Improving Your Home Game of Hold'em

Playing poker at home means you get to see your pals and you don't get chewed up by the rake. To improve your home games of Hold'em or any other kind of poker, outfit the gameroom (kitchen, basement, wherever) with a decent deck of playing cards, great lighting and ventilation; well-chosen chairs and table; and, of course, food.

Upgrading your deck

By far the best thing you can do for your game is getting rid of those wax-and-cardboard playing cards and moving to a deck made entirely of plastic. This is what casinos use at their poker tables and you should, too. All plastic cards last longer, are less prone to warping, and are even washable (for when your Cheetos fingers stain the cards orange).

Paying $30 for a setup of two decks may make you gasp, but play one night with these babies and you'll wonder why you ever played with anything else.

All plastics have an odd form of fragility and that is that they're prone to cracking if you play them on a hard surface. If you play on something like a kitchen table, put a doubled-up sheet or a blanket down first. Your deck will last longer. (Oh yeah, and don't leave them sitting in the sun either.)

Chipping up

Top-of-the-line poker chips are made of clay (this is what casinos use) and come in a cool aluminum case. Sets will usually also include a dealer button (and maybe blind and kill buttons).

The best chips are known as clay composite and are weighed by the gram (heavier is better). A nice 15-gram set will run you around 11.5 grams (which are very playable and nice if you've been using bingo markers up until now) run around $40.

Chowing down

Come on, if you're gonna take the time to get together with your friends, you need to upgrade your food and grog. Seriously, get out of the generic aisle of your grocery store and quit serving that beer you stole from your parents so many years ago. If money is an object, have your pals chip in and bring something.

Poker/barbecue is a surprisingly good combo. Ordering (good) pizza is never wrong.

Lighting up

Before you host a game, set up the table the way want to use it, complete with chairs. Deal a hand around to every spot, and then play your own version of musical chairs, where you sit in each seat looking at hole cards to check out the lighting.

Don't light strictly from above (there isn't enough other ambient light to see the hole cards). An extra lamp here and there will make all the difference.

Venting it all

Home games get hot. Be sure you're playing in a place that has air-conditioning or windows that you can throw open to vent nicely (even more necessary if you're having a poker smoker and all the players are breaking out the stogies).

Your basement may seem like a cool place most of your life, but put ten sweaty bodies in there, and stir in a few bad beats, and the walls will be sweating in no time. Your living room or the kitchen are probably better choices if you don't have good ventilation downstairs.

Trashing the place

The amount of raw waste that can be spawned by a poker game is truly amazing. (In fact, it seems like the quality of the game and the amount of garbage it generates are directly proportional.) Trash bags: Buy 'em, use 'em, leave 'em lying around while the game is in play.

Wiping out the badness

You want a wet washcloth, a towel, and maybe even a set of baby wipes, at the ready. Card tables and spilled drinks go together like kids around your car's fresh paint job — leave the two together long enough and you know there's going to be trouble.

Be ready in advance, catch it when it happens. (And don't forget, you can always use the towel for those really bad beats — for chewing on or crying into.)

Standardizing chairs

Home games tend to have a problem in that not all the chairs are the same, almost always forcing a few players to crane their necks as they play.

If you're going to start playing a lot, it's worth the time and effort to go out and get a set of common chairs for the table so everyone's sitting in the same thing. Foldables work well (especially with cushions). The funky, college-student-budget alternative is to buy white plastic patio furniture.

When you get poker chairs, you want ones without arms — this lets you pack people in closer at the table (everyone rests his arms on the table anyway).

Getting tabled

A folding card table is a great buy because it gives you the soft surface you need for your all-plastic cards and you can store it away when you're not pretending to be a budding poker professional. You can put two bridge tables end to end. Good ones will run you about $100 each.

If you want to get even more serious, you could think about buying a table that is professionally padded and liquid resistant with a low-friction surface (in the casino world, this is known as speed-cloth). One with built-in drink holders and detachable legs makes more sense, unless you want to just dedicate an area to poker in an extra room or basement. A top-of-the-line table runs between $500 and $1,000, depending on the bells and whistles you want on it.

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