Playing poker with friends is always exciting and fun, and it offers a completely different atmosphere to playing in a casino where your opponents are not always people you know.
Many of the world’s best poker players today came up in the game by playing in home games with their friends and learning how to play in a relaxed and friendly surrounding.
If you are anything like me, you surely enjoy a good home game. But the truth is that it takes quite a few things to make a home game enjoyable for the players.
In this guide to home games, I am going to put a special focus on poker chips, which are an essential part of any poker game, but I will also discuss other elements of hosting a good home game for your friend group.
If you have never thrown a home game before and you would like to, keep reading and find out exactly how to organize your poker chips and what other things you need to prepare before inviting people over to play poker.
Why Do You Need Poker Chips?
As I have written in the past, it is very much possible to play poker without chips, but a big part of the allure of live poker is thrown away if you organize a game without any poker chips.
Using alternatives such as cash, monopoly money, or various tokes can work, but your game will look nothing like the ones your friends have seen on their favorite TV poker show.
Poker chips are a necessity for any good game, whether you are playing in a proper poker room or your friend’s garage.
If you are only just getting started with the game and want to try playing with some friends, nickels and dimes will probably do.
However, if you want to throw a real game and make players feel all the thrill of the game of poker, then poker chips will be an absolute must.
Getting Your Poker Chips
Poker chips can be bought in all shapes and sizes, ranging from very simple plastic ones without any denominations to custom poker chips that might even have your logo on them.
They are usually sold in poker chip sets, which come with as few as 100 chips and as many as 1,000 or more.
Each set usually contains chips in several colors, which may or may not be marked with certain denominations, such as 1, 5, 100, etc.
Before you go ahead and start procuring poker chips, you will want to decide what kind of chips you actually need and how much you are willing to invest in them.
Some poker chip sets can be quite expensive, especially if they contain clay or ceramic chips of high quality that can last for a long time and feel heavy in your hands.
On the other hand, you can also purchase simple plastic chips that are very cheap and easy to come by. These are sometimes even sold in children’s toy stores.
Talk to your friends and come up with the basic idea of what type of poker chips you want to play with. If it is the more expensive chips you want to get, your friends could all pitch in to buy them.
Once you make up your mind about this, you will also need to decide whether you will be playing poker tournaments, cash games, or a mix of both.
You will need different poker chips for tournament poker as opposed to cash games, at least in theory, so let’s talk about this briefly.
Tournament vs. Cash Game Chips
Poker tournaments are traditionally played with chip denominations where a $50 chip is the smallest and chips as large as $5,000, or $10,000 are used.
This does not mean that you need to play for thousands of dollars. Instead, players are simply given a chip stack worth thousands of dollars in chips for their initial buyin, which could be as low as $1.
Cash games are usually played with chips that have the denomination corresponding to the exact monetary value of the chips.
For example, if you want to play a $1/2 cash game, you will probably need $1 chips, $5 chips, $25 chips, and some $100 chips. If the games typically play very deep, you may want to include some $500 or $1,000 chips in there as well.
Keep in mind that you can also make use of tournament chips in cash games in a very simple way by using chip values in cents. For example, a $100 chip would serve as $1, a $500 chip as $5, etc.
However, if you want to host a home game that seems professional in any way, you will want to have proper chips for the game format you plan on playing.
If you play both tournaments and cash games, I highly recommend not using the same chips for both. Some players may seek to abuse this and hide chips away during tournament nights to try to cash them out on cash game nights.
While this won’t be a problem if you are only playing with close friends, games that include an extended circle of players should be careful about it.
In fact, if you will be bringing players from outside your small group into the game, having custom poker chips is also a good idea, as default poker chips can easily be manipulated with.
Using Custom Poker Chips
While there are some high-quality poker chip sets you can get out there, there is always the question of game integrity to consider as well.
If you happen to host home games with a small group of very good friends, or ones where the buyins are very low, this should not be an issue.
However, the moment you start hosting bigger games with players from outside your close-knit group, you will need to think about game security and integrity.
