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  • Home Game House Rules

  • Home Game House Rules

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    The holiday season is upon us, and that means home poker cheer is in full swing. This year when youíre playing Holiday Holdíem with your family, make sure that your game is running high on goodwill by establishing the rules before you start. Iíve put together a list of 35 Home Game House Rules to help stave off any disagreements before they start. Use these in your holiday game to keep the stockings from getting knotted or filled with rolls of quarters and bars of soap.


    For more on hosting games, see our guide on How To Host a Poker Tournament.

    Rules to Hosting

    Put someone in charge.

    You must have a person on hand to resolve disputes whose decisions are final. Generally, this is the host, but it doesnít need to be. Choose your Judge from your Jury of players before the game starts. If the Judge is in on the hand, take a vote from the players at the table at how to proceed after some consideration. When a decision is made, itís important to get on with it. Donít dwell on things, or it will kill your gameís momentum.

    Set a time limit on your game.

    If left unchecked, some players (and in-laws) will never leave your home. Often losers will want to keep playing indefinitely to try to recoup their beats, maybe you have an exceptionally comfortable living room, or perhaps even a really hot wife/sister/daughter. All of this can be a headache for the host, so keep them from having to sleep in their car by accommodating their schedule and the wishes of their families. Set a time to adjourn, and stick to it.

    What Beats What

    Make sure everyone knows what beats what. See our section on poker basics for more information on poker hand rankings. If two players are holding the exact same hand, the pot is split.

    If you have more chips than you started with at cash out, the player who distributed the chips and collected the money is responsible.

    Uh oh, Uncle Merle is at it again, youíve been cheated. Someone brought in their own chips to pad their stack. With all the 11.5g Suited and Diced chips out there nowadays, this problem could become epidemic. One person, generally the host, should be in charge of taking cash and distributing chips. If there are more chips at cash out, and the offending player canít be reasonably determined, the banker is on the hook for it. This is an ugly situation, but it happens more often than you think.

    The house may remove or refuse a player from participating in the game.

    If the host doesnít want you in their home, you have no choice but to leave. If a host is unreasonable in their enforcement of this rule, they likely wonít have a game running for long. Checks and balancesÖ


    Respect your hostís wishes on this one.


    Donít rake your home game. If you have made an investment in the game that you want to recoup from the players (hired a dealer, bought food, etc.) make it known ahead of time that you want guys to pitch in for things, but donít rake the game. Itís not proper to charge your buddies to play in a friendly home game, and if theyíre your friends, they wonít have a problem ponying up for their share of the pizza.

    Rules to Dealing

    The dealer must burn 1 card before the flop, turn and river.

    There should never be a choice that the dealer can make about how they are going to distribute the cards. Everyone should use the same method. Having some players burn and others not, or some burn two cards and others not is just silly. It happens more often than you think. Iíve been at games where every player insisted that their way of dealing was fine because they were Ďconsistentí. Well, bullocks. If you need to feel special, call your mother. At the card table, you can deal like the rest of the world.

    Cutting the deck

    Regarding cutting of the cards, itís a form of courtesy to offer the player behind you (to your right) to cut the deck before the deal. In good company, I donít bother with this, but itís not an uncommon practice in the home game. Just make sure that you make it known at the onset of the game if you plan to make it the dealerís prerogative to offer a cut, and if a player demands on, thereís no harm in letting him have his way. Keep peopleís confidence up that the game is fair, and youíll have a successful game.

    Allow a full round of a game to be played in Dealerís Choice poker.

    Because some dealerís choice games or games with a high-low split allow for a positional advantage to the dealer, play a full round of the game before a new game is called. That is, have the whole table deal a hand of a variant before you switch the game. This way everyone can enjoy the benefits and suffer the handicap of position in a game.

    High/Low Declarations

    If youíre playing a game where a declare is made with a chip or coin players are committed to the action they represent with their hands, not their words. Generally revealing a coin means high, where no coin means low. If you say one but hold the other, youíre bound to what youíve declared in your hand. That is a player who shows a chip but says low, is bound to the high.

    For more on declarations, see poker coin declarations.

    In draw poker, a player may redraw five cards.

