How to Organize a Friendly, Little Poker Game
What we have here is your basic euphemistic oxymoron, since we all know there is no such thing as a "friendly" poker game. There may exist a poker game played by people all of whom are friends. But poker is quiet war; it's tidy bloodlust; it's ripping the guts out of the guy next to you and tossing them back in his face with a pair of aces. Unless, of course, you let women play and use wild cards. In which case poker is a card game. Regularly-scheduled poker nights have something slightly institutional about them; they acquire traditions and eccentricities that somehow make them different from all other poker games. Partly, that's personnel; partly that's...
Where to play: Probably one player's home. It's best not to rotate the venue; situating the game more or less permanently in one place reinforces the notion that the game is a regular, unchanging thing.
Stick to the cards: The venue should be dedicated to poker for the night. Mixing poker with your wife's Tupperware party somehow denigrates the intrinsic importance of The Game.
Facilities and materials: Good lighting, enough chairs, a practically proportioned table, plenty of ashtrays, a mess of red, blue and white chips and four decks of cards - two red, two blue - are standard.
Players: Seven is ideal; five or six will do. Never play a four-handed game. The best way to insure a steady supply of players is to find five or six regulars, leaving one or two chairs open for guests. That way, if a regular becomes irregular, he can be demoted to guest, and a guest can be elevated to regular. Boot chronic no-shows.
Try and exercise some demographic sense in picking your players: If your group includes three guys on student loans and three neurosurgeons, odds are you'll have a short and uninteresting game.
House rules: House or game rules should be sensible and easy to remember, and they should be made clear to everyone before the very first hand of the very first game is played. Newcomers should always have house rules explained to them. Remember that the object of house rules is to ensure fair play in a congenial atmosphere.
Here's a list of house rules:
Stakes: The stakes and limits are probably the most important elements in a regular game. The stakes should be high enough to mean something - ever try and bluff your way into an 80¢ pot? - but not so high that some guy's kids won't be able to eat. Quarter, half- dollar seems to work pretty well for most people, especially if you limit raises to three.
Pick your poison: Stick with games everyone knows. Esoteric games with lots of blind flips, wild cards, extra buys and passes are social games, not poker games, and usually find favor only when the game is thoroughly coed. For a good, smooth game, stick to draw and stud games and their variants. Adding high-low splits can liven up a game.
Game duration: Set a quitting time and stick to it. If you have a mid-week game that starts at seven, call for a last deal around the table at, say, midnight.
Cleaning up: Either everybody pitches in, or the winners clean up and the losers are excused. But never ask your girlfriend or wife to do janitor duty, since if you do, there's a very good chance your first poker game will be your last.
Refreshments: There are two ways to share food duty: Either one person is always responsible, or the winner is responsible for bringing food the following week. If you choose the former option, rake a buck from each pot until the tab is paid.
A limited supply of beer is okay, but avoid hard stuff. Poker is best played with a straight face.
Be a good ambassador: If you're invited to someone else's game, learn the house rules, try and gain at least a superficial acquaintance with the other players and stay until the end. Ask the person inviting you what the stakes are; if they're too high for you, don't go.
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