Organizing the Perfect Home Poker Game - Players, Stakes, Starting Chip Counts & More


Texas Hold'em Poker Game

It's great to visit Las Vegas or your local cardroom to get a feel for some big live poker.

But what if you live miles from a casino, or poker isn't available where you live? Perhaps you want some banter, food and drink in between your games?

A well-planned Texas Hold'em poker home game can be the perfect alternative. They're fun to host, you can indulge in any stakes you like, and try out some great new variants. All you need is a bit of simple equipment - and some willing Daniel Negreanus.

Home games can be a lot of fun, but there is a bit of preparation and planning that goes into making the perfect evening. Some important considerations include setup, starting chip counts and distributions, blinds and more. Find out more below:

Quick Navigation

What Is a Home Game?

Home poker games are exactly as the name suggests: poker games hosted from the comfort of your own home. They are typically played amongst friends and casual acquaintances, and tend to be lower key than casino games. But it doesn't mean they are taken any less seriously than a game in your local cardroom.

While many home game newcomers worry about the quality of their table and whether their guests will laugh at their paltry chipset, the most important factor is having the right people. Once you have a group of players who get on well with each other, won't start arguments, and will want to come back, you're ready to go. The rest just falls into place.

Finding Players

Finding Players

Hosting a home game isn't just about phoning your ten best buddies. You need players who are genuinely interested in playing, not just there for the beer.

Similarly, you need to mix the group up. Don't invite semi-pros you found on Facebook who end up sitting there with their iPods on and hoods up.

The evening should be a social occasion as well as a proper poker game. Just as you don't want some online nerd there who can barely keep eye contact with anyone, you also don't want a loudmouth who gets drunk, won't stop talking and keeps missing their blinds.

If you are struggling for players, reach out on social media. There are many home game poker groups on Facebook and poker forums with players looking for games. You can easily set up your own page too or set up a group on Meet-Up.

Picking the Right Games

If you advertise your game as a $100 buy-in HORSE tournament, you're going to struggle to attract anyone. Stick with No Limit Texas Hold'em: it's easy to learn, everyone knows the rules, and it's quick to play.

Texas hold'em
  • 1 It is played with relatively few cards, which makes it easy to deal.
  • 2 Almost everyone knows the basics of how to play.

Sure, after a few weeks you can throw in some Omaha or Razz cash action, or even a low-stakes Dealer's Choice game. For the tournament element, make sure it's Hold'em.

Brush up some skills with Hold'em and Omaha here. Some friendly HORSE can be good too. Played with five separate rounds, HORSE contains a round of each of Hold'em, Omaha, Razz, 7-card-Stud, and Stud Eight-or-Better. Read more on HORSE rules here.

Choosing the Right Stakes

Chips

Home games need to be geared towards the ability of the players. If you're hosting and 8 casual players turn up, keep the buy-in nice and friendly. A $5 or $10 buy-in is a good starting point and allows for two games in a night without busting anyone's bankroll.

Whatever your stakes, make sure that everyone playing knows the buy-ins BEFORE they turn up. Send out emails to gauge the interest if you want. If you think that the majority of your guests will want a $20 sit-down, prepare for it. If you have eight players turn up, only to discover they're sitting down for a $5 Draw game, they won't be coming back.

Home Game Essentials

So, you've invited 10 willing Texas Hold'em nuts, and you've picked the game and buy-in; now you have to get hold of some equipment.

Unless you're trying to dazzle your guests with the very best, home poker game materials needn't be expensive. As long as you have a good table top for dealing cards on and plenty of chips you're good to go.

  • Cards
  • Playing surface
  • Chairs
  • Poker chips
  • A timer
  • Location to play in
Cards

Playing Cards

One expense you need to prepare for is the cards. Those paper things your grandmother uses at her whist drive won't cut it. Invest a few dollars in a deck of 100% plastic cards from Fournier or Copag. If you can get them, go for large-index cards too. ($5-$25)


Texas Hold'em Poker Table

Tables and Surfaces

Your dining table is a perfectly good poker surface. However, to allow cards to slide effortlessly across the felt you'll need a sheet of good-quality cloth. Go for an 80%-20% cotton/polyester blend as it's more durable.

