Sick of playing dull home games in damp basements, drinking warm beers at wonky tables? 

Are you looking for some tips to get the most out of your poker home game

Perhaps you want to find a way to add a bit more ‘glam’ to the experience. Whatever it is, look no further. 

Here are our Top 7 Tips for running a successful private poker game:

The 7 DOs:

  1. DO Pay Attention to Small Details
  2. DO Consider the Kind of Poker Night
  3. DO Make the Most of Your Facilities
  4. DO Pick a Suitable Structure
  5. DO Consider Players’ Differing Abilities
  6. DO Be Smart With Your Chips
  7. Do Clarify the Dealing Situation

The 1 DON’T

  1. Don't Be an Ass!

#1. DO Pay Attention to Small Details

How do you run a poker night? 

Well, as a great man once said to me, ‘It’s all in the prep’.

Picture this: It’s your best friend’s birthday, and you’ve planned a boat party. You sail a few miles offshore. Just as you’re about to get the party started, you realise you’ve forgotten ice and a bottle opener. 


Your whole party is in jeopardy over one tiny oversight. 

And even if your pal, Steve, can open bottles with his teeth, people are still going to have to suffer warm drinks in the hot sun. 

The party may not be a complete write-off. But it’s not as great as it could have been, especially for Steve, who probably has no canines left at this point. 

Okay, so it’s a stupid analogy is, but the message is still crucial: 

To get the most from an event, you need to pay attention to the smallest details when planning

And this goes beyond the game itself. Most people have no problems with that since organising buy-in, blind structure and locale tend to be the first port of call.

Poker Home Game: DO Pay Attention to Small DetailsPoker Home Game: DO Pay Attention to Small Details

But with that said, many things are often overlooked when running a poker night.

Things like the following can all make your poker night as memorable as that time Steve opened 400 beer bottles with his teeth at a boat party. 

  • Location
  • Clientele
  • Environment
  • Refreshments
  • ‘Frills’ 

#2. DO Consider the Kind of Poker Night

When most of us think of a ‘poker night,’ we typically picture a group of guys sitting in a dark, damp basement, smoking cigars and sipping “scotch on the rocks”.

But there are way more variants than this. 

When planning your poker game, the first thing to consider is the kind of night you are hoping to host.

  • Is it a ‘lads’ night’?
  • A strip poker game?
  • Or an excuse for some pre-drinks before a night out? 

Whichever night you’re having, it’s essential to make sure your setup matches your goals.

TIP: Make sure the stakes are small enough for everyone to play. If people are being pushed out of their comfort zone, they're not going to have as much fun. Be considerate and understand that some people don't like to gamble lots of money.

#3. DO Make the Most of Your Facilities

A good table, with adequate seating, is vital for a good poker night. But busted players must have somewhere comfortable to sit or stand too.

Most casinos will let you hire a table that comes with a dealer. So, if you want to have an authentic game, this might be a good option. 

Poker Home Game: Make the Most of FacilitiesPoker Home Game: Make the Most of Facilities

But there’s nothing wrong with a home game either. 

Remember, though; nobody wants to be bored after they bust. So, if you are running a home game, it’s essential to consider what people will do when they bust or need a break.

  • Will there be entertainment?
  • Will they sit and watch the game like a heartbroken teenager stalking their ex’s Insta-page, longing for a second chance? 

An area with some pre-made refreshments can be a nice touch. But a TV or projector with poker streams or movies can add a unique atmosphere to the night. 

If you can’t cook or don’t want to spend a lot of time and money organising refreshments, you can always ask each player to bring something with them. Or even throw a small amount of money into a refreshment kitty.  

Oh, and one final thing…

If you are having drinks, don’t forget the ice and bottle opener. Steve’s new veneers were expensive!

#4. DO Pick a Suitable Structure

Once you know what kind of night you’re going to be running,  you can begin planning your structure. Cash games typically work better for more serious home games. 


They prevent people from sitting around bored once they bust (since they can simply rebuy).

With that said, tournaments are a great choice if you have a lot of new or weak players. 

  • They desensitize people to any financial loss better than cash games do
  • In turn, this fact removes a lot of the financial stress.
  • So, tournaments allow players to control how much they are risking

Say you do decide to run a tournament. Several short ones that use a hyper-turbo structure are more suitable versus one tournament that runs all night. 

Several shorter games make it easier to manage your time, which is better for a home game since some players won’t want/expect to play all night. It also gives people a reason to stick around once they bust.

