The Perfect Home Game Setup

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The weather outside isn't terrific: a few grey clouds above the horizon line present a serious threat to anything or anyone leaving the house. However, there's a tiny spark in your mind prompting to make something out of this gloomy Friday evening.

Another week of hard work has passed and you need to figure out how to deal with the impending boredom. The rusty cogs in your brain start to turn, working on some possible remedies. The cinema and theatre are off-limits; no interesting football matches on TV and the shelf full of dusty, partially-read books sound about as inviting as playing your old Beatles vinyls backwards, looking for some undiscovered cryptic message.

"Hope springs eternal", as  A. Pope said, and suddenly your gaze falls on a shiny metal box forgotten under a tonne of paperwork. It has always been there, desperate for your attention, waiting for the right moment...

What's In There?

Every poker fan would hope to find some hidden treasure, but the "box of hope" actually contains twelve stacks of brand new chips, two sealed card decks and a clock. In short, the perfect solution to your Friday night angst! Happy as a kid at Christmas you start scrolling down the list of names on your smartphone, hoping to find a bunch of enthusiastic players willing to enjoy a fun game together. 

However, hosting a poker game isn't as easy as it seems. Chips and cards are a nice starting point, but there are plenty of things you must take care of.

Are you ready to become a real home game master?

Let's go for it!

Preparation - The Importance of Details

To host the perfect poker game, you must be able to blend the authentic atmosphere of real casino poker with all the comforts you have at home. Therefore, be sure to have everything you need, starting from a green poker felt. Besides the aesthetic factor, have the green poker table top helps the overall gameplay experience. Choose good quality chips and cards. Weight is really important when it comes to chips, even though the lighter ones may cost a bit less.

All chips used in live events are made out of ceramic, but if you want to go cheap without giving up quality, you can opt for the standard plastic 14-gramme ones with a metal plate inside. The calibre of playing cards is a relevant detail, too. It's good to have at least two 100% plastic decks and avoid all paper cards or ones covered in a plastic film. A double deck is not that expensive – it costs around $20 to $30 - and it will improve the overall playing experience.

Last, but not least, remember to get a poker clock. Even though the simplest smartphone can allow you to set up a clock, having a real one makes everything look more professional.

There are some other non-essential items like the dealer button or the all-in triangle, recently introduced in some of the main international live events. However, it wouldn't be the end of the world if you came up short on either.

Cash Game or Sit & Go?

A successful home game has to be focused on fun. There's no room for greed and grumpiness, even if everyone doesn't have the same outlook when it comes to dealing with money. For this reason, it's better to choose in advance whether to play cash or a regular Sit & Go, depending on who's coming over to play.

One piece of good advice is to never set the buy-ins too high in either event. Whether your friends are students or have decent day jobs, always keep in mind that it's all about enjoying a relaxing evening – not going broke.

The Perfect Structure for a Sit & Go

Home games are truly a lot of fun, but sometimes they last too long and become boring for the players who've already busted out. For this reason, the best structure for a home Sit & Go is definitely a deep one. It will help you to keep the majority of players in the game for longer.

This way you can ensure you and your friends enjoy a couple of hours at the table while escalating the action in the very last levels. It doesn't matter how many chips you want to start with, although having a huge pile in front of you is always a nice feeling.

Try a "deep-turbo" structure with 10,000 chips (or more) and 10 to 15 minutes blind levels. You can start with 50/100 blinds and increase them approximately 50% after each level.

Re-buys or re-entries can be an excellent option. Those who like to gamble can re-join the game if they bust early and play for longer. Tight players will be happy to see the prize pool grow as the re-buys add up. In the case of re-buys, be sure that everyone is in agreement with the rules before the game starts. A good cut off for re-buys is more or less around the 6th level.

Some players might complain if a player sat next to them re-buys for a brand-new stack, after they have been playing tight for more than an hour. So, you can also set a price for add-ons at around 50% of the starting stack for half a buy-in.

Here's a simple blind structure sample:

Levels/Blinds

Levels/Blinds

1   – 50/100                    

7   – 500/1000

2   – 75/150

8   – 750/1500

3   – 100/200

9   – 1000/2000

4   – 150/300

10 – 1500/3000

5   – 200/400

11 – 2000/4000

6   – 300/600

12 – 3000/6000

All Night Cash Game Action

A cash table is a lot simpler to organise, since you just need to set the stakes and start with 100 (or less) big blinds. To avoid the game going on and on, with some losing players not wanting to get stuck down, it's always better to decide a fixed number of hands to play, at the end of which the game ends.

Generally, you should estimate 10 to 20 hands per hour. For example, a 50-hand game will last around 3 hours.

Ready To Get Started?

Prize Pool and Payouts

This is one of the most debated topics in every home game. Which is the fairest way to organise a payout? There are loads of solutions, of course, depending on how many players have joined the game or how many buy-ins are in the prize pool after the re-buy period has ended.

Generally, you should follow the '50-30-20 rule' with half of the prize pool going to the winner, 30% to the runner-up and the remaining 20% to 3rd place. Another nice option is to pay only 1st and 2nd place, with 3rd place getting their buy-in back. You could even go for a 'winner-takes-all' payout, which is recommended for 4 or 5-handed games, to spice things up.

Shuffle Up and...Who's Dealing?

The main difference you'll find in home games, versus a regular live table at a casino, is having a separate dealer. Having a person who just deals the cards speeds up the action and helps control the table. Unless you can hire someone for few hours to deal, home games can be slower and more confusing.

That's why it's probably a good move to leave the whole process in the hands of the most experienced player at the table. Even if nobody wants to be solely in charge of this 'dirty' job, it's better to choose one person to oversee the bets and chips in the pot.

Last Piece of Advice and Tips

Here we are a few bits of advice that will ensure that your home game pals have more fun and avoid any unpleasantness:

  1. Unless everyone at the table is experienced, when you play cash it's preferable to avoid any extraneous betting like 'straddle-bets' or “sleeper-bets”. Some people are simply not used to gambling, and being forced to play a lot of big pots just makes them feel uncomfortable.
  2. To increase the action in Sit & Go tournaments, you can add a “knockout” feature. Set up approximately 50% of a single buy-in for each bounty. Put the bounty money in a different pot and give everybody a kind of chip, which is not in play.
  3. If no one wants to be the designated dealer, use the “dealer's trap”. The first player out must deal cards until the end of the game. Then the winners have to pay them back one buy-in.
  4. When everybody at the table is comfortable in the game, you could try the "win the button" mode. The winner of each hand is rewarded with the button for the next one. It's a funny quirk to add to any home game that really amps up the friendly competition.

And now it's time to shuffle up and deal!

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