Setting Up a Home Game

A successful ongoing home Poker game requires good planning and well- thought-out rules. The key to a good game, of course, is a friendly, fair game that people will want to keep coming back to on a regular basis.

This section shows you some key considerations for establishing a fair and fun game.


A good home game has rules established well before the game begins to avoid any controversy. Try to follow the rules that normally apply in card clubs and casinos so as to not confuse people who play in both.

Your rules should encompass answers to at least the following questions:

Is check-raising allowed?
How will antes be put up? By each player or only by the dealer?

What is the best low hand? (The great majority of card clubs say that A-2- 3-4-5 is the best low, even though it’s a straight.)

If you play a high-low game, how will the parties declare their hand? (Chips in the hand is the most common method.)

In a high-low game, if one person goes both ways, what happens if he ties one way?

Who splits the pot if a player going both ways wins only one way? What constitutes a misdeal?
What happens if there is a misdeal?
If the pot is split between two players, who gets any odd chip?

Think about putting your rules on paper. Memories fade as to what was agreed upon, so it’s helpful to bring out the rules in the event of any controversy.

Dealer’s choice

Many home games involve a variety of Poker games, but dealer’s choice is usually the deciding factor on the actual game to be played. That is, the dealer can choose the game she wishes to play for that hand or for a round.

The dealer may also designate any special rules such as:

Whether there will be a high-low split.

Whether the betting will increase in certain instances.

Whether there is a wild card.

Whether there is a bet after there is a “declare” of low or high in split games.

Of course, the dealer’s decisions should be reasonable. You can’t have a situation where the rules unduly favor the dealer.

Betting stakes

The betting stakes for a home game need to be agreed on clearly in advance. On the one hand, you want the stakes to be meaningful — enough to keep up people’s interest and to allow bluffing and other strategies to potentially be effective. But on the other hand, you don’t want the stakes to be so high that players can lose a very large sum in one night. Huge swings can ultimately kill a game because people will drop off for fear that they can’t continue sustaining significant losses.

Some games allow an increase in the stakes in certain Poker games or in the last hour of the game.

But remember, a home game is also often about camaraderie and friendship, so if you’re going to err on betting stakes, err on the low side.


Some home Poker players try to ease the pain of losing big by using the following strategy: Set aside a few dollars from each pot. At the end of the night, the big loser (or the two big losers) receive the set-aside amount. This is effectively a wealth transfer from the winners to the losers, but it lessens the loss.

Wild cards

Most Poker purists play without wild cards, but some games do incorporate wild cards. A wild card is specified by the dealer and can be used to greatly improve a hand. So if you are playing with a wild card or cards, you have to expect the hands to be better than those in regular Poker. Gauge your betting accordingly.

The typical choices for wild cards are:

Joker: The joker can be used as any card or, alternatively, for only aces, straights, and flushes.

Deuces: Each 2 card is wild. So a hand consisting of 4-4-2-2-J is 4-4-4-4- J.

One-eyed jacks: The jack of spades and jack of hearts have only one eye each, and these jacks when played as wild cards can be any card you wish.

Our preference is to play without wild cards. Wild cards introduce a high element of luck. So if you are a great Poker player, you don’t want to introduce a greater luck component in your game that your opponents can benefit from.

Time limit

Before the game starts, set a time when the game will end and stick to it. By setting the time limit, everyone is on notice and whining can be avoided by people who are losing and want to continue playing past a reasonable hour.

Near the end, it’s often appropriate for the host of the game to announce that the time is drawing near and that three more hands or one more round will end the game. That warning enables players to plan their end strategy accordingly.

Food and drinks

The host for the game should arrange for appropriate food and drinks in advance. Here is our favorite Poker food:

Chips and dip
Cashews, peanuts, or other nuts Beer and soda

Don’t get any of that frou-frou stuff like salads and kale. If you do, you should suffer humiliating comments from your friends.

Reimbursing the host for all of the expenses in getting the food and drinks is also appropriate. This is best accomplished by taking a few dollars from each pot until the right amount is set aside.

Paying up

The rules should clearly set forth in advance as to how the losers will pay and the winners compensated. The key issues to address are:

Will payment be in cash or check or by electronic transfer (such as through PayPal)?

Will payment be at the end of the night or at the next game?

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