If you’ve never dealt in a home poker game before, there are certain rules of etiquette that you should know about beforehand.
The first thing is that, unless you’re using plastic cards (like the expensive Kem cards I recommend buying), you should break out a new deck of cards to deal with. If you’re hosting, that’s up to you. If you’re not, you’re probably not going to deal first.
But either way, the first thing you do with that deck of cards is shuffle it. You need to shuffle it seven times to get it fully randomized.
There’s always a shuffled deck ready. Use one red deck and one blue deck so the cards never get mixed up.
Once you’ve shuffled that first deck of cards, you deal each player a card.
Just one at a time until the dealer is chosen.
This is to determine who gets to be the dealer first.
You get to decide what determines the dealer – you might decide that the first player to get an ace is the dealer. It could be the jack or any other card you like. Just make sure you announce it as you’re dealing the cards one by one, face-up.
Dealing continues from here as the game starts. The rest of this post will go into detail on how to be the dealer in your home poker game.
It used to be common to have dealer’s choice as the presiding rule at a home poker game. This just means that the dealer gets to decide which game is going to be played.
It’s more common now to host a Texas holdem game or an Omaha game, but I still like to host a home game with dealer’s choice.
If you’re the dealer, don’t spend a lot of time agonizing over choosing the game you think will give you an edge over the other players. Just announce something basic and get on with it. The worst thing you can do at a home poker game is to slow down the game for any reason.
You’re in Charge
In most dealer’s choice games, the dealer’s in charge. In fact, for the most part, the dealer’s in charge of most games and makes most of the judgment calls about various things. Recently, I was dealing a game, and someone else decided to step in to tell another player something.
I corrected him plenty quick, by the way.
“I got this,” I told him.
You do need to pay attention to how many players are at the table before announcing the game.
If you have any special rules, you need to announce and explain those, too. You might have been playing baseball (a variant of 7-card stud) since you were ten years old, but you can’t assume the other players know how to play that game.
It’s your job to explain it if they don’t.
That’s one of the reasons I suggest sticking with the basic games. Poker’s plenty of fun without coming up with a dozen variant rules for everyone to keep up with.
When you deal a poker game, you should always offer to let the player to your right (or your left, under some house rules) the opportunity to cut the cards. He should cut the deck toward you, although he can choose not to cut the deck if he wants to.
In the event of a misdeal, the dealer gets to make the judgment call, but you can expect input from the players. A lot of home poker games have specific rules in place for misdeals, too.
Dealing With Style
I suggest keeping it simple and just doing the basics – deal the cards one at a time to each player. Don’t turn them face-up unless they’re supposed to be face-up. Take your time to avoid a misdeal.
Some poker dealers love to spout off patter as they deal, and they have nicknames for all the face-up cards. Other dealers just blandly announce the cards as they’re dealt – ace of spades, queen of hearts, etc. Still, other dealers just keep their mouths shut.
It’s also customary to announce possible hands when you see face-up cards. “Possible flush” might be something you’d announce when dealing.
They’re also supposed to make sure that the players betting put their money in the pot, and they administer side pots when they come up. You also need to make sure that the discards get handled correctly. Remember, they go in the muck.
You can even learn sleight-of-hand tricks to deal with even more style. I know a card player who only uses one hand to deal. He uses the same hand he’s holding the deck with to distribute the cards.
That takes some practice.
The Final Deal
Eventually, someone – usually the host – will announce that you’re only going to play a certain number of more hands before calling it a night.
If you’re dealing the last hand, you should think about dealing a game that’s cool enough to make for a memorable final hand.
Often, this involves coming up with a game where you can get a lot of money into action. You might announce that the ante for the final hand is double, and bet sizes are double, too.
Or you might announce a game that just builds large pots by its very nature.
The Cards Talk
“Cards speak” is the standard rule in any home poker game. This just means that the cards are what determines who has the best hand, NOT what the player announces.
If a player has a straight flush, but he just announces a straight, his straight flush still plays.
It’s your job as the dealer to recognize the hands and point out who the actual winner is if someone is confused about the strength of his hand.
Some Hosting Advice
Being the host isn’t the same thing as being the dealer, but here are some tips for the host nonetheless:
You’re looking for five to seven players usually, and you should tell them in advance when the game starts, where you’re playing, and what the stakes are.
Traditionally, at my home game, I serve frozen pizza and little smokies sausages in barbecue sauce. I usually have some cheese cubes and crackers available, too. I’ve played in other games where beer was served and hot sandwiches in a crockpot, like meatballs or barbecue.
I usually tell people to buy in for at least $50 and bring an extra $5 to apply toward snacks. With seven players on hand, that’s $35 to budget for snacks. Heck, with that kind of money, you can even buy soda pop.
There’s no shame in asking people to bring a dish to share, either.
When Should Your Game Be?
The best night to host a home poker game is Thursday night. Here’s why:
On Monday, you’re recovering from both the first day of the workweek AND from the weekend. So are the other players.
If you play on Tuesday, you don’t have anything to look forward to later in the week.
Wednesday are reserved for church for some poker players – believe it or not.
Thursday is the best day. It’s late enough in the week for people to be ready to do something fun. Also, most people get paid on Friday. So, even if they lose money, they’ll get more money the next day.
Friday is okay, but a lot of people go out on dates on Friday night. This limits the number of players who will show up.
You should host your game at a regular time and a place every week if you want it to become successful.
Dealing and hosting a home poker game is more involved than some people think. I’ve covered what I think are the most important basics above.
But I also know that a lot of people do it differently.
What changes would you make to this guide to dealing a home poker game based on how you do it in your home game?
Let me know in the comments.