Millions of Americans assemble around their kitchen table for a weekly home game. Playing poker with your pals is a time-honored tradition, both among regular gamblers and recreational players alike.
Home poker games provide a venue for swapping stories, letting off steam, and busting one another’s chops. For folks who take the game seriously, a steady home game can serve as a proving ground of sorts, offering an opportunity to test their skills in a competitive setting.
Sin City is home to the world’s foremost poker scene, with dozens of casino poker rooms, hundreds of professional players, and thousands of tourists rounding out the lineup on any given day.
You can find every conceivable format too, from multiday events that feel like a marathon to quick, in-and-out “turbo” tournaments. The great game of Texas holdem is joined by offshoots like Omaha (holdem played with four hole cards) and Seven Card Stud. And the stakes range from a few dollars per pot to titanic sums in the six- and even seven-figure range.
Living in Las Vegas gives me a ton of access to the latest innovations in real money poker, so I always look for ways to apply that access in hopes of improving my own home game.
On that note, check out the list below to find five fresh ideas straight from Las Vegas casinos that you can use to spice up your home poker game.
1 – Bounty Tournaments
One of the coolest poker prop bets to the world of tournament poker I’ve encountered is the bounty format.
Essentially, a bounty tournament rewards anybody who eliminates an opponent from the table with an instant cash payout. Let’s say your normal home game tournament uses a $100 buy-in and 10 players to the table. Normally, all $100 of each entry fee would be used to form the prize pool of $1,000, with the top three finishers splitting that up in something like a $500-$300-$200 arrangement.
But in a bounty tournament, you can take $20 from each entry fee and assign that dough as the bounty on that particular player. The total prize pool still has $800 up for grabs, but now, anybody who busts somebody else out of the game scores a $20 rebate. If you catch a hot run of cards and roll through the table, you can easily pay for your original buy-in just by claiming bounties.
Bounty tournaments become extremely entertaining because the dynamics shift significantly in favor of aggression. Whereas you might normally fold a hand like K-10 to a short-stack’s shove, knowing that a bounty awaits if you get lucky and bust them makes calling that much easier.
And because nobody wants to fall into the short-stack danger zone themselves, everybody will be playing a little more aggressively than normal in hopes of building a big stack with which to rack up bounties.
If you don’t feel like diminishing your standard prize pool, you can always tack on the bounty fee on top of your normal buy-in. This way, the main prize pool remains intact, with players ponying up a little extra to sweeten the bounty pot.
I love bounty tournaments because they make every all-in situation more intense than usual. Knocking somebody out of contention is always a treat, but scooping a sweet bounty at the expense of a buddy just makes the victory more meaningful.
To get a sense of how bounty tournaments up the ante for everybody at the table, watch this highlight reel from last summer’s $1,500 buy-in No Limit Texas holdem Bounty tournament at the World Series of Poker (WSOP).
That one used a $500 bounty, which turned every hand into a battle for both pride and pocket money.
2 – Cash Game Bomb Pots
In the cash game format, the concept of “bomb pots” has taken the Las Vegas poker scene by storm. Here’s how they work…
Imagine you’re playing a standard cash game using blinds of $1/$2. At any time, calling for a bomb pot requires all players to place an ante, typically equal to 5x the big blind. Thus, everybody chips in $10 before the cards are dealt to suddenly create a sizable pot right off the bat.
From there, the dealer doles out everyone’s hole cards as per usual, along with the flop. At that point, the hand plays out normally, but the bomb pot format ensures all 10 players at the table have gone to the flop with random hands and a huge pot already built.
The fun thing about bomb pots is how they add an element of pure chance to poker’s typically clinical approach to preflop hands. You’ll be putting in that forced ante before ever seeing your cards, and you’ll even head to the flop without the option to fold, so literally any two cards can connect with the board.
Bomb pots have a way of loosening up what would normally be a tight table, too. Just get a load of Phil Hellmuth, the notoriously tight 15-time WSOP gold bracelet winner, bluffing the entire table out of a juicy bomb pot.
If you’re looking for a fun way to add action and unpredictability to your home poker cash game, bomb pots are definitely a great addition to consider.
3 – Tag Team Tournaments
In 2017, the WSOP introduced a clever new tournament format known as the Tag Team event, where two or more players form a team and enter together.
From there, one player takes to the table and tries to build the team’s stack, but they can tag a teammate to relieve them at any point. This flips the usual tournament structure on its head, as players you might have a great read on suddenly disappear, only to be replaced by someone you’re unfamiliar with.
In the home game setting, a tag team tournament would probably work best with two-player tandems partnering up. And to prevent one player from dominating their team’s usage rate, I’d suggest going with a timed tag out system, with each player swapping out every 30 minutes.
Tag team tournaments can lead to many interesting scenarios, especially when you accumulate a ton of chips. Conversely, the thrill of tagging in to find a short stack waiting, only to run it up and tag your teammate back in to find a big castle of chips, simply can’t be beat.
You’ll also have plenty of strategic implications to think about when playing a tag tournament. Maybe you’re better at the early phases of a tournament, when the blinds are relatively small and the antes haven’t kicked in yet.
Meanwhile, your teammate excels at the endgame when the stacks are less deep and the blinds come around more often. Knowing all of this, you could assign yourself as the team’s “opener” while making your teammate the designated closer.
Check out this clip from PokerNews to see what top pros have to say about the tag team tournament format.
Most home game poker players stick with No Limit Texas holdem every time they get together, and for good reason.
The “Cadillac of Poker” is perfect for recreational players who discovered the game watching the old WSOP and World Poker Tour broadcasts. All-in moments, brutal bad beats, and the ability to double up in an instant make No Limit Texas holdem a ton of fun.
With that said, you should definitely think about hosting a dealer’s choice cash game the next time your pals come over to play some cards.
In the dealer’s choice format, whomever holds the dealer button on that particular hand gets to “call” the game. You can opt for the more popular poker offshoots like Pot Limit Omaha, traditionalist games like Seven-Card Stud, or even more obscure variants like Razz (a Stud game where the worst hand wins), Badugi (a game where players try to hit hands using all four suits), or split pot games like Omaha Hi Lo Eight or Better.
And when you know a particular opponent isn’t well-versed in one game or another, calling it out just to needle them is always good for a laugh.
5 – Satellite Tournaments to the WSOP
On a final note, if attending the WSOP in Las Vegas has always been a dream shared by you and your fellow home game players, why not turn your kitchen table into a satellite qualifier?
The annual WSOP offers plenty of gold bracelet events priced at $1,000, so all it takes is $100 from everybody and a 10-player game to create a winner take all satellite. Whomever winds up winning every chip in play becomes the home game’s resident champion, receiving a full $1,000 buy-in with which to take their shot at gold and glory at the next WSOP.
The stakes can obviously be modulated to fit everybody’s bankroll accordingly, but if you have a full table of players on a consistent basis, you should be able to host a WSOP satellite rather easily.
Poker home games have been a staple of the game for many decades, serving as the foundation from which the wider poker community develops and evolves. If your personal home game seems to be stuck in a rut lately, trying any of the five formats listed here is a surefire way to inject a little excitement and intrigue back to the proceedings.