How to Host the Perfect Poker Home Game: Odd Rules and Exceptions

For our final article in our How to Host the Perfect Poker Home Game series we’ll look at some of the odd rules, mistakes and exceptions that can pop up over the course of a poker game.

Familiarize yourself with these oddities and you’ll be able to deal with 90% of the issues that arise during your home game.

Poker Rules for All-In Situations

Two players all-in with different size stacks: In this situation, you take the amount of the smaller stack from the big stack into the pot, returning the difference to the big-stack player.

Short stack all-in against two opponents: When a short stack is all-in against two larger stacks, the blinds, short stack, plus the amount of the short stack from each larger stack is placed in the main pot. All players can win this pot.

The two players on the side are now free to play and bet as usual into a side pot, which only they are eligible to win. (This means there can be two winners in the hand - a side pot and a main pot winner.)

Multiple players all-in: When multiple players are all-in, you must make multiple side pots. Make a main pot as described above. After you've done that, repeat the process with the next-smallest stack.

Secondary Featured Table

How to Balance Poker Tables

Sometimes when you’re running a tournament you’ll run into a situation where table 1 loses two players while table 2 is full. It’s obviously unfair for one table to play out short-handed so you’re going to have to move one player from table 2 to table 1 to keep everything balanced.

When moving a player it’s important to give them a seat on the other table closest to their current position to keep them from having to pay blinds twice, or not at all.

How to Break Poker Tables

In tournaments you’ll get to the point where you have so few players that you might as well merge them onto another table.

You just randomly draw for who goes where. If everyone is moving to a final table, typically every player draws for a seat, even those who are already in a seat.

If you don’t have seat cards just use the deck counting from lowest to highest, starting left of the dealer.

PokerListings blogger Jason Mercier: Nasty w/ the PLO Stack

Can a Player Cash Out Half Their Chips?

Sometimes players will win a big pot early and want to set some of their chips aside so that no matter what they leave with a profit.

The problem with this is that it doesn’t give the other players a chance to win back their chips. Cashing out half your stack (also known as going south) is against the rules and, at the very least, considered poor etiquette.

In other words you either play with all of your chips or none.

Can One Player Buy Chips from Another?

This is usually not a good idea. It's essentially the same concept as going south. The table loses the amount of chips the new player would be buying in for.

In home games it’s always much easier if one person is in charge of all financial transactions.

That said, you will see this rule broken a lot in home games. That doesn’t make it right.

Chips and cards

Cards Dealt Before All Players Have Acted

This is a very common mistake in home games.

If the dealer burns and turns fourth street before every player has acted, the play is temporarily halted.

The dealer takes the turn card and puts it back into the deck, shuffling the entire remaining deck sufficiently.

Once the deck is shuffled, and the player has made his final flop action, the top card is turned over as the new turn (there has already been a card burned for this street).

Card Exposed While Dealing

Perhaps the most common mistake in home games is when the dealer accidentally flips up one of the hole cards.

If it’s the first or second card dealt, it’s considered a misdeal and the entire deck must be reshuffled before dealing again.

If it’s any other card the dealer continues to deal as normal. At the end of the deal the dealer takes back the exposed card and gives the player the top card on the deck to replace it.

The exposed card should be put on the top of the deck and will be used as the first burn card. Make sure that everyone has a chance to see the exposed card before throwing it on the top of the deck.

If more than one card is exposed while dealing, the hand is considered a misdeal.

Marked Cards

What to Do with Marked Cards

If you notice a badly marked card in play you should first play out the hand normally. Once the hand is complete you’ll want to either replace the marked card with a new one or get a completely new deck.

If you don’t have a new deck your best bet is to remove the card from the game, making sure everyone is aware the card is no longer in play.

If you start to see a number of marked cards, you should take caution, it can mean you have a cheater in your midst.

Dealer Deals an Extra Hand or a Hand to a Seat with No Player

This is easy, as long as no one looks at the extra hand, it's folded as a dead hand, and play continues as usual.

How Long Can a Player Wait Before Rebuying?

Usually after a player loses all of their chips, they must choose whether or not to rebuy before the next hand is dealt.

In a home game there is room for lenience on this issue, just as long as the player isn't doing it on purpose to gain some sort of advantage. It’s common for players to have to make a quick trip to the ATM to grab more cash.


What Happens When There are Only Two Players Left?

When a poker game goes down to two players, it’s called heads-up and some special rules go into place. The player on the button becomes the small blind and gets to act first before the flop while the big blind gets the option preflop. After the flop the roles reverse and big blind acts first.

Is a Single Big Chip Considered a Raise or a Call?

By putting in one over-value chip without saying anything, it is always considered a call. For example, if the big blind is $25 and you're first to act, putting in a $100 chip without actually saying "raise" is considered a call.

The more lenient atmosphere of a home game means the dealer will typically ask the player what they actually wanted to do.

You can always avoid these issues by verbalizing your actions. For instance saying out loud “Bet, call, check, fold or raise.”

More on Misdeals

Sometimes a hand simply can’t be saved and you’ll have to call the hand dead due to dealer error. These are a few of the circumstances where a misdeal will be necessary:

  • The first or second card in the hand are exposed
  • More than one card is exposed
  • The dealer starts on the wrong player (some home games will allow the dealer to simply move all the cards over)
  • One or more players receive more or fewer than the proper amount of cards
The Shuffle

Player's Stack Size Less Than the Blind

If a player has less than the small blind in their stack they are automatically considered all-in in the next hand they play, regardless of position.

If the player's stack is larger than the small blind but smaller than the big blind, they will be considered all-in in any position other than the small blind, assuming they fold for their option.

When all-in, the player can only win the amount of their stack, plus that same amount from all of the callers and blinds. If the person has less than the big blind, they can only win the portion of the blind equal to that of their stack.

Poker Suit Rankings

In poker, the official suit ranking goes with the official Bridge ranking system, which is alphabetical. From worst to best:

  • Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, Spades

Turn-Dealing Mistakes

This is another common one in home games. The dealer will lay down the turn card without burning a card.

If it happens that card is simply treated as an exposed, or flashed, card. The dealer makes sure to show everyone and then puts it down as the burn card, dealing the real turn as normal.

More articles on How to Host the Perfect Poker Home Game:

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