Creating the perfect poker tournament you can play at home takes more than a deck of cards, but you'll find that with just a little preparation, you can enjoy poker games at home even more than you might at a casino or online.
You'll need to learn how to set the blinds, levels, starting stacks and payout schedule. And naturally, you'll want everyone to know how to play tournament poker. But fear not: in this guide to playing poker at home, we'll teach you exactly how to host the perfect home poker tournament.
Paid by the two players to the left of the dealer button. First-left pays the small blind and the second player pays the big blind - this is usually the size of the small blind.
In limit poker games, there is a limit to how much can be bet. For example, all wagers have to be equal to the big blind.
Want to know how to put on the ultimate poker tournament for you and your pals? Get the answers and more in our downloadable guide.
Want to know how to put on the ultimate poker tournament for you and your pals? Get the answers, and more, in our downloadable guide.
Before you can even think about inviting people over to play a home game, you need to wind back a few steps and cover off the basics. How many chips you need for your poker game, the length of the poker levels, and the rest of your game setup is all-important, but first of all, you need to decide which game you'll be playing.
There's more than one way to play these days, but you'll want to ensure everyone knows how to play the tournament poker you choose. Here are the three most popular rule variations:
The most common poker variant, Texas Hold'em tournament rules see players dealt two hole cards each, followed by five community cards placed face-up on the table. The winner is the player with the strongest five-card hand, made up of any combination of hole and community cards. Click to learn how to play Texas Hold'em.
The five cards turned face-up in the middle of the table, which can be used by all players to form the best possible hand.
In this variation, players receive four hole cards and make a hand using two hole cards and three from the board. Betting occurs in rounds, just as with Texas Hold'em, with three community cards being dealt on the flop, followed by one on the turn and a final river. Click to learn how to play Omaha.
The two cards dealt to each player, which are not revealed until the showdown.
Seven-Card Stud was at one time the most popular poker variation. Players are first dealt three cards, two of which are face-down (in the hole). The player with the lowest value up-card is forced to kick off the betting. There are no community cards, and players are dealt seven cards each in total (with rounds of betting in between). In the end, the player with the strongest five-card hand wins. Click to learn how to play Seven-Card Stud.
Which type of poker you choose to play is entirely down to you, but sticking to Texas Hold'em is probably a wise move if you want our recommendation. It's the most widely played and understood poker game, whether you play at home, online or in live card rooms, and if you have a Texas Hold'em poker set, it probably came with a handy set of rules and instructions for newer players.
That's why in this guide, we focus our advice on hosting a Texas Hold'em poker tournament at home.
So, now we've decided on the poker game to play at home, it's time to think about who to invite.
Around eight to 10 players is a good number for a single table tournament. More than 10, and you'll need to consider a second table, which will also mean another deck of cards and, of course, enough chips for the additional players.
It's a good idea to invite players with a similar level of experience so people don't feel outmatched, and important to make sure everyone is happy with the stakes and buy-ins. But don't forget about the social side either: the evening should be a chance to kick back and have fun, so invite people you enjoy hanging out with!
Once your players are locked down, you need to get your home game-night-ready. And that means making sure you have the right kit.
At its most basic level, a deck of cards and a table will just about see you through. But there are a few more things to think about if you want your home poker set up to deliver the goods.
So, now the essentials are in the bag, you're ready to begin thinking about the finer details of your home poker tournament. Let's take a look at everything you need to keep the tournament moving, from setting blind levels and starting stakes to poker chip distribution and tournament structure.
Setting stakes in a home poker tournament boils down to how much the players want to play for. Ideally, you want a buy-in that players will be comfortable paying for (and if rebuys or add-ons are going to be available, that should also be a factor).
Setting buy-ins too high may put off some of your invited players who are seeing your poker home game as more of a fun activity than the chance to win some prize money. Likewise, setting the buy-ins too low will probably put off players attracted by the opportunity to win some extra cash. It's a balancing act that depends on the players who will be playing, so bear that in mind and, however much you choose to play for, make sure everyone knows the details in advance.
