CC: What do you see as the keys to hosting a good home game?
Mookie99: There are many things to consider when planning a home game.
• Players. You obviously need players for your game to run, and for the game to be successful long term you need them to show up on a regular basis.
• Setup. We are blessed to have a home with a very large game room that can hold three full size poker tables. Tournament software is used with a projector to display the tourney stats and clock (We use the Tournament Director software, I use to work with the guy who wrote this). KEM/Copag cards are used and the one thing we do need to improve...our chips. We are still using the crappy dice chips. Music is always great for some atmosphere.
• Structure. Our blind structure provides a lot of play which players enjoy. It all depends on your player base though. I've been to other home games and people would complain that the tournament took too long.
• Organization. We always have things ready to go so we can start on time...seating chart, chip stacks counted, etc.
• League. The main thing that keeps people coming back to play is our league format. We host tournaments twice a month and keep both a money and points lists. At the end of the year (season) the top 20 players from each list qualify for our season ending "Tournament of Champions" where we have cash, prizes and even a bracelet awarded to the winner.
• Rules. Even though you aren't hosting a WSOP event, there will be times when a conflict will arise and if you don't have rules in place, tempers will flair. Make sure everyone is aware of the rules before they play and that they know you are the TD if a ruling is needed.
• Website. We've named our home game and created a website to keep our players informed of upcoming tournaments as well as house the money/points lists, results, tourney recaps and pictures.
• Variety. Our tournaments alternate between freeze-outs, rebuy, and rebuy w/bounties events. We also host themed tournaments from time to time like a Halloween Costume event , 80's Night (everyone comes dressed in 80's gear and the music is all 80's...all night), and a White Elephant Christmas tourney to name a few.
CC: How do you handle food and drink?
Mookie99: We always provide a few snacks (chips, cookies, etc.) and ice. Players bring additional snacks and their own drinks. Every now and then a group of people will pitch in and order pizza.
CC: Most people seem to hold a one-two table tourney vs. cash games. What has your experience been with this?
Mookie99: A majority of the players that have passed through our home game became interested in poker (NLHE) due to the televised events...WPT, WSOP, etc. Because of this, everyone wants to play tournament style instead of the cash games. On occasion we are able to pull together a cash game as people are eliminated from the tournament.
Most of the players that play on a regular basis don't have huge poker budgets so the tournament structure is more appealing. They feel comfortable playing knowing they will only lose a set amount that night instead of the unknown of cash games.
CC: Have you had any issues with security before, and what policies have you adopted?
Mookie99: Security has never been an issue for us since everyone knows everyone. Our game isn't open to the public; any new players must come with existing "members" of our group. Our game isn't raked so there is no worry about local law enforcement.
CC: Are home games for fun or for combat? How have you found a balance?
Mookie99: Great question...I think this is different for each person that comes out to play. When I first started our home game over three years ago, I had just caught the poker bug and was very obsessed. At that time it was all about combat, but over time that has changed to fun. Our league structure provides the competition, but the small stakes keeps the game from getting too serious and keeps things fun.
CC: What would you say are the top Home Game Hazards?
Mookie99: With a player base of over 40 players (with a core of about 25), the biggest hazard would be personality conflicts. Although rare, we have had a couple of minor blowups and honestly some people we didn't want to spend time being around. Those folks weren't invited back and we moved on. Balance. When we first started hosting there was at least one game a week and sometimes more. Find the right balance to keep from burnout.
Mookie is an experienced host, and he has a solid core of players who keep his local game alive and lively. For those of us heading to a home game or even starting one, there are a few rules you should live by.
Don't post the game publicly. Online sites like MeetUp are notoriously trolled by thieves to identify easy marks, and what would be easier in today's society than robbing twenty poker players in a friendly game?
Know the players. Especially if you are hosting, be certain you know who is coming into your home. This should be common sense, but you don't want hindsight to give you the wisdom to prevent problems.
Keep your cash limited. Don't bring your whole bankroll or wads of cash. If it's a $20 buy-in event, don't bring more than $200. Again, safety first.
Carpool when possible. Home games are often busted because of neighbors frustrated with traffic, noise, and trash. Don't give them a reason to care what you do in the confines of your home.
Don't take a rake. If you want to have snacks for players, that's fine. If people want to order food, let one of the players coordinate it. This is normally the alarm bell that turns your little home game into an illegal casino.
Determine what you want from the game. If the game is really about donking around and having fun, then turn it into a low-stakes cash game. $0.50/1 LHE or $1/2 LHE can keep everyone involved and the stakes relatively comfortable. Try a mixed game format or dealer's choice to really get everyone's head spinning. If competition is what you're after, a SNG structure as Mookie suggested is a very common approach. Having a cash game for those who bust out can keep people around and involved. If a serious game is what you're after, it will be important to find other players who will be comfortable at the stakes you're interested in.
Poker remains one of the most popular activities for Americans, IUGEA or no IUGEA. We'll see more home games in the coming months, and hopefully following some of these recommendations will keep your game lively and fun for many months to come.