If you’re like millions of other Americans who enjoy card games and camaraderie, you probably participate in a home poker game of some sort. Whether it’s getting together once a month to joust over penny-ante pots with old college pals, or battling over big bucks in a competitive tournament league, home game poker is a big deal in all corners of the country.
Back in the day, I hosted one of the biggest home games in my hometown—steady $2/$5 No Limit Texas Hold’em cash spanning two tables on Saturday night.
As the game’s organizer and steward, I took great pride in watching a couple dozen regulars revolve in and out every weekend. But I was far from alone in the home game hosting ranks. I made my rounds playing in three to four regular sessions every week.
I’ve seen my fair share of home game poker action, from the perspectives of both host and guest. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help myself from thinking about the streamlined operation and sophisticated ambiance while playing poker in Las Vegas. As the night progressed, I began making mental notes on the various ways home game hosts can transform any table into a true Vegas-style affair.
On that note, the list below highlights six of the easiest ways you can make your home poker game feel more like a Las Vegas card room.
1 – Buy a Genuine Felt Table to Play Poker in Style
Once you’ve played on a professional style casino poker table, lined with smooth green baize and ringed by a comfortable cushion with embedded cupholders, crowding around a cat-scratched ottoman to play cards simply can’t compare.
Even a legitimate dining room table made of wood or laminate doesn’t really replicate the look and feel of poker as played in Las Vegas. Cards dealt with a little mustard on them can easily slide right off the side, while sweaty beers threaten to leave water rings when coasters are hard to come by.
Anything less than a full-scale casino card room poker table lessens the game somewhat, so why not spring for the real deal?
Fortunately, adding this essential element to your home game is much easier than you might imagine. You don’t even have to contact any specialized contractors to build a custom model. Although, you can definitely do so if money is no object.
The fine folks at BBO Poker Tables offer a slew of custom designs ranging in price from $699 to $2,399 depending on make and model. These tables from BBO are at functional and beautiful, and you can even design unique felt that bears your home game or league’s colors and logo.
But if you’re trying to remain budget-minded with your home game improvements, checking the poker table menu on shopping sites like Amazon and eBay reveals a long lineup of affordable alternatives.
You’ll find quick fixes like tabletop felt liners that fit various shapes and sizes of table. If you want a more professional look without the expense of custom design, poker tables with foldable legs are easy to set up and store when they’re not in use.
No matter which type of poker table you prefer, consider it to be the foundation of any top-notch real money poker game.
2 – Only Play With Quality Clay Chips and Bicycle Playing Cards
If a real poker table is the foundation, genuine clay chips and Bicycle brand playing cards are akin to the bricks that build a Las Vegas style home game.
If you’ve ever played poker in the casino setting, you know that handling the chips and cards is a sensory experience that can’t really be replaced by imitations. Casino poker chips have a certain feel and heft to them, allowing dexterous players to riffle them perfectly with the flick of their wrist. And when you transition to the home game arena, cheap plastic or wooden chips just can’t compare to the genuine clay material used by Las Vegas poker rooms.
You can head here to sample the various clay chips furnished by PokerChipMania.com, one of the leading purveyors of custom chip sets. These bad boys come complete with bright colors and denomination labels, so the players in your home game will never have to be reminded about the various values in their stack.
And at only $3.75 for a stack of 25 chips, you can easily stock a full-scale chip set with enough ammo for a full tournament or cash game table without breaking the bank.
As for the cards, most Las Vegas casinos stick with the Bicycle brand by default, and for good reason. Sturdy card stock, a classic design, and a glossy finish have made Bicycle playing cards favorite of gamblers since 1885.
3 – Hire a Professional Casino Dealer to Run the Game
Almost all home games allow players to take turns acting as the dealer, and in most cases, this self-service setup works just fine.
But if you really want to take your home game to the next level, hiring a trained casino dealer to run the show is the only way to go. Believe it or not, many casino dealers moonlight by working home games in their spare time, so all it takes is a little looking around on your local Craigslist page to make a match.
You’ll typically be charged a rate right around $25 per hour, which might seem steep at first glance, but is actually a very reasonable wage for the services rendered. A properly trained poker dealer protects the integrity of the game by concealing the deck’s bottom card, avoiding exposed cards, and preventing misdeals.
If efficiency is a priority, nothing beats a poker dealer who can wash, shuffle, and deal a new hand within 30 seconds. The worst part about using a player dealer rotation is often waiting for certain people to get in gear, what with ongoing banter and the big game on in the background. And even when they are ready to roll, some players just don’t like having to alternate between dealing and playing their cards and trying to drag the pot.
By employing a professional dealer for your home game, your guests can feel free to focus on the task at hand without worrying about slowing down the pace or becoming distracted during a big hand.
4 – Use an Automatic Card Shuffler to Get in More Hands
If you aren’t interested in springing for a professional dealer, the next best thing is adding an automatic card shuffling machine to your home game mix.
For just $20 or so on average, you can purchase an automatic card shuffler on Amazon and have it delivered before your next poker night. These nifty little gadgets work wonders too, taking two decks in separate compartments and thoroughly randomizing them within a matter of seconds.
If your home game crowd tends to bend or mistreat the cards while taking their turn as the shuffler, or their speed isn’t quite up to snuff, using an automatic card shuffler solves those problems straight away. And the best part is, every minute you shave off extemporaneous shuffling time adds more hands per hour to your home game’s pace of play.
Check out this convenient listing to learn more about the top seven automatic card shufflers of 2020.
5 – Spread Different Games and Variants to Spice Things Up
Like most folks, I cut my teeth as an aspiring poker player by learning the great game of No Limit Texas Hold’em.
And while the “Cadillac of Poker,” as 10-time WSOP gold bracelet winner Doyle Brunson once famously referred to his home state’s namesake variant, is certainly deserving of its status as a home game staple, you should consider expanding your horizons going forward.
By embracing the many different forms of poker at your disposal, you can turn a tired Texas Hold’em only home game into a much more entertaining and enlightening experience.
But once you’ve added the variant to your table’s rotation, you’ll find that more hole cards to work with creates increased action, leading to larger pots and a higher frequency of climactic showdowns.
Other poker variants to consider include Seven Card Stud, Omaha Hi-Lo Eight or Better, Razz, and Badugi. In each case, you’ll likely need to teach the gang certain structural tips, but because poker is an extremely intuitive pursuit, your home game players will almost always adjust in short order.
To learn more about the “mixed games” that make up a well-rounded poker menu, check out this handy guide published by PokerNews.
6 – Set Up a Full-Fledged Mini Bar and “Comp” All the Cocktails
On a final note, one of my favorite parts about playing poker in Las Vegas is the steady stream of complimentary cocktails that come my way.
Whether I’m winning or losing at the moment, looking up to see the cocktail server on their way with a refreshing Corona and lime or Jack and Coke always seems to enhance the experience.
To replicate the Las Vegas atmosphere in all its glory, take a shot at setting up a mini bar area of your own ahead of the next home game on the schedule. I’d recommend buying a bottle of all the major liquor types, along with a couple cases of beer. Put everything on ice, along with garnishes like olives and orange slices, and a dozen clean cocktail glasses.
From there, just let your players know that they can help themselves to a drink whenever they’d like, and you’ll see the table suddenly light up.
Las Vegas has represented the pinnacle of poker for decades now, and that’s never going to change. Home games are sort of like the minor leagues when compared to the Big Show, but that doesn’t mean you have to settle for less than the Sin City lifestyle while hosting your next poker night. Just take advantage of a few of these six tips to transform your basic home poker game into an experience your players won’t soon forget.