Host a Tournament

How to Host a Hold'em Poker Tournament at Home

Until recently, my home poker game was probably like most people's. We would meet about once a month and play pretty low limit dealer's choice poker. We'd play Draw, 7-stud, Anaconda, or whatever other crazy game the dealer could come up with. It was fun, but we wanted to try something different. With the increased popularity of Texas Hold'em from the World Series of Poker, the World Poker Tour and other televised tournament events, we thought it would fun to try No-Limit Hold'em. So we started playing a small Hold'em tournament about once week, and I think it's made for a much more enjoyable game. There's something about being able to raise all in for a couple thousand dollars that gets your blood pumping a little faster than in our old three dollar max raise game.

Running a single table tournament is surprisingly easy. You'll need the following items to make your game run smoothly, most of which you should already have if you play with any sort of regularity.

  • Two decks of playing cards, or more. One of the problems with the tournament setting, is you can't just cash in your chips and leave when you get tired of playing. You're in it until you get knocked our or until you win. Because of this, games can potentially get to be quite long. We found that by using a second deck, and shuffling it during the round so that it was ready to go right away, significantly sped up the time it took to get a full game in.
  • Large table. You can have up to ten people in a Hold'em game, so make sure you have a space big enough to accommodate everyone.
  • Clay poker chips. This isn't a necessity, but it is a lot nicer to play with real chips than with the cheap plastic ones you buy at the supermarket. I got a set of 500 chips for about $100 off of EBay about a year ago, and I think the prices have come down since then. Also check out Poker 'n Stuff. They have a huge assortment of chips at decent prices. If no one wants so spring for the full set, charge an extra "equipment fee" for each game until you recover the cost of the chips.
  • Dealer button. Most chips sets come with a dealer button, but you can use anything. You need to something to keep track of whose turn it is to deal, and who should be posting blinds.
  • Stopwatch or watch with an alarm. You are going to want to increase the blinds at a preset interval. A watch with an alarm is probably your best option. That way you won't forget to raise the blinds at the appropriate time because no one is watching the clock. If you decide to raise the blinds after a specific number of hands, then you will need something to track the number of hands instead of a timer.
  • Five to Ten people. We generally try to get as many people as we can for any given night. The more people you have, the more exciting it can be, and the bigger the prize pool, but also the longer the game will be.

Before you start playing, you will need to choose your seats and allocate chips to everyone. To choose your seats, deal everyone a card. The high card will be the first dealer. The next highest card will be seated to his right, and so on until you get to the player with the lowest card, who will be immediately to the dealer's left. We generally allocate $500 worth of chips to everyone, although you can adjust this to any amount you wish. One of the other nice things about a tournament is that it doesn't matter what your buy in is, it could be $1 to $1000; you can still give everyone $500 worth of chips to play with.

You are now ready to begin. The player to the left of the dealer will post a small blind, and the player two spots to the left will post a large blind, and whoever is in charge of the watch, should start the timer. I recommend the following blind schedule changing every 20 minutes, but you can change it at whatever interval you are comfortable with. If the game runs too long, you can remove some of the levels, or shorten the time between levels. If you feel like the blinds increase too quickly, you can add some extra levels, or increase the amount of time between blinds. If you are giving everyone $500 in chips to start, then you should probably skip the first level or two and start at 2/5 or 5/10. If you have a large group, or you don't have enough chips for everyone, then start at $300 and the blinds at 1/2.

LevelBlinds (Small/Large)

Printable Blind Sheet

Once the blinds reach the 100/200 level, there is usually only one or two people who can afford to play a hand all the way to the showdown without having to go all in, so if there are a bunch of people left at that point, they will start to be eliminated quickly. You probably won't need the 200/400 or 300/600 level unless you have a full game with ten people. Continue playing until all but one person has been eliminated. Depending on how many people you have, and how quickly it goes, you may be able to play more than one tournament in a night.

Assuming you have a $20 buy in, we would use the following pay out schedule. You can adjust it however you like. You could also do winner take all, but I think the more people that get paid the better. If only one person gets paid, than the ratio of happy to unhappy people isn't very conducive to playing this format very often.

Players 5 6 7 8 9 10
Payouts 1st: $80
2nd: $20
1st: $90
2nd: $30
1st: $90
2nd: $30
3rd: $20
1st: $100
2nd: $40
3rd: $20
1st: $110
2nd: $45
3rd: $25
1st: $120
2nd: $50
3rd: $30

Multi-Table Tournaments

Multi-table tournaments will work in much the same way as the single table tournament described above. You'll obviously need extra chips, and cards for the other tables, but the general setup should be the same. The first thing you will need to do is divide into even groups. I recommend drawing cards, and making each suit or color be its own table. You can also seat players in order of the cards they drew. The only other things you will need to worry about is balancing the tables, and payout structures. We generally rebalance the tables when any one table has two fewer members than another. Players at the table with more players each draw a random card with the high card moving to the short handed table. That player should take the seat of the last person eliminated from the smaller table. When you have eliminated enough players to remove a table completely, you should redraw for seating. Make sure that you define when this will happen before hand, to avoid any confusion. For example if you have 16 people, you would start with two tables of eight, and you could consolidate down to one table when eight players remain.

That's all you should need to host a No-Limit Texas Hold'em tournament. If you have any questions or comments, please post them in the forum, and I will be happy to respond.

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