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Home Poker Game Guide


 


Successful home poker games require organization, setting fair rules and consistant adherence to those rules and a reliable group of players. These are the keys to starting and, more importantly, maintaining your home poker game.

It may not seem so, but there are many things to consider when planning and hosting an on-going home poker game. But, it is not rocket science, and HomePokerEdge.com is here to be your home poker resource and provide all the help you need. Among the things to determine for your home poker game are: player compatibility and selection, basic game structure, dealer's choice options, needed poker supplies and equipment, honest shuffling, cutting and dealing procedures, anteing, high-low split declarations, awarding odd chips and much more.

We've included the insight that the HPE staff has gained from years of experience with HPE recommends.

For step-by-step instructions on how to build a poker table and top quality poker table materials visit BYOPT.

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"Winners never quit, and quiters never win. But, if you both never win and never quit, we want you at our home poker game."


Your Players

 

To establish and maintain a regularly recurring home poker game you need a reliable core group of about 8 to 10 players who are interested and committed to playing poker on a regular basis. Identify additional individuals who are willing to be substitute players if one of the regulars is unable to play. Besides helping you fill out the table, your substitute pool is a means of gauging how well a player may or may not fit into your group if a vacancy occurs in your regulars.

HPE recommends: Before you ask someone to become a permanent member of your core group have them play as a substitute a few times first.


 

Player compatibility is an important factor in maintaining your game over time. That does not necessarily mean that everyone be friends. It does mean that everyone be tolerant and respectful of one another, so do not allow any offensive talk or behavior. The most important goal of a home poker game is to have fun, not offend people and risk breaking up the game. Mixing players of vastly different skill levels is also something that can threaten the long term viability of a home poker game.

HPE recommends: The best thing to do is to keep the group focused on playing poker. Leave discussions regarding politics, religion, or other emotional or controversial topics for another place and time.


 

Institute a procedure for confirming each player's availability for the next game. Use e-mail or telephone calls or texts several days before the game to allow time for finding substitutes, if necessary.


 

Maintain a consistant time that the game will start and when the last hand will be dealt or the last round of deals will start. Before the end of the current game, determine the date and who will be the host of the next game. It is best if someone acts as the game "secretary" to keep track of the next date and where the game will be held.


Determining Your Game Basics

 

Decide on the types of games that you will play. For example, ask these types of questions: Do we want to have a serious game and play only established "mainstream" games like stud, hold'em, Omaha? Or, do we want to play any variation of poker game? Shall we play wild card poker games or other non-poker games or ban them? Is the entire session going to be just one type of game? There are an enormous number of poker game variations, so check our game pages. You'll find descriptions of lots of interesting and challenging variations of Texas hold 'em, Omaha, draw poker, and stud poker to play as well as many playing tips.


 

Set the general monetrary structure of your home poker game: amount to be anted or blinds and betting limits. Determine the number of bets and raises that are allowed in each round and if and when the bets may be increased. Do not change the ante, blinds or betting limits during the course of the game.

HPE recommends: For limit poker, maximum of 4 bets per round (initial bet plus 3 raises). For no-limit, unlimited number of bets and raises, until a player is all in. In either limit or no-limit any raise must be at least the size of the previous bet or raise.


 

The issue of check raising sometimes comes up in home poker games. Some people seem to take offense to a check-raise in a "friendly" home game, so stipulate if check-raising will be allowed or not.

HPE recommends: Check raising should be allowed. It is a normal and proper poker tactic and an important part of the game.


Chips Are Better

 

It is preferable to use chips for betting. Chips are much easier to handle and quicker to divide in split pot games. Do not use the cheap, thin, hard plastic chips. They are every bit as cheap as they look and it is far too easy for someone to sneak extra chips into the game. Thick plastic or plastic composite are servicable entry level chips as well as being very affordable. For casino-quality chips you will need to get clay composite or ceramic chips. Both are visually very attractive and can be personalized, although they are pricey. A personalized set chip set provides enhanced security as no one is likely to duplicate them. They also impart a special feature to the game. At the end of the game use care in cashing out each player. One person should be in charge of this.

HPE recommends: When making your chip purchasing decision consider that it is better to have more chips than you need than to have too few. Our Guide to Poker Chips has all the information you need to select the right poker chips and determine the number of chips and color combinations needed for cash games or tournaments and includes a directory of chip suppliers.


Select the Right Playing Cards

 

Cards are one of the most important piece of poker "equipment", so it is vital you use only decks that are in good condition. While it may seem trivial, the fact is that nice clean cards will make the card playing experience more enjoyable. The edges of the cards will show how dirty or clean they are better than the surfaces. Replace a deck once it becomes dirty or feels sticky or a card becomes marked, creased or cut. Playing cards are made in 2 basic ways: plastic coated paper and 100% plastic. Coated cards with an inferior coating are to be avoided as they will easily fray at the corners. Use only a premium plastic coated paper card or a 100% plastic card. At the top end of the durability spectrum are 100% plastic cards. They will last longer than any other card, can be cleaned if they become soiled and are resistant to creasing or fraying. On the other hand, plastic cards are expensive and some people find them to be slippery and difficult to control when shuffling and dealing.

