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 double the size of the small blind.
Want to know how to put on the ultimate poker tournament for you and your mates? Get the answers, and more, in our downloadable guide.
Before you can even begin to 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 are all important, but first of all you need to decide which game you'll actually be playing.
There's more than one way to play these days, so you'll want to ensure everyone knows how to play the tournament poker you choose. Here are the three most popular poker variants:
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.
The two cards dealt to each player, which are not revealed until the showdown.
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 a wise move. 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 -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 relax and have fun, so invite people you enjoy spending time with!
Once you've sorted the guest list, you need to make sure you have all the right equipment.
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 impress.
So, now the essentials are sorted you're ready to begin thinking about the finer details of your home poker tournament. Let's 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 who are 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 – just 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 more 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 pay out. 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. Blinds 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 disadvantage some players in an unfair way.
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 it's essential that both players 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 own blinds, or just want a bit of guidance, here are three starting structures we suggest.
How many chips you start with in 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. By poker etiquette, we mean things that are generally acceptable (and not acceptable) in a Texas Hold'em hand or tournament.
Most players will probably be up to speed with appropriate tableside etiquette, but it never hurts to lay down a few ground rules.
With poker etiquette, it's more a case of checking your behaviour to make sure you don't do anything to rub an opponent up the wrong way. But practicing proper poker etiquette comes down to good sportsmanship too, so make the night easier for everyone and don't be a sore loser. It will make the night more fun and increase the chances of people coming back in future 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 all 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.
These are just some basic rules to get you started and give your tournament structure. If you want to get even more advanced you can also add in 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 really want to turn your home tournament into a great 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 just 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, just 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. 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 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 be too hard on yourself. In tourneys, there are always winners and losers; just think of every hand as helping to shape you into a savvier player.
You might be interested to know there are some online software and apps that can also help you to organise 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 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 loads of packages, as well as apps for mobile phones and tablets, all perfect for helping you organise and run a home poker tournament with a professional approach. So read some reviews, work out what it is you need, and make use of free trails before purchasing.