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Best of Aaron Todd
Here's a list of 10 things that every home game should have.
I know it sounds obvious. But it's not easy to get six or seven players together on a consistent basis. And without players, you don't have a game. You can play with friends, if you have enough who are interested in playing. If you can't patch together enough friends, ask around and find out if your non-playing friends know anyone who might be interested in joining a game. If that doesn't produce enough players, there are plenty of resources online to find players. Check out the home poker forum at twoplustwo.com, or browse through the listings at homepokergames.com. Be aware that some of the listings are really out of date, but some of the contacts there may be able to put you in touch with people who would be interested in joining a new game.
Obviously, you can't play poker without cards. If you're playing for the first time, you might be thinking that it's okay to go out and get one deck of cards from your local drug store and that will do the trick. If you're playing with a bunch of relative newcomers, you might get away with it, but if you have experienced players coming to your game, you'll want to have plastic playing cards. The cheapest plastic cards you can find are Copags, and they're currently a steal at just over $15 for a two-deck setup at Amazon.com.
If you want to go for higher-end plastic cards, Gemaco and KEM are the way to go. Prices range from $20-$40 for setups of those cards, depending on the design and availability.
You can play poker at any old table, and if you're just starting your game, playing at your kitchen or dining room table will suffice. When I first joined my current home game, when we played in South Boston, we'd play on two card tables that were set up next to each other but were different heights.
As you progress and your home game becomes more serious, you'll want to think about upgrading your table. When I hosted our game a few years ago, we played on our dining room table. Thankfully, my wife bought me a decent poker table for Father's Day a couple years ago. And the player who hosted games in Southie built his own custom table a couple months ago.
If you're ready to move beyond the kitchen or dining room table and have a dedicated poker table, you can find plenty of used tables for a good price on Craigslist, and you can find new entry-level tables for $150-$300 on Amazon, but remember, you get what you pay for.
If you're ready to really make the leap into a high-quality table, check out what's available from Stein Game Tables. You're sure to like what you find, but be ready to get out your checkbook.
Poker chips speed up the game, and they're a necessity for tournaments. You can get a set of cheap plastic chips for next to nothing, but it's worth spending the $30-$50 to get a set of dice chips for a game that's just getting off the ground. There are definitely higher quality chips available, with Nevada Jack ceramics offering a good middle-of-the-road selection, and you can even go as far as creating a custom clay set from Atlantic Standard Molding.
Obviously, you need chairs to host a home game. But you'd be surprised just how often this item is forgotten. I even need to borrow chairs from time to time, if I'm hosting a larger-than-average game.
You can get a set of padded folding chairs from Walmart for $20-$25 apiece, or you can go crazy and get comfortable chairs for more than $100 a pop from a number of online vendors. Just make sure you have enough and that they're in good enough shape that they won't break.
5. Dealer button
It sounds simple, but it's good to have a dealer button in poker, even if you're passing the deck around at a home game. You may find that a player or two sticks around at the end of a tournament to help deal, especially if the host gets knocked out, and the button will be an important indicator as to where the deal is. And if you want to get really spiffy, you can get a dealer button with a timer to count down the time left in levels if you're running a tournament.
4. Cut cards
These aren't essential – our home game played without them for years and I don't recall ever seeing the bottom card on the deck. On the few occasions that it did happen a player in the game called it out so we all had the same information. However, it's nice to have a cut card on the bottom of the deck to prevent the accidental showing of the bottom card on the deck. These are pretty inexpensive; just make sure that the plastic is thick enough that you can't see the bottom card through it.
3. Dedicated refrigerator
Now we're getting into the real man-cave items that can make your home poker game legendary. If you're playing in your kitchen or dining room, you probably have easy access to a refrigerator. But if you're in your basement or in a room away from the kitchen, you might want to have a dedicated refrigerator available for your guests. Having a beverage fridge allows you to store your beer at the right temperature and also allows your guests to bring their own and not feel like they're cramping your leftovers' style by taking up all the extra space in your refrigerator. It can also help keep things cool with your significant other, who is already being nice enough to let you host a poker game.
2. Dedicated bathroom
Once again, if you're playing in your kitchen or dining room, there's likely to be a bathroom nearby. But if you're tucked away in a basement, having a bathroom available that guests don't have to go far to use will go a long way towards making your home a frequent stop for your home poker game. It also goes a long way towards keeping things cool with the aforementioned significant other.
Let's be honest: playing poker can be a little boring sometimes. And having something to watch can provide people with a welcome distraction while they're waiting for a player to make a decision. Now I'll be honest: I didn't get to pay as close attention to the major political convention that was going on while we were playing (I taped it and watched the speech later), but having a sporting event on in the background is one of the best options.
An HDTV is essential, and if you're going to be playing on Sundays, get NFL Sunday Ticket. If players are big baseball fans, get MLB Extra Innings. And if there aren't any games on, put in a movie that everyone has seen a dozen times, like Rounders .