Playing Poker At Home - Everything You Need
to Host the Perfect Home Poker Game

Hosting a home poker tournament takes more than a deck of cards and a few beers. You need the right mix of players, a decent playing surface, not to mention a set of chips. And that's just for starters.

Home poker may be more relaxed than playing at a casino, but you still need to know how to set blinds and limits, suggest starting stacks, and follow the rules. But fear not. In this guide to playing poker at home, we'll teach you exactly how to host the perfect home poker tournament. From attracting the right players to serving snacks that keep everyone focused. If you want to win at home poker, this guide will get you there.

The secrets of an awesome
home poker game explained

Want to know how to put on the ultimate poker night for you and your pals? Get the answers, and more, in our downloadable guide.

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Before You Start


Before you can even begin to think about inviting people over for a poker night, you need to wind back a few steps and cover off the basics. And we're not talking about what chips to buy in (cash or edible). First, you need to work out what kind of poker you actually want to play.

Picking Your Variation


Unless you're a fish (in which case you probably shouldn't be hosting a home poker tournament) you know there's more than one way to play poker in 2018. Here are the three most popular rule variations:

Texas Hold'em Poker

Texas Hold'em


The type played throughout the Poker World Series, Hold'em Poker sees players dealt 2 hole cards each. While 5 community cards are placed face up on the table. The winner is player with the strongest 5-card hand. Composed of 1 or 2 hold cards, and 3 or 4 community cards. More info

Omaha Poker

omaha


In this variation, players receive 4 hole cards and have to make a hand with two hole cards and three community ones. Betting takes place in rounds, just as with Texas Hold'em. With the community cards being dealt three upfront, followed by one apiece for the next two rounds of betting. More info

Seven-card Stud

Seven-Card Stud


Seven-Card Stud was at one time the most popular poker variation. Players are dealt 3 hole cards, two of which are face down. The player with the lowest value card (from those facing upwards) kicks off the betting. There are no community cards, and players are dealt 7 cards each in total (with rounds of betting in between). In the end, the player with the strongest 5-card hand wins. More info

Which type of poker you choose to play is entirely down to you, but if you want our recommendation, sticking to Texas Hold'em is probably best. With fewer rules, and fewer cards in play, it's the easiest variation to get to grips with, and the one that most poker players prefer.

That's why in this guide we focus our advice on hosting a Texas Hold'em poker tournament at home.

Players sitting at a table playing poker

Players


So, now we've decided on our poker style, it's time to think about who to invite into the game.

Around 10 players is a good number to keep things interesting. But, remember, poker is one of the few casino games you can get better at with practice. So make sure your crowd includes players of equal skill. After all, no fish stands a chance in a room full of sharks.

Likewise, you need players who are out for the same thing. So if you're there to play for serious stakes, make it known upfront. But don't forget about the social side either. The evening should be a chance to kick back and have fun. So keep things breezy and enjoy a few beers while you play.

If you're having trouble finding players try reaching out on poker forums and through your social networks. It could be a good way to hook up with a new crowd who enjoy playing poker as much as you do.

The Essential Stuff: Cards, Chips, & More


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 home poker is a lot better if you have a proper playing surface, and a good set of chips. So we recommend being prepared with these essentials, to keep the action sweet and players remembering why they're there.

Over the next few sections, we'll go over exactly what you need to turn any space into an instant poker cardroom. So read on to start from the very beginning, or skip through using our anchor links above.

cards

Cards are the backbone of any poker game. While you can pretty much get by without most of the other elements, not having a deck to play with will stop your poker game before it's even started.

Don't bother bringing out the novelty deck you brought home from Tijuana either. You want your fellow players to show you some respect, and feel like they're in the home of someone who plays like a pro. So invest a few dollars in a plastic laminated deck just like Vegas casinos use. They're easy to wipe clean, don't crease or bend easily. Plus they won't absorb grease from any oily chicken-wing-covered fingers.

Inexpensive playing cards

beginners


These standard poker index playing cards from Bicycle are a top choice if you're just starting out.

Frequent player playing cards

Frequent Players


If you're looking to upgrade your starter deck these waterproof and crease-resistant Texas Hold'em cards from Iron Jia's will do nicely.