It can oftentimes be as cheap to buy a ready-made poker table top. These open out to cover your table and can be folded away for storage later.

The most legitimate looking option is of course the full poker table. There is a huge variety of tables out there, so be sure to devote a few hours to research if you plan to go this route for your home game.

You can find cheap standalone Texas Hold'em poker tables for as little as $150, while a customized, professional-grade table could make a several thousand dollar dent in your bank account. Be realistic when looking at tables, and try to accurately assess how often your table will be used, and how much you need certain features. You'll see tables with metal folding legs and solid wooden legs, cheap felt and super slick felt, and a huge variety of shapes and sizes. As always, know your need, and make a decision you'll be happy with for as long as you have the table.

If you want to go the whole nine yards, for around $900-$1500 you can buy a casino-quality table, complete with drinks holders. As long as you have space, these are the real deal: they will impress guests, last longer, and make your friends want to come back. Just lay down some strict 'no drinks' rules for when you play.


Chairs

Chairs

Your dining room chairs will usually be good enough, but if they're bulky you may struggle to fit 9 or 10 around a poker table. If you have storage space, folding chairs from IKEA or Home Depot are the cheapest option. Bear in mind, though, that people may be sitting in your chairs for hours at a time. Invest in some cushions so that your guests are comfortable enough during the evening.

Stackable poker chairs can be had for around $29.95 from eBay but you can buy stacks of 10 for around $200 if you hunt around. Higher-end tables will come with chairs fitted with wheels so your guests can wheel off for drinks more quickly.


Poker Chips

Poker Chips

Poker should really be played with proper poker chips, but all that really matters is you have some sort of standard, denominated, physical objects that players can use to bet, call, and raise with. But while M&Ms will technically work, most people will be used to using at least a cheap set of red, white, and blue plastic chips.

There is enormous variation in the poker chips available to buy. Make sure you know what you are looking for and how much your chips will be used before making a purchase. You don't need the chips they use in the World Series of Poker, but make sure you have enough. You can pick up a set of 300 or 500 clay composite chips pretty cheaply online. If they don't have values make sure your guests are fully aware of what value each one has. Alternatively, you can get your own stickers customized to place on the chips later.

A set of 500 11.5g 'dice chips' in a case will cost around $40 and are widely available online. Even if you're not buying chips with values ready printed, make sure you have enough colors for the number of denominations you're opting for. (www.ebay.com)

A set of 300 "Desert Sands" chips with values will cost around $200-$300, so it's really a question of budget.

Keep in mind that you will want at least four different poker chip denominations for tournaments, and at least three different chip denominations for cash games. Using more denominations isn't always better, but having some flexibility is always good. Almost all poker chip sets you can buy will have four chip denominations, and many will have five. The key is not to waste money on chipsets with denominations you will never use.

Buying Chips: Plastic or Clay Composite?

There are a huge variety of poker chips on the market, but which should you buy? Should you go with the cheap ones, or dig deep in to your wallet and go for casino-grade clay chips? The answer is, it depends.

  • Plastic Chips The plastic chips are perfectly fine for home games, and you can actually get faux-clay (or "Deluxe Dice") chips that are fine to play with. They are, however, extremely light, and don't have the "weight" of a casino chip. Plus, they're not great for riffling or impressing your guests with chip tricks with.
  • Clay Chips However, if you are looking to impress with your home game, but don't want to break the bank, then go with a clay composite chip. These feel very close to true clay chips, but cost around 30% of the price.
The Weight Issue

Weight might not seem important when you're discussing a matter of grams, but it can make a difference. A plastic 8g chip costing 5 cents will feel far inferior to an 11.5g composite costing 25 cents. If you have the budget, make it count.

If you want to push the boat out, casino-quality chips weigh upwards of 14g and have the benefit of coming in dazzling colors. They are also usually numbered up before you buy them. A roll of 25 might costs around 40 cents per chips, so the budget has to be there.


