Friendly Poker - How to Host, Play and Love the Classic American Poker game. Mark A. Cochran. Gatekeeper Press. 2016
Have you ever thought about all the things it takes to achieve a truly exceptional home poker game? Mark Cochran has. A lot. In his new book Friendly Poker, Cochran takes a thoughtful, detailed and interesting look at the game enjoyed by millions from a viewpoint he describes as "friendly poker". Friendly poker is all about having fun, competing and showing off as well as creating and participating in an exceptional and enjoyable experience.
The book is written in an easy to read, conversational style. It is as if the author were chatting with the reader, sharing the knowledge acquired in 40+ years of playing and hosting poker games. His devotion to poker is quite evident. It is clear he has considered at great length the myriad of factors that make a great dealer's choice home poker game. Additionally, he articulates things that the vast number of poker players either take for granted or have never thought about.
Friendly Poker explores topics such as the atmosphere of the game, including the "friendliness dilemma", a balance between maintaining positive personal relationships while engaging one another in cut-throat competition. It examines the critical choice of selecting compatible players, balancing skill levels and player reliability. Cochran describes at length key environmental factors that impact player enjoyment, and proposes what he feels are the best house rules for friendly poker. Cochran outlines essential skills and strategies that players should possess. Lastly, he describes and comments on numerous poker game variations that he feels contribute to the fun of playing in a friendly dealer's choice poker game.
Significant emphasis is placed on creating the proper physical environment. He sees an important goal for any poker host being the creation of an atmosphere that enables players to be comfortable and truly enjoy themselves. Having fun becomes a function of the experience, not the winning or losing of money. Cochran insists that one can win money without enjoyment and, so long as the experience is right, be thrilled even if losing. Details such as having the right set of chips, cards, comfortable table and chairs, and the right music and food take on great importance.
Cochran offers what he considers to be the best house rules stressing that the "best rules" are those that support the objectives of having fun, competing, and showing off. He also examines rules in relation to five key principles: re-enforcing friendly competition, emphasizing skill over luck, emphasizing simple over complex, maintaining consistency and prompting speed of play. He describes and recommends adoption of an interesting alternative to traditional high-low declarations in split pot games, while admitting that it takes a bit of learning.
One theme of Friendly Poker is protecting players from uncomfortably high losses. Cochran's reasoning is that excessive money loss leads to players leaving early or causes them to drop out of playing altogether. Rather than reducing the stakes, his remedy is to recommend the institution of a loss limit system. The system is intriguing and would seem to achieve the stated objective, but seems a bit complicated, particularly until a group becomes accustomed to it.
The chapter on skills and strategy is similar to other "how to play poker" books. What is significantly different is that he encourages players to engage in post-hand discussions and share the reasoning behind their playing decisions. This, of course, is contrary to the conventional wisdom of holding one's poker knowledge close to the vest and revealing as little as possible. But, Cochran considers this an opportunity for players to learn with the ultimate long term goal being that all the players are equally matched and skillful, further contributing to optimum conditions for his friendly poker game.
There are 100's of books that teach casino-style poker. Not so for the home poker game. Virtually all our understanding and knowledge for a home poker game has traditionally passed, with seemingly infinite variations, from one player to another. New players learn games, rules and customs simply based upon what they have been exposed to. Experienced players are often unwittingly mired in a "that's the way we've always played" mentality. Typically, neither has considered if there are alternative ways. Cochran analyzes and dissects the home poker game, then re-assembles it into a carefully constructed experience. He puts forth an abundance of ideas, provides detailed and logical explanations for them, and then encourages us to test them for ourselves. Friendly Poker is a worthy roadmap to enhancing our own friendly home poker game experience.