What I am talking about is players bringing in tournament chips to supplement their chip stack in tournaments or bringing in cash game chips to straight-up steal from you.
In the case of tournaments, a player can bring in a poker chip and add it to their stack while no one is looking. This will give them an unfair edge over the competition.
In cash games, on the other hand, the player can add a chip into their stack and cash it out at the end of the night, costing you the monetary value of that chip.
To prevent both of these things from happening, you can use custom poker chips.
Such chips can be ordered from manufacturers, or you can have a printing store help you by printing something on existing default poker chips.
Typically, custom poker chips feature the chip value on one side and a custom logo on the other. You can choose what logo you want to use when ordering the chips, as well as what kind of denominations you want on the chips.
The right time to get custom poker chips is definitely the moment you start throwing cash games where hundreds or thousands of dollars are sitting in people’s stacks. It may be a costly mistake not to do it.
Getting the Stacks Ready
Once you have your poker chip set ready and your friends are scheduled to come over to play some poker, you may want to get some chips ready for them.
If you are playing a tournament, you already know exactly how many chips everyone needs to have at the start, so you may as well get those chip stacks ready beforehand.
Each player should have a chip stack with several of the smallest chips in play for blinds, along with a variety of bigger chip values that can be used to make bets and give change for other players’ stacks.
You will also want to keep your poker chip set on hand as the tournament goes on as players may need additional change, or you may want to chip up as levels go by.
If you are playing a cash game, you can prepare enough chips for everyone to get a minimal buyin and add on more chips if they ask for them, or simply give everyone their chips once they arrive.
In either case, you will want to have a general plan on how you will approach handing out chips in your game.
If you are the dealer, having another person on hand to deal with the chips can be a good idea, or you can do it if another dealer is in place.
What Else Do You Need?
Poker chips are one of the most important things you will need for a proper poker home game, but there are many other things you may want to have as well.
A proper poker table is the first one of them, although this one can be a bit expensive, and some home games simply aren’t able to afford it.
You can play poker on any kind of a table. However, having a proper poker one will make all the difference if you can get your hands on it and turn your game upside down in terms of enjoyment.
The better your poker table, the more enjoyable the games will be for everyone involved.
In a perfect world, you would want to be playing on a table made of full wood with proper felt, a chip rack, and everything else that comes with it.
Except for the poker table, which you may not be able to afford, you will want to have at least two decks of solid poker cards.
Poker cards are far less expensive, and you would be smart to get some decks, as regular plastic cards you get on a kiosk are not really suitable for playing Texas Hold’em.
The kind of playing cards you want are ones with big numbers and suit symbols. This serves perfectly for the way players usually look at their cards in poker.
If you want to play poker tournaments, I highly suggest getting tournament software installed on a laptop and setting it up for everyone to see.
Tracking the blinds and other factors of a tournament without a proper tournament clock is a real nightmare and not something you want to expose yourself to.
Finally, once all the poker-related things are taken care of, you will want to make sure that everyone has plenty of snacks and drinks for the night.
As the home game host, it is your job to make sure that these things run smoothly. If people run out of drinks, you should be the one to get some more. If they get hungry, getting everyone’s food orders and placing them is your job as well.
The perfect home game has plenty of good poker hands at levels acceptable to all players involved, plenty of good food and drinks, and a relaxed atmosphere that players can truly enjoy.
Should I Charge Rake?
In many legal jurisdictions, charging rake in a home game is not exactly legal. That said, people still do it and, for the most part, don’t get into any trouble over it.
Whether you want to charge players to play in your game is totally up to you, as is the way you do it. Traditional rake can be complicated, but some home games charge an entry fee at the start of the game.
If you are playing a cash game, players can also be informed that the game is accepting tips that players can give on a voluntary basis.
You can do the same with a tournament, with the winners giving tips at the end from the profits they made in the game.
In either case, the choice on whether to accept poker rake, encourage tips, or make your game completely free of charge is up to you.
At the very minimum, players should provide some money for any food and drinks that are bought for the game, which is a universally accepted tradition.