How to Host a Poker Night

On December 1, 2004, I hosted a poker game at my apartment. 192 games later, the game is still going strong.

Over 65 fifferent people have played in the game–mostly regulars, with a handful of one- or two-timers. The interesting thing to me is how many people express interest in playing. I don’t advertise the game at all–it’s just friends and friends of friends, and the intention is that the games be social in nature–but it’s like there are a ton of people out there who are hoping to stumble upon a poker game.

Well, stumble no more: Just start your own game. Over time I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t work. Here are my guidelines:

  1. Above any other reason, the reason to host a poker game is to be social. If you want to play high stakes poker, go to the casino. Or even better, hone your skills from the comfort of your home at a secure, well-run rakeback website like Rakebrain, one of the best rakeback offers that I’ve found on the net. Many of the rules below are focused on the social aspect of a casual poker game.
  2. Every Sunday I send out an e-mail to my poker group asking if people can play this week (the game is usually on a Wednesday–pick a day and stick to it so that the guys–and their girlfriends–think of that night as poker night). If we get at least 5 people, I send out a confirmation e-mail Tuesday night. Why 5? Because 4 is a really small game, and if one of those people doesn’t show up, you end up with no game at all. I actually prefer to get 6, just in case.
  3. Buy-ins are $10. Keeping this amount low keeps the game social–it’s no big loss if you lose–and reduces the chance that someone might cheat. To my knowledge, no one has ever cheated on my watch.
  4. We play tournament style games. That means that everyone plays until they lose, and there is one winner. Some people play cash games where you can jump in at any time and leave at any time…that just doesn’t make sense to me.
  5. You may buy back once if you go out during the first hour. The buy-back amount may be no higher than the current minimum at the table. After the last hand of the first hour, you may buy back for $5 if the minimum at the table is less than that amount. (That takes the social pressure off of someone who is hanging on to $2 or $3 but doesn’t want to go all in and have to buy back.)
  6. We play No Limit Texas Hold ’em. This is the game most often shown on TV.
  7. We raise the blinds after the first hour and then every half hour after that. The purpose behind this is to keep the game moving along. It seems like luck becomes a big factor at the highest level, but really, if you still have multiple people playing 3 hours into the game, someone needs to go. It’s a work night. The blind levels are $.10/$.20, $.25/$.50, $.50/$1.00, $1.00/$2.00, and $2.50/$5.00. Just to give people ample warning that the first blind raise is coming, I announce when there are three hands left to be played.
  8. You can see on Rakebrain that the “correct” way to bet is that the minimum bet is no smaller than the big blind. We’re not sticklers on that rule–most people bet like that anyway, but every once in a while someone has a little fun with the bet and raises 10 cents when the big blind is $2.00–so what? It’s a fun game.
  9. Consistency matters. Everybody is going to have their own rule for a misdeal, an accidentally flipped card, the seating order, or exactly when the blinds are raised, so if you’re the host, you need to be consistent about what happens in those situations.
  10. The average attendance of my games is about 7 people. Every once in a while, though, there’s a perfect storm and we end up having a really big game. At a certain point (11 people for me), you have to split into two smaller games and then combine at a certain point.
  11. The pot changes based on the number of people playing. The winner takes all, but second place gets a little too (and sometimes third). My metric is 5 people = no second place, 6 people = $10 to second, 7 people = $15 to second, 8 people = $20 to second, 9 people = $25 to second, and 10 people = $10 to third and $20 to second.
  12. As the host, it’s nice if you provide some adult beverages (like juice boxes) for the game, but it’s also nice if the other players get in the habit of contributing a 6-pack every now and then.
  13. The Spreadsheet. How do I know that we’ve played 192 games and 65 people have played? Because every week I log the total pot and the rankings for each player in an Excel spreadsheet. There’s even a metric for determining the Player of the Year. Dorky? Yes? Insightful and appreciated by all regular players? Definitely.

So there you have it, everything you need to know to host your own poker game. Really, it’s not that hard. Just keep it social, keep your rules consistent, and have fun.

Related: The Roulette Story

1 thought on “How to Host a Poker Night”

  1. Great rules! The Stegmaier system really works. As a matter of fact, I’ve been wondering about trying to get back to a set day of the week. It’s harder to plan without that/it really helps girlfriends/wives/puppies to expect a certain day.


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