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Running a Home Poker Tournament

So you have watched poker on TV, maybe even played on the internet. Now you and a group of friends want to have your own tournament. Before the cards hit the table, there are several things you can do to insure everybody has a good time and your tournament runs smoothly.

The first thing you should do before planning a home poker tournament is to check the laws in your area. Each state and in some places, even the county you live in have laws regarding gambling. In most cases the laws restrict anyone from making a profit from the tournament. This means you can’t charge an extra fee for entering the tournament. Any money collected for entering the tournament should be added to the prize pool and distributed to the winners. Your local laws may differ.

Questions to ask yourself before sending out the invitations:

What game are you going to play?

While there are a great number of different poker games, the most popular version these days is No-Limit Texas Hold ’em. This is what everybody watches on TV and will likely be familiar to everybody you invite.

How much are we playing for?

A home poker tournament should be more about having a group of friends over and having a good time rather than about winning a large sum of money. Consider the tournament a night of entertainment for your guests. Dinner and a movie will run between $20 – $30 dollars. This is a good place to start and is likely in everybody’s comfort zone.

Will you allow re-buys?

Playing No-Limit Texas Hold ’em means that it’s possible for players to lose all their chips very quickly. Allowing players to purchase more chips if they lose them all during a specific amount of time is one way to make sure that everybody gets a chance to play for an ample amount of time prior to being relegated to watching the tournament from the sidelines. The other benefit to re-buys is the additional money in the prize pool for the winners. Set the number of rounds for which you will allow re-buys.

Will you allow add-ons?

While a re-buy lets someone buy more chips once they have lost all theirs, an add-on is a way to let all players, regardless of the amount of chips they have, to purchase more chips. There is usually a specific time for making the add-on purchase and once that time has passed, no additional chips can be purchased. At this point, if you lose all your chips, you are out of the tournament for good. It’s typical for re-buys and add-ons to be available for the first hour of play.

How many chips do you get?

The physical number of chips is going to depend on how many chips you own or can borrow. The chip values, in reality don’t matter either since everybody is going to be starting with the same total value in chips. However, to make it easiest on yourself and your players, I suggest keeping to a pretty simple formula. Start each player with $2000 in chips. The configuration that I start each player with looks like this:

(10) $5 chips

(10) $25 chips

(7) $100 chips

(2) $500 chips

In order to make this as easy as possible, make the cost of the initial buy-in, re-buys and add-ons the same cash value and worth the same number of tournament chips.

As a side note, to cut down on the amount of physical chips you will need, for all re-buys and add-ons, either give the player (4) $500 chips or (2) $1000 chips.

What are the blinds?

Here is an example of a relatively simple blind structure:

level 1 – 5/10

level 2 – 10/20

level 3 – 25/50

level 4 – 50/100

level 5 – 100/200

level 7 – 200/400

level 8 – 400/800

level 9 – 800/1600

level 10 – 1600/3200

Each blind level should last 15 to 20 minutes. If the structure above seems to get too high, too fast, you can easily add in the following levels: 75/150, 150/300, 300/600, 500/1000 or as many additional levels as you choose. Just remember, the more levels you add, the longer the game is likely to last.

How many winners will there be?

The number of players who will win part of the prize pool largely depends on how many start the tournament. If there are going to be 10 players or less, I usually do a 60%/40% split of the prize pool for the final 2 players. Between 11 and 30 players, split the prize pool 50%/30%/20%. If your tournament is going to be larger than 30 players, for each 10 additional players, add another payout spot. Take a few percentage points off each of the higher payouts as needed.

Will you be providing refreshments?

Just because you are hosting the tournament, doesn’t mean it’s your job to feed the group. There is nothing wrong with letting your guests know ahead of time that you will provide chips and sodas and that they are welcome to bring food items or beverages of their choosing. Or, ask everybody to pitch in $5 or $10 for food and then plan to order pizza and stock your fridge with sodas and beer.

Now it’s time to send out your invitations. I suggest using a service like evite.com. It’s an easy way to keep track of who’s coming and who isn’t. This will help you in your preparations the day of the tournament. Send out your invites as early as possible giving your guests the best chance to schedule the night out.

