The Red Chip Poker podcast is not the only thing Zac Shaw hosts. He has also run a successful home poker game for the last 12 years. The home game has been successful in the sense that its attendees have fun, the game goes off regularly, and has been a great proving ground for the strategy concepts he learns here at Red Chip. In this episode, he gives a densely packed rundown on the various aspects that have made for a successful home game over the years, hoping to inspire you to host your own and grow this great game we all love.
We have received a lot of requests for more discussion of home games, so Shaw kicks things off by sharing insights from his life as a host of a home game for going on twelve years now.
Legality comes up first. The legal status of home games varies from state to state. In most places, as long as a rake is not taken, the game is at least within a gray enough area where the legal question does not usually come into play. However, some states ban poker outright, others are more permissive.
Shaw recommends doing your own research. In New York, Shaw has been led to believe that hosting a home game is within legal bounds as long as a rake is not taken and the game does not have other illegal activity associated with it. Your mileage may vary.
Why Host a Poker Game?
It seems like a lot of hassle to host a home game, and often it is, Shaw says. But you get big rewards from home games you can’t get from live games. It’s a great social occasion to enjoy. For the serious poker player, it’s a great place to try out new moves and pick new spots. And as a studying player, you’re likely to have an edge over your competition.
Coordinating the game, getting the people together, setting the game up, maintaining the space… that’s just a start to the hassle involved.
Building a List
Perhaps the toughest part of running a successful home game is keeping your player list healthy. Home game poker is not like a casino where you can just put your name on a list, and a game is always running. Home games often need a good amount of people to show up at a specific time to get the game off, and that’s where having a list of players that can be relied on to show up — along with a supporting cast of non-regulars — is key.
You’re not just committing your time to host the game. The people on our list are committing their time to play your game. So the pressure to keep the game running to value the time of your core players can be big.
You also want to balance the quality of the player pool. To many pros and grinders will scare off recreational players, etcetera.
You will find the most important thing is to have a core group of regulars that come to virtually every game.
Maintaining a quantity of players is important, but so is maintaining the quality of the players. Drunk idiots and obnoxious players can make the game not fun for everyone, and kill your home game. You want people who love the game of poker, love the home game atmosphere, and ideally, look out for others to make sure everyone is enjoying themselves.
How do you build a list? Start with friends and poker buddies, obviously. Part of starting a home game is getting more recreational players involved.
Setting the stake is going to also be a huge factor in who shows up. Finding a blind level that your group is comfortable with is often trial-and-error, but wherever you set it, expect someone to complain!
“It’s your job to build a poker scene,” Shaw says. Get people who like board games, competition, even people who don’t like games but they like socializing in a fun environment… you can hook these people with “Dealer’s Choice” and work in hold ’em to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Home Game Atmosphere
Atmosphere is highly subjective to your audience. Think about what kind of atmosphere your regular players would like — or better yet, ask them directly. You don’t have to have a fancy man cave or custom poker table to have a great home game. Sometimes playing in a dingy environment adds to the romance. Tailor your amenities to your crowd as well. Buy beverages and food, or incentivize attendance with splashed pots. Have a bad beat jackpot. Find ways to keep them coming back and keep the game running.
You want people to look forward to the game, the atmosphere and the social environment, because this is what the recreational players want. And you want the recreational players at your table.
Security basics: Always keep your doors locked, always make sure people lock or text. Video surveillance is cheap and easy to install as well. Most of all, keep the game on the down low so rumors don’t spread of some sort of juicy home poker game to rob. In other words, keep the atmosphere of exclusivity among your players and have guests vouched for.
There are other security concerns and this does not constitute legal advice, but much of it is common sense.
Consistent Poker Night
Consistency in when you hold your home game is also very important. It allows people to fit the game into their schedule and is necessary for getting regulars. In much the same way as atmosphere should be shaped around your player base, it will also be up to them to communicate to you which day and time works best for them through their attendance and absence. Be in good communication with these people via Facebook, email or whatever medium they prefer.
And don’t forget, as the home game host, you’re probably also going to be the floor! Study up on the rules.