Adding Player Bounties and KO Bonuses

If you're looking for a way to add a little something extra to your tournaments, you may want to consider adding bonuses for knocking out players (aka, bounties). Many professional tournaments do variations of this, including the World Poker Tour's Shooting Star tournaments (where player's get an instant $5,000 for knocking out one of the pre-selected poker pros). Since your own games probably don't have any big name pros or celebrities, the best bet is to probably just give a bonus for all players you knock out.

So how should the KO bonuses work? Well, the easiest way would be to just have everybody throw in an extra few bucks on top of the regular buy in so that the extra cash goes towards knockouts. In the league I'm in, we are probably going to make the knockout bonus 10% of the buy-in. So if your buy-in is $20, each player should throw in an extra $2. Each time a player is knocked out, the person who knocked them out will get $2. Obviously you can adjust the amount of the bonuses depending on what you think is best for your league.
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Table Talk Dos and Don'ts

One of the great things about home poker games is the trash talk that often makes its way to the poker table. When playing against friends, table talk is all part of the game, but there's still a few do's and don'ts that you should keep in mind. Most tournaments and casino cash play often have rules against talking in certain situations and restrict what you can and can't say during a game. Of course, at your home poker games, you set the rules, though the casino rules are usually in place for a good reason so you may want to follow their lead.

A common guideline is that players should probably not talk about a hand unless they are involved in it. If you're nervously bluffing a player, you don't want somebody who's not in the hand to call you out. It's not always a rule, but it's almost always considered poor sportsmanship to affect a player's hand when you're not in it.

Teaming up is incredibly frowned upon and often against the rules. You can joke around about having to take out a player or to watch out for a person's bluffs, but during a hand, you shouldn't be talking to your fellow players about strategy or ways to beat another player. A common example is when a person goes all in and two players call. Generally the two calling players will check the entire hand to increase their odds of eliminated the all-in player. This is an acceptable unspoken strategy but it becomes poor sportsmanship (and usually against the rules) to tell your fellow player to just check it down during the hand.

You can talk about your hand all you want, as long as you don't say exactly what you have. This is rule that most people don't know. Most casino games have a hardset rule that you cannot tell people the specifics of what you're holding while you're playing. You can be vague and give possibilities, but you can't flatout say "I've got poket aces". Once people lay down their cards you can show them and brag all you want, but you usually aren't allowed to say exactly what you have while the game is being played. Since this rule is often forgotten, it's really up to you whether or not to enforce it.

Verbal bets are binding - at least at the casinos. Movies have shown some bad poker, thus giving new players some bad examples to follow, such as the "I call you're bet and I raise you all-in." It's up to you to determine how to handle verbal bets, but you really should make verbal bets binding a rule since it's unfair to the recipient of a misspoken verbal bet. If a person announces raise, they must raise. If they say fold, they must fold - there shouldn't be any exceptions.

In the end, keep in mind that it's a home poker game and to not take things too seriously - especially in the beginning. Get a feel for your fellow players. If there are many new players, you're going to want to ease them into rules like verbal betting. If most of your home poker game is comprised of poker regulars, you'll probably want to mimic casino rules so that your games will be as professional as possible. Remember that the key is to have fun. Don't be afraid to liven up your home game with some trash talking - just make sure it's all fair and in good fun.

Chip Counts, Starting Stacks, and Chip Denominations

Previously I posted some information detailing the types of poker chips you can buy. Today I'm going to cover how many chips you should buy, how many different colors (and how many of each color), and how many chips you should start people out with.

First, here's a loose breakdown of the chips you'll need depending on the number of players.

  • 200 poker chips for 2-4 players.

  • 300 poker chips for 4-6 players.

  • 400 poker chips for 6-8 players.

  • 500 poker chips for 8-10 players.

You should start seeing a pattern above. For most tournaments, a good starting stack is about 25-50 poker chips for each player. Obviously no two tournaments are the same, so you'll want to consider your blind schedules as well as the style of play you're looking for. Basically, you want people to feel like they have a good amount of chips, but not too many that stacks get too big too soon as players get eliminated. This could mean starting everybody with 100 chips or more or perhaps as low as 20.
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Blinds Amounts, Raise Schedules, and Antes

If you're looking to run a poker tournament at home, determining the blinds and antes is crucial to making sure your game runs at just the right pace to keep action lively while still giving players room to maneuver. Make your blinds to high to start with or raise them too fast and people will not have much wiggle room for strategy. Raise your blinds too slowly and you're likely to have a game run on forever with people waiting for perfect hands every time.

Note: the following tips are geared towards poker tournaments and not cash games as cash games run as long as you want regardless of blinds and antes.

Blinds Starting Amount
Determining the starting amount for your blinds isn't as crucial as figuring out how much to raise them and how often, but the starting amount definitely plays a fairly big role. A general rule is to use 1/50 to 1/25 of your starting chip amounts as your big blind. If everybody starts with 100 in chips, the big blind should be two and the small blind should be one for 1/50 or 4 and 2 for 1/25 the stack. This allows the first few rounds to go by at a relatively relaxed pace. The 1/25 amount starts things off a little quicker, so it's best used if all your players are veterans.

When to Raise
Most tournaments raise blinds fairly quick (usually between 15 and 30 minutes) as they try to keep the action moving. You'll probably want to do the same even though you might think you can keep blinds low for a long time. The problem with leaving blinds low is that people will often merely wait for a huge hand before playing, thus slowing the game down severely. Depending on your player size and how quickly you want your game to end, I recommend raising blinds at either 15 or 20 minute intervals. You can also stagger the raises so that the first few raises are at 15 minute intervals but then you can switch to 20 or 30 minute intervals.
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Cash Games vs Tournaments - Choosing the Right Poker Game for You

So you want to play poker at home? One of the first things you'll have to do is decide whether you want to play cash games or tournaments. With many advantages and disadvantages for each, I've outlined the major points for both below so you'll be able to pick the best option for you and your victims... I mean friends.

Poker tournaments are generally what you see on television with players competing until all chips are controlled by a single player. Players are paid based on how far they get before they are eliminated.


  • Tournaments tend to be more competitive as there's actual placing for players to fight for.

  • If you want your home games to be part of a league, it's much easier to track points if people are placed in tournaments.

  • Cash games can be scary for some since you can lose a lot of money quickly as you're able to continually buy back in. Tournaments allow people to know the amount of money they are risking upfront and can focus on playing rather than what they are losing.

  • Tournaments allow for players at many tables to compete towards one goal, thus lending itself to larger amounts of players.

  • With tournaments, you're able to add various awards and achievements, such as bounties for knocking out players, awards for players with the longest winning streak, etc.

  • Tournaments can take a long time and you really can't quit until you've been eliminated, thus making it harder to schedule a block of time where multiple people can play.

  • More rules are generally required for tournaments and you often need to keep track of more things (such as raising blinds).

  • Beginners often take awhile to get their heads wrapped around the idea that they can't just walk away with their chips at any time.

  • Players eliminated from a tournament are done and can only watch from then on out.

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