HPE recommends: Our Guide to Playing Cards will give you the information you need to determine the right playing cards for your home poker game and provides a directory of manufacturers and suppliers.


Playing Dealer's Choice Poker

 

Dealer's choice poker games are the heart of most home poker games. Dealer's choice allows each player to select the poker game variation to be played. By mixing in a variety of poker game variations dealer's choice keeps a home poker game fresh and interesting. There are several dealer’s choice methods that can be used in a home game. Here are some possibilities.

HPE recommends: The “best” way for your dealer's choice poker game is the way you and your friends find the most enjoyable coupled with a method that is fair and equitable.


 

One dealer-one game-one time: This is undoubtedly the easiest method to employ. Each dealer designates the game to be played for that one time. While this works very well for games with an ante, it works less well with games that normally use blinds, like hold’em. You can certainly play those types of games. You will just have to abandon the blind format and use an ante. An additional benefit of this format is that it is very easy to try out a new poker variation. If it’s a dud you don’t have to play it again.


 

One game-one round: Another popular method to is to have the selected game played for an entire round of the table. This provides some consistency by repeating the same game several times and allows for players to get into the “flow” of the game a little more. It also works fairly for games that use a blind since each player will be in each position once. Your only problem is remembering who is the next player to select the next game once a round is over, since the next player to select will not actually be the next player to physically deal the first hand of that series. Use a dealer button to designate the current "selector" to help you keep track.


 

One game-one round + one hand: If you add one more hand to the one round-one game format the player who selects the game will deal both the first and last game of that round. This produces a rotation where the next player to select will actually be the next player to physically deal as well. The obvious drawback is again with blind games, so you will have to utilize antes instead.


 

One dealer-one game-one session: At the beginning of the session you could have each player select a variation that they will be obligated to deal for the entire session. This doesn’t seem to quite live up to the spirit of a dealer’s choice game. It also tends to stifle innovation and change. But, if these are games that everybody loves it's a viable option.


 

One game-one time period: The total poker session is broken down into smaller segments each of which might be 15 to 30 minutes long. One variation is played for the entire segment. If the the overall poker session is known ahead of time (ie. there are specific starting and ending times) the entire session can be divided by the number of players. For example, with 8 players and an overall session of 4 hours, each segment would be 30 minutes. Each player determines what variation to play in one of the segments.


Honest Shuffling, Cutting & Dealing

 

One of the absolutely critical things in any poker game, regardless of the stakes, is to assure confidence in its honesty. An important means of doing that is to establish and faithfully utilize a standard procedure for shuffling, cutting and dealing the cards. Whether you use our recommendation or another procedure, you must have one and it must be followed completely and consistantly. It must also be a requirement, not an option. Never allow exceptions or "trust" to enter into it.

HPE recommends: The player to the left of the next dealer shuffles the deck. The player to the right of the dealer cuts the deck. The dealer then deals the cards without further altering them. Encourage the dealing to be made close to the surface of the table so that cards are not able to be seen as they are dealt. Use a cut card to cover the bottom card so that it can not be seen.


 

You can shorten the time between hands by using two decks with different colored backs. One deck can be shuffled while the other is being dealt. Make sure to count and inspect each deck before playing. Replace a deck if there are any marks or flaws that could identify a card. Have a spare deck or two as backup, just in case.


Antes

 

Unless you have an established procedure for anteing at the start of every new hand you are creating an opportunity for confusion, arguments and potential cheating as players randomly toss chips into the center of the table. Anteing needs to be done in an organized manner. At the very least, have each player place their ante in front of them, not directly into the pot. When all the antes are posted and correct, collect them into the center of the table. Alternatively, you can have the dealer ante for the entire table.

HPE recommends: Have the dealer ante for the entire table. It is much quicker and there will be no arguments on who "forgot" to ante.


Who Speaks: The Player or the Cards?

 

Some people feel that a player must announce the hand that they have and once having done that are bound to that hand. If they have made a mistake and not realized that they actually have a higher hand it is just too bad, they are stuck with what they announced. Most consider that the value of your hand is determined solely by the cards you have, the "cards speak" concept and that what you say does not matter. For example, at the showdown you state that you have two pair, and do not notice that you also have a flush. It does not matter what you said. Your hand is a flush.

HPE recommends: The cards are the facts and the facts must always be accepted. However, you must realize any mistake and correct it while the cards are still being shown. You can never retrieve your hand from the mucked cards to re-check them. Of course, the reverse is also true if you state your hand is better than it actually is.


