For all the fun you can have playing poker in a casino or online, there’s one form of poker that beats them both hands-down: home poker games.
Once upon a time this was where pretty much all poker players learned to play the game. Things are different in that regard these days, but the fun factor of the home game can’t be touched for lots of reasons. A relatively small investment up front can get you started on years of enjoyment from your home poker games, starting with Christmas poker games this holiday season.
If you’re ready to get started with home poker games, you really have three main considerations: the gear, the players, and what to play.
First things first: you can’t play poker without playing cards.
Any old playing cards will do to get you started — you can probably pick up a cheap deck of coated paper cards in the supermarket checkout line, or at the dollar store. In the long run you’ll want to invest in a deck of plastic playing cards like those manufactured by COPAG, who have manufactured cards for tours like the EPT for years. They shuffle easily, bend without losing their shape, and slide across tables with ease, plus they’re tougher to mark than regular paper cards.
Once you have playing cards, it’s time to figure out what kind of chips you’re going to use.
The beauty of this aspect of the game is that you can literally use anything. Paper clips, marbles, or even cigarettes if you find yourself in an old prison movie. (Some traveling poker reporters have been known to use small slips of paper with denominations written on them.)
One step up from random markers are cheap plastic poker chips, which are readily available all over the place. Or you could invest in a set of clay chips like you would use in a casino poker game. They’re actually composite these days, not clay, and there’s a wide variety of options available. Most chip sets will also come with a dealer button, which is extremely useful for keeping track of position while you play.
Finally, you’ll need seating for all your players and a surface to play the game on.
This is another consideration that’s really up to the players and host. This can be as basic as a clear spot in the floor with everyone sitting on the ground in a circle, if necessary, but either a kitchen table or coffee table is vastly preferable to sitting on the floor. On the other end of the spectrum, some players spend big on custom poker tables and chairs
After you have all your gear, the next question is who you’re going to invite. After all, poker games can’t exist without poker players!
Your number one consideration in setting up home games should be making sure everyone has a good time. Fun poker games are the ones that players come back to again and again, so you should do your best to create that sort of environment. The best way is to invite people who like to have a good time and understand how to be respectful of others. (That includes an ability to show up on time and stick around for a while.)
You should also accommodate the less experienced players in your group however you can. One good suggestion if you any of your players are new to the game is to post a set of poker rules for everyone to reference as needed. The basics, like which hands beat which and the denominations of the chips in play, are a great place to start. Doing this helps to cut through some of the confusion of playing an unfamiliar game.
One of the greatest things about home poker games is that the players decide everything. So once you have your gear and your players, the final step is to decide what to play.
The first choice is whether to play a cash game or tournament. With their fixed buy-ins, tournaments can be much less intimidating to a newcomer. If you’re trying to get your friends interested in playing poker, this could be preferable for your home game. A good first experience playing poker goes a long way to encouraging people to play again, and reaching into their wallets to rebuy after a cooler on the first hand of a cash game doesn’t make most people too happy.
The next choice is what kind of poker to play. If your crew is newer to poker you might want to stick with Texas hold’em for your first session or two, just to keep from overwhelming new players with rules for different variations. But there’s nothing that says you have to play that way.
Before the poker boom standardized things, home poker games were traditionally the domain of the craziest variants people could dream up. Games with wild cards, games where you have to match the pot to continue on in a hand, games where the high hand and lowest hand each take half the pot, and combinations of all of these and more — every kind of poker game imaginable is on the the table when you’re playing in a home game.
Above all else, though, nothing says you have to play the same game every time. You can have a dealer’s choice game, or a mixed game with a set rotation, or even just vary the game each session. The key here is that it’s your game and you can do whatever you’d like.
The real key to successful home poker games is catering to the players. After all, they could choose to do literally anything else — if you want to them to play poker with you, it’s worth providing them the environment that they expect. Match the gear and the games on offer to the players you invite, and you’ll find yourself hosting fun poker games for years to come.
WSOP photography by pokerphotoarchive.com