6 May 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.

This particular column is slightly out-of-date as far as timers go. Nowadays it's possible to get some well-featured poker clocks that run on iPods or mobile phones, and which offer an excellent solution costing only a couple of quid.











































with The Reverend Stuart Campbell

Sorry, readers. I was indeed lying to you last month. When you’ve got your chips, cards and playing surface sorted, you’re still not quite fully equipped for the perfect home game experience. You’re nearly there, though, so this month we’ll round up the last few bits and bobs standing between you and a full primary grounding in successful poker-room management, and the most important one is the same as the secret of good comedy – cock jokes. (“Timing” – Ed)

Thus far you’ve probably been measuring your blind levels on a vague, haphazard sort of basis with your wristwatch, or the dining-room clock, or a sports stopwatch, or the microwave, or a sundial or the phases of the Moon or God knows what. I’m not a psychic. That’s all very well and it’ll get the job more or less done, but there’s no substitute for a proper poker timer alerting players with split-second precision to each new level with unmissable loud beeping noises. They can keep track of the blinds and antes for you, and they also help to generate the air of unquestioned professional authority that is the stock in trade of any good Tournament Director. And if you’re a bad Tournament Director, they can even do most of your job for you so people won’t notice.

There are lots of clock-wrangling options depending on your circumstances, needs and budget. Some people like to use tournament manager applications for the PC (typically around £15), which offer lots of features and are handy if you have a computer or laptop in the room where you’re playing, not so much otherwise. They also tend to be pretty complicated (because they’re really designed for running big multi-table games much more complex than our kitchen-table piss-around) and the chances are they’re going to be massive overkill for what we’re trying to achieve here - you’ll probably waste at least as much time figuring out how to operate the software as it saves you during the game.

The Poker Genie: slick and handsome, like Omar Sharif. 

If you’ve got more money to spend or just don’t want to have to lug your computer around with you, you can splash out £45 or so on a Poker Genie (or the very similar ESPN Poker Club timer), a very sophisticated device that tracks blinds and antes as well as time, displays them so they can be easily seen by everyone, and will even help you set up initial stack sizes based on your specific chipset and a structure tailored to your preferred game length. The only drawback of this splendid piece of equipment (apart from the price) is the fact that it needs to be run off mains power, and is therefore susceptible to some dolt tripping over the wire on their way to the fridge and smashing it to pieces on the floor.

You can get simple little “dealer button” timers for around a fiver which count down time and nothing else (they’re basically egg timers with a pokery makeover), but my personal choice is the WSOP Official Poker Timer, which is a more advanced dealer-button-type device managing time, blinds and antes. It’s very easy to program (and it retains settings when you switch it off, so you don’t have to set it up again for every game), it's conveniently portable for games at your mates’ houses as well as yours, and will run for days on end off a pair of tiny watch-type batteries.

If you do also use this as a dealer button, expect cheating.

You can pick one up on eBay for about 15 quid (though check the small print and be sure you get the modern 19-round version rather than the old 10-round one a few unscrupulous traders still sell), and it’s all that a halfway-competent host should ever need.




There are several other minor pieces of equipment that aren’t technically absolutely vital to the running of a decent poker game, but will give it a much more professional air and/or make it much easier to manage. Cut cards, for example (or postillions, to give them their more strictly accurate name, since in poker you’re not actually using them for cutting anything) will be expected by anyone who’s played any sort of vaguely proper poker anywhere.

(If you’re not sure about why, it’s for much the same reason you burn cards when dealing – it stops players getting sneaky free information. If you’re drawing to an Ace or a straight and can see one of the cards you need on the bottom of the deck, you know your chances of hitting have been drastically reduced.)

Obviously you can get away without using dedicated postillions, eg by using a joker instead, but a proper cut card in nice brightly-coloured plastic has a lot less chance of getting accidentally shuffled into the deck every other hand, constantly slowing the game up as you fish it out again. You’ve come this far, why cheap out for the sake of a few pennies now?

Buying extra-fancy two-tone cut cards will make you appear to be a foppish dandy.



For the most basic home tournament, you can get away with doing everything in your head. But as soon as you venture into even slightly more complicated territory (cash games or rebuys, say) you’re going to want to start keeping track of things on paper.

As well as being handy in single games, one of the easiest ways of  making home poker more interesting is by maintaining a running leaderboard, whereby at the end of a certain number of games the worst player has to buy everyone pizza and beers or perform some humiliating forfeit, and obviously for that you’re going to need to keep records. Clearly you can just scribble things down on any old tatty bit of paper that's lying around, but a quality notebook or clipboard will make your life a lot easier. (For one thing, trying to write on a piece of paper on a poker tabletop is a recipe for torn paper and a disfigured playing surface.)

And since next month we’re going to talk about expanding your games into multi-table affairs – in which you’ll end up horribly lost without one and be chased out of town by a posse of pissed-off players – you might as well get yourself down to WH Smiths now so you’re ready.


You’ve gotten all carried away. Back up.

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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