Timer

Timer / Tournament Software

If you're running a Texas Hold'em Sit 'n Go or tournament, you'll need some kind of timer to keep track of the blind levels. Most smartphones have perfectly good countdown timers included. Just make sure you have your tournament structure written down while you're directing the game.

Alternatively, you can pick up cheap Dealer Buttons that double as blind timers from eBay. They're a little time-consuming to program, but every player can see the blind clock as the button is passed round.

If you want to go the extra mile, there are plenty of good tournament director apps for iOS and Android. They let you customize your blind levels and save different structures to revisit later.

And for the professional feel, do what the casinos do and use a fully-loaded program for your computer. Tournament Director lets you set up tourney structures, seat players, and keep an eye on blind levels during the game. You can also share tournament results with your players later.


Location

The 'Cardroom'

Picking the right place to play is important. Most people won't have many choices for where to hold their poker game, but if you find yourself with multiple potential locations, weigh your options carefully.

If you have one, a basement can be great because it usually has a private and cozy atmosphere, plus it is typically further away from other activities and distractions like the TV. This distance usually implies a longer walk to a bathroom, so ground-floor rooms definitely have their upsides too. A basement or converted attic is perfect if you have one, while the kitchen means you're even closer to the beer fridge.

Know your players and their needs, and do your best to adjust accordingly game. Wherever you pick, always have enough space around the table so that players can get up and sit down without shoving the other guests when they move past.

Poker Chip Counts & Distribution

Poker set

So, how many chips do you need for a household poker game? The number can vary according to the type of game and number of players.

You can find a standard Texas Hold'em chip count template online. This gives you a good idea of how many chips you'll need for a turbo Sit 'n Go, deep-stack or cash game based on 5, 10 or 20 players.

Let's take a closer look at working out how many poker chips you will typically need for a friendly Texas Hold'em tournament or small-stakes cash game.

Texas Hold'em Chip Counts

Suggested chip denominations for casual cash games

If you prefer to keep your poker games away from the heady heights of big money pots, and just want to have fun with friends, then you might want to try out the following chip denominations. These will work well for most low stakes cash games.

Cash Games

Cash Poker Games

If you're running a Sit 'n Go at home, it's always a good idea to have a second table set aside for cash games. They can carry on all night and give bust-outs the chance to do something while they wait for the next tourney.

For a standard, friendly game of $0.25/$0.50 No Limit Hold'em, you need to focus on 25c and $1 chips. Don't complicate matters with 50c chips; the 25c and $1 are enough. If you're continuing into the night, or a new player is buying in, have plenty of $5 and $10 chips on hand to save time.

With you and eight friends buying in for $20 each (40 big blinds), you can share out 8 x 25c chips, 8 x $1 chips, and 2 x $5 chips for each player. A standard case of 300 cash chips will do the trick but it's worth sourcing your own chips and making custom stickers for each if you can.

9-man $0.25/$0.50 NLHE Cash Game
$20 buy-in
Chip Denominations and Amounts:

25c - 8
$1 - 8
$5 - 2

(Have a set containing 100 x 25c chips, 100 x $1 chips, 50 x $5 chips, and 50 x $10 chips - these last ones can be used for rebuys and new players sitting down.)

Home Tournaments

Tournament

Tournament structures can vary depending on your guests and how many games you want to get in. Keep these thoughts in mind:

  • Keep the blind levels fairly even and don't skip too many levels. You don't want the game jumping stupidly from 200/400 to 500/1000 but you don't want it to drag, either.
  • 25/50 is a good level to start with, then move up to 50/100, and 100/200. An optional 75/150 level can be included if you want to draw the game out a little.
  • To speed things along a lot, include antes around the 100/200 mark but increase the blind levels. This is particularly useful if you're running a tournament for 20 people.

Assessing Your Guests

When creating a blind structure, try to avoid making the blinds increase too awkwardly. Blind level jumps by more than 2x will feel enormous, so try to make each level jump by a factor of 1.5 to 2. If you want a fast tournament, make the levels themselves shorter. The tournament will still go by more quickly, but each level jump will feel more reasonable.

