Fair Chip Distribution for a $20 Poker Night

By David Huber
October 04, 2023

Chip distribution for a $20 poker night can be one of the most instructive and entertaining ways to experience a legitimate poker home game without significant financial risk relative to live casino or card room stake or buy-in amounts.

While the responsibility and separate expense of providing refreshments and snacks may be placed upon participating players (especially if the home game is not collecting any rake or fees), you can still enjoy hours of fun with a $20 buy-in.

In this article, we’ll take a look at how to “make change” and distribute chips for various low stakes buy-ins in a way that will pave the way for dozens of hands to be dealt over the course of multiple hours for a low stakes home cash game.

20 dollar poker

How to Divide Poker Chips – $20 Buy In

Despite Saturday Night Live’s comical ideas for dividing twenty dollars into smaller denominations (search SNL Change Bank), a home poker game host will want to carefully consider how to make change for a $20 buy in.

If you’re planning on having numerous participants play in a cash game, you’ll obviously need to set the stake amount and provide players with plenty of “cents” – with actual $1 chips mainly being used to convert into more cents that are relevant to the low stakes.

Another important consideration will be the poker game format – Fixed Limit, Pot Limit, or No Limit.

For example, if you’re playing a No Limit Texas Hold’em game in which players are only contributing a $20 total buy in each, then the stakes of the game should probably range between $0.01/$0.02 and $0.02/$0.05.

Anything more than a $.05 Big Blind for a NLHE game will put players’ total bankrolls in jeopardy much more quickly. This can disrupt the game or cause it to end early; twenty dollars at $0.02/$0.05 stakes represents only four total buy-ins of 100 Big Blinds.

Use the guide below – which breaks down how to divide chips in poker for a SINGLE buy in.

NO LIMIT POKER GAMES – $50 Buy In for $0.25/$0.50

Two $5 Chips = $10
Fifteen $1 Chips = $15
Forty-six $0.50 Chips = $23
Eight $0.25 Chips = $2

NO LIMIT POKER GAMES – $20 Buy In for $0.10/$0.20

Two $1 Chips = $2
Sixteen $0.50 Chips = $8
Forty-five $0.20 Chips = $9
Ten $0.10 Chips = $1

NO LIMIT POKER GAMES – $10 Buy In for $0.05/$0.10

Two $0.50 Chips = $1
Sixteen $0.25 Chips = $4
Forty-five $0.10 Chips = $4.50
Five $0.05 Chips = $0.50

NO LIMIT POKER GAMES – $5 Buy In for $0.02/$0.05

Four $0.25 Chips = $1
Seventy-five $0.05 Chips = $3.75
Twenty-five $0.01 Chips = $0.25

NO LIMIT POKER GAMES – $2 Buy In for $0.01/$0.02

Two $0.25 Chips = $0.50
Twenty-five $0.05 Chips = $1.25
Twenty-five $0.01 Chips = $0.25

Fixed Limit Poker is a Great Format for Lengthy Low Stakes Home Games

Low stakes poker home games that aim to be instructive, entertaining, and sustainable can benefit enormously from a Fixed Limit format.

Although players won’t have nearly as many opportunities to go all in, having an established monetary limit per betting round enables poker game hosts to suggest higher stakes overall – in a manner that can accommodate micro-stakes poker bankrolls more comfortably.

It is also easier to manage individual player reloads and rebuys when the poker format is Fixed Limit (which will occur less frequently compared to No Limit or Pot Limit games).

Bet amounts for Fixed Limit games are typically capped at four per round: which means one bet, one raise, and two re-raises until the per-betting round limit has been reached.

Fixed Limit games may also be less susceptible to collusion while at the same time reducing the risks of home game hosts/promoters enabling “ringers” to participate and/or establishing a pseudo digital communications intelligence network to extract maximum value from lesser-skilled players.

Below is a chip distribution guide for low stakes, Fixed Limit home games.

How to Divide Chips for $50 Buy In ($0.50/$1 Fixed Limit)

Forty $1 Chips = $40
Twenty $0.50 Chips = $10

How to Divide Chips for $20 Buy In ($0.25/$0.50 Fixed Limit)

Thirty-six $0.50 Chips = $18
Eight $0.25 Chips = $2

How to Divide Chips for $10 Buy In ($0.10/$0.20 Fixed Limit)

Forty $0.20 Chips = $8
Twenty $0.10 Chips = $2

How to Divide Chips for $5 Buy In ($0.05/$0.10 Fixed Limit)

Forty $0.10 Chips = $4
Twenty $0.05 Chips = $1

How to Divide Chips for $2 Buy In ($0.02/$0.04 Fixed Limit)

Thirty-five $0.05 Chips = $1.75
Twenty-five $0.01 Chips = $0.25

Fixed Limit Games Simplify Dealer, Banker, or Cashier Tasks

One thing you’ll immediately notice is that Fixed Limit games can be less complex in terms of how many chip denominations are in each player’s stack (or in a pot) at any given time.

“Color Up” tasks can easily be performed in Fixed Limit home games.

Due to the lack of reload and/or rebuy frequency (compared to No Limit or Pot Limit formats), a Fixed Limit game can also assist newer players in learning the ins-and-outs of chip values that are not marked or labeled with a specific denomination.

This task can be more confusing in No Limit or Pot Limit games since there will likely be more unlabeled chip colors for each player to keep up with (not to mention all the reload and rebuy action that can take time away from actual poker playing).

Home Game Low Buy-In Sit & Gos (Mini Tournaments)

If you’re hosting a group of extremely “casual” poker players or just want an “add-on” to your experience as a poker home game host, then low buy-in Sit & Go mini tournaments could make for an entertaining session.

