Hosting a poker night is a great way to catch up with friends, get a few good laughs, and engage in some healthy competition. However, hosting the perfect poker night involves a little more than setting up a table and calling over a few buddies.
Here are a few things you want to keep in mind to host a memorable poker night:
- Learn the game properly.
- Get the right equipment.
- Invite the right people (and enough of them).
- Establish house rules.
- Decide the type of game.
- Get food and drinks.
- Be consistent.
Of course, your friends won’t criticize you if things aren’t perfect. But it’s always nice to plan ahead, so the evening flows smoothly. In this article, I’ll explain how to plan out an enjoyable and memorable poker night.
1. Learn the Game Properly
This one is a no-brainer, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to understand the game you’re playing thoroughly. It’s painful to sit at the poker table and Google hand rankings to see who won while everyone waits for you to figure it out.
Decide what style of poker you want to play at least a week in advance and let the other players know so they can read up the rules if necessary. Games like Seven-Card Stud and Omaha Hi/Lo are complicated, so it’s best to give people some time to understand the rules.
If you aren’t too familiar with the variants of poker, consider playing Texas Holdem at your poker night. Holdem is perhaps the most straightforward poker variant, and even beginners can quickly pick up the game.
Aside from learning the hand rankings, you must know how to deal, when bets are allowed, and how the betting passes from one player to another.
If you’re hosting players who aren’t too familiar with the rules, they may ask for clarification. As the host, you should radiate an air of confidence by showing your guests you know the ins and outs of the game.
Your secure knowledge of the game will also help your friends feel that they’re playing the game right, making it much more enjoyable.
2. Get the Right Equipment
People who get a table and a deck of cards and assume they’re good to go are more likely to host lifeless poker nights. If you want to host a lively and memorable poker night, you’ll need to put in a lot more effort than that!
You want to make a checklist of the necessary equipment and tools needed to play poker.
These will include:
- A table
- A deck of cards
- Poker chips
- A dealer button
With some poker chip sets, you will also get a dealer button, and a deck or two of poker cards. On this link, I review the best poker chips sets. Starting with budget-friendly, to which are best at a higher price.
These items comprise the bare minimum, and if you’re missing even one of them, consider canceling any plans of hosting a poker night.
However, exhilarating poker nights happen when the host goes beyond the bare minimum and creates an experience for their guests.
As mentioned, a table is essential. But do you have one that’s large enough to accommodate all the guests you’ve invited? Is there space for them to keep their chips, cards, and any food or beverages they may have with them?
Once you’ve got a table, consider a makeover to have a table that resembles an actual poker table. You won’t need much for this; a soft green or red felt sheet on top of the table would do.
While any old deck of cards will do, it’s much nicer to play with new cards that give you that crisp feel. This new feeling makes even folding pleasurable and will elevate your poker night experience.
Some hosts decide to keep score sheets to jot down the amount each person bets, record any raises, and note the total amount in the pot.
While score sheets work, they significantly dull the experience and make poker games feel somewhat lackluster. If you haven’t gotten your hands on poker chips yet, consider putting off your poker night till you do because playing with chips makes the game so exciting.
It’s best to get one of those sets that come with an aluminum case like this Rally & Roar Poker Set from Amazon.com, as they look professional. The way you toss chips allows you to communicate certain moods or emotions to your opponents, which is an integral part of poker.
When you get a set of chips, you’re sure to get a dealer button with it, and if not, consider using another circular piece at home to mark the dealer.
By clearly marking the dealer, you don’t need to remember who’s turn it is every round, which can interrupt the flow of the game.
After taking care of the essentials, consider getting enough chairs for the players. You also want to keep a chair or two handy in case a few extra people decide to show up.
The kind of seating is also crucial to the experience of the night. You want to ensure everyone has comfortable chairs that easily support their weight. Trust me, it’s awkward when one of your heavier friends shows up, and the only seating left is one of those foldable camping chairs.
Finally, consider keeping smaller side tables near the poker table so players can keep their food and beverages out of the way while playing.
3. Invite the Right People (and Enough of Them)
Most poker variants can be played between two or three people, but what’s the point of organizing a poker night for one or two friends?
A table can seat a maximum of nine players, so consider inviting between six and eight friends. If you’re uncertain whether some will show up, ask a higher number to come, so you’ll have enough players anyway.
When you have few players, you’re likely to face the same opponents, and your playing style will begin to conform as you develop a feel for the few opponents you’re up against.
When you have six or seven players, the game gets exciting as you’re up against many different playing styles. Additionally, the combination of players that make it to the flop will differ each time, creating a more dynamic feel over the course of the night.
When inviting people for a poker night, gauge the temperament of the friends you’re calling over. Does someone get bored too quickly? Does someone talk too much? Or drink too much and make a fool of themselves?
Inviting the right combination of friends, who are both patient and willing to enjoy the night you’ve laid out, will make the evening more enjoyable. So figure out which friends would be best to call and choose accordingly.
In addition, the kind of poker night you want to host determines the people you can invite. That’s why you should decide on the kind of poker in advance. If you’re playing a friendly game with points instead of money, your crowd will differ significantly from a serious game where money is involved.
As far as possible, avoid mixing the friends who want to play seriously and those who want to play for fun. The vibe is different with each group, and you want to ensure there’s some congruency in the style of play.
4. Establish House Rules
While poker nights are an informal occasion, having a few rules will give the event a structure that can help everyone better tune in to the experience. Here are a few house rules to consider:
- Players can’t leave the table while still playing a hand, even when it’s not their turn.
- Players should avoid keeping their beverages on the table; place a few side tables instead.
- Players can’t take more than five minutes to decide whether to bet, call or fold (or call the clock on them with a 2 minute timer).
