How to hold a Poker Party

A poker party is a great party, best with 6 to 10 people.

Here's what you'll need:

Between 6 and 10 players; 7 or 8 makes for a great game.
If you have more than 10 players then you'll need to split into two tables or play will be too slow.
Someone who knows how to play. It's really going to go better if you have at least one person to explain the rules at the start of the evening, How to play guide
Enough poker chips, preferably in four colours (more details below).
500 chips is enough for up to about 10 people.
It's very reasonable to get nice casino quality chips, they are usually listed as 'clay' chips and should weigh 10 or more grams.
Don't make the mistake of getting chips with the denominations printed on them; over time you might want to play games with different buy-ins and it will only confuse things.
A suitable table so you can all sit comfortably round it. For a really fancy game there are some nice table-tops that go over your own table, a cheaper option is some green baize which you can buy the roll.
2 packs of cards with different backs. Proper poker cards have nice clear numbers as people need to be able to read them from the other side of the table.
If you have more than 10 players you'll need another two packs as you'll want to split into two tables.
You can get cards that have been used in Vegas casinos which adds an authentic touch.
Beer, snacks, maybe some food. A certain amount of alcohol is great for relaxing people but you don't want drunks playing. 
A dealer button is nice but anything distinctive will do.
If you have beginners I like to have some printed copies showing the ranking of the hands.
Ranking of Poker Hands
If you're playing for money, especially if you don't know some of your guests really well you might consider having a printed set of rules available.  
Cool bad-ass poker nick names, I've put together a quick page to generate a cool poker nick name for you, or at least to give you some ideas; of course names should really be given to you, not chosen by you. 


If you don't have any of the stuff then get one of the many poker sets around, they will include the chips, cards and the dealer button.

You might also want to print out our helpful list of poker hand nicknames, these are the names people call particular combinations of hole cards. It does sound so much cooler to declare you've got "Big Slick" rather than just "A King and an Ace"

There are an infinite variety of poker games. I'd recommend starting with Texas Hold'Em as it's currently the most popular so more people are likely to know it.

If you have a regular game then you might also want to play a few rounds of "dealer calls" where the dealer nominates the game for that round (i.e. like in the films where you hear stuff like "5 card draw, deuces and one eyed jacks are wild").

Choosing Poker Chips

There are various 'standards' for the colours of poker chips and what they are worth; for instance the state of New Jersey defines these:

Colour Value               Colour Value
White poker chip White 1   Yellow poker chip    Yellow 20
Pink poker chip Pink 2.5   Green poker chip Green 25
Red poker chip Red 5   Black poker chip Black 100
Blue poker chip Blue 10        

However you probably only want to get four colours so a reasonable set of values might be something like 1, 2, 5 and 25.

You'll want to get more of the lower denomination chips than higher; a reasonable ratio is something like 4/3/2/1 so, for instance, you might want to get 400 white, 300 pink, 200 red and 100 blue chips.

Each player needs to start with a good number of chips, say between 30 and 50, and make sure you have enough left to let people re-buy; you only need the larger value chips left for re-buys as the other players can 'make change'.

Try our simple Poker Chip Calculator to play around with different combinations of chips and buy-ins.

Not so long ago a nice set was really expensive but they have really come down in price. Amazon sell some nice sets, for instance the one on the right.

It's not that much to get nice 'casino quality' chips.  Look for ones listed as 'clay' chips weighing 10 - 11.5 grams (although bear in mind that if, for some reason, you need to carry your chips a lot then 1,000 chips at 11.5g each is heavy).

Before the day

If you have beginners then I'd recommend sending out a "how to play poker" guide about a week before the game. Download a PDF of one I cobbled together from various internet sources here.

Email everyone with basic details: start time, buy in (if playing for real money), whether it's a tournament or cash game, any rules (max raise, re-buys etc).

Print out your rules and ranking of hands sheets.

Write/print a sheet with the value of the chips, useful for the first few times people play together (e.g. white=1, red=5, green=25, blue=100)

If you have beginners suggest to them that they arrive promptly, then you'll only have to explain the game play once.

On the day

Not much to do, set out the table, food, beer etc.

Before the game starts

Go over the basic rules.

It's fun to give people chips in a 'virtual' currency. So if they buy in for 10 pounds/dollars you give them 1,000 pounds/dollars of chips, it just makes all the pots seem much bigger. Obviously when cashing out you reverse the process!

Use two packs of cards: at the end of each hand the dealer collects the card, passes the dealer button on and the next dealer starts dealing the second pack. The old dealer shuffles the cards well then passes them to the player after the current dealer ready for a prompt start to the next hand. This keeps the game moving.

If you have more than 10 people you probably want to split into two tables.  As people leave you can combine the tables.

If you're going to play for cash rather than just chips then there are three golden rules:

Golden rule 1: Make sure everyone knows the key rules, especially on re-buys and cashing out.

Golden rule 2: Keep the chip stash in a safe place and have one nominated person (usually the host) who takes the cash and gives chips in return (and vice-versa). This person is the only one allowed to do it and has to make up the shortfall if things don't add up. Never trust someone else's count of the chips, count them again in front of them before handing over cash. Countless games have had 'unpleasantness' at the end of the evening when someone miscounts when cashing out, leaves and then there isn't enough to pay the remaining players.

Golden rule 3: Be fairly strict on the mechanics of the game, proper shuffling & cutting, no string bets, no playing out of turn, re-deal if there's a misdeal, if a player steps away from the table they still have to play blinds etc.

Further reading

A friend of mine and his sister have written this excellent book on Texas Hold'Em; great if you want to improve your play.

Also these cards are produced by a good friend of ours and you might find them helpful, especially if you're a beginner.

Got a party tip?

If you have a party tip please tell us, email us at tips (at) how-to-hold-a-party (dot) com.