With 12 days of Christmas to enjoy, the festive family holiday will often start in a dizzying display of mirth and merriment between you and your kin. You’ll hear all their news, find out any exciting announcements, discuss the births, marriages and deaths that have punctuated your year and swap presents on Christmas Day itself.
It’s on Boxing Day that the cards come out. While there are many other entertaining games you can play over the Yuletide period, poker often comes out on top. But if you’re dragged into your family poker game, who should you watch out for?
1. The Sneaky Sibling
You’ve spent all year bailing them out of jams, lending them a tenner when they encountered any number of emergencies such as an overdue electricity bill, blown tyre on the motor and cash flow problem a week before Glastonbury.
Christmas comes around and the same sibling has got a trim that is deader than saying ‘Simples’, new threads and an aggressive strategy of three-betting every raise of yours. Worse yet, he’s just polished off the last of your favourite tipple and he keeps going for the Hazelnut in Caramel from the tin of Quality Street
Our tip: Let him hit the spirits then nick that tenner back in chips, reminding him how crap The Cure were when they played at Glastonbury.
2. Dad Moves
All year round you’ve put up with your Dad’s incessant demands that you step up your career, along with his advice on bleeding radiators and why the right girl for you isn’t that pink-haired chick who photocopied their piercings at the office Christmas Party. The worst thing about his constant guidance is that he’s always bloody right.
Never to be trusted in poker, your Dad is mainly playing premium hands, but he’s getting value out of virtually everyone and is an early chip leader. He’s cracking old jokes, measuring his alcohol intake and crushing the early levels.
Our tip: Isolate him and start putting him to tough decisions, pressuring him pre-flop if he raises light. Remind him of that time you walked in on him singing ‘2 Become 1’ in the bath.
3. Mum’s Magic Tricks
Ever since you were young, you had the sneaking suspicion that your Mum’s love of sweeping the yard with an authentic broomstick, her hero-worship of Cher (even in Mermaids) and constantly reading you Roald Dahl’s The Witches meant that she might, in fact, be a witch.
Now, having just lost back-to-back pots to your own mother, all those times she talked about ‘making a brew’ are starting to give you a serious case of witchcraft worry. She’s bewitching you with her unconventional moves, betting in early position, completely relinquishing pot control. You’re sure that she’s chanting something under her breath and your drink tastes funny.
Our tip: Go GTO on your Mum and try to block out her odd chanting. If she offers you a star-shaped cookie, make sure it isn’t in the shape of a pentagram.
4. Uncle Frank’s God Complex
You always looked up to your Uncle Frank. His hairline, his BMW, his habit of always reaching into his wallet and saying ‘Whoa, I forgot I left that moth in there.’ You’ve always found him hilarious. It’s not so funny when he’s taking your newly won poker chips and reminding you of exactly how he just bluffed you on the river, though, is it?
Frank’s glossy side-parting may have turned into an oddly-shaped advert for advanced male-pattern baldness in his later years, but his patter is still on point, and he’s using your former hero-worship of his enjoyment of life excesses to act the high roller around your family home game. Plus, he’s halfway through that bottle of bourbon you bought your Dad for Christmas.
Our tip: Frank’s love of the old school may be his greatest weakness. You need to appeal to his sense of superiority, flatter him and he’ll open up about why he made the move he just did. You can use it against him in spectacular fashion and silence him forever.
5. Your Spiky Nan
When I was a young boy, my Grandma always seemed to find an ace, and always at the best possible time. If she hadn’t worn sleeves that might easily have acted as sails for the Jolly Roger, I might have suspected she had a sleeve full of them. She did, however, have ‘the knack’.
Now you’re at the table with your own Nan, and she’s striking gold like that guy in Deadwood who always looks like he’s looking for his glasses even though they’re on the top of his head. Nan is looking like she might be the end boss if she carries on, and emotional passivity is giving her every chance of ruling the roost like every year.
Our tip: Keep playing your game and don’t rely on cards. Stop her chasing flushes or straights with bully-boy tactics on the turn – she might even stop knitting you jumpers out of respect.
6. Cousin Clarence
Clarence was always an absolute idiot. The kind of kid who got Nike Air Max when he was seven. The kid who ate 17 pancakes on Pancake Day that year you managed 16. The kid who broke your remote-controlled car on the first day of the summer holidays.
Clarence is still an idiot, but he’s sat to your left and has position on all of your best moves. He’s annoying you, and you’ve never been able to get your own back on him. Tonight might be the best chance you ever have.
Our tip: Focus on the game and ignore Clarence and his antics. You’re the better player. Resist tilt and he’ll be getting up from the table before you.
7. The Ringer
You’ve never seen Greg before. He’s directly opposite you and was only invited along by your big sister. Now she’s in the kitchen mixing cocktails and he’s homing in on your stack. You’ve never played against him before so all prior knowledge you have, all the years of Christmas poker games are worth nothing when it comes to him.
Charming your Mum, laughing at your Dad’s jokes, he’s even offered to take Clarence for a ride in his Porsche after he’s ‘finished playing with these guys’. This guy is single-mindedly ruining the one game of poker you enjoy no matter what the result.
Our tip: Head to the toilet with a Christmas clementine, open the bathroom window and lob it accurately in the direction of the Porsche, setting off the alarm. Return downstairs and feign surprise at the sudden noise, wondering “who the hell has set that ruddy alarm off”. Upon Greg’s panicked exit, press your edge against the rest of your family and upon your nemesis’ return, slip some local car crime statistics gently into the conversation and watch your sister fuss around the table until Greg lets his stack dwindle.
Hey, after all, Christmas is a time for family.