Basically, you’ll need to decide on the buy-in stakes for the mini tournaments, and then establish a starting stack amount for each participating player while at the same time informing all contestants of the payouts.

Assuming you’re not charging a rake or fee (we’ll talk more about this later), you can generally distribute winnings (from the total prize pool) to the following Sit & Go mini tournament placements.

  • 3-4 Players: 1st Place 100%
  • 5-6 Players: 1st Place 67%, 2nd Place 33%
  • 7-10 Players: 1st Place 50%, 2nd Place 30%, 3rd Place 20%

Remember that, as a host or dealer, you will need to also set a “time” or “number of hands” limit to mark each time the blind amounts increase.

A good rule of thumb for this (in a home game environment) is to increase blinds each time the button moves to its starting placement. This will allow every player to have the button at least once for each blind level until elimination.

Of course, there are near-limitless chip distribution possibilities to decide upon before a Sit & Go mini tournament begins.

Do the players want a “hyper turbo” format that will result in the mini tournament ending more quickly on average? If so, you can manipulate this scenario – as a host, administrator, or dealer – by forcing blind increases after every single hand.

However, doing this will inevitably place certain players at a mathematical advantage or disadvantage depending on their starting position relative to the button and blinds.

Per-hand antes are another great way to ensure a mini tournament runs its course and “moves along” more quickly – which can be an important factor in ensuring that players who are eliminated early in the mini tournament don’t have to wait a half hour or longer before the next Sit & Go begins.

Unlike live, double-elimination billiards tournaments, a poker game host who is offering a mini tournament Sit & Go will not have the luxury of being able to schedule “winner’s bracket” players ahead of the loser’s bracket in order to keep as many players “in action” and/or “consuming” for longer periods of time.

Word of Caution: Charging Rake or Fees for a Poker Home Game

As you may be aware, real money gaming activities are typically licensed by one or more governing bodies depending on jurisdiction.

Aside from jeopardizing the status of any poker home game, charging rake or fees to host a gaming activity could open you up to any number of liabilities – both civil and criminal depending on any number of circumstances as well as the present-day enforcement capabilities of authorities.

It’s much easier to have a casual poker game among friends who agree beforehand to bring food, snacks, and/or refreshments than it is to earn something of value as part of your role as a poker home game manager.

And of course, the less familiar you and the other game participants are with each other or the higher the stakes, the greater the chance of becoming the victim of targeted activities ranging from attracting professional players to showing up on the radar of authorities is.

More Words of Caution: Gaming Activities, Crisis Management, and Probabilities

Personally, I feel it is important for poker home game (and unlicensed card room game) hosts or sponsors to be aware of public comms as it relates to troubleshooting crises that may occur as a consequence of – or in coordination with – a live gaming environment in which something of value is won and lost by individuals or groups of players.

To my knowledge (admittedly as an outsider), there is NO public communications infrastructure currently established – or being worked on – to manage public nuisances, crises, or any other dire situation that might be linked back to a poker home game during an official investigation.

As far as I know, you’re pretty much “on your own” as a poker game host in terms of potential liability tied to monetary losses, brandishing of weapons or discharging of firearms, and/or consumption of alcoholic beverages/influencing substances.

As an exercise to explain this in very basic mathematical terms, let’s consider the following as a hypothetical example.

  1. You have a six-sided single die (numbered one through six) and you are going to cast/throw it twice.
  2. Before your first throw, the probability that the die lands on SIX for the first throw AND the second throw is calculated as ⅙ x ⅙ (or roughly 0.1667 x 0.1667). The sum of this calculation is 1-in-36, or approximately 0.0278.
  3. However, before your first throw, the likelihood that the die lands on SIX for either the first throw OR the second throw is calculated as ⅙ + ⅙ – 28/1000 (or about 0.1667 + 0.1667 – 0.0278). The sum of this calculation is approximately 3-in-10 or 0.3056.

Now, let’s move this rudimentary thought exercise into a hypothetical real world scenario.

The chances of lightning striking a specific tree in a forest; AND that tree being a birch tree; AND there being a bird in that birch tree that is struck; AND that bird being a sparrow.

This may not be a scenario that individuals, regional popular culture, authorities, or society as a whole deem relevant to contemplate or possess the wherewithal/initiative to troubleshoot, civilly try, or criminally prosecute after such a hypothetical event occurs.


The chances that your poker game (not to mention you, your family, and/or your roommates) can get into trouble due to monetary wins/losses by players; OR charging rake/fees to host an unlicensed gaming activity; OR there being weapons present; OR there being alcohol/influencing substances in use.

The point I’m trying to make here is one-sixth TIMES one-sixth equals one-thirty sixth while one-sixth PLUS one-sixth equals two sixths… and the chances that some “poker-verse” public comms infrastructure is going to “come to your aid” or “bail you out” if your unlicensed poker home game runs into a serious crisis are very slim indeed (in my opinion).

I’ve placed this personal commentary in the article not to discourage any particular poker home game from occurring, but rather to inform you to the best of my ability about potential liabilities that can quickly “add-up” if certain elements/variables are introduced into that particular home game.

Low Stakes Fixed Limit Home Games Among Friends Are Your Best Bet?

Use the chip distribution guides provided in this article and experiment to decipher which breakdown is best for the poker buy-in that your guests are able to comfortably contribute.

Even if it’s perceived as being “less exciting,” a Fixed Limit low stakes game may be ideal for beginning poker game hosts as well as the players themselves.

Best of luck with chip distribution for your low stakes buy-in poker game!



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David Huber poker author
Written By.

David Huber

David Huber has been involved in the poker industry for close to two decades: initially as a professional online poker player and later as an editor, consultant, writer, and forum manager. Known as “dhubermex” online, David’s poker-related work has been heavily published across numerous websites since 2004.

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