You can estimate the amount of time your tournament will take if you know how many players there will be, the starting chip stacks, and the structure. Assume that the tournament will end when only two players left would only have 10 big blinds each.

For example: You have 10 players, who each start with 10,000 in chips. This means there is a total of 100,000 in chips in play. When there are two players left, the average stack will be 50,000 chips. If we want the average stack to be 10 big blinds, then we know that the big blind at this point would be 5,000. So we can expect the tournament to end approximately in the level when the blinds are closest to 2,500/5,000.

When there are two players left, the average stack will be 50,000 chips. If we want the average stack to be 10 big blinds, then we know that the big blind at this point would be 5,000. So we can expect the tournament to end approximately in the level when the blinds are closest to 2,500/5,000.

Again, there is a ton of variation in how blind structures can work, but here is a sample tournament, complete with chip denomination, starting tournament stack, and proper chip count distribution:

Starting Chip Stack

You will typically want a 500-chip poker set no matter what kind of game you are running, but the above poker chip distribution will allow you to utilize the fewest poker chips per person. If you want people to have bigger-looking stacks (and make change less often), get rid of some of the higher denomination chips and swap in lower valued ones.

Home game collage

Whether or not you use antes is up to you. As a general guideline, antes shouldn't be introduced for at least the first few levels, and when in play, they should equal somewhere between 1/10 and 1/5 the big blind amount.

Starting stack = 10,000
x 8 = 200
x 8 = 800
x 8 = 2,000
x 7 = 7,000
Structure Table (20 min levels)
Small Blind Big Blind Ante
25
50
-
50
100
-
75
150
-
100
200
25
150
300
25
200
400
50
300
600
75
500
1,000
100
800
1,600
150
1,000
2,000
200
1,500
3,000
300
2,000
4,000
400
3,000
6,000
600
5,000
10,000
1,000

Poker Tournament Chip Distribution

So, how many chips do you need for a home tournament? How long is a piece of string? For a single-table tournament you're looking at a Sit 'n Go structure. That means either a limited number of starting chips - say, 2,500 - and a long clock (around 20 minute-blinds) or a lot of chips and a turbo structure.

Home players love having a large chip count, so think about 5,000 chips to start with and a 10-minute clock. This hurries the game along nicely and gives enough room for a second tournament during the evening. Ultimately, how many chips each player has is up to you.

If you've opted for a turbo structure with 10-minute blinds, 25s, 100s, 500s and 1000s are ideal denominations for your game. The 25s can be kept for antes (if you're using them). Here's a good average starting amount for a Hold'em tournament.

Online Home Games

Live vs. Online

While the live format is probably what most people think of when they think of home games, there are a number of online poker sites that offer the ability to host games.

PokerStars led the way with their Home Games function. The software will be familiar to anyone who's played on the poker site. However, with Home Games you are in charge of the blind structure and buy-ins.

You can set up your own 'Home Poker Club', invite PokerStars players and friends to join, and schedule tournaments whenever you like. An easy-to-use tournament set-up page lets you plan the payouts too and winners are paid out automatically after the game ends. You can even program bounties into your games so that players are awarded each time they knock someone out.

PokerStars aren't alone in offering a home game format. 888 Poker introduced an interesting twist to this with their software: they offer games that utilize your computer's webcam so that your opponents can see you as you play (and you can see them).

While this may not appeal to everyone, it is certainly an innovative and intriguing mix of live and online. As with PokerStars's games, 888's PokerCam offering is only good if you live in a jurisdiction that allows legalized online poker.

Make Your Home Games Fun

Share the Love!

Planned properly, a home game can be fun and competitive without putting off players. Home games are more experiments in social inclusion than gambling. You have to mix the right blend of players to ensure everyone is happy and will return the next time. The worst thing you can have is a one-off game of Texas Hold'em where no-one comes back.

Follow our simple rules, splash out on some decent poker equipment, and your home game experience will be a much happier one.