2 June 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

Well, viewers, we’ve just about come to the end of House Rules, and it’s time for you to move out and leave your mother and I in peace to spend your inheritance. By now your single-table home games should be running as smoothly as the well-oiled clockwork in a Twinkie stuck to a baby’s bottom, and if you’ve got any ambition about you you’ll be itching to expand your poker circle. Most people’s homes aren’t up to running multi-table games, though (who has two kitchen tables?), so you’re going to have to get yourself out into the big bad world.

Live poker: serious.

There are three main levels of organising multi-table poker games, which we’re going to look at in detail in the boxouts elsewhere on these pages, so for now let’s stick to the basics. First you need somewhere to play, and for most people the most obvious choice is a local boozer with a private/back/function room. The benefits are numerous – the room will usually be a decent size, come already equipped with tables and chairs, and more often than not you’ll be able to hire it out for free, since the landlord will be delighted with you bringing a sizeable number of extra drinkers into his pub all night. (For this reason, either make sure the room has its own bar or regular visits from bar staff to take orders, or that you schedule plenty of breaks for your players to go and get drinks. If the landlord doesn’t make any money you might not be welcomed back.)

The other main thing you need to think about is staying on the right side of the law. Since the Gambling Act 2005 it’s been legal to play poker for money in a pub, but there are some fairly tough limits on how much you can stake which will probably be too restrictive for most Poker Player readers. We don’t have space here to reproduce all of the rules and regulations in full, but the rule-of-thumb version is that if you’re in a pub, no player can stake more than £5 in total in any one day and no more than £100 can be staked in total by all players. (If you’re lucky enough to have access to a private members’ club the limits are £10 and £250 respectively.) That effectively rules ring games out entirely unless you’re playing for 1p/2p blinds. You also can’t charge any sort of entry fee or rake.

If you read House Rules, your humble kitchen table game could turn into one of these.

However, these rules apply to games which are open to the public, and in practice you can get round them if you’re playing in a private room and don’t allow people to just walk in and join the game. If the room is separate from the rest of the pub and you only allow players who signed up for the game in advance, you’re effectively running what’s legally considered a “private occasion” and you should be able to set whatever stakes your players want.


And that’s about it. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading House Rules (even the muppets who wrote outraged letters complaining that we didn’t tell people to buy £600 ceramic chip sets for casual home poker) and found it useful. See you at the felt!




The simplest form of multi-table poker is when you just want to run occasional games with no over-structure, and for these the only thing the novice Tournament Director really needs to worry about compared to a standard home game is keeping the tables balanced, ie making sure the number of players at each table is as equal as possible at any given time. It’s an easy thing to lose track of amid everything else that’s going on, especially if you’re playing in the game yourself, so make sure you tell everyone to let you know loudly and clearly when someone is knocked out on other tables.

There are various conventions for deciding who gets moved to a new table when numbers need balancing and there’s no definitively “right” one, but best practice is generally considered to be to move the player who was about to be the big blind, and that when there’s more than one seat available on their new table, they should sit in the first available seat to the dealer’s left.

(On the rare occasion when you have to move more than one player at a time, they should sit in the same order they were on their previous table, ie the one who was nearest the blinds should still be nearest the blinds on the new table. Alternatively, it can be fun to just have players scramble for the most advantageous seat on a first-come-first-served basis, but this approach is generally regarded as terribly unprofessional…)


The second-most-advanced form of the multi-table game is to organise your players into a group and maintain an ongoing leaderboard. You can charge people a membership fee per month or per game attended, with the money raised going to fund prizes for the eventual overall champion, or if you’re particularly resourceful you could find a poker room or local business to sponsor the prizes in return for some branding/advertising/publicity.

There are dedicated websites set up specifically to facilitate the organising of groups like this and which offer a variety of paid-for features – in the Bristol & South West group (BSWPMG) we use meetup.com - but you can just as easily run your own group through a website like Facebook with only a small amount of extra effort.

BSWPMG also runs team events occasionally, leading to scenes like this.

The most important thing when running an overall leaderboard is to ensure you implement some sort of system which means that the person who plays most games isn’t at an unfair advantage. BSWPMG runs three-month seasons (on irregular dates) and awards points based on finishing position and number of runners, and then counts a person’s six best scores towards the leaderboard, discarding the lowest scores once somebody’s played more than six games. That way everyone has a fair chance even if they can’t make every game, but frequent players always have an opportunity to improve their scores by replacing a low score with a better one.


If you’re running a successful multi-table poker group and turning away players on a regular basis, the final step is to start your own formal league running across multiple venues. For this you’ll almost certainly need to make the games open to the general public, so you’re going to have to rethink your stakes policy to stay within the law.

One well-tested model for this is to make the games free to players, and to generate the prize money by charging the venues. If you’re bringing a pub 20+ extra drinkers on a quiet midweek evening on a weekly basis, you may well find that they’re prepared to pay you a fee of, say, £2 per player per night (since they’ll aim to make much more than that in increased business), and that’ll give you a pretty decent prize pool for a monthly or bi-monthly final. (Make sure to switch the venue for the final every month, as an extra sweetener for the pubs.)

If you’ve got enough players to support such a league, you should also find that there’s enough in the kitty for replacing worn-out gear and ultimately also to pay yourself a little bit of a wage for all your efforts. Congratulations, you’re a professional poker tournament director! Guaranteed fame and unimaginable riches await you! [SUB: PLEASE CHECK]

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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