Expensive playing cards

pros


If you're willing to push the boat out, you can't go wrong with these premium, 100% plastic, casino grade, poker cards from Ice.

playing surface

Friends sitting at poker table

Although you can be a little more flexible with the playing surface, essentially what you need is something flat, and big enough for each player to sit around comfortably. You need a bit of space to spread out, as well as enough room to deal the community cards in a clear position where everyone can see. It's no fun sitting elbow to elbow for an entire evening.

  • Pick a table that can accommodate everyone taking part. A dining table usually works well, especially if it extends.

  • Invest in a proper green felt playing surface to cover the table. Casino poker tables have this for a reason, it's so the cards slide easily.

  • Don't skimp on the quality of the poker table fabric. You want something that's at least an 80-20% cotton polyester ratio.

Of course, if you really want to look the part, particularly if you're playing against people you don't know so well, then you could always go the whole hog and shell out on a poker table. Most proper poker tables come with foldable legs so they're easy to store away between uses. And they're already topped with a felt playing surface. So at least you'll make a cost saving there.

chairs

Chairs

One thing that's often overlooked when setting up a home poker tournament is where everyone will sit. But, making sure your players are comfortable is a top priority, or else they might not stay the distance. And a poker tournament is only as good as the player's you attract.

Slimline chairs are always a good shout, as you'll fit more of them around a table than something bulkier. Some more premium poker tables may come with a set of these already included. But on the cheaper end of the scale, home depot stores like IKEA sell cheap folding chairs that you can pick up for just a few dollars. Just have a few cushions to hand, as these plastic backed chairs tend to lack any real comfort factor.

poker chips

Look, it's not as though home poker can't be played without chips. Some folks get by perfectly well just using cash. Heck, we've even heard of players substituting chips for M&Ms. But, if you want to play like the Vegas big guns then a real set of chips is what takes your game from an amateur throw around, to a proper poker tourney.

Don't bother bringing out the novelty deck you brought home from Tijuana either. You want your fellow players to show you some respect, and feel like they're in the home of someone who plays like a pro. So invest a few dollars in a plastic laminated deck just like Vegas casinos use. They're easy to wipe clean, don't crease or bend easily. Plus they won't absorb grease from any oily chicken-wing-covered fingers.

beginners


These easy-stack and interlocking plastic poker chips from Bicycle come in three colors, and at a great entry-level price point.

Bicycle poker chips

Frequent Players


A great middle ground, this Da Vinci 500-chip poker set comes with 11.5gm chips and two card decks in an aluminum carry case.

Da Vinci 500 chip poker set

pros


For chips as weighty as those you get in Vegas, this 500-piece chip set features seven chip denominations in a 13.5g clay weight.

Vegas style 500 chip poker set

How much you want to spend on chips is totally your own choice, and no one worth your time is gonna judge you for buying the lighter plastic kind, over a professional clay stack. Yeah, so the cheaper ones feel less like the real thing. But they don't take anything away from the game. And that's all that counts at the end of the day.

timer

Poker timers

While it's fine for hands to play out slowly when you're just enjoying a few rounds with your buddies, during a sit and go or Hold'em tournament a timer will be needed to help you keep track of the blinds.

  • Most smartphones in 2018 feature an alarm or stopwatch, helping you keep count without having to clock watch.

  • Dealer buttons can also be tracked down easily (and cheaply) enough on sites like eBay and programmed to act as the blind clock timer.

  • Or you can even search your app marketplaces for tournament apps that let you customize your blinds levels and save them down.

We'll get on to blinds, and also introduce how to set a tournament structure a little later on in this guide. So if any of this isn't making much sense to you right now, stick with us. All will be explained in good time.

Picking a Playing Location

Poker table set up in home basement

The last essential thing you need to determine - pre-tournament - is where at home you'll actually set up the card table. Location matters because you want somewhere with space, but equally privacy. Not always easy to secure if you don't live alone.

A basement would always be our number 1 location choice for a tournament to go down. It's away from the main living spaces of the house and has the same feel as a proper card room. Plus you're less likely to get interrupted as you distance yourself from any distractions.

If a basement doesn't exist, a kitchen or dining room would be our second pick. There's good access to drinks and snacks. And you can close off any doors to other rooms to keep the atmosphere cozy. So long as you have the space to accommodate the poker table - and all the players around it - that's the main thing to bear in mind. So pick your location based on where everyone will feel relaxed and the poker will flow freely.

getting set up


So, now the essentials are in the bag you're ready to begin thinking about the finer details of your tournament. Over the coming sections, we'll break down everything you need to keep the tournament moving. From setting blind levels and starting stakes to chip distribution and table structures.

