Hosting the Ultimate Poker Home Game
Playing online poker from the privacy of your own home is something that all poker players love to do. It's a great way to learn, considering the number of hands you'll play compared to live poker, tremendous fun, and can even result in you winning some cash if you're a good player.
That said, sometimes there's nothing more fun than a home game with friends.
Good conversation (especially the brutal post-hand rubdowns), great food, a few drinks and the chance to play for bragging rights and a few bucks with your buddies just can't be beaten. But before you can host the ultimate home game there are several things you need to do. Luckily for you, the PokerStars Blog is on hand to walk you through it...
Get The Right Gear
Know When To Hold'em
In poker, it starts with the cards.
Not all decks are built the same, and while buying paper playing cards at the store might be the cheapest option, it's not the best one. These cards are easily bent and destroyed, and will end the game as fast as it started.
You don't have to push the boat out and play with the COPAG brand cards they use at PokerStars Live events; in fact, any brand of plastic playing cards will do, but plastic cards are a must for any successful home game.
If you can, get two decks of different colors. That way you can always have one deck shuffled and ready to go, which will speed up the game significantly. Plastic cards should last, even if it's an all-nighter or all-weekender.
When thinking about poker chips, a dollar store or something similar might seem like the best option. The blue and red plastic chips they sell cheaply will work. However, these flimsy chips just don't feel right when you're mimicking a Phil Ivey staredown, hoping your friend folds the best hand to your epic bluff.
Casinos use clay or ceramic chips. Investing in a set can make all the difference and they are easy to find with a few simple clicks on your favorite online search engine. There are a ton of great chip sets available. You can get a custom set with your own picture or logo on them and PokerStars players can use StarsCoin to buy ceramic chips in the VIP Store.
A quality chip set might not loosen up the action, but it'll certainly give your home game a professional feel and will leave your friends nodding their heads with approval whilst thinking back to how great your poker night was.
Put Your Cards On The Table
If you don't have a huge place with its own man cave, a custom-built poker table with brass cup holders may not be a viable option. Don't fret, there are dozens of nifty portable poker tables or table tops on the market that you can use to transform your living room into a PokerStars Festival final table.
If an extra table takes up too much space, you can order up just the felt and drape it over your regular dining table, which will do the trick too. Playing on some sort of felt is the only way you'll be able to keep all the chips, cards and action on the table where they belong.
Rules of Engagement
Be The Bank
To avoid confusion, one person must be the bank, handling all the buy-ins for cash games or tournaments.
Double check all your math, hand out tournament chips or cash-value chips for cash only and make sure you're the only one who has access to the bank. No one is accusing anyone of trying to pull a fast one, but making one person responsible for the bank is the best way to ensure it's never short.
Cash Is King
Cash games are often the best choice. Playing cash allows you to set affordable blinds and buy-ins while also allowing players to sit in and out of the game as they see fit. The ability to reload also means no one has to sit on the sidelines and watch others play.
When you're playing no-limit hold'em, or other flop games, the key is to set blinds and buy-ins at a level players are comfortable with. Different stakes appeal to different crowds, but no one is ever comfortable losing a mortgage payment. Blinds and buy-ins should be set accordingly.
As long as your home game isn't filled with self-made multimillionaires and trust fund babies, set the blinds at $.50/$1. Allow players to buy-in for anywhere from 50-200 big blinds and reload when they go broke or close to it. At this level, even someone cursed with the worst luck imaginable won't lose more than they can afford.
If your friends have a little more in the way of disposable income, you can up the blinds to $1/$2 or any level affordable to them, but capping the buy-in at 100 or 200 big blinds should keep things friendly. Unless someone hits a one-outer, of course...
Tournament Poker Glory
Tournaments offer the best opportunity for glory and bragging rights among friends. They also give players the chance to play at higher blinds with moderate buy-in levels.
The only issue is players who bust early need to wait for a winner before getting back in. To avoid lengthy wait times, follow a turbo structure. The speed of play will ensure you can host a handful of tournaments over the course of a night without anyone being forced to sit out too long.
Set the buy-in at an affordable amount with the idea that each player is going to jump into four or five tournaments before the night is through. Since you'll likely have six to 10 players, think of each tournament like a Turbo Sit & Go you may have played on PokerStars.
That means giving players 1,500 in chips. Traditionally, blinds begin at 10/20, but you can make things easy and speed them up by starting at 25/50. You won't see as many hands per level as you would online, so instead of five-minute blind levels, try 10. Increase the blinds according to the structure found on PokerStars and these tournaments should go no more than 10 to 15 levels. If they're moving too slowly, skip a few levels. Just make sure everybody knows about it and agrees this in advance.
Poker is Poker
It's the Cadillac of poker, but no-limit Texas hold'em isn't the only poker game on the planet. Most people know how to play hold'em, and even if they don't, it's easy to learn, making it the top choice for a home game.
However, there are dozens of poker variants you can spread just to spice things up. Hosting a Dealer's Choice game can be fun. Simply add a second button to the table that moves with every orbit. The player it lands on chooses the game and can give a quick lesson to those who haven't played it. If anyone is having trouble, just refer them to PokerStars' How To Play pages online, where the rules of a dozen different poker variants are explained in detail.
The Devil Is In The Details
You've got the right gear and the right game. You've invited the fishiest of your friends and you're ready to play. Now you've got to make sure the horses are fed and watered.
Having great food and drinks can turn your home game into a truly enjoyable evening, which, outside of fleecing your buddies out of their cash and earning their acclaim, is the real point of all this.
Cheers To You
A good selection of craft beer is a start, but poker and whiskey have gone hand-in-hand since the dawn of time. A bottle or two will add a little old-school authenticity to the game. On the flip side, plenty of drinking water is also required and the availability of great coffee can help turn an early night into a marathon session.
It's All About Pizza
When it comes to food, pizza has always been the top choice for home games. However, there is a downside to this. Add in the usual potato chips and snacks and midway through, the poker chips and cards will end up as greasy as the bags and boxes!
Steak and lobster may not fit in your budget, nor are they that easy to carve into at a poker table, but there are plenty of options for food you don't eat with your hands that will keep the game clean. A selection of pastas and salads served with the proper utensils will do the trick.
Of course, when you run out of food, or give in to the overwhelming demand for pizza, just remember to have plenty of napkins on hand.
Good People, Good Fun, Good Game
When you've got the right gear, food and drink, a home game can be a great night out, or in. Invite men and women who tell great stories, love good banter and see the game as an opportunity to bond with one another, instead of a chance to make money. Win or lose, you'll be a home game hero, and all who come are sure to leave asking when you'll be hosting again.