It's a good idea to have a side table that offers a cash game for those who bust out of the tournament – make sure the stakes of the cash game appeal to the same players who came to play the tournament.
While the World Series of Poker Main Event uses a freeze-out structure that eliminates players once they bust, in our experience, a rebuy structure is better for home games. Giving players the option to buy back in when they lose all their chips makes things more exciting and appealing. You'll also find that players take bigger risks when they know rebuys are allowed.
Add-ons – extra buy-ins available to all players at the end of the rebuy period – can also be a great way to help short stacks gain a foothold back in the game, as well as to boost the prize pool.
Consider the payout structure too. Will one player take the entire prize pool, or will you have first second and third place prizes? The more players you have, the more spots you should payout. As you may not know the final number of players until the tournament is ready to begin, this may be something to discuss with your fellow players before starting play.
|Small Blind||Big Blind||Ante|
Just like in a high stakes casino, you should establish your blind structure well in advance and, once the tournament has begun, stick to it. Blind structures like the examples we provide here are fairly standard and unlikely to surprise many players.
A game that is played for large sums of money.
If you want a tournament to play out faster, you can always make the levels shorter. This will speed the pace along, but not at a blind rate that feels too intimidating. Skipping blind levels is not something you should generally consider, as it will usually unfairly disadvantage some players.
When you reach heads-up play, you may want to make the levels a little faster – especially if you're planning on playing a second tournament and other players are hanging around and waiting – but both players must agree to this.
When it comes to blind structures, there isn't a one-size-fits-all formula. Use your instincts, and remember that the structure you choose influences how long your tournament lasts. If you're not sure about setting your blinds or want a bit of guidance, here are three starting structures we suggest.
A blank blind schedule for you to fill in as you please. Print it out and pass them round at your home game so that everyone's on the same page.Use now
A good entry-level blind structure for first time tourney holders. Blinds are smaller to accommodate players just learning the ropes.Use now
A mid-level structure with slightly increased blinds. Perfect for tournaments where skill varies from player to player.Use now
How many chips you start within a poker tournament depends on a few things, but mainly the size of the blinds in level one. As a general rule of thumb, starting stacks should comprise between 50-100 big blinds for the first blind level.
A 500-chip set will usually provide all the chips you need for a home tournament – certainly for a single-table tourney. If you want each player to have a bigger stack of chips (which has the upside of needing to make change less frequently), then deal out a larger number of smaller value chips. Otherwise, you can get away with using fewer chips per player if you add in some higher denomination ones to each buy-in stack.
We go into more specifics about the science behind chip distribution in our ultimate guide to poker chips.
So you've got your card room set up, and your chips shared out…now comes the action! But, with every home poker tournament (no matter how relaxed the crowd), it still pays to make sure everyone is aware of appropriate tournament etiquette and any poker house rules before kicking things off.
When we use the word etiquette in poker terms, we're not talking about being prim and proper. We mean things that are generally acceptable (and not acceptable) in a Texas Hold'em hand or tournament by poker etiquette.
Most players will probably be up to speed with appropriate tableside etiquette, but it never hurts to lay down a few ground rules.
This wouldn't fly in a land-based casino, so don't stand for it during a home tournament. Make it clear that when you're in hand, all cells should be switched off. And if you do need to take a call, wait until the round's finished, then exit to another room.
While acting when it's not your turn is usually an honest mistake (especially for new players), unethical players may use it as a deliberate ploy to influence another player's thought process. Either way, it's bad form, so make it clear that any out-of-turn action will be made to stand.
Poker etiquette extends to how you discard your cards at a hand's end or whenever you fold. Generally speaking, it's considered poor behaviour to discard cards away from the muck (the group of other discarded cards) or throw them towards the dealer. As with all other aspects of the game, try to be polite and considerate (and never look at another player's discards).