Stakes


Setting stakes in a home poker tournament boils down to how many players you have and how quickly each hand will play out. Influenced by whether you set up a small stakes turbo Sit 'n Go, a deep stack, or a cash game with upwards of 8 players (more on this in our section on Structure).

Chip denominations of 25c and $1 are usually sufficient for a standard game of $0.25/$0.50 No Limit Hold'em. With $5 and $10 chip buy-ins at the ready to save time.

If 9 players, including you, buy in at $20 (40 big blinds), each player could receive 8 25c and $1 chips respectively, together with two $5 chips. In which case a standard 300-chip case will do the job.

Make sure your set has at least 100 x 25c and $1 chips, together with 50 x $5 and $10 chips. The larger of which can be used when players rebuy or join a game.

If you're planning on hosting a home Sit 'n Go one idea is to have a side table that offers a cash game. That way those who bust out in the main tournament have somewhere to play while the players left in battle it out.

Structure


While the World Series of Poker 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. You'll find that players take bigger risks when they know buy-ins are allowed. Helping to keep the action playing out for longer.

You should also consider the winning structure too. Will one player take the entire pot? Or will you have first, second and third place prizes? Both work fine for a home tourney but having more than one pot can fire players up. And offer a bigger incentive to bring your best game.

Setting The Blinds


When setting the blind structure for your tournament keep in mind that you're playing at home, not in a high stakes casino. Blinds of more than a 2x jump can be a little too big for a home poker game. So try to keep the levels beneath this (around 1.5x is usually a good upper-level limit). Or you might find very few players are ballsy enough to call or raise.

If you do want a quick play tournament you can always make the levels shorter. This will speed the pace along, but not at a blind rate that feels too intimidating. You can also estimate how long your tournament will last by taking into account the structure and amount of players. For example, ending the tournament when just two players are left with 10 big blinds each.

starting stack:
10000

  • Green chip x 8 = 200
  • White chip x 8 = 800
  • Purple chip x 8 = 4000
  • Yellow chip x 8 = 7000

structure table

Small Blind Big Blind Ante
25 50 -
50 100 -
75 150 -
100 200 25
150 300 25
200 400 50
300 600 75
500 1000 100
800 1600 150
1000 2000 200
1500 3000 300
2000 4000 400
3000 6000 600
5000 10000 1000

It's a good idea to keep the blind levels even and (if possible) try not to skip levels too often. While you don't want the tournament to endlessly drag on, at the same time, you want to have weight to it. Around three levels is a good length of time to keep your tournament moving. But if you did want it to last a little longer adding a fourth level extends the action.

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 own blinds, or just want a bit of guidance, here are three starting structures we suggest.

Chip Distribution


When it comes to deciding how many chips to dish out to each player, a 500-chip set is usually a good number for a home tournament. If you want each player to have a bigger stack of chips (which has the upside of needing to change up chips for 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.

Playing


Once 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 rules, before kicking things off.

Etiquette


When we use the word etiquette in poker terms, we're not talking about being prim and proper. By poker etiquette, we mean things that are generally acceptable (and not acceptable) in a Texas Hold'em hand or tournament.

Most players who put themselves forward for a home tournament will be up to speed with appropriate tableside etiquette. But it never hurts to lay down a few ground rules upfront so every player knows where they stand.

No talking on cell phone

Talking on Your Cellphone


This wouldn't fly in a land-based casino so don't stand for it during a home tournament either. Make it clear that when you're in a 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.

Acting out of turn

Acting Out of turn


While acting when it's not your turn can sometimes be an honest mistake (albeit a pretty amateur one) for others it's 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.

Discarding cards

Discarding Cards


Poker etiquette even extends to how you discard your cards at a game's end, or when you fold. Generally speaking, it's considered poor behavior to discard cards away from the muck, or by throwing them towards the dealer or chip stack. And don't pelt your cards forward full-force either. A gentle throw will go a long way to getting you in the dealer's good graces.

Chip handling

Chip Handling


You should keep your chips in neatly organized stacks in front of you. Which helps to keep the rounds of betting fast, especially when it's your turn to act. Also, know the denominations, don't throw them so they splash the others about, and don't deliberately use them to obstruct another player's line of view.

With poker etiquette, it's more a case of checking your behavior to make sure you don't do anything to rub a fellow player up the wrong way. But likewise practicing proper poker etiquette comes down to good sportsmanship too. So make the night easier for everyone and be a good sport, and if you have to throw your toys out of the pram, don't throw your chips or cards as well.