    In a proper game of five card draw, a player should be able to trade in his whole hand. All five cards should be able to be redrawn if youíre playing seriously. If you really detest the notion of a player drawing a new hand, state specifically at the deal how many draws of how many cards youíll be allowing.

    Are rabbits in season?

    I hate rabbit hunting. When players dig through the deck after every hand to see what would have come up is one of my great poker pet peeves. First off, it slows the game down. Second, why bother?! Itís done, and you shouldnít have been chasing that inside straight anyhow.

    General Rules

    Cheating is not allowed.

    Duh. If youíre caught cheating at a home game, you may not even live to regret it. Cheaters should be forcibly ejected from a game, and their chips should be surrendered and divided amongst the players in the game. For information on forms of cheating in poker, check out Poker Cheat.

    Collusion is not allowed.

    Two or more players cannot act as a team during a game at any time. They cannot agree to gang up on one player. While this may happen by chance, any pre-determined strategies like this is a form of cheating.

    Check-raising (sandbagging) is allowed.

    Personally, I feel the game that does not allow for check-raising severely limits the strategies of players involved. There are those that feel that a check-raise is bad manners, but they are not serious players. Iíve never heard of a card room that doesnít allow it, but you can bet that there are home games where itís not a welcome practice. Make your determination based on the skill level of the participants and the seriousness of the game. If the game is even semi-serious, I would petition for check-raising to be permitted.

    A player can only bet the chips/cash they have in front of them.

    If you havenít seen the situation in a game where a player tries to call a bet and raise with whatís in his wallet, you will. A player should never be allowed to bet more than he has in play when a hand is in progress. You should not be able to open your wallet to cover a bet you donít have the chips for. This is in particularly poor taste when it comes to playing with your friends. I love a good game as much as anyone, but Iíve had one friend in particular try this once too often, and it has left a very bad taste in my mouth. Now you may be thinking, "Donít be such a baby Scribe, why not let a player top up a bet if heís got the cash!" Well the reason is that if youíre not betting whatís on the table, how do you really know whatís at stake in a game? Maybe in your game you all show up and turn your wallets out to see how much youíre carrying, but not so at mine. What you buy-in for is what you have to play with. If you allow re-buys, fine, but never allow a player to top up when a hand is in play.

    Iím happy to say that this kind of hustle is one that the greats like Brunson, Caro and Slim Preston all agree is in poor taste. Texas Dolly said it best, "Öa pro should never hustle. He should seek challenges and earn money because of his reputation as a fair and honourable player."

    String raising is never allowed.

    Hollywood has duped us all. In so many popular movies, theyíve made us all believe that a string bet is a staple to the game. How many times have you heard "Iíll see your wristwatch, and Iíll raise you 10 chickens!" Well you wonít in any card room, and not because you canít gamble livestock. Itís because itís a string bet! So what is a string bet? Any time a player makes their move in more than one action. If youíre calling, you say "I call." If youíre raising, you say "I raise." Any time you say "I call. And I raise you." Youíre making a string bet. By separating your actions, you can use a split second to gauge a response from your opponent, and fish for an indication of whether or not youíre best to raise or flat call. Itís not allowed in a casino, and itís in poor taste in the home game. Iíve had many a good night turned bad because some players just donít get that string betting is against the rules. Make this clear. If a player tries to make two actions, they can only make the first. A player who says, "Iíll raise 20, and another 50," should only be able to raise the 20.

    Capping Raises

    Commonly, a cap of 3 raises is allowed in a fixed limit game per betting round. When two players are heads-up, there are no caps on raising.

    A player may leave the game at any time at the completion of a hand.

    While some may take offence to what Iím going to say here, to hell with them. No one can force you to keep playing. While you may think its common courtesy to allow people to get a chance to win their money back, I disagree. Personally, I would not normally go to a game to play 5 hands and leave, but I do go to a game to win it. If Iím up, and I want to have some of that money to spend, Iím leaving with it. If I feel Iím in over my head in a game, Iím leaving. People donít mind you leaving broke, so they shouldnít mind you leaving with a pocket full of their change. Any game which compels you to play until youíre even or busted is not an honest game. If you feel that you canít leave a table, you shouldnít be there.

