Home poker cash games are the purest way to experience poker. Today, more people play poker in the comfort of their own homes than anywhere else. I have been a cash game professional for over a decade and will tell you exactly what you need and how to get set up.
A well-organized home poker cash game setup is easy to achieve. The structure and rules that you play by are generally straightforward and easy to implement. Beyond that, all you need is a deck of cards, some poker chips, a table, a few players, and you are good to go.
This article will give you all the details to make your home poker cash game the envy of the town. Let’s get started.
The great thing about poker is that really all you need is a deck of cards. You can actually play without a fancy poker table and can use some form of substitute for chips. However, if you want your cash game to have some class and maximize the fun for your players I recommend investing in high-quality supplies. The good news is that it doesn’t have to break the bank.
Quality Playing Cards Make a Huge Difference
Most people don’t know it, but the difference in quality between a deck of cheap Bicycle cards and premium playing cards is huge. There is a virtual chasm of difference in both the feel and playability. Trust me on this, once you use a high-quality deck of cards you will never go back to those cheap plastic-coated things again.
Here are my top two recommendations:
Copag Playing Cards
My personal favorite is Copag playing cards. The best part is that they aren’t that expensive considering how awesome they are. They are a bit more “slippery” than KEM, but are also the least expensive of the two.
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KEM Playing Cards
KEM cards are used in the World Series of Poker and are well-known for their durability. They have a rougher texture which is preferred by some. These are also the most expensive quality brand.
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My personal favorite is Copag playing cards so if you are not sure which to choose, give them a try.
Poker Chips: The Denominations are More Important Than Looks
When players buy into a cash game the chips will represent actual money. Therefore, when compared to tournaments you will need a wider variety of chips for cash games. While it’s not 100% necessary, you may want to purchase chips that match the cash game stakes you are playing.
Here are two poker chipsets that are versatile and work great for cash games. Once again, I recommend both a budget brand and a high-end option.
JPC Crown Casino Poker Chips
JPC is a fairly inexpensive yet attractive brand that features 7 different denominations in their stock set. While the lowest is $1, followed by $5, $25, and up, you could easily just make these $.01, $.05, .25, etc.
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Nile Club Ceramic Poker Chips
This is my favorite poker chip brand. They are unique looking and beautifully designed. The best part is that you can choose from 11 different denominations to perfectly fit the cash game stake you are playing.
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A Poker Table Should Match Your Needs
There’s no rule that says you need a poker table at all. You can play a game with just a standard kitchen table. However, most people will prefer the comfort of playing on the actual felt rather than on a cold wooden surface.
Poker table options come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and materials. There are 3 main factors that determine which type you should purchase:
The size of your playing area- If you do not have a dedicated poker room, you can play on any reasonably sized table by using a folding or rollup poker table mat. If you have a lot of space, you may want to invest in a casino-sized wooden permanent table.
The number of players- Small round or octagonal tables will work fine for 3 or 4 people. But if you want to play with 6 or more players, you simply have to have an oval table.
Your budget- Options can range from a $15 mat all the way up to several grand for a luxury table.
I wrote a detailed article about poker table options awhile back, be sure to check it out for more details. Here are my favorites based on budget and number of players.
For small games with 5 or less people:
Homcom Octagon Table Topper
If you are on a budget and have very little space, this table is the way to go. It’s quick to set up and easily portable. This is one of the most popular designs in the world for small home poker games.
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For games with 6 to 9 people:
Fat Cat Tri-Fold Poker Table Topper
This is one of the most compact “large” options you will find out there. It is much bigger than most inexpensive folding tables and fits nicely on an oval or rectangle kitchen table. The padded rails are an unusual and nice addition to this model.
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Barrington Oval Poker Table
If you want to spend a bit more money and get a stand-alone table, you can’t do much better than this without spending a ton of cash. This is my personal favorite since it strikes a balance between permanent tables and more compact portable versions.
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Sturdy Folding Chairs Work Nicely
This is something else where I prefer something a bit more utilitarian. Here are some heavy-duty folding chairs that will hold up to 650 pounds each. If you have any heavier friends, (I’m no lightweight myself) they will appreciate the gesture and feel more comfortable joining your game.