What you are going to need on the day of the tournament

By this time you should have a pretty good idea of how many players to expect. Now it’s time to get set up.

Tables: It’s important to consider how many players you can fit around each table. Figure that each table needs to hold an equal amount of players. You will want each table to hold no less than 6 players. Also, plan on covering the tables with either a table-cloth, or if you can purchase a fold-out poker table-top or a poker felt. During the course of the night you will not want to have poker chips, drinks and whatever else sliding across your uncovered table surface.

Chairs: Obviously you want to keep your players as comfortable as possible. Most houses don’t have 20 chairs sitting around, so you may need to buy, borrow or rent enough chairs to handle your tournament size. Folding chairs will run you $8 – $14 each depending on if they have padded seats or not. If you plan on running your home poker tournament on a regular basis, purchasing the chairs may be your best option in the long run.

Poker Chips: Your options for poker chips these days are tremendous. There are literally thousands of sets available on ebay.com and hundreds of online poker supply stores. If you plan on using the poker chips on a regular basis, I strongly suggest you purchase a large enough set to handle at least 50% more players than you are expecting to show up. And, purchase a decent quality chip set. This doesn’t mean you have to go broke, but make sure you are going to be happy with the chips in the long run. I suggest buying at least 11 gram chips or 14 gram chips if you really want a “casino feel” to your chips.

Cards: The saying “you get what you pay for” couldn’t be more true than when it comes to purchasing poker cards. Every poker supply store will sell you “cut” or “stamped” cards real cheap. These are cards that were used by a casino and have been retired. They usually come from the blackjack tables and have seen only 5-6 hours of play. But, these cards will get bent and marked quite easily. I suggest you stick with Bicycle brand plastic playing cards, or if you want to go for the professional feel, search for KEM or Copag cards. These are plastic cards that will not be ruined if a drink is spilled on them, they take back their original shape after being bent and are a solid investment for long term use. These cards will cost you $10-$15 per deck but will save you money in the long run as you won’t be replacing them several times per night like you would with the cheap cards.

One additional item that you may want to have for your poker tournament is a program available for your computer called Poker Tournament Manager. This software will help you keep track of which players have already paid for their buy-in, the chip color/denomination, the blind levels, the payouts and it also keeps track of players’ personal stats including where they have placed in each of your tournaments, their buy-ins and payouts, etc. It also has a timer that keeps track of when the levels are supposed to change. The software also allows you to post each tournament’s stats to their server where you can view all the stats online. I’ve personally used the software for over 2 years and could not see running a tournament without it.

Almost game time

Just before you start the game it is a good idea to take a couple minutes and go over the “house rules.” Remind them of your policy for re-buys and add-ons. Let them know exactly how many places will be being paid out and how long they have to make re-buys or add-ons. See if anyone has any questions before you start.

Seating the players

Players should not be allowed to choose their own seat location. If you picked up the Poker Tournament Manager software, it will randomly seat the players for you. Otherwise, figure out how many tables you are going to have (I’ll assume 2 full tables of 10 players for this example) and then remove the Ace through 10 of two different suits. Mix the cards up face down on the table and have each person select a card. This will be their seat number and table assignment. All the people who chose the same suit will sit at the same table in the order of the rank of their card. You can let the player who drew the Ace choose their seat and then the remaining players would fill in the remaining seats with #2 being on his left, then #3 to his left, etc…

If you are lucky enough to have players who are experienced enough to also know how deal, see if one of them would be willing to be the designated dealer for each table. If so, automatically sit them in seat 1 in the middle of the table giving them the easiest access to deal to the entire table.

If you do not have a designated dealer at the table, it’s best to have 2 decks of cards at each table. Be sure to have recognizably different sets of cards at the table. For example, the backs of one deck can be red and the other deck blue. This will make it nearly impossible for the decks to get mixed up. Decide where the dealing is going to start (typically with the player in seat 1) and give them one of the decks to shuffle and deal. Give the second deck to the player in seat #2. They can shuffle the cards and get them ready for their turn to deal after the conclusion of the current hand.

It’s time to play cards. Shuffle up and deal!