12 February 2009


A complete beginner's guide to hosting home poker games. First published in Poker Player magazine, so a certain amount of very basic poker knowledge (eg the difference between limit, pot limit and no-limit) was assumed.











































with The Reverend Stuart Campbell

So after last month's column you’ve managed to host your first poker game without it ending in an excessive number of stabbings, and you want to take the next step. The single biggest leap you can take towards making a home game feel more like a casino is to buy some proper chips, which is a more complicated business than you’d think.

The first thing to decide is what sort of chips to get, and there are plenty of pitfalls here. Poker exploded in mainstream popularity last year, to the degree that poker chip sets started popping up everywhere, even in supermarkets and bargain shops. Lots of these are cheap plastic rubbish, though, which feel more like tiddlywinks than casino chips, and the easiest way to tell is to check the weight.

Anything below 11 grams a chip is likely a piece of kiddy tat, and most decent chips will actually tell you their weight on the packaging, so if it isn’t mentioned then beware. (You can get chips at 15g and even beyond if you pay a lot of money for them, but 11g is plenty heavy for most casinos and it should be good enough for you.)

Once you’ve found quality chips, the next decision to make is how many you want. The most common count for a proper cased set is 500 chips, but for a single-table game that’s likely to be far more than you actually need. (Many cheaper 500 sets also come as 100 chips each of five different colours, which is a wasteful and impractical distribution, so avoid those - ideally look for sellers who’ll let you make up your own combination, usually in multiples of 25.)

The number and makeup of your chips varies depending on whether you’re going to be playing tournament or ring games, but either way a 300 set should be plenty for up to 10-12 players.

This is a good 300-chip setup for a fairly serious ring game of up to 10 players. The chips
are arranged in handy £10/20 buy-in units, with extra red £10 chips to help keep things
tidy. At 10p/£1/£10 there’s £480 of chips in this shot.

If you’re playing cash, three or four different colours of chip is probably plenty. For example, at our cash games a standard buy-in is £20, made up of 10 x 10p chips, 9 x £1 and 1 x £10. This gives you plenty of scope for pots of all sizes, and as a bonus makes the standard stack 20 chips, which is ideal as it’s the capacity of a single slot in a normal chip tray. (It also makes it easy for someone to buy-in for £10 instead of £20 by removing just one chip.) Depending on your stakes, of course, you can substitute the values or amounts for whatever suits you – for a cheaper ring game, 8 x 10p, 6 x 20p and 6 x 50p would give you a £5 buy-in unit, also comprising a convenient 20 chips. (If you’re playing such low buy-ins, by the way, blinds of 10p/10p are probably a good idea.)

For tournaments, though, you want at least four colours and preferably five or six, for chip values of 25 (optional), 50, 100, 500, 1000 and 5000 (optional). Including the 25 value gives you scope for two extra early blind levels if you want a slower-structured game, but remember that you don’t want the last two or three players to be gazing at each other from behind massive walls of low-value chips, so you’ll need some spare big chips to swap them for in the later stages. (Or "chipping up", as it's properly known.) See “HOW MUCH AND HOW MANY?” for some suggested combinations.

Obviously the more chips you have the easier things are to organise, but a 300-chip set gives you a lot of flexibility at the least expense – you should be able to pick one of those up on eBay or Amazon for around £15-20 including delivery, with decent-quality chips, a nice aluminium case and a couple of decks of cards.

Next month: throwing those cards away and choosing some better ones.




Something else to watch out for when you’re buying chips is to make sure you don’t get numbered ones. A lot of proper casino-weight chips (not the cheapo plastic ones, for some reason) are sold pre-printed with the incomprehensible US numbering system, where the chips have marked values of 1, 5, 25, 50 and 100. I’ve never been able to figure out the logic of this one - in particular the absence of a “10” chip - or what freakish kind of a structure you’re supposed to use such values in. (At first I thought it was designed to mimic American coin values, but of course Americans do have a 10-cent piece.)

US-numbered chips are all but useless in ring games (if you’re betting 1p at a time you’re really not at the level where you need proper casino chips) and an absolutely gigantic pain in the bollocks for tournaments, so double-check that the chips you’re going to buy are blank before you send your money off.

Numbered chips: worthless. These particular ones are doubly rubbish due to the
minimalist colouring style, which makes it hard to see how much someone's bet.



Ironically, despite the uselessness of pre-numbered chips, a common problem that crops up in home games (particularly if the players have played with real chips elsewhere) is remembering chip values. No two casinos or pub leagues use the same colours for the same values, and it’s a pain to have players constantly asking “How much are the green ones worth again?”

You can simply print out little slips of paper with value charts on them, but the more elegant and stylish solution for the advanced home-game host is to get some custom labels made. For about 20 quid for a 500-chip set (ie 1000 sides), you can go onto eBay and find someone who will laser-print you glossy labels either based on one of their pre-set designs with your own text and numbers, or to your own custom specifications. Not only do customised chips put an end to value-forgetting misery, but they also class your game up no end, and every time you look at a blank chip from then on you’ll feel there’s something missing.

Your imagination is the limit, whether you prefer shameless copyright
infringement, obscure and profound Pulp references, or cartoon bunnies.



So assuming you’re a smart-but-cheap host and want to get the best bang for your chip-buying buck, what sort of chip combination do you want in your set? For a tournament game with a 10-player maximum, the minimum sensible setup (comprising multiples of 25, which is how chips are usually sold) with a 300-chip set can be made up of four colours, broken down to 75 x 50s, 75 x 100s, 100 x 500s and 50 x 1000s. That gives 10 players a starting stack of 10,000 chips each (100 big blinds, a good level for a medium-length game), in the form of 6 x 50, 7 x 100, 8 x 500 and 5 x 1000, and leaves you 20 spare 500 chips, which is enough to chip up almost all of the 50s and 100s when you get to the later stages.

For a ring game, you’d be better off with 125 x 10p, 125 x £1 and 50 x £10 (if you’re going to be using £10/£20 buy-in units), or 150 x 10p, 75 x 20p and 75 x 50p (if you plan to play with £5 buy-in units). Both will give you enough chips for at least a dozen initial buy-in units, and also give you spare high-value chips for rebuys (you give the player a single chip and they take change from the big stacks).

Obviously there are a million different permutations you can work out for yourself to best suit your number of players and desired game structure, but the more thought you give it in advance the more smoothly your games will run.

The Reverend is Assistant Organiser of the Bristol & South West Poker Meetup Group, which runs scheduled single- and multi-table tournaments and cash games at numerous venues across the region and is sponsored by Poker.co.uk.

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