10 Ways to Host a Better Poker Night With Your Friends

By Randy Ray in Poker
| March 13, 2020 6:49 am PDT

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 the back.

Whatever you do, having custom cards is a nice touch for playing cards with friends.

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 prom.

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 volume.

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 time.

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 possible.

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…

Conclusion

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.

You will love what it does to your poker games.

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