Enjoying a couple of beers with some bragging and needling a buddy can all still be part of the fun.

Dan Yaniro, 49, had run a Tuesday night poker league with about 20 friends for several years. The league hit the pause button, however, and Yaniro was looking for another place to play.

Like others, a free-play poker app has been a salvation – providing an opportunity to stay in the action.

“We play $20 buy-in tournaments,” says Yaniro, who lives in Delran, New Jersey, and works as a vending machine route driver and bartends on the side. “Everyone pays me through Venmo, and then I pay the winners when the game ends.

“Everyone seems to like it. We’re playing more now online than ever.”

For a complete guide to setting up your PokerStars Home Game, click here.

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