Extras: More than anything, though, remember your poker game is your game. So long as you’re happy, you can have whatever rules you like. 

Poker Home Game: Crazy Side GamesPoker Home Game: Crazy Side Games

Feel free to add side games reflected in the following – 

  • Forfeits
  • Crazy rules
  • Drink forfeits
  • High hand bonuses
  • Penalties for being caught bluffing etc. 

#5. DO Consider Players’ Differing Abilities

If you’re playing with a group of colleagues or friends, there will probably be a pretty big gulf in ability. Say you have a lot of players that are new to the game. 

Why not make some hand ranking sheets to give to the players when they sit down? 

This gesture will make them feel way more comfortable and welcome.

A wide range of player ability is another good reason to choose the hyper-turbo style tournament format. The shorter, faster tournaments are higher variance. This tournament type gives weaker players a better chance of winning.

This structure might not sound great if you’ve spent a lot of time working on deep-stack skills in the lab. But it will make the whole experience far more fun for everyone involved. 

And that’s the goal of a poker night, right?

It will also make the weaker players more likely to return next time, which is excellent for your home-game ecosystem.

#6. DO Be Smart With Your Chips

As tempting as it is to go all Casino Royale and sit with millions of chips, you need to ensure you have enough chips for re-buys. 

Pulling out the emergency matchsticks works. But it’s not very glam and shuffling them might lead to accidental arson. 

Poker Home Game: Be Smart With Your ChipsPoker Home Game: Be Smart With Your Chips

Additionally, it’s worth noting that many home poker sets have huge variations in chip denominations. When setting up the game, it’s  good idea to try to use as many of the small and middle-value chips as possible. 

This process will leave more of the highest denomination chips in the bank, making re-buys a lot faster to process. 

With many smaller values already in play, they will be easy to change at the table too. 


  • Don’t be an animal; clean your poker area! 
  • Wash your table and hoover (vacuum) your cloth (if you have one). 
  • If you can, use a fresh deck of cards each time. 
  • Clean your chips before you start your poker game. 

Cards and chips are an easy way to spread germs around a table. Since it’s 2021, we don’t need to explain why this is a bad thing. 

But it’s worth noting that chip cleaning can be a delicate art.

The best method of cleaning will depend on the type of chips, but typically there are two rules:

  1. Don’t soak them in water for a long time.
  2. Don’t use anything rough or sharp

#7. Do Clarify the Dealing Situation

Dealers are another area that is often overlooked. 

  • Who will be in charge of dealing? 
  • Will you have a real/fixed poker dealer>
  • Or will the dealing move around the table with the button? 

It’s not very fair to force unskilled dealers to deal. It slows down the game too.

TIP: Having a second (different coloured) deck of cards is a great way to speed up the game. One can be shuffled while the other is dealt. This setup also takes the pressure off weaker shufflers.

NOTE: In some countries, it’s illegal for the dealer to take a rake fee in a home game. Please check the laws in your country before you start raking or indeed hosting your home game!

Poker Home Game: Clarify the Dealing SituationPoker Home Game: Clarify the Dealing Situation

Don't Be an Ass!

We've saved the most critical to last. It's short, but it's vital.

It's essential to remember that your poker night is supposed to be fun

There's a lot of ego in poker. So, it’s common for people to take it too seriously and get pretty competitive.  

There's no problem with a little competitive trash talk. Still it's vital that you take a zero-tolerance stance on any bullying, berating or anything else that crosses the line.

  • This position is especially crucial if you're playing with new players who are going to make mistakes. 
  • Alienating them will ruin their night and deter them from playing again. 

A good tip is to add a fine/penalty system to your home game. Penalise anyone that crosses the line and jeopardises the fun. 

The forfeit can be anything - a fine jar that someone must pay a fee to whenever they're "a bit of a douche" works. 

For example, the takings can then go to the highest hand in an all-in flip at the end of the night.

My favourite way is to add a forfeit shot - something like a grungy discounted bottle. You had one shot of it, puked, and left sat in your cupboard - currently festering for 18 months.  The more disgusting, the better!

This punishment works well. It turns the awkward uncomfortableness of someone being an ass into a fun, laughable activity that eases the tension.

More than anything, remember, it's your night, and it's just a game.

The more fun people have, the more of a success your night will be.

Good luck!

Dan O’Callaghan is a professional poker player who got his start in the online poker world as danshreddies. He has racked up over $290K in online earnings.