Considerations for High-Low Split Poker

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If high-low split games or low only games are to be played define the lowest possible hand. Casinos usually use 5432A as the lowest hand and ignore straights and flushes in determining low hands. This is the more conventional method to observe and makes it easier for a player to win both the high and low hands. However, an alternative option is to have straights and flushes count against or disqualify the low hand. In that situation 6432A (not all suited) becomes the low hand.

HPE recommends: 5432A as the low hand and ignore straights or flushes for low. There will be more opportunities for a player to scoop both the high and low hands and that will make the game more interesting.


 

In high-low split or low games also determine if an ace is high only, low only or both. It is conventional that an ace may count both high or low. But, what about a pair of aces? Are they the high pair, low pair or could they be both the high and low pair?

HPE recommends: A single ace may be counted as both a high or low card. Therefore, a pair of aces may be counted as both the highest or lowest pair. In a game like 5 card stud, an observant player may be able to scoop the pot.


Making High-Low Declarations

 

In high-low split are the hands just revealed without a declaration, or must a player declare their hand to be high or low? With no declaration each player just reveals his cards at the showdown. The best high and best low hands are determined and the pot(s) awarded on that basis. Casinos utilize this method. In declaration each player must declare if his hand is high, low or both. Declarations can be sequential (ie. 1 player at a time in a clockwise sequence around the table) or simultaneous (players place chips in their hand to designate, high, low or both and reveal them all at once). Typically no chip in the hand means low, one chip high and two chips both.

HPE recommends: Use either no declaration or simultaneous declaration. Avoid sequential declaration as it gives a huge advantage to the player who declares last. When using declaration, never allow a player to put one chip in one hand and none in the other and have them both on the table at declaration time. By waiting just a second after the other players have revealed their decision such a player can change their plans. Also, once revealed, a declaration is binding. There is no remedy for a mistake.


 

If declarations are used and a player calls both high and low will losing or tying in one direction disqualify a win in the other?

HPE recommends: You must win both ways. If you lose or tie one way, you lose both ways. If there is no penalty then every player would declare high and low every hand and you might as well just use a no declaration format.


 

When playing high-low split games with declaration there will often be times where only one player has declared in one of the directions. Because they have no competion they have assured themselves of or "locked" that portion of the pot. You should set a rule as to whether a player in that position is allowed to bet and raise or not. How you decide is largely influenced on how aggressive or restrained you want the game to be. If you allow them to bet and raise they, of course, will do so at every opportunity since they will always profit. This makes it more uncomfortable and expensive for the other players and your game develops a more aggressive or no mercy style. If you wish to have a more restrained or friendly atmosphere you would restrict a locked player to only being able to call the other players' bets.

HPE recommends: For most home poker games we'd prefer restricting a locked hand to just calling.


Awarding an Odd Chip

 

If you are playing high-low split or if 2 or more players tie for a hand, it may not always be possible to split the pot evenly. Sometimes an odd chip will be left over. Designate a consistant method for awarding that odd chip. Possible ways of doing it are: The odd chip always goes to the high (or low) hand. The odd chip always goes to the player closest to the left of the dealer. Another alternative could be that any odd chip is left for the pot of the next hand.

HPE recommends: Award an odd chip to the player closest to the dealer's left. It will work for both high-low games or ties.


Rake or Break?

 

Home poker games are typically social events as well as poker games. One way to develop the social aspect is to take a short break somewhere in the middle of the session. This gives players the opportunity to discuss topics other than poker. Consider serving a light snack during the break. But, if the object is to play poker and not be concerned with social interaction, then by all means, forget the break and keep dealing.

HPE recommends: While taking a break is fine, taking a rake is not. Do not rake the pots in your home game.


Make Your Rules Known

 

As practical as possible, attempt to make each player informed of the rules of your home poker game, especially if it their first time playing with your group. Consistancy and fairness in applying and enforcing your rules is imperative. If you don't there are bound to be arguments and ill feelings. You can also find additional valuable information about poker etiquette and poker rules on our Poker Etiquette & Rules page.

HPE recommends: Have the basic rules in writing. Give a copy to each player and have a copy at each game. It is also a good idea to have a basic rule book (eg. "Hoyle's Rules of Card Games") available. Seek and get the aggrement of the group before altering a rule or changing the stakes.


Play Responsibility

 

This should go without saying, but, before engaging in any poker game or other gaming, at home, on the internet or anywhere, it is every individual's responsibility and obligation to fully understand and accept all the risks involved and to make certain it is legal to do so. Play responsibly, or don't play at all.


Home Poker Game Resources

 

For detailed information on selecting and locating the supplies and equipment needed for your home poker game start with our Poker Resources. It's HPE's comprehensive guide to poker chips, tables and playing cards. Includes directories of manufacturers, vendors and suppliers.