Home poker tournaments can be a hoot!

A home poker tourney can be very rewarding for all concerned.

At a home poker tournament, players are often only half-concerned with the money at stake (unless your buy-ins are set at a very high price). Mostly, they want to have a fun, memorable time.

I’ve talked in previous articles about general ways to make home poker games fun. Hosting a home poker tournament is more difficult than running a cash game, but really once you’re in your stride it’s a piece of cake.

The chips are down

There is one very important logistical consideration. Do you have enough chips to support a home poker tournament? With some creative thinking, cash chips can be converted into points values based on colour.

If you have a typical larger set of chips with values from 25c to $100, with plenty of each value, that should suffice. I have outlined a suggested cash chip points value scale for home poker tournaments later in the article.

Sit-and-Go (SNG) or multiple table tournament (MTT)?

Simple decision. If you can seat everybody around one table, your home poker tourney is a SNG. If not, it’s a MTT. SNGs could be structured with rebuys or add-ons if desired.

To keep your home poker tournament running smoothly, it might be best to split an oversize table into two smaller tables. Fifteen guys around one table is going to make for a very slow game: a MTT with two tables of eight and seven is simpler and quicker.

Remember to balance players in MTTs as they get knocked out. In the above example, should the table of seven be reduced to six, wait for the current hand to finish, then move a player at random from the table of eight to make two tables of seven.

You will end up with two tables of six and five. Once that is reduced to ten, break up one table and seat everybody in their 'final' table positions!

Keep it to a freezeout, or allow rebuy(s) and/or an add-on?

A freezeout is a home poker tournament which allows no rebuys or add-ons. Freezeouts will be completed in much less time. It also makes the playing field level. People with more money in their wallet enjoy no advantage if they are not allowed to buy more chances to be lucky.

Rebuys are simply the chance to re-enter the tourney if you have run out of chips. The player hands over another cash amount and receives the same number of chips he began with.

The more rebuys you allow, the longer the home poker tournament will take to complete. Most tourneys have a fixed period of time for the rebuys (one hour is usual), or a fixed number per person (usually a maximum of two for more expensive tournaments).

Fixed number rebuys are harder to administrate, as you have to keep track of who has bought in and how many times.

An add-on occurs only once, when the rebuy period has ended. All players, regardless of chip count, have the option to add-on. Sometimes add-ons are worth double the original starting chip amount. For simplicity's sake, I would leave it equal. So, if you allow an add-on and the starting chip total was 2000 points, give another 2000 for an add-on.

Important note: you will also need more chips available if you allow rebuys or an add-on.

Starting stack level

The more chips each player has, in theory the longer your home poker tournament will take to complete. This depends on the skill of the players. Obviously, if the blinds begin at 5-10 and you give everybody 5000 points, it will take longer than if you give people 2000 points.

I would recommend at least 2000 points per player. 3000 might be better. This depends on the real dollar amount it costs to start: a low price encourages a faster game, while an expensive admission price makes a slower game more appropriate.

Keep an eye on the time! If players have a curfew, consider speeding up your home poker tournament by offering no rebuys or add-ons and starting with 1000 or 1500 chips. If it ends too soon, you can start a second tournament.

Your final consideration should be the players. Are they in this for the experience, or the money? If it’s the money, make the starting stacks smaller, to encourage a quicker resolution. Make starting stacks larger to encourage ‘correct’ play. 

Blind structure?

Traditionally, blinds increase every 20 to 45 minutes. Blind amounts usually double at each level. The slower the blinds increase, the ‘purer’ the gameplay remains. You will hear seasoned Texas Holdem tournament players complaining about a ‘crapshoot structure’, which means the blinds have got too large to put a premium on skillful play.

In a crapshoot finale, most players will be forced all-in with any hand they play, due to the large blinds in relation to the size of their stacks.

It's unlikely that your players will complain too much though: after all, it's your poker game and they are guests, if not friends! Ensuring a structure eventually forces a crapshoot between the remaining players is one way to guarantee that your home poker tourney ends within your time limit, so bear that in mind.

A blind structure might look like this:

SB BB Ante Cash chips equivalent
5 10 0 25c 50c 0
10 20 0 50c $1 0
20 40 0 $1 $2 0
50 100 0 $2.50 $5 0
100 200 0 $5 $10 0
200 400 0 $10 $20 0
200 400 25 $10 $20 $1.25
400 800 25 $20 $40 $1.25
400 800 50 $20 $40 $2.50
500 1000 50 $25 $50 $2.50
500 1000 100 $25 $50 $5
1000 2000 100 $50 $100 $5
1000 2000 200 $50 $100 $10
2000 4000 200 $100 $200 $10
2000 4000 300 $100 $200 $15
3000 6000 300 $150 $300 $15
3000 6000 400 $150 $300 $20
5000 10000 400 $250 $500 $20
5000 10000 500 $250 $500 $25

Once you’ve hosted a few tourneys, you will be able to make adjustments to the above structure. Ask your players for input. They might have sensible suggestions for improving the structure.

You'll notice that the low-value chips become useless at the end. So, if you begin to run out of high-value chips, 'cash in' the low-value chips (e.g., 25c value) and assign them as $500, or whatever you're short of.

The clock

You’re going to need a clock to keep track of your home poker tourney's blind raises. Anything with a relatively accurate alarm will do. Something like a digital alarm clock, stopwatch or kitchen timer is fine. One person should be in charge of ensuring that the timer is reset after each level.

Above all, have fun!

Once you have hosted a home poker tournament, you will see that it’s pretty straightforward. The mechanics of it will take care of themselves, allowing you and your guests to enjoy the night.

More info on home poker tournaments and sit-and-goes