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Top-10 side bets to make during a poker game

5 December 2011

Whether you're in a home game with a group of friends or in the busiest room in Las Vegas, there's a lot of sitting and waiting in a poker game. And if you're an action junkie, it can lead you to play a lot of hands that you probably shouldn't just out of sheer boredom.

But there's an antidote for that: side bets during the game. Some of my best memories from the Casino City Home Game have nothing to do with playing poker; they are of the crazy side bets that have happened during the game.

The key is to make the bet for a small amount relative to the stakes. While the average pot in the low-stakes Casino City Home Game is about $20, most of our side bets are for $1. Side bets get everyone talking and improve the mood of just about everyone – even the guy who ends up losing.

Here are the top-10 side bets you can make during a poker game. And if I missed one that you think belongs on the list, let me know by tweeting me @CasinoCity_AT.

10. Color of the flop
This one is nice and simple. If you're playing Hold'em or Omaha (or any other game with a flop), find someone who wants to make a prop bet and pick a color. If you pick red and if there are more red cards than black cards on the flop, you win. You can also add in a wrinkle with 2:1 payouts if all the cards on the board are the same color. Of course this could get dangerous. If you're playing Omaha, you pick red and you have four red cards, you may want to try to take down with a pot-sized raise to prevent the hand from ever reaching a flop!

9. Coin flip
You've heard of coin flips in poker, but what about a literal coin flip? There's nothing more random (unless someone has brought a biased coin), and I like the poetry of it, considering the game.

8. Roll of a die
A die is also often used to produce a random result. And a die presents a lot more interesting prop bets than a two-sided coin. You can bet high vs. low, odd vs. even (both even-money bets), or you can pick two numbers and ask for a 2:1 payoff, or go for the long odds and pick an exact number for a 5:1 payoff. Die bets work particularly well when playing Binglaha (read number 4 for the rules of that great game).

7. Sports bets (especially prop bets on Tim Tebow)
If you're playing poker in a casino in Nevada, chances are pretty good that the sportsbook isn't too far away, so it's pretty easy to plunk down a few bucks on a game that you'll be able to watch on one of the big screens. But even if you're playing in a home game, you can usually find someone who thinks you're crazy when you say that the Colts are going to cover. (Need evidence? Listen to the last episode of The Casino City Gang. Out of 16 NFL games, we usually have a consensus on three or four games, and there are only three of us. It would be pretty rare to find everyone backing the same side with six or more people present.)

While straight-up bets against the spread can be fun, ridiculous prop bets can be even more fun. A few weeks ago, when the Jets and Broncos were playing in the Thursday-night game on the NFL Network, a few guys in my home game started making wagers on the number of passing yards Tim Tebow would have. They set the line at 120 yards (if you're having trouble coming up with good bets or lines, check an online sportsbook like bet365 Sportsbook & Racebook or Bodog Sportsbook and Racebook) and spent most of the night sweating the Denver quarterback on every play. The guy who took the over jumped for joy when Tebow completed a 28-yard pass on Denver's first offensive play. (He still ended up losing the bet, by the way.) The wager was just $10, but they got a lot of entertainment out of it. And, because they were betting against each other, they didn't have to pay the juice.

6. Catch a wave
Jas, a regular in our home game, makes sure we play catch a wave at the end of the cash game almost every week. As soon as he has four players for $5 each, he usually succeeds in recruiting the rest of us by promoting the prize pool, saying whoever wins is going to get a free $20 tournament buy-in.

Catch a wave is a simple game; players start with a fresh deck of cards, turn over the top card and must guess whether the next card will be higher or lower. If you guess correctly, you guess again. You continue your run until you guess wrong. At that point, your "wave" ends and you count all the cards that have been revealed (the shortest possible "wave" is two). Whoever has the longest run wins the dough.

You can play that ties win, lose or are removed from the deck and another card is revealed, but I prefer to play that ties lose, unless you call tie (instead of higher or lower), in which case you automatically win, no matter how long your wave is. There aren't many times when it would make sense to call tie, but if someone has posted a wave of more than 10 cards and you're two cards in and looking at an eight, it might be worth a shot.

5. Darts
This is one of the few side bets on my list that has any actual skill involved, but if the man cave you're playing in has a poker table, there's a good chance there's a dart board too. You can bet on lots of things in darts, from full cricket games to first bull's-eye to highest point total on three darts. Just be careful; chances are the host has had a lot of time to practice!

4. When the delivery driver will arrive
It's fairly common for people at a poker game to order something from a restaurant that delivers. And if you're looking for action outside of the game you're playing, you can set an over/under line on when the delivery driver will arrive with your food. Be sure you set the line with your head, not your stomach. Someone who's already eaten might try to push the line lower to take advantage of your hunger pangs.

You can bet on virtual greyhounds on Paddy Power.

You can bet on virtual greyhounds on Paddy Power.

3. Virtual dog racing
I'm obsessed with the virtual sports offerings at several online sportsbooks, like Paddy Power Sportsbook, and I can't believe how lifelike the computer-generated animations are. And if you've got six people willing to make a bet, randomly assign people numbers and cheer on your dog. If you've got more than six, you can pick horses, or if there are only two or three of you, pick sides in a soccer match (including a draw). The key is random assignment. Then, when people see their odds to win, they can start talking trash. But even if you're the favorite, remember, he who laughs last laughs best.

2. Pick a winner in all-in situations
In a tournament, when a player is all-in, both players must flip over their cards. When this happens before the flop, turn or river, it gives everyone at the table a chance to sweat the outcome. It also gives players a chance to try to figure out the odds and predict who will win. Half the fun is arguing about the price. The other half, of course, is watching to see who will win. Just make sure you don't take too long to negotiate; there is a hand that has to be played, and those involved may not appreciate a long wait to determine their fate just because you've got a few bucks riding on the outcome.

1. Flippaments/Hold'em lottery
While coin flips and dice rolling can be fun, there's something about sweating the outcome of a poker hand that adds to the excitement. A "flippament" (I prefer the term Hold'em lottery) is when players all get dealt two cards, just as in Texas Hold'em. However, they immediately expose their cards and a flop, turn and river are dealt with no betting rounds. The winner of the hand takes down the entire amount bet. It can be played heads-up or with lots of players. The best part of it, though, is seeing all the hands and figuring out your chances. You may feel really confident in your pocket aces until you see that the other player has flopped a straight flush draw. It adds an element of drama into something that boils down to luck. Coin flips and dice rolls are over too quickly for that.
Top-10 side bets to make during a poker game is republished from
Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.

Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.