Let’s face the facts; most of us don’t live in Las Vegas. Many of us can’t get to a real casino that often, and while playing poker online has many advantages, nothing can replace the electric thrill of sitting down at a table and playing cards with real people. The best way to experience that thrill for many people is to host a game right in the comfort of their home. There are a lot of factors that go into making your home game a success, but we’ll address a few of the most common in this series of articles, starting with people.
Many of us enjoy playing poker because of the social aspect. Playing cards – no matter what game - is a decades old method of gathering people together, and you’ll never see a greater melting pot than at a low limit poker table in a casino. Your home game should embody some of those qualities as well. Try to get some people involved that are outside of your every day circle of friends. It’s best to start with two to three of your friends that are interested in playing, and have each of them invite a friend. This way you not only begin to get a good rotation of people coming into the game, you also use the card game to meet new people and expand your social circle. My home game is made up of myself, my wife, a couple of our good friends, and a couple of their friends or co-workers. It makes for a nice mix, and we always have a few people we can call on to fill the gaps when one of our “regulars” can’t make it.
Obviously you will need to set some ground rules and make them clear to everyone. It’s not necessary to have a sheet of “house rules” lying around and have everyone read them, just know the answers to questions beforehand. (An article on general rules/guidelines is coming). For example, in our home game, cash doesn’t play. You play for table stakes only, and buy chips for the amount you want to play in the game. Simple enough, but knowing the answer ahead of time removes all doubt when someone is all-in and wants to bet more.
We’re also a non-smoking house, so we put a bench and ashtray out on the patio on poker nights. Not a huge thing, but something to keep in mind when a buddy wants to light up.
Once you’ve got a good group together, you need the means with which to play. Obviously since it is a card game, cards themselves should be our first consideration. For the first few games, until you’ve worked out the number of players, how often you’ll play and other variables, regular paper playing cards should be fine.
But once you start having people over every week (or more), you’re going to realize that there’s a good reason casinos all use plastic playing cards for their poker rooms – they just last longer, they are easier to shuffle and deal, and add a professional touch to your game. A deck of Bicycle or Bee playing cards might last through two evenings of heavy play, but any longer and you’ll begin to have bent corners, cards bowed from repeated shuffling, and the cards will start to appear dirty and ugly. That’s when you know it’s time to invest in a good set of cards. KEM had been, for many years, the leading name in plastic playing cards, and recently Copag has made a strong entrance in the market with their offerings as well.
The benefit to plastic playing cards becomes apparent the first time someone spills something on the poker table. With a paper card, it’s time for a new deck. With plastic cards, it’s time for a paper towel. Wipe up the spill, wipe off the card (making sure the card is completely dry otherwise warping may occur), and move right along. Not to mention the cards hold up much longer and retain their shape better than paper cards.
In my home game, we use one setup (a setup is a pair of decks with different colored backs), we shuffle one deck while the other is in play, and this keeps the game moving. We use Copags and one setup has been in play for about 18 months. The colors have started to fade, but the cards are still in good shape and definitely playable.
Copags are available in two sizes, Poker size and Bridge size. Interestingly enough, Bridge size is the size used in casinos, not Poker size. The Bridge size cards are a little smaller than the Poker size, so I prefer the Poker size. They are also available in Regular and Jumbo Index, which means that the numbers and pips are larger. My second set of Copags I bought Poker Size, Jumbo Index, and I prefer these for longer sessions as the eyes start to fail. The older players in the game also prefer the larger numbers, so they don’t need their bifocal sunglasses.
Recently Copag has come out with 4-color decks, using blue diamonds and green clubs. This Mike Caro concept is popular online and has been used with some limited success in a few tournaments, but hasn’t taken the brick and mortar world by storm yet. The next setup I buy will probably be Poker Size, Jumbo Index and 4-color, just to try them out.
A setup of Copags will cost more than two decks of Bicycle or Bee cards, but will last far longer as well. I bought mine on EBay, and paid about $15 per setup, or $7.50 per deck, plus shipping. There are many online retailers with good pricing on Copags and Kems, and these cards are also available in many of your better brick and mortar gambling supply stores. There is a period of adjustment with the plastic cards; they’re a little more slippery to shuffle, and tend to slide farther across a table than paper cards, but once you’ve gone through a night or two with your new “good” cards, you’ll be glad you made the investment. Your new cards will add a little Vegas spice to your game, and you’re ready to take the next step towards improving your home game.
Next time we’ll take a look at the currency of play – poker chips.