For details on any other supplies, you might need, be sure to check out my article on 10 keys to hosting a successful poker night.
Now that you have all the supplies you need squared away, let’s make sure you know how to structure the games.
Cash Game Structure
The simplicity of cash games make it the easiest option to implement. In fact, there really is no structure. In fact, no real planning or forethought is required before you sit down. For those of you used to playing only tournaments, this can be a breath of fresh air.
How Do Cash Games Differ From Tournaments?
If you are used to playing tournaments, you will find that cash games are a whole lot simpler. While tournaments feature a price to buy into the event and payout via a prize pool, chips in cash games represent actual money.
If you lose $100 in a pot during a tournament it’s no big deal since you can still come back and win the top prize. However, in a cash game when you lose $100 you actually lost $100 in real money.
Furthermore, since the blinds don’t increase, you don’t need to worry about a timer. All you really need to worry about is collecting cash from your “patrons” and converting it to poker chips before you sit down to play. This is because you never want to play for actual cash since that can get a bit messy. Unless, of course, you are playing for pennies only.
Cash Game Rules
The great thing about cash games is that rules are usually really simple and straightforward. In my opinion, the focus should be on trying to be the best player and beat your opponents mentally. Not trying to navigate some complex system of wild cards or complicated ante structure.
However, this is your home game and you have the freedom to set up the rules however you wish. Here are a few ideas:
Allow and encourage straddling- Allowing straddles can add an interesting twist to the game. It is a popular thing for players to do who are down a bunch of money. They increase the price to play in order to force people to put more money in and give them a chance to get their money back faster. Often, it has the opposite effect and makes them lose even more money, but the type of player who straddles tends to be not worried so much about the money anyway.
Play the “seven-deuce” game- This is a fun way to add some intrigue to your games that really doesn’t affect the actual rules of the game too much. The way seven-deuce works is that if a person wins a pot while holding 72, every other player has to pay them a set amount. A common amount is somewhere between 2 and 10 big blinds. This game makes it so that you can never be sure if someone is betting heavy because they actually have a strong hand, or could it be seven-deuce?
Try Pot-Limit Omaha (PLO)- Pot-Limit Omaha has been growing in popularity in recent years. Basically, it’s almost just like Hold’em except you deal 4 cards to each player instead of 2. The one thing to remember is that you must use EXACTLY 2 cards to make your 5 card hand. In other words, you can’t use just 1 card to make a flush or straight. This is the most common thing that players get wrong, so watch out for it. Otherwise, get ready for a wild ride as PLO is a super swingy (but enormously fun) game.
This is where the poker set that you chose comes into play. Having more denominations gives you flexibility on handing out chips and allows you to move up and down in stakes with ease.
Here are the common poker chip values based on color:
White or Gray – $1
Red – $5
Blue – $10
Green – $25
Black – $100
Purple – $500
Yellow – $1,000
Pink – $5,000
However, even if you only have 4 different color chips it can still work fine. Let’s say you want to play $1/$2 or $2/$5, similarly to the lowest stakes in a casino. Then your poker chip values can be White is $1, red is $5, blue is $10, green is $25.
However, if you want to play a higher stakes game like $5/$10 or $10/$20, you will either need additional chip denominations, or you will have to convert lower chip colors. For example, you could make white chips worth $100 and red chips worth $500. Of course, since the colors of chips in poker sets will vary, feel free to come up with your own system for denominations.
What If We Want to Play Smaller Stakes?
Personally, I don’t even want to play with friends for more than penny/dime/quarter stakes. If someone is losing more than $50 to $100 in a night, it can get unfun very quickly. So, you will need to alter your denominations a bit. Here is one example you could use:
White – $0.10
Red – $0.25
Blue – $1.00
This breakout would work just fine for a .10/.25 game, a stake I highly recommend playing to people who want to have just enough money on the table to make it interesting, but not enough to have to try and explain something to an angry wife.
