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Top-10 ways to add some energy to your home poker game

3 September 2012

A home poker game can get a little stale if your group plays the same format week after week. But there's no reason you can't spice things up from time to time by adding a theme or changing the format of the game. If your home game needs a little more pep in its step, here are 10 ways you can inject some new energy into your home game.

10. Dress like a famous player night
You may not have the poker resume of Phil Hellmuth, Doyle Brunson or Daniel Negreanu, but there's no reason you can't dress and act like they do. Invite your regulars to show up dressed in costume and encourage them to adopt the personality of their favorite poker pro or fictional poker player. While Hellmuth and Teddy KGB might be the most fun to emulate, I think I'd don my craziest shirt and channel my inner Johnny Chan.

9. Nightly bad beat jackpot
If you only play Hold'em, you can really spruce up the game by adding a bad beat jackpot, even if it's just for one night. Take $1 out of each pot that reaches $10 or $20 and keep track of the highest-ranking losing hand of the night. At the end of the game, the player who suffered the worst beat of the night takes the jackpot.

8. Chinese Poker night
If you can only manage to get four players to your game, instead of playing really shorthanded or scrapping the game altogether, get the group to play Chinese Poker. There are many variants of Chinese Poker, but the most common involves four players getting 13 cards. Each player arranges their hand into three hands, two with five cards and one with three cards. The five-card hand closest to the player must be the highest ranked poker hand and the middle hand (the other five-card hand) must have a higher hand rank than the three-card hand. Once all players have set their hands, they flip them over and compare their holdings. Players compare their hands heads up against all the other players in the hand, so Player 1 compares to Player 2, then to Players 3 and 4. Player 2 then compares his hands to Players 3 and 4, and Player 3 scores his hand against Player 4. If you beat another player on two of three hands, you net two points (you get two for the hands you win, lose one for the hand you lose, then get an additional point for the overall win), and if you sweep all three hands, you net four points (three points for each individual hand, and one for the overall win). Decide how much each point is worth, keeping in mind that you can win and lose up to 12 points a hand.

For those feeling adventurous, you can play open-faced Chinese Poker, where each player gets 13 cards face down and doesn't look at them. The game starts with the player to the dealer's left turning over five cards and deciding which hand they will use them in. Each player does this in turn, and then each player reveals one card at a time and decides where to place it. If your hand values get corrupted (if the middle hand outranks the bottom hand, or if the three-card hand outranks either hand), then you are automatically swept by anyone whose hand isn't corrupted.

Experienced Chinese Poker players can mix things up even more by adding "royalties" to any variant of the game. Royalties award bonus points for different hand ranks. Do some research online and find out what the royalties typically are for the variant you decide to play, or just set your own. But either way, be sure to adjust your strategy accordingly.

7. NFL Sunday game
If you have a man cave outfitted with more than one HDTV, a WiFi connection and an NFL Sunday Ticket subscription, this is right up your alley. Invite a group of friends over to play all day on a Sunday, starting before the kickoff of the first NFL game of the day. You can add some great gambling options to your normal poker game by having the spreads available for people to make side bets. Or you can run a confidence pool, where everyone picks the winner of every game and rates them in order of how confident they are in their pick. If there are 13 games that day, the top choice would be worth 13 points and the bottom pick would be worth 1. The person with the most points at the end of the day wins.

With games running from 1 p.m. until about 11:30 p.m. ET every Sunday, you've got more than 10 hours of games to keep you entertained (and hopefully keep some other players distracted) during the poker game.

6. Old west game
Get out your cowboy hats, spurs and saddles, it's time for an old west poker game! Encourage people to dress in costume, serve whiskey and play old-time games like stud and five-card draw. If you want to get real adventurous, you can even allow cheating - and allow people to "shoot" cheaters when they get caught. Players who get "shot" lose a significant amount (perhaps one buy-in, or half their stack), or have to sit out and be blinded out for a long time, but please, no real gun play! One suggestion, however: If you are going to allow cheating, lower the stakes significantly. It's one thing to laugh off a loss of a few bucks. Some feelings may get really hurt, however, if a significant amount of money is being snagged by a cheater, even if it is "allowed."

5. Mixed-game tournament
Any of my regular readers knows that I'm a huge proponent of learning games other than just Hold'em. And one of the best ways to learn a new game is in a tournament. With a fixed buy-in, everyone knows what they're in for, so people who don't feel like experts in a game can get a chance to play it for a fixed cost. Perhaps the best mixed-game structure ever created is the World Series of Poker's $50,000 buy-in Poker Players Championship. It incorporates limit, pot-limit and no-limit games and a mix of board, draw and stud games. Get a group together and give a mixed-game tournament a try.

4. Heads-up tournament
Unless you're a heads-up specialist, you probably don't have a ton of experience playing heads up. A heads-up event is a great way to change that. One of the best ways to pull it off is to organize the field into groups and play round robin, giving everyone a chance to play at least three matches. Group winners advance to a knockout round, and play down to a best-of-three championship match.

3. Challenge another home game
Want to know just how good your home game is? Take half of the players in your game and have them play in a different nearby home game. Then have the other game send half their players to your game. Or, you can organize a tournament that combines both games. Make sure this is a friendly rivalry and that there won't be any collusion. This is a great way to meet new people and also evaluate the quality of play in your game when compared to others.

2. "Reindeer games"
Folks that play in BARGE events routinely organize "Reindeer Games" around the tournaments, and last year around Christmas, my home game did the same. The way we played Reindeer Games didn't vary our format a ton from our regular game. We still played dealer call, with a full rotation of each game before moving on to the next. However, the types of games we played changed a great deal. Wild card games, multiple board games, and declare games are usually out of bounds in my home game, but for Reindeer Games, everything was up for grabs. Kings and Little Men, Chowaha, Follow the Queen, Night Baseball ... pretty much anything was allowed, and it was a blast.

1. Satellite event
Every poker player dreams of winning a big tournament at a casino, but only a few of us will ever pull it off. Even a $400 event can have a five-figure payout for the winner, depending on the casino. Some small-stakes home-game players may not want to plunk down so much of their own money on an event at a casino. But there's no reason you can't get 10 players to put up $40 for a satellite event. And if you want, you can have all the players involved split the winner's tournament equity, with 50 percent going to the winner and the other 50 percent getting split up by the rest of the players.
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.