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Top-10 tips to hosting a successful home poker game

3 August 2009

In an age where poker on TV and the term "poker celebrity" are the norm, it's easy to forget how we got to where we are today when it comes to the game. While there is actually an entire generation out there that got its start in poker via the Internet, there are even more people that learned how to play the game the old fashioned way – at a home game.

Go ahead, call me archaic. But if I have the choice between playing poker online, at a casino or at a home game, I'm taking the home game option nearly every time. A good home poker game can provide a lot more to the experience than just poker, but there is such a thing as a bad home poker game and those are the kind that will get me making a beeline to my computer or local poker room.

So, if you're looking to start a home poker game or want to improve one that you're already hosting, here are 10 tips to make it an enjoyable evening for everyone involved. And please, if you think we missed a key element on our list, e-mail me at gary@casinocity.com. In the future, we'd love nothing more than to generate and publish a list of the top recommendations we received from our readers.

10. No distractions
When hosting a poker game, you want your guests to be able to escape from it all. So, if you happen to be married with children, do everything in your power to keep the family out of the card room for the night. I'm sure some of your guests like or even love kids – some may even have kids of their own. But I'm also pretty sure that one of the main reasons they are at the card game is to get away from kids for a few hours. Don't let your little ones prevent them from doing it.

9. TV, music, food
Chances are that most of the people coming to your card party are sports fans and some of them may even have some money on that night's action. So have a TV in the room in a spot where the majority of the players can see it. And if there's no game on that night, cue up your DVR with some WSOP coverage just to set the mood. Instead of listening to sound on the TV, lower the volume and put on some music. But be sure not to make the music or the TV the focal point of the room. Your guests are there to play cards and you don't want this to turn into a night of everyone paying more attention to the TV than what's happening on the felt. Also, no one is saying you have to cook a gourmet meal, but try to have some decent snacks and plenty of beverages-of-choice on hand. Ask people to bring something to help you out and, of course, have a pizza delivery menu within an arm's reach at all times.

8. Extra tables
This is especially important if you're playing a tournament. Because – as mentioned above – your guests are probably at your house for a night out and if a few players get bounced from the tournament in the first hour, they aren't going to be looking to go home for the evening. Make sure you dedicate some space in the room with an extra table or two, so the players that get sent to the rail can start their own cash games. Oftentimes, these games turn out to be better than the actual tournament.

7. Use a proper table
Speaking of tables, make sure the one at your using at your featured game is the appropriate size and shape. Of course, the best option is to have an authentic hexagon card table with drink and chip holders, but not everyone has the luxury of owning one of these. But you can make do with another table, just make sure it's conducive for the amount of people coming to your game and it has a slide-able surface.

6. Use quality chips
If you're going to be hosting a regular card game, do yourself and your tablemates a favor and go out and buy some quality chips. We're not trying to be snobby here, but nobody wants to play a real game of poker with the plastic red, white and blue chips you got at the supermarket for $2.99. There are plenty of better options available -- casinos use clay, composite or clay composite chips that weigh between 9 and 11.5 grams. And if you don't have decent chips ask someone else who is coming to the game to bring their set. It's also a good idea to have a dealer's button on hand as well as some sort of timer to signal when it's time to raise the blinds.

5. Have more than one deck on hand
You also want to use quality deck of cards and make sure you have at least two or three on hand. Make it a rule that the person to the right of the current dealer always has one of the additional decks shuffled and ready to go. This will keep the game moving a lot faster.

4. Have one banker
Put one person in charge of the bank for the night. Preferably not you, since the host will have other things to worry about. Either way, it's much easier to have one person dedicated to handing out chips and cashing people out. Believe me, I've seen plenty of home games with a self-service bank and it can be a recipe for disaster.

3. Play different games
Texas Hold'em is the game of choice of for most people these days but don't play one game all the time at your home game. Encourage the people in your game to try different games. Get to the point where you can play a real H.O.R.S.E. tournament some night. And when playing dealer's choice, try to find some new games that everyone likes, even if it's a silly game like "Screw Your Neighbor" or "Guts." At the very least, this will add some spice into the night and not make it so monotonous.

2. Set the rules
The best way to set up a regular card game is to play the same time every week or month. Play every Wednesday night at 8 p.m. or the first Friday night of every month. That way your group will know exactly when the next game is and can plan ahead. Also have a set of house rules. If you are playing dealer's choice make it a rule that nobody can leave unless they give a one-orbit warning. This will prevent the guy with a huge stack of chips from getting up and leaving when the going is good. If you play a tournament style, force the winner each week to pay his buy-in for the next game up-front, whether he plans on coming or not. There's nothing worse when a new guy comes into your game, wins the big prize and then is never heard from again.

1. Pick the right group
Let's face it: If you're a professional player or someone who is playing cards for the sole reason of making money, you may not belong at a home game. Sure, everyone at a home game wants to make money. But there's something to be said for having the right mix of people at your game to make the atmosphere enjoyable for everyone. So pick your guests wisely. Try to have a group of people who are all around the same skill level. And if you are one of those people who takes the game too seriously and is going to get upset if the table conversion sways away from the game from time-to-time or someone bets out of turn by accident, do everyone a favor and head to a casino or a card room instead of a home game. It will benefit everyone involved.

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Best of Gary Trask
Gary Trask

Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT
Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT