One of the purest and most enjoyable ways to play poker is around the kitchen table with your friends and family. Home games are how many poker players learned the rules got their start. Whether you are playing for pennies with your aunts and uncles, or a sit-and-go tournament with friends, there is nothing like the atmosphere of a home game. Playing a home game with your loved ones isn’t about the money; it’s about coming together and sharing an experience.
There comes a time though when poker becomes a bit more about the money. Playing with friends is always a great time but as you and your circle get more involved in poker, those home games can become larger and more serious. If you find yourself with a network of poker players looking for a game, you may want to consider hosting a home game. If you do, you’re going to need three things: cards, a table, and chips.
Cards are easy to find, you can go with a classic Bicycle deck or find some more high-end plastic cards online from a great outlet like Faded Spade. A premium poker table from BBO Poker Tables would enhance the overall experience but at the end of the day, any run-of-the-mill table you have in your house will suffice. It doesn’t need to be something fancy; a kitchen table with a roll of felt will do. You can also find cheap foldable poker tables online or at large department stores. The chips, however, make a big difference.
Poker Chip Denominations
First, you need to answer an important question: how many poker chips do you start with? To answer this question we need to know what the stakes are. If you are playing a $0.25/$0.50 home game, most players will want to start with $50 or 100 big blinds. At a home game, you have more variation in chip denominations than at a casino. Casinos typically carry $1, $5, $25, and $100+ chips, so there aren’t a lot of options. This is fine, however, since the dealer is there to manage the game and make change. Home games don’t usually have a professional dealer, so giving your players a variety of chip denominations will keep the game running smoothly.
In a $50 buy-in game with $0.25/$0.50 blinds, you should have $0.25, $0.50, $1, and $5 chips. If stacks get deep you can consider adding a $10 or $25 chip but that won’t be necessary in the beginning. Each player should start with a decent amount of small chips so they can pay the blinds, but enough $5 chips that they don’t have piles in front of them. You want to make it manageable to have a big stack while not needing to make change constantly. For this game, I would suggest the following breakdown: 12 $0.25 chips ($3), 14 $0.50 chips ($7), 15 $1 chips ($15), and 5 $5 chips ($25). Each player will start with 46 poker chips total of varying denominations. This is easy enough to make a stack without worrying about it spilling over or encroaching on your neighbors.
If your home game plays a little larger, let’s say a $1/$2 game, you can model your denominations after most casinos. Stick to $1, $5, and $25 poker chip denominations. While casinos have thousands of chips at their disposal, most poker chip sets are limited. Rather than giving everyone all $5 chips like a casino, include more $25 chips and make sure everyone starts with enough $1 chips to avoid constantly making change. If everyone is buying in for $200, I would suggest giving each player 15 $1 chips ($15), 17 $5 chips ($85), and 4 $25 chips ($100). You’ll still likely need to make change throughout the night for the $25 chips, but giving everyone 15 $1 chips makes paying the blinds much easier.
Poker Chip Values: Colors
While casinos have the value of each chip printed on them, you likely will not at your home game. Most poker chip sets come in four colors. The most common are white, red, and green. The fourth color varies between black and blue. There are two approaches you can take to the chip denomination colors: the casino version or low to high.
Poker chip denominations in casinos are fairly constant, whites are $1, reds are $5, greens are $25 and blacks are $100. You will find some casinos or areas where this is different. Los Angeles poker rooms, for example, favor blue $1 chips, yellow $5 chips, white $100 chips, and a spectrum of colors for $25 chips. Almost anywhere else will follow the white, red, green, and black structure.
If you have a home game with players who frequent casinos, it may benefit you to keep denominations the same where you can. Let’s say you are playing the $50 buy-in game with a group of friends who regularly visit casino poker rooms for $1/$2. Your best bet would be to keep the white chips at $1 and the red chips at $5. Use the greens and blacks/blues as your $0.25 and $0.50 chips. There may still be some confusion since these players are used to casino colors for green and black, so it helps to print out a small sheet that shows the denominations.
The other method you could use is going low to high using the structure casinos do. In this case, your white chips are the smallest denomination, then red, green, and black/blue. There is no exact science to this as it is based on preference, but whatever will help you and your players remember the denominations is the best structure.
Poker Chips: Which Chips Are Best?
There are a variety of poker chip sets on the market. If you go to any of the mega stores like Walmart or Target, you will find a few options for poker chip sets. There is one standard set that always makes it on the shelves. The chips are white, red, green, and black and it usually comes in a metal case with a deck of cards and dealer, small blind, and big blind buttons. This is the classic home game poker chip set. It’s hard to find a house that doesn’t have this set, so your players will be used to it. The chips have a nice weight to them and make a satisfying sound while shuffling them. There is no writing or markings on the chips, so any denominations will have to be remembered or written down. Overall, this chip set is a great value. You have enough chips for a home game at a fraction of the price compared to custom chips.
If you want to step your game up a bit, you can go online to find some home game chip sets. These sets tend to be higher-end than the store-bought set. From a gaming supply website, you can find a variety of chip sets that have the denominations pre-printed and some with designs as well. If you’ve been to a few home games with a dealer and host, you’ve probably seen the Monte Carlo poker chips. These are used quite frequently at home games, and for good reason. They have a nice weight to them, they are easy to shuffle, they come in a nice clear carrying case, and the standard set comes with more than enough chips to run a successful $1/$2 or even $2/$5 cash game. There are a variety of other options with poker chip values printed on them. Some have names of old casinos like the Monte Carlo set and others may have a brand logo on them. Typically, a set that has the poker chip values printed on them will be good quality.
If you really want to stand out from the crowd you can get custom poker chips. These will run you more than the online or in-store sets, but they can really spruce up your home game. Some long-running home games and underground rooms have their own name and logo. Getting chips with your club/game name and logo is a great way to stand out from the crowd. Not only does it make your game seem more legitimate, but it can also protect you. If you run a larger home game where people are invited who you don’t necessarily know, having the standard chip set leaves you open to cheating. It isn’t hard for an unethical player to buy the same chips you have and bring them to the game for an easy cashout.
If you are just running a game with friends and family, you can still have fun with the custom chip sets. In my home game group, we pass the deck and there is no rake or fee, just a fun way to get together and play. Our host, and good friend, thought it would be fun to get custom chips with pictures of us on them. Of course, he chose ridiculous pictures of us so we had a lot of fun when he first broke these out at our semi-regular game.
Poker Chip Setup
Once you’ve secured your poker chip denominations and know how many chips you are starting with, it’s time to set your game up. While many chip sets come in a large case not many come with chip racks for your players. You can find some chip racks online which will really step up your game. Not many players are used to having their chips given to them in a rack when playing in a home game. If there is a set buy-in amount and you know how many players are coming, you can set up chips at the table so players can simply grab an open seat once they arrive.
If you have a single dealer for the night it is important to find a poker chip set that comes with a dealer button. This will make the game run much more smoothly. Sometimes games will use a different color chip or the box that the cards came in, but having an actual dealer button is much more official.
If you do not have denominations on the chips, I would suggest keeping the chips in separate stacks by color. This makes it easier for your players to see how many chips they will start with at your poker game. Once the poker chip denominations are explained, it is on them how they keep their stack, but the separation to start is a nice touch.
Poker Chip Security
We touched on this previously, but if this is a bigger game with people you don’t know outside of poker, it is generally smart to keep the chips secure. Any chips that a player hasn’t paid for should be kept in a separate, preferably locked room. This way, when a player does buy in the host will go get the chips and there is no possibility someone is taking more than they paid for.
If you want to go above and beyond with security, you can buy a black light stamp for your chips. This stamp will be invisible to the naked eye, but under a black light, you can see it. At the end of the night, you can run the black light over all your fanned-out chips to make sure they are from the set you bought. Any chips without a stamp could have been brought in by another player which means they are stealing from you. While this isn’t common, if you want an airtight game this is a good precaution to take.
Home games are a wonderful way to kill time with friends and family or make serious cash at a bigger game. Regardless of your reasons for playing, they are a lot of fun! If you want to host your own game, making sure you have the correct poker chip denominations and setup is key. A little bit of flair with the custom chips is always a nice touch, too!