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How to Run a Poker Home Game
Before any poker player makes his first trip to the casino or first deposit online he's usually exposed to the basics of poker in the context of a home game.
Whether it's a well-run home game, however ... that's a different story.
Everyone can remember playing their first home game - that cash game with a $10 buy-in yet somehow 50¢/$1 blinds. Or that tournament where you start with $1,000 in chips in 10 different denominations.
These simple, organizational mistakes can turn even the most basic home poker game into a complete debacle.
The biggest complaint most people have with home games: they're a disorganized mess. But with these simple pointers, you can take your game from amateur hour to well-oiled poker machine.
Less Is More
First thing of course you need to do is make sure you're acquainted with all the basic Texas Holdem rules. After that, the key is simplifying.
Always have one person and one person alone handle buying in, cashing out and rebuys. I cannot stress this enough. If you have everyone getting their own chips, "mistakes" are bound to happen.
The worst thing that can happen is the last two guys go to cash out at the end of some all-night game and there isn't enough cash to cover the chips they have. They are going to be pissed. You can easily avoid cash-out confusion by having one person do all the chip/money transfers.
Which leads me to my next point. When choosing the chip denominations, think less is more. There is really no need to use all five colors that came with your chip set just because they are there. Multiple colors confuse things needlessly.
If you are setting up a 50¢/$1 game with a $100 buy-in, use only two colors. One would be 50¢ chips and the other would be $5 chips. It's as easy as that.
If you are setting up a tournament with $1,500 in starting chips, use three colors: $5 chips, $25 chips, and $100s. It really isn't rocket science. Establish which color is worth which amount and attempt to stick with it if you are running a regular game.
Remember, less is more. Don't overcomplicate the game. More colors mean more headaches.
Quick note on making things run smoother: Home games are notoriously bad for being very slow-paced. One way to increase the speed of the game is to use two decks.
While the dealer is dealing have the player in the small blind (who will be the dealer next) shuffle the next deck so it is ready to go the second the current hand is over. This will greatly increase the speed of the average home game.
Cash games are by far the easiest games to set up and run. A good rule of thumb is that you should have 100 big blinds for whatever level you are playing. That is, if you are playing 5¢/10¢ you should have a $10 max buy-in.
This is how games are run both live and online. It allows for sufficient play and makes poker a three-street game and not a push fest.
Setting the buy-in is the most important part of planning a home game. If you are playing a home game, it's likely a fun game. So make sure you talk with people beforehand to decide on the buy-in amount.
Pick an amount everyone can afford if they do lose a buy-in or two. If people are playing for more money than they are comfortable with, the game is not going to be very much fun. You can always adjust the buy-in and blinds to whatever most people want.
To make the game run smoother, you should also encourage all players to vocalize their actions. Indicating your action out loud, whether it be calling, folding or raising, is a great habit to get into. It will help if you ever decide to make the transition to casino poker.
Cash games really are easy. Running a successful cash game is a simple as making the play run smoothly and making cash-outs a breeze. If you handle those two things well, you should have no trouble filling a table regularly.
The most popular form of home poker games popping up these days tends to be single-table tournaments. That is because they are generally a set length of time, so you don't need to play until the wee hours of the morning to determine a winner.
These games start with between three and 10 players and play like regular Texas Hold'em with escalating blinds. The tournaments go until one player has all the chips.
One of the biggest problems however with home-run poker tournaments is usually the lack of a tournament clock. In many home tourneys the blinds go up at random intervals, or don't go up at all. This leads to tournaments dragging on.
Do yourself a favor and use the tournament clock. This clock will make your home tourney run as smoothly as the WSOP. Or maybe even more smoothly (sorry, Harrah's).
Using the Tournament Clock
The tournament clock at PokerListings.com was made for hosting professional, easy-to-manage poker tournaments in your own home. It's highly customizable and simple to use.
Step 1. Adjust all the general details. Give your tournament a name. Select how many players will be playing and enter the cost (entrance fee).
Step 2. Select the starting stack. A good starting stack will start the tournament off with 100 big blinds. The first level is $25/$25, so why not make your starting stack $2,500?
Step 3. Select how long you want the tournament to run. Once you select the duration, the tournament clock will automatically update the level times.
Step 4. Last but not least, select what kind of payout structure you want. It will automatically adjust for the price of the buy-in!
When you are ready to go, hit the play button and your tournament is under way. No more guessing about when to raise the blinds or what the next level will be.
As the tournament progresses you can also adjust for players knocked out. It will then update the average stack section. The tournament clock handles everything for you. All you have to worry about is making sure everyone at the table can deal the cards!
Some Basic Poker Etiquette Tips
Remember, although you may be a "serious" poker player, not everyone at your home game will be.
Home poker games are all about having fun. You have to be patient with learners. If they call you down with four-high and go runner-runner straight, it is not cool to let loose with a Phil Hellmuth tirade. That isn't acceptable at any stakes, so don't do it at a home game.
While you may think you are showing everyone how much you know the game and how unlucky you got, everyone will just think you are a whiney little loser. So be friendly and keep a light atmosphere. It will go a long way toward creating an enjoyable atmosphere for everyone.
Some Simple Don'ts at the Table
- Don't talk on the phone for extended periods of time
- Don't take constant smoke breaks, slowing the game down
- Don't rabbit-hunt (checking out the next card; e.g. the turn card after the flop if everyone folds)
- Don't be a jerk to new players
- Don't act like a know-it-all
- Don't tell people how to play hands
Again, this isn't difficult stuff - it's really common courtesy. Just try and keep a friendly game going.
If people enjoy the time they had playing, they're more likely to come back and play again. If you are a jerk, nobody is ever going to want to play.
If you can cultivate a regular group of players who are comfortable at the table, you can get a game going almost every week!
More beginner strategy articles by Dan Skolovy: