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Top-10 ways to send a player from your home game to the WSOP

23 April 2012

Every poker player dreams of winning the World Series of Poker Main Event. The multi-million-dollar prize, and the fame that comes with the title "World Champion," would certainly change your life.

Of course, the $10,000 entry fee is a pretty high bar for a lot of us, especially low-stakes home game players. But there are a lot of other tournaments at the WSOP, including several $1,000 no-limit Hold'em events. No matter what stakes you play, with some organization and planning, you can raise enough money to send a player from your home game to the WSOP.

On Saturday, the players in my home game held a satellite tournament and Jas, the winner, will be going to Las Vegas to play in the $1,500 event of his choice this summer.

There are a million ways you can organize a WSOP satellite. The simplest is a winner-take-all tournament where everyone buys in for the same amount. But a satellite like that can be a little painful. Our first-place prize was $2,000 (we included a $500 stipend for travel), and with 10 players, we would have had to put up $200 each on the spot to have the same prize in a single satellite event. Most of the players in our group don't play any tournaments that cost more than $20 in a given year. Having a winner-take-all event for $200 in our home game might leave some with some sore feelings.

Instead, we had everyone contribute to the prize pool for a total of 10 months. And if you run a regular home game, there's no reason you can't do it, too. Here are 10 things you can do to make your WSOP satellite a success.

10. Rake the game
If you play a cash game, one way to raise revenue is to rake the game. Depending on where you live, raking the game for profit may be illegal. However, in most states, holding a home game with a rake is perfectly legal as long as it's being returned to the players. In the case of a WSOP satellite, players will have the chance to win the money back and there's no "house" to profit from the game. (Be sure you know the laws in your jurisdiction before running a home poker game.)

At our home game, we almost always play a cash game for a few hours, and this idea was a little controversial when we first started since our game is among friends and has never been raked. Since we play relatively low stakes ($.25/$.50 for no-limit and pot-limit games, $1.50/$3 for limit games), we decided to take $.25 from the pot at $10, $25, $50 and $80, maxing out at a $1 rake. In the end, we raised about 20 percent of the funds through a rake.

9. Charge a tournament fee
If you run tournaments, you can also raise funds by taking money out of the tournament prize pool each week. If you only plan on raising revenue through tournament fees, figure out how often you play and how many players you usually have and do the math to figure out how much you need to charge in order to get to your goal.

In addition to the cash game, my home game usually has a $20 turbo tournament at the end of the night. We added a $2 tournament fee which raised about 12 percent of our funds for the WSOP satellite. The 10 percent tournament fee is comparable to what you find online and a steal when compared to what you pay for a low-entry-fee tournament at a brick-and-mortar casino.

8. Collect donations
If a rake and tournament buy-ins won't get you to your goal, another way to raise funds is to collect optional donations. This system can work really well because the donations can be made whether or not a player is at the game in a given week.

We added a $5 donation option that ended up netting us nearly 70 percent of our total funds raised this year. The fact that people could make up the donation was big, as not everyone can make it to the poker game every week. You have to give people an incentive to make the donation, of course, but more on that later.

7. Make it optional
If you have an established home game, you might find that not everyone is on board with participating in a WSOP satellite. Maybe their summers are really busy, so they wouldn't be able to go even if they did win. Or maybe they just don't want to pay a rake and tournament fees to play poker. It's not worth losing a regular player to run your WSOP satellite. And if you have players who choose not to participate the first year, they may change their mind after you’ve gone through the process once.

Our home game has a stable of 11 regular players and a few occasional players. One of our regulars didn't want to participate this year, so it made sense to cap the satellite at 10 players so we could run it as a single table instead of starting with two short-handed tables. It wouldn't be fair to take a rake from people who wouldn't be participating in the satellite, so we only raked pots that were won by people who would be participating in the satellite. It's even easier for tournament buy-ins and donations – players who aren't participating simply don't pay the extra money.

6. Award points for participation
This is where the incentives come in. If you want people to participate, you have to give them something. Assign a point value to playing in a raked game, for paying tournament buy-ins and making donations. Ideally your system should be proportional; if the average player pays $2 in rake in each game, playing in a raked game should be worth the same point total as a $2 tournament fee.

In our game, playing in a raked game earned you a point, as did paying a tournament entry fee. Contributing a $5 donation earned you two points, and if you did all three on a given night, you received a bonus point. So players who were at the game in a given week could earn up to five points. Players who weren't at the game could make up the $5 donation, but could only earn two points. The system was designed to encourage participation in the weekly games, but also give people the chance to not fall too far behind if they had to miss the game for a few weeks.

5. Base starting stack on point total
Once you have your final point totals, you can use those to determine chip stacks. You can award a given number of chips per point, or you can award them proportionally. In the early stages, we planned on awarding 1,000 chips in the satellite for every point earned. While that could work, it's nice to know exactly how many chips are in play so you can plan your tournament structure accordingly. As a result, we decided to put 1 million chips in play and award starting stacks based on the percentage of points players had in relation to the total points awarded.

For instance, I earned 153 points this year, and there were a total of 1,193 points awarded. Since I had 12.82 percent of the total points, I started with 128,200 chips.

4. Give everyone some equity
Not everyone can win a seat in the WSOP, but everyone in your home game can have a financial interest in the winner's fate at the event. A great way to reward everyone for participating is by giving them some equity in the WSOP event.

We used the point totals amassed during the year to determine how much equity each player has in the event. If Jas, the winner of our satellite, finishes in the money, he gets to keep 50 percent of it, and the other 50 percent will be split up by the other nine players. My 153 points give me 7.36 percent equity in Jas's buy-in. With the average $1,500 no-limit Hold'em bracelet winner taking home about $700,000 at last year's WSOP, if Jas were able to somehow take down the whole tournament, I could be looking at more than $50,000. Unlikely, yes, but it definitely gives me a reason to root for him, other than just being his friend!

3. Use extra money for travel, and pay second place
Depending on where you live, it can cost quite a bit to get out to Vegas. Between the flight, hotel and meals, it can be quite a commitment to go out and play in a WSOP event. It's a good idea to give your winner a travel stipend, and if you have enough left over, it's nice to have a second-place prize as well.

We managed to raise $2,400 in one year, and since the idea was always to target a WSOP event, we added $500 for travel for first, and a $400 second-place prize. Eric, our second-place finisher, will get to play an event at Foxwoods under the same conditions. Since we only live a couple hours away from Foxwoods, there's no travel stipend, and he will play under the same equity rules that Jas will play under at the WSOP.

2. Sign contracts
Even if you're good friends with everyone in your home game, you want to make sure you stay that way. It's also important to have a contract that states your intentions and how much equity each player has for tax purposes.

Claiming gambling winnings on your taxes can be complicated. If either Jas or Eric nets $5,000 or more above and beyond their buy-in, they will be issued a W2-G, but since they will only be getting half of the money they will need to be able to prove to the IRS that they are correct to claim a smaller amount than was reported on the W2-G by Caesars or Foxwoods.

1. Play the right tournament structure
The tournament structure you choose should reflect the nature of your home game. If you only play Hold'em, then of course you should play a Hold'em tournament. If you play a lot of different games, find a good mixed game structure. Figure out how long you want the tournament to run, then structure your tournament so that there will be around 50-75 big blinds left at your target end time.

We play Hold'em in our home game, but it's one of many games we play. Since the winner of the satellite would get to play in the tournament of his choice, we decided to play a mixed game tournament. What's the best mixed game tournament, you ask? Well, as someone who's covered the $50,000 Poker Players Championship at the World Series of Poker, I have to say I've never seen a better mixed game structure. We decided to play a modified version of that structure, adding in pot-limit Omaha hi-low, and only dealing 2-7 triple draw once we were down to seven players so that we wouldn't have half the table sitting out during that round. We played 30-minute levels and played six hands of each game before moving on to the next. It worked out really well, with the tournament lasting about 10 hours including breaks. I think it might have been a good idea to extend the levels to 40 minutes after we got past level eight, because after losing just one player in the first six hours, we lost four in the next hour and a half as the antes in the stud games just ate up everyone's stack.
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.