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Hosting A Home Poker Game

The Hound believes that if you're going to host a home poker game, you might as well go "all-in". Invest in a nice poker table, quality playing cards, casino-style poker chips, and some comfortable chairs, and you'll be ready to go. And when you're ready to host the "ultimate home poker night", we have some ideas for that as well. Before we continue any further, it is necessary for us to remind you that gambling, even in your own home, is illegal in many states. Check out state law on the subject.

The Essentials

  • Quality playing cards: Kem makes the best playing cards in the world. Made of 100% cellulose acetate plastic, Kem cards will always spring back to their original flatness and they can't be marked or creased, making them the world's most cost-effective playing card. You can buy a deck of cards for $3, but we guarantee you that by the end of a single night of poker, they'll be useless. Kem cards, on the other hand, will last for years. Once you try a deck, you will never settle for anything less. Ideally, you'll have 2 decks so that one can be shuffled while the other is dealt.
  • Casino-style poker chips: Look for chips that are 10.5 grams or heavier. You can get cheap, plastic poker chips but it's just not the same.
  • Dealer button: Definitely nice to have. While you can use just about anything to indicate who the dealer is, a nice dealer button replicates the casino or card club experience.
  • An invitation: Email is one way to do it; eVite is another. If you're hoping to get 6-10 people, consider inviting 20 or more, as people are busy. The nice thing about eVite is that people will be able to see who else is coming, and it's easy to set up recurring events. It also allows guests the chance to talk trash prior to the game.

Lessons Learned

  • Make all the rules clear from the outset. Will you allow re-buys or add-ons? How will the pot be split at the end of the night? What time do you hope to finish? When will the blinds increase?
  • Payout a couple of places. It's nice, every once in a while, to play a Winner-Takes-All poker game, but if you want people coming back, it is often better to pay out to the top few spots (1st, 2nd, and 3rd for example). A 50/30/20 split of the pot usually means that 3rd place wins their buy-in back, 2nd place comes out ahead for the night, and 1st place should be buying the first round of drinks at the bar.
  • Count out stacks for the players before they get there. Don't use all the chips you've got in case you want to allow re-buys, add-ons, and to color up chips as the night wears on.
  • Schedule the poker night right after paydays (1st and 15th of the month). Everyone is a little more casual with their funds right after being paid. Believe it or not, this will help attendance.
  • Food and drinks. Make sure everyone knows if food and beverages will be provided. Your guests should have no problem chipping in for anything that you go out and buy; additionally, they should have no issue with bringing a six-pack or some chips and salsa if it's pot-luck. Just let everyone know ahead of time.

Change-ups

  • High-Stakes Hold 'Em. If you usually host a $20 buy-in or $40 buy-in, try a $100 buy-in once a month. You'd be surprised how many people are interested in the action.
  • Host a Beginner's Night. Some people are fascinated by poker, but intimidated by their lack of experience, or by losing too much money. Invite beginners only, use a buy-in that everyone is comfortable with, explain the basics of the game, and play a practice hand or two. Starting with Limit Poker (a maximum raise amount, and a maximum number of raises per round) is a good way to ensure that everyone stays in the game for a while. During the game, help the newbies with basic strategy, table etiquette, and of course, poker lingo.
  • Pre-Party Poker. Host a poker night on a Friday or Saturday night as a way to ease into an evening of partying. Start around 8 or so, play for a couple hours, have a few drinks, and you'll be ready for the evening ahead.

Ultimate Home Poker Night

  • Custom poker chips: Have your initials, company logo, or some other artwork printed on the chips to really show your style. Usually, you'll pay about $1 a chip for custom chips, and there will be a minimum. Be sure to have a denomination printed on the chips to make it easy for players to know how much they've got.
  • Invest in software that tracks time, blinds, and payouts. Donohoe Digital, a software company based in Colorado, sells software that will allow the host to set the buy-in, re-buys, add-ons, payouts, time limits for each round, antes and blinds, and a whole lot more. When you really want to take your home game to the next level, pay a visit to Donohoe Digital.
  • Create a website for your regular poker group and keep track of the Money Leaders (like they do on the World Poker Tour or even with the PGA Money List in golf). You would be amazed how often guys will check it, and it's a great way to encourage players to keep coming back. Here's an example.