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Tips for hosting a home poker game

The weekly poker game has long been a staple of home entertainment, bringing family and friends together for an evening of fun and excitement for all ages. But hosting a “poker night” can be a tricky, if not completely frustrating, project. Below are some quick tips to help you develop the ultimate home poker game.

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First things first: equipment check

Hosting a home poker game can be as simple or as complicated as you want. It can involve dozens of people in a tournament atmosphere, or can be limited to a few friends gathering together to blow off some steam. But to ensure that a good time is had by all, the first step is to have the proper equipment. Multiple decks of cards, clay or plastic chips and comfortable seating are all key elements to a smooth-flowing game. And while felt-covered card tables are not a necessity, your table should be small enough to allow for easy interaction, yet large enough to be comfortable.

Game diversity

While some people prefer to stick with a classic poker game such as five-card draw, a little bit of variety may help to liven things up. Try adding Hold ‘Em or Omaha to the repertoire, or even some specialty game variants such as Razz, Russian poker, Lowball or Guts. Not only will this keep things fresh and lively, but it will also help to expand everyone’s poker skills by being confronted with new rules, strategy and styles. To help inspire such variety, try taking a “Dealer as God” approach, allowing the dealer to choose the game and any wildcards.

Choose the right friends

Part of what makes for an enjoyable home poker game is the calibre of the players themselves. Select friends, family and co-workers who are both interested in the game as well as at least partially skilled. While there is something to be said for having a room full of fish, the objective of the home game is usually to have fun, not bankrupt your friends. Plus, having to stop and re-explain the rules every hand is time-consuming and thoroughly frustrating.

Food and entertainment

Sitting in a smoke-filled room with nothing but the sound of chips or coins clanking in the pot may be someone’s idea of heaven, but most home-game formats have now evolved slightly beyond that point. While you don’t have to offer five-course meals and bar service, snacks and drinks are absolutely essential. These can be supplied entirely by the host, as is common in floating games where everyone takes a turn hosting the event, or each player can supply something for the group.

In addition to these basic creature comforts, some home games now feature added entertainment that ranges from simple background music to an entire theme, such as scheduling the game around a televised WSOP or WPT event. Not only does this create a better poker atmosphere, but it also elicits poker discussions, commentary and “primes the pump” for a night of intense gambling.

The alternative home game

As a final note, I’d like to remind players that with the Internet, the home game doesn’t necessarily have to be played, well, at home. Many online poker rooms allow players to set up private tables that are open only to friends and family. And while you may not actually have everyone together in the same house, at least you’re all together at a single table where you are free to play and chat just like the real thing.