- Players who don’t return their cards to the deck before the next hand is dealt must pay the penalty (decide beforehand, but don’t make it hefty. Just something to keep people in check).
- Players can’t look at another player’s cards at any point during the game unless the other player agrees.
- Players who spill their drink on the table pay the penalty (again, not a hefty one).
While these rules can seem straight out of a classroom, they help keep the integrity of the game intact. Sure, it’s a fun night, but your friends want to know that they’re playing a game of poker and not just coming to hang out.
Aside from providing the evening with some structure, these rules will also give the game an official touch, intensifying the experience.
5. Decide the Type of Game
Once you’ve decided the variant of poker you want to play, take some time to sort out the additional details of the game. Are you playing a pot-limit or no-limit game? Is this a cash game or a tournament format?
Cash games are typically slow and drawn out, and multiple buy-ins will allow players to run deep stacks late into the night. These can be exciting, and players can afford to be more flexible in their playing styles.
Thanks to the format of cash games, more people play to the flop, and there’s generally more action on the table, which is excellent if you want to host a fun poker night.
However, even if you’re playing a cash game, set the minimum buy-in and the amount for small and big blinds. Cash games usually give each player between thirty and one hundred big blinds to play, so you want to ensure you have enough chips for all your players.
Tournaments can also be a lot of fun at poker nights, and with the correct format, you can play multiple games before the night runs out. However, it’s a little trickier to organize a tournament as you’ll have to pay attention to a few additional details.
You need to decide whether there’s an ante each round and how much the ante should be.
You’ll also want to decide on player stack sizes and how big they should be. You can simplify this by separating the buy-in amount from the chips they receive. So, for example, the buy-in can be just 10$, but players receive a stack of 1000$ chips to play with.
Remember, the larger the stack size, the more dynamic the game, as players will have the flexibility to play loosely and make aggressive bets.
Aside from these factors, it would help to decide how much and how often to increase the blinds. If you want a more controlled environment where players are still free to play as they like, consider raising the blinds every fifteen minutes.
Be sure to keep a timer at hand to check the progress of the blinds.
Tournaments are typically more exciting during poker nights as you can play multiple matches, depending on the size of the table and the speed of the games. Just be sure to plan everything, from changes in blinds to the stack sizes.
You can make tournaments at home even more exciting by awarding a prize to the winners.
What should the poker chips distribution be? The standard guide in chip distribution is the “4-3-2-1 rule”. But it depends on the type of the game also. Here is my detailed article on how many poker chips you need depending on the type of the game and the number of players.
6. Get Food and Drinks
Now we come to perhaps the most crucial aspect of any poker night – the food and drink.
A poker night without food or beverages can be exhausting. In fact, if you don’t feed your guests or give them something to sip on as they wait for the next deal, consider canning the poker night altogether; it isn’t worth it!
The right food and beverages can mean the difference between an epic poker night and your friends never RSVPing for any of your events ever again. So even if you’re missing a few side tables or don’t have enough chips for everyone, ensure there’s food and drink!
While the food will stay relatively consistent irrespective of the guests, the beverages may vary based on who you invite. For example, sodas and juices will suffice if you’re inviting a bunch of teetotalers.
However, if you’re planning on inviting over some bowling buddies, a few cans of beer will barely scratch the surface.
Here are some ideas for food you may want to consider for your poker night.
- Finger Foods. The most simple thing to set up would be a tray with pieces of food that can be plucked off and eaten quickly. This tray could include slices of meat, cheese, and fruits. You want to ensure there are a few vegetarian options as well.
- Chips and Crackers. Nothing says poker like a tray of nachos or crackers with a creamy dip to go with it. Consider getting a large bag of chips, even if you have other food ideas in store. The crunchiness can be comforting, especially to those who have just lost a hand.
- Popcorn. Sure, it isn’t movie night, but popcorn is an excellent addition to any poker game, especially if it’s salted and buttered. You could also prepare different flavors and tastes to give everyone what they like.
- Grills. Consider having an outdoor barbeque for your poker night because, at some point, guests will get tired of munching on snacks and may want to eat a more wholesome meal. You can grill stuff when everyone is taking a break between games.
- Pizza. If all of the above seems like trouble, you can always order a few pizzas so that everyone can snag a slice during the gaps. Be sure to give each guest a plate, so they don’t drop!
When deciding what food to serve at a poker night, consider items that aren’t messy or don’t spill over easily. You don’t want to serve your guests lasagne or ice cream as they’re troublesome to eat and will distract them from the game.
You can also consider laying out a few non-messy treats, like cookies or brownies, for those craving something sweet.
When deciding on beverages, use your discretion, as mentioned earlier. Just ensure you have enough beer, wines, juice, or whatever you’re planning to provide.
Another crucial factor to keep in mind is the quantity of food and beverages. Your games may go well into the night (read here on how long the games last on average), and you don’t want to run out of edibles in the first few hours. So ensure you’ve stocked up enough food and beverages for people to enjoy into the wee hours of the morning.
On this link, you can find my detailed article on exactly how much food you need per player for a poker night and what drinks should be served.
7. Be Consistent
When hosting a poker night, ensure you plan it on a particular day of the month or week and stick to your schedule regularly. By hosting consistent poker nights, your group of friends will know when to take time off and attend.
This consistency will allow them to plan their schedules, and they will be grateful to you for giving them the flexibility to do so.
Even if you’re planning a single poker night (which you probably won’t once you get it right!), tell your guests at least a week in advance and send them follow-up messages, so they remember when it’s happening.
Aside from allowing them to prepare, staying consistent with your communication will keep them engaged and make for a more intimate experience.