If I could, I would make poker night with friends a national holiday. Poker
game hosts would be allowed to take the day off work to get everything ready,
and players would get to work half days so they could go home and get mentally
prepared to play.
That’s how much I love playing poker with friends (or perhaps how creative I
can get trying to avoid working…).
In all seriousness, a good poker night is a time to bond with friends while
playing poker and has a totally different dynamic than playing poker at the
casino or a poker room. I really like the vibe and want to make it as positive
for all players as it is for me.
While I don’t think I’ve been to a bad poker night, there are certainly
things one can do to take the experience to the next level. To that effect, here
are 10 ways to improve your home poker night with your friends and make it the
best night of the year.
10. Order Custom Playing Cards
For the most part, the backs of playing cards are pretty boring, and the
faces of playing cards look about the same. (That is unless you are talking
about those type of cards, which I’m not. That’s a completely different
type of night with friends.)
Anyway, if you want to impress your friends and not spend a lot of money, you
can go to one of many sites online and have custom playing cards created. If
you’re not sure where to look, you can always start with Etsy.
No matter where you go looking, though, you will find that you can get both
the backs of the cards and the front of the cards customized to your wishes in
pretty much whichever batch size you are looking to buy. Some ideas might
include funny/embarrassing pictures on the fronts or demoralizing smack talk on
Whatever you do, having custom cards is a nice touch for playing cards with
9. Make Cool Invitations
When you read about cool invitations, your first thought (like mine) was
probably some glittery craft project that looks straight out of a high school
Yeah, that’s not what I mean.
Instead, establish early on that this is no ordinary poker night with
invitations fit for a high-end poker room, Prohibition Era speakeasy, secret
message fit for a spy, etc.
No matter what theme you pick, make sure you have the pertinent details (when
and where), an RSVP if you need to get a head count, what everyone should bring,
what the buy-in is, and if there are rebuys.
If you can do that, you will set the night off right with nothing more than a
few pieces of paper.
8. Find Appropriate Music
The right music can make all the difference for poker night. Playing poker in
silence can actually be kind of distracting since a little noise can allow busy
brains to focus.
On the other hand, really loud music or really aggressive songs (think heavy
metal or bass-heavy electronica) will have the opposite effect and cause guests
to leave with headaches. That’s why I like to choose something classic like
1950s big bands (yes, it’s cliché but it does work) and play it at a reasonable
The natural association of that era of music with gambling will get everyone
in the mood and start the chips flowing.
7. Offer Assorted Cigars
There’s some danger in suggesting cigars for a party: underage smoking,
setting fire to things, lung cancer, etc., etc.
Still, if you have a group of responsible adults together at a party,
sometimes a nice stogie is just the thing to keep the evening fun and light. If
you that sounds like your night, you can go to a cigar store and buy a selection
for less than ten dollars a stick.
Then lay them out with a few cigar cutters and fire-making implements. Just
be clear if smoking is allowed indoors or if it’s something everyone should step
away to do. Also, have a fire extinguisher just in case.
6. Have Better Snacks
The primary goal of poker night isn’t to feed your guests, but still, if
you’re trying to up your poker night game, don’t serve light beer and stale
chips. Especially if you have gone to the trouble to make custom decks, play the
right music, etc.
Instead, call out to your local deli, Italian food shop, or high-end grocery
store and evaluate what alternatives they offer. Look for items that sit out
well (no shrimp or mayonnaise-based foods) and that have a classy air.
Add some whiskey and good beer, and you will find everyone just has a better
5. Have Game Aids
Depending on your group of friends, there’s a good chance that not everyone
will be card sharks with the full rules of the game memorized. Also, depending
on how you set things up, someone may bring a buddy or significant other who is
new to the game.
If you want that person to come back, you need to make their guest feel
welcome, and one way to do that is make it easy for them to the play the game.
Offer them a quick tutorial, provide them with a link to
a poker guide they could
read, a sheet with the rules of your game, and a visual aid for hand strengths
(two pair is better than one, etc.).
This will make them feel at ease and let everyone relax.
4. Use Custom Mugs
Your poker night is your poker room, and what poker room worth its salt
doesn’t have its own custom drinkware?
The good news is that there are lots of places that will put your face, your
logo, or your favorite expression on a mug for not a lot of money. Then, every
poker night, you can pull out your personalized mugs and drink to your own
victory and to your friends’ defeat.
You can also give them out as party favors if you are so inclined (and
believe me, someone will ask), but keep one or two of the mugs for yourself so
that you don’t forget the good times.
3. Keep Distractions to a Minimum
This is kind of a general catchall piece of advice for you to keep in mind.
Your friends are at your house to play poker, not watch TV. They’re not there
to read magazines (of any variety), etc. If you have an impressive collection of
some sort or a new boat or cool golf clubs, you can show them off, but that’s
not the point of the night. Poker is.
Therefore, try to keep distractions to a bare minimum. Keep the TV off or
play reruns of the World Poker Tour or something neutral. This way, everyone can
focus on playing poker, which is why they are there.
2. Avoid Messy Food
As noted above, you want to offer a spread of food that people will love.
Further, you want those foods to be easily consumable with fingers, toothpicks
(what Gordon Ramsay calls cocktail sticks), or, at worst, a plastic fork.
What you don’t want are foods that are heavily sauced, leave residue on cards
or chips, and are generally messy. First, it’s gross to get a card or a chip and
find that someone’s half-eaten food is all over it.
Secondly, it’s a surprisingly good way to mark a card. Just a little marinara
or Cheetos dust on the corner lets you know what it is. So, avoid that if at all
Also, messy foods can spill, interrupting the game and sometimes ruining
tables, felt, upholstery, shirts, etc. Finally, messy foods are hard to clean up
after everyone has left. You spent a lot of time organizing the party; you don’t
want to worry about cleaning it up.
1. Use Custom Poker Chips
This is perhaps my favorite customizable item just because I have a big ego
and the jokes write themselves. I love the idea of having custom poker chip sets
that I can use during poker nights.
I love the idea of having chips with my face on them even more. I can just
see myself telling everyone to give me the chips since they already have my
picture on them as I rake in pot after pot.
Maybe you want something a little less egomaniacal (say a logo or family
crest). That’s good, too, but don’t forget to at least think about having poker
chips with your face…
There are many ways to have a great poker night. You don’t have to do
anything on this list if you don’t want to, and you will still have a perfect
time with friends.
With that said, if you feel like kicking things up, maybe investigate what it
would take to customize some playing cards or poker chips, kick up your food
selections while avoiding messy foods, and keep distractions to a minimum.