You should keep your chips in neatly organized stacks in front of you. It helps to keep the rounds of betting fast, especially when it's your turn to act, and makes it easier to see how many chips each player has from a glance across the table.
Don't deliberately use big stacks of chips to obstruct another player's line of view, and don't 'splash the pot' by sprinkling chips all over the pot instead of making identifiable bets that other players can see for themselves. Stacks should generally comprise a single-chip colour only, and your highest denomination chips must be visible to all other players at all times.
With poker etiquette, it's more a case of checking your behaviour to make sure you don't do anything to rub a fellow player up the wrong way. But practicing proper poker etiquette comes down to good sportsmanship, too, so make the night easier for everyone and be a good sport. It will make the night more fun and increase the chances of people coming back for another game.
As well as making sure every player is up to speed with etiquette, establishing any tournament rules is another thing to get out of the way early on. Make sure the rules, structure and payouts are clear and confirm that all players understand them before the auction begins. No one can claim ignorance if something doesn't go their way or act out of turn.
Here are some rules you might want to consider introducing the next time you hold a Texas Hold'em tournament at home.
The tournament's prize structure, including the payouts for each winning spot, should be laid out in plain view for all to see. A good payout structure for full single-table tourney awards 50% to first place, 30% to second and 20% to third. This changes with more or fewer players.
The tournament buy-in amount should also be advertised, and players should be aware of the buy-in before signing up. If you're allowing rebuys (we recommend this), make sure you specify up to what point in the tournament rebuys are accepted and the size and cost of any add-ons.
Make it clear that when the blinds timer sounds, the next blind level kicks in, and the timer resets again. Also, make sure you allow for scheduled breaks in the action so all players know when they can next take a break.
These are just some basic rules to get you started and give your tournament structure. Suppose you want to get even more advanced. In that case, you can also add rules around late entry, random seating and moving players between tables (if necessary), all of which will help give your home game a more professional tournament feel.
Want to raise your game even further? If you want to turn your home tournament into a legendary poker event to remember, here are a few more tips and tricks for a winning formula.
The key to tournaments is to sit tight and try and get through to the later hands with as many chips in your stack as possible. Playing tight during the first few rounds, and upping to a more aggressive style further along, is a great strategy to keep you strong into the later tournament levels.
If you're one of the few remaining players to make it to the final hurdle, you may be approached by another player looking to strike a deal to split the prize money. Deals are all well and good but make sure it's you that's in the driving seat. Remember that nine times out of 10, it's the player who's behind who wants to strike a deal. If you're not interested, say no.
Towards the late stages of a tournament, you'll find yourself on what's called 'the bubble' – the last finishing position before players are in the money. This proximity to victory can cause some players to slip up as the stress piles on. So keep calm, hold your nerve, and make sure you're not one of the unlucky players to burst your bubble and go bust just before you're in the money!
Home games are a great way to hone your skills among friendly faces without putting too much on the line or feeling the stress of playing in an unfamiliar casino. So enjoy the experience, and if you bust out, don't beat yourself up. In tourneys, there are always winners and losers; think of every hand helping shape you into a savvier player.
You might be interested to know there are some online software and apps that can help you organize your home poker tournaments.
If you don't mind paying, The Tournament Director is a downloadable package that helps you run home poker games using your computer, displaying all relevant information to players as the tournament plays out. It takes the work out of setting blinds, structures and payouts so you can enjoy the night as much as your fellow players. It's available for a free trial for 30 days.
Poker Tournament Manager, also available for your computer, includes a poker clock timer plus support in calculating buy-ins, rebuys, poker chip distribution and antes. Plus, it automatically calculates payouts and can even be used to assign seats in a tournament too. It's available at a one-off cost.
Of course, these aren't the only software providers offering a way to keep tabs on home poker tourneys and help with the admin side of things. The internet is crawling with tons of packages, as well as apps for cellphones and tablets, all perfect for helping you organize and run a home poker tournament with a professional approach. So read some reviews, work out what you need, and always take the software for a spin before committing your cash.