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Hosting A Game

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Home poker games are a great excuse to have a few friends over to sit around a table for hours drinking, laughing and having an excellent time. Read our guide below to hosting your own home poker game. We cover everything you need to know to host a fun, organized and authentic poker night!


Before the first card is dealt, all house rules and game format should be announced.

Home games can be played any way you choose. Ring game format is the one usually associated with home games. Stakes are determined beforehand, but players can buy-in with as much money as they like. They can also leave and cash-in their chips whenever they want, thus providing the potential to go home with some (or more) of their money. You can play one type of game all night, such as Texas Hold’em, or you can add variety and have the dealer (or person with the dealer button if only one person is doing all of the dealing) decide on which game will be played for that hand. This is referred to as ‘dealer’s choice.’

Even though Texas Hold ‘em is the game played in most tournaments, the possibility that you’ll be playing Seven-Card Stud or Omaha at a friend’s house one day is a good reason to make sure you learn all poker variants. Poker Stars has free poker rooms for Stud, Omaha and other games and is an excellent place to practice your skills before playing with your friends. (And when you’re ready to play for money, this is one of the best sites on the internet for huge jackpots and state-of-the-art graphics.)

Tournament play at home is set up differently. There is a set amount for the buy-in and only three ways you can leave a game. Either you lose all of your chips, you give up your seat and whatever chips you had left, or you win all of the chips. The good thing about a predetermined buy-in is that whatever the buy-in is, you’ll never lose more than that amount of money since you can’t buy more chips (unless the game has an add-on period). The downside is that there is only one winner and everyone else loses. But bragging rights and excitement of playing in a tournament make this a fun format for all level of players. Poker Stars has regularly-scheduled tournaments and is a great place to develop your tourney-playing skills.


As cards will become marked during play and make it possible for players to cheat by memorizing the dirty ones, always keep extra decks on hand preferable in different colors to prevent players from stacking the deck. Also, it’s a good idea to have two decks (again, in different colors) on the go at once: have the player in front of the dealer shuffle the last hand’s deck while the dealer deals. This is a huge time saver.


While betting with small change or peanuts is certainly doable, using poker chips is so much more alluring and brings an air of authenticity to the game. Today, they are easy to find in both retail stores and online and are an excellent investment for anyone interested in hosting a poker game at home. They come in plastic, which are cheaper, and in clay surrounding a metal chip, which are more casino-like and vary in price from affordable to custom-made chips at $1.25 per chip. For home play, an 8.6g diamond chip is a great buy for affordability and quality.

Before starting a game, it should be decided whether players may leave mid-game and cash in their chips, or if they have to play until only one player has all of the chips.

Chip color, denomination and distribution:

You can choose any value for each color that you like, but the usual allocation in casinos is as follows:

white: $1
red: $5
green: $25
blue: $50
black: $100

If you have 300 chips, a good selection would be 100 white, 150 red and 50 black. For 500 chips, it would be 200 white, 200 red, 100 green, 50 blue and 50 black.

A guide for how many chips to give each player:

If you’re playing with $0.25 antes/blinds/minimum bets, then set that as the amount for the lowest chip. For a game with a $20 buy-in, give 30 white chips (worth $0.25), 15 red chips (worth $0.50) and 5 black chips (worth $1). Sell your chips to the players for the value they’re worth (at par) and set aside enough chips of each denomination so players can buy more throughout the night.

The ratio for the value of chips, if you’re only using 3 different chip colors, for small to medium to large values should be either 1:2:4 or 1:2:5. The medium and large values should be multiples of the smallest bet/ante/blind at the table. If you do this, everything will balance out.


A dealer button is required if you’re not having just one person deal. If you really want to wow your guests, buy a felt tabletop. If there are beginners at your game, a cheat sheet with the hand rankings should be provided.


Since poker’s inception, it’s been played in the company of alcohol and cigarettes, cigars and pipes. Even dogs enjoy a stogie and a beer with their poker, as depicted in the kitschy early-1900s paintings by C.M. Coolidge (you know the ones). So make sure you have enough beer in the fridge to supply your guests and other alcohol on hand, in addition to ashtrays if you decide to smoke.

On the topic of drinking and playing poker, be sure to check out the section on strip poker.

Offering your guests something to eat is essential if you’re playing for hours in order to keep their energy up. Pizza, chips, burgers, or if you’re Martha Stewart, ‘Full House Tea Sandwiches’ are de rigueur. (That’s not a joke; she whipped them up for a poker game she held with Annie Duke and Whoopi Goldberg on her show. The recipe’s available on her web site.)

If you’re serving your guests alcohol, be aware you may be held accountable for your guests’ actions if you let them drive drunk. As with any party you host, figure out beforehand how your friends will get home safely.

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