How Many Poker Chips per Person? What Do They Start With?
As you probably know, a player can buy-in for as much as they want in a cash game depending on the house rules. Most of the time you will likely allow them to buy in for as little as 20 big blinds and as much as 100 big blinds. Of course, this is up to you.
Here are the chip distributions for common stack buy-in sizes based on the common stakes:
20bb or $40
50bb or $100
100bb or $200
20bb or $100
50bb or $250
100bb or $500
20bb or $200
50bb or $500
100bb or $1,000
20bb or $500
50bb or $1,250
100bb or $2,500
And of course, we can forget my favorite “micro-stake” to play; .10/.25.
40bb or $10
100bb or $25
How Many Total Chips Do We Need for Home Poker Cash Games?
I usually tell people to try and have at least 50 chips on hand for every person involved in the game. So, for 5 or 6 people you want at least a 300 chip poker set. Get a 500 piece set for more than that.
Sometimes higher-end sets can be really reasonably priced for cash games if you buy the denominations you need ala cart. Some sets, like the Nile Club poker set, allow you to do this.
Attracting and Managing Players
This part usually takes care of itself for most people. However, there are times where you might want to expand your game. Once you have a regular group, you will also want to keep them happy.
How to Find More Players
Most home poker cash games are a bit more “serious” that tournaments are and usually made up of family, friends, or neighbors. However, if you find yourself only having only 2 or 3 people you may want to try and find more players. Here are some general tips for finding more people:
Bring a friend- Ask your current players to bring a friend or family member. You may want to set a limit to this, otherwise, you may end up with someone’s granny showing up (nothing personal granny).
Get out and meet your neighbors- A great way to get to know someone is to invite them over for a friendly poker game. Just make sure you feel them out first and that their personality fits your group well. Disinviting people to future games can be awkward.
Ask a co-worker- Someone you work with and/or their husband could be a great addition to your game. Besides, it gives you something to talk about around the water cooler.
Avoid advertising online- Sites like Craigslist can be a mixed bag. Sure, you could find some nice people. You could also be setting yourself up to get robbed. I recommend keeping the group as private and stick to word of mouth for finding people.
Keeping Players Engaged and Happy
Your mileage may vary on this one and will be highly dependent on your own personal situation. Here are some tips to keep everyone coming back to your cash game:
Keep a well-stocked fridge- Drinks and snacks can make or break a poker night.
Make sure your “bank” is plentiful- Keep a secure cash box full of every possible denomination. I recommend that you have at least triple what is typically on the table at the start of the night. People will inevitably rebuy and it’s possible you will need to cash a lot more out at the end of the night than you might expect.
Provide security- This only really applies if your group are high rollers. Paying a security service is relatively inexpensive. Having a marked security car sitting outside your house will be a good deterrent.
Don’t charge rake- Besides being illegal, trying to make money off your friends usually doesn’t end well. Keep it casual and simple.
Don’t provide a dedicated dealer- Having the players deal is the way to go. Having one person deal or hiring someone slows the game down and no one likes that. Instead, have two decks of cards and have the person in the big blind shuffle the cards from the prior hand while the cards are being dealt.
Try short stacking- I highly recommend that you encourage your players to buy in for 40 big blinds. This really increases the action (and fun?) while also minimizing the amount of money someone might lose over the course of the night.
Overall, a cash game is a far superior choice to playing tournaments if you prefer to keep things simple and avoid having players become upset when they get eliminated. I mean who wants to stand around and watch while waiting for the next game?
I hope this article has been helpful. Please post any comments or questions below.
If you want to really add class to your home poker cash games, here is a summary of the products that I most recommend:
Copag Playing Cards– My favorite premium brand of playing cards. Trust me on this, don’t use those cheap Bicycle cards anymore.
Octagon Folding Table– For smaller games with 5 players or less.
Oval Poker Table– For games with 6 or more players.
Heavy Duty Folding Chairs– These will fit any size player up to 600 pounds. I come from a rather “large” family if you catch my drift. Make sure you have good solid chairs to prop them up.