Poker dealer

Rules


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 of your game are clear. And confirm that all players understand before the action begins. That way no one can claim ignorance if something doesn't go their way, or they 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.

Payouts

Payout


The tournament's prize structure, including the pot sizes for players who place a winning spot, should be laid out in plain view for all to see. A good payout structure awards something to the effect of 40% to first place, 25% to second, 20% to third, leaving 15% to the player who places fourth.

Buy-ins and rebuys

Buy-ins & Rebuys


The tournament buy-in amount should also be clearly advertised. Players should be aware of the buy-in before signing up. But if you're allowing rebuys (we recommend this) make sure you specify up to what point in the tournament rebuys are accepted, and the number of buy-ins allowed in one sitting.

How to win

How to win


The question every tournament player will want to be answered, the rules about how you win should be clearly outlined in writing. And verbally communicated in the presence of all players taking part. Freeze-out tourneys simply end with the last player standing but when rebuys are allowed it's important to establish at what point the winners will be judged.

Timings & breaks

Timings & Breaks


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 breaks in the action. So players can grab a smoke, crack open another beer and take a 5-minute breather at regular intervals. Everyone playing should know when the next scheduled break is coming up.

These are just some basic rules to get you started and give your tournament structure. But if you want to get even more advanced you can also add in rules around late entry, early cash-outs, seating and rotating play. All of which will help give your home game a more professional tournament feel.

Extras


Want to advance your game even further? If you really 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.

Man having fun playing poker

Play Tight To Begin With


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.

Deal or No Deal


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 pot. Deals are all well and good but just make sure it's you that's in the driving seat. 9 times out of 10 when a player strikes a deal it's to undermine you. So keep your wits about you and if you smell a rat just cut them down to size.

Don't Burst The Bubble


Once you approach the end of a tournament you find yourself in what poker pros call the bubble. It's this close proximity to victory that 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 about to walk away a winner.

Even if you're experienced in tournaments, the process of playing several rounds back to back, over a few solid hours, can still take its toll. But likewise, if you're popping your tournament cherry for the first time, home games are a great way to hone your skills, without putting too much on the line. So enjoy the experience, and if you bust out, don't beat yourself up. In tourneys, there's always going to be winners and losers. Just think of every hand as helping to shape you into a savvier player.

Snacks & Drinks


While no one's going to expect an $11 buffet or steak grill at a home poker tournament, it's still a good idea (and good form) to cover offer up some snack foods and a range of drinks (both alcoholic and soft) over the evening. Your players will appreciate it, and it will also give you something to tuck into and chew on:

Loaded Bacon & Cheese Potato Skins


Chowhound's recipe takes just an hour and a half to prepare and makes 16 fully loaded skins that go perfectly with a generous dollop of sour cream.

Chili Beef Nachos


Who doesn't love a big bowl of piping hot chili? Make a big helping in advance then serve with tortilla chips, salsa and guac for the perfect poker chow.

Buffalo Wings


Alton Brown of The Food Network shows you exactly how to get the perfect home-glazed Buffalo wings. Complete with blue cheese dipping sauce.

In a home tournament, it's generally considered ok to kick back a little more than you would do at an official professional game. So, to wash everything down, have a few cold brewskies to hand, as well as some hard liquor. Plus a little water on the side to aid concentration and refresh everyone's palette. And don't forget to offer something softer for the designated drivers too.

Apps & Software


Of course, if you and your poker pals are also used to playing games virtually online. Either in live dealer casinos or just against a random number generator. You might be interested to know there are some online software and apps that can also help you to organize your offline games too.

The Tournament Director


If you don't mind paying, The Tournament Director is a downloadable package that helps you run home poker games. It takes the work out of setting blinds and structures so you can enjoy the night as much as your fellow players. It's available for free trial for 30 days.

Poker Tournament Manager


Finally, the Poker Tournament Manager includes a poker clock timer, plus support in setting buy-in limits, rebuys, distributing chips 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 three aren't the only software providers offering a way to keep tabs on home poker tourneys and help with the admin side of things. In 2018 the internet is crawling with tons of packages, as well as apps for cellphone and tablet. All perfect for helping you organize and run a home poker game with a professional approach. So read some reviews, work out what it is you need, and always take the software for a spin before committing your cash.

Hosting a home poker tourney? Tell our forum full of players all about it.