    Iím happy to say that Doyle Brunson has said the same "It should be expressly understood that any poker player has the unquestionable right to quit a game at any time, without being ridiculed." Unfortunately, you can likely expect some ridicule on a profitable dine and dash, such ribbing is probably expected with your best company.

    All bets must be paid.

    Youíve likely seen players call a bet and wait for the outcome before count the chips to square up. In my game, a verbal bet is binding. A man is as good as his word in my book, so if you say it, be prepared to pay it.

    Players may bankroll other players at their discretion.

    Yes, but it should not be expected that they do. This is a personal matter between the player borrowing and the player lending. If you do lend money to a player, it doesnít mean that you have to lend money to every player.

    Donít touch another playerís chips or cards.

    There are going to be situations where a player is in the bathroom for a blind. Unless that player has given you permission to post for them, you should never touch their chips or cards. This is extremely rude.

    Keep your cards and chips in plain view.

    Donít hide your cards. In licensed card rooms, you really canít even take them off the table without being reminded to put them in front of you. Some home players like to hide their big chips in back of their stack and keep their cards in their laps. This is only going to lead to confusion and missed action. Keep your damned cards on the table. People shouldnít have to guess if youíre in the hand or not.

    Respect the host, the home and the game.

    Another common sense rule. Donít be a jerk by cursing around children, using slurs, disrespecting players or property and anything else you think your mother would slap you for. Donít bend the cards, donít scratch your name in the table, donít light the Ace of Spades on fire (Yes, this happens) and for Godís sake use a coaster you animals!

    Do not splash the pot.

    Whatís splashing the pot? Itís when you toss your chips in, and they splash all over the bloody table and floor, into playerís stacks, drinks, sandwiches and even the dog dish. Itís just rude, messy and stupid. Donít do it. Many pets will eat a chip before it even hits the floor, and you donít want to be the one to have to retrieve the red chip from Rexís rectum, now do you? If you do, youíre not welcome in my home.

    Donít speak a language which is not common to the table.

    If your game speaks English, speak English. If it speaks French, speak French. If you speak in farts, Iím not coming. The point is when only a few players can understand each other, other players think there is collusion present and it can ruin the atmosphere of your game.

    Cards talk.

    Unless youíre a playerís talk advocate, the cards should speak for themselves and a player who miscalls their hand should not suffer for it. This can be sticky in game with many wildcards as the potential for miscalls if higher than a game without. Make your rule and make it known. The card room standard says the cards talk.

    Do not act out of turn.

    This is going to happen all the time. Itís just a fact of life, you can avoid it by having players keep their cards in front of them at all times, but roll with it when you do. The player who does act early is usually at a disadvantage for doing so, so just give them a warning. If they keep doing it, donít invite them back. Some people canít be taught, so sadly, they wonít be at my game.


    Yes, itís true in Texas Holdíem that you can ask to see what cards a player has mucked, but know that if you do, youíre accusing that player of collusion. You cannot just rifle through the muck to see what players have thrown away. Be sure that you have a fox in the henhouse before you try to expose them.

    Never reveal your folded cards to the table.

    And I donít mean just by flipping them up. Donít say, "Dammit! I folded a straight flush!" while the hand is in play. Bite your tongue and let us know what kind of genius or fool you are when the hand is over.

    Donít slow roll your cards.

    Another timeless poker pet-peeve. Slow-rolling is when a player takes their sweet time in revealing their winning hand. Generally, they let the other player think theyíve won, and then they surprise them with a monster. This is more movie bulljive, and is one of the top five rude things you can do at a poker table.

    Coffee housing (Table-Talk)

    I donít mind commentary from players not in the hand, but donít give advice or say things that could influence a playerís action. Some new players may need help in deciding what to do, so be compassionate with regards to people coaching beginners, but use your judgement and donít blow the hand by spouting off.

    The player who placed the bet must reveal their hand first.

    A player who makes the bet that is ultimately called must open up their hand first. The players who called the bet have the option to reveal their hand or muck their cards.

    As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions. Feel free to write me at or post your feelings in our discussion forum.

    Happy Holidays,

    Joel the Scribe

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