After choosing a poker tournament structure, setting up the blinds schedule is the most meaningful decision a would-be tournament director has to make. The blinds schedule is one of many factors that will determine how long the tournament lasts. It can also affect the luck/skill balance required to be crowned the tournament’s champion.
If you’ve never played a poker tournament before, you might be wondering what a blinds schedule even is. When a poker tournament begins, the tournament director starts a clock. At a regularly scheduled interval, the value of the blinds go up. That’s all there is to it. The purpose of this is to make it necessary to actually win pots fairly regularly to stay in the game. Otherwise, a tournament could go on for an eternity with players trading chips back and forth, winning enough to cover the blinds, but never enough to bust each other out. Escalating the blinds as the night goes on forces a confrontation eventually, when a player simply cannot afford to bide their time any longer.
In this post, we’ll discuss a few simple methods for making a basic blinds schedule. For something that’s so critical to a tournament’s success, it doesn’t have to be complicated!
More of an art than a science
The first key point to remember when creating a blinds schedule is that every group of players is different. What works well for one group may not work for another. If you host an aggressive group of players, the tournament will go much faster than it would for a more laid-back group that plays very tightly. How long players take to act on their hands will also influence the speed of the tournament. Once you have your first blinds schedule created, you can use your experience from your first tournament to make adjustments for your second time hosting.
Another thing to keep in mind is that, though poker is a game of skill, it is still based on a randomness generator in the form of a deck of cards. No amount of adjustment will ever be able to totally account for the plain variance that the cards will produce. If the cards feel like causing a bunch of big-money pots that become bad-beat stories, you’re going to have a quick tournament. If everyone is card dead, the tournament is going to drag. That is something nobody has control over, so don’t sweat it.
The first and the last blind
The first step to designing a blinds schedule is to calculate the first blind level and the projected last blind level. This ending level is when the tournament should theoretically end. Remember, though, you cannot guarantee when a tournament is going to end. This is just for planning purposes.
For the sake of simplicity, it’s easiest to set the blinds by taking into account only the big blind. The small blind is usually set at half the amount of the big blind.
The first blind level is easy to set. In most tournaments, the big blind will be 1–2% of the starting stack. The higher you set this level, the shorter the tournament will be. For example, in a T1000 tournament (a tournament where a player starts with 1,000 tournament chips), the first blind level will usually be T5-T10 (1%) or T10-T20 (2%).
Next, you need to determine the projected last blind level. A good rule of thumb is that it should be 5% of the chips in play. To determine this, multiply the number of players by the starting chip stack and take 5% of the total. So for a T1000 tournament with fifteen players, there will be T15,000 in circulation, meaning the the final big blind level should be around T750 or so.
Tournaments with rebuys and add-ons
If you plan to offer rebuys and add-ons, these need to be accounted for in your blinds schedule. To do this, you will have to estimate how many rebuys or add-ons you will sell and add these into your total amount of chips in circulation.
Using the previous example of a fifteen-player T1000 tournament, if you offer rebuys and estimate that three players will rebuy (a total of T3,000 in rebuys), then T18,000 will be in play, and the last big blind level should be around T900.
Note that this is a place where past experience will guide you. If you offer rebuys at all, you will not know for sure how many people will want to take you up on the offer. You could have some big pots early on that bust out many players, and they’re raring to get back in the thick of it and they all rebuy. Or the players that bust out may opt to cut their losses and go home. All you can do is make an educated guess based on previous tournaments.
Timing and intermediate levels
Now that you have your start and end points, you just need to find the parts in-between. This is what will ultimately determine the length of your tournament, and also the skill level needed to win it.
The first thing to account for is your time budget for the tournament. By talking to your players, you should have a good idea for how long they would want to be stuck with you playing poker. Most home tournaments last for four to six hours, so this is a realistic goal to shoot for.
Next, you’ll need to decide how often the blinds should increase. This can be anywhere between fifteen minutes and an hour. The more frequently the blinds increase, the more frenzied the pace of the tournament. However, a slow schedule can make the tournament feel like it’s going much slower than it actually is. The 20 to 30 minute range seems to be a happy medium for most players.
Now, take your time budget and divide it by the blind interval. This is how many blind levels you need. Now you can set each blind level. Each blind level should be no more than double the preceding one. Keep the progression as even as possible. A sudden spike in the blinds places undue weight on the hands after them, thereby increasing the role of luck in the tournament.
After you have created your blinds schedule, you’ll need to make some adjustments to it. Check to make sure that each blinds level is compatible with the chips that will be available. For example, you don’t want to have a blinds level of 600-1200 if the smallest chip available is a T500.
You should also avoid making blind levels that will require chips that are very small relative to the size of the blinds. A blind of, say, 2250 would be a bad idea, for example, since it would require using two T25 chips to post blinds. Having to deal with T25 chips when thousands of chips are being won or lost each hand is just a nuisance. Making them unnecessary allows you to color them up and remove them from circulation.
You should also add three to five more blinds levels after the “final” level. This gives you some wiggle room just in case the tournament runs longer than forecast.
You can also use your blinds schedule to designate when breaks will occur. How many breaks, how long they should last, and when they should be, will depend on the particulars of your tournament. For an evening tournament, for example, you may want to schedule a thirty-minute dinner break midway through. On the other hand, a tournament that starts later may expect players to eat before the tournament starts, and only have fifteen-minute breaks for players to stretch their legs. Shorter tournaments might not need breaks at all.
Whatever you decide, be sure to clearly mark the breaks on the blind schedule, between blind levels. Be sure everyone is clear on how long each break is. The tournament should resume promptly after the break ends. It’s not fair to the players if some tables start on time and others wait for straggling players. Be clear what will happen if a player does not return on time (e.g. they will still be required to post blinds in their absence without getting the chance to play their hand).
Ending the tournament
Your tournament should end organically about the same time that you had planned on when you created your blinds schedule. However, keep in mind that any number of things can occur that cause your tournament to end early or late.
If it looks like a tournament is going to run late, you can adjust the blinds schedule while the tournament is in progress. Raising the blinds should help bring the tournament to an end quicker. However, this opens you up to accusations that you only edited the schedule to benefit so-and-so who was chip leader when you made the change. It’s best to avoid doing this if at all possible.
Another thing you can do to hasten the end of a tournament is to add antes at a certain level. At this point, each player will be required to post an ante on each hand, in addition to the big blind and small blind being posted as normal. This is only really useful if there are still several players on each table. In heads-up play, it is functionally the same as increasing the blinds.
If all else fails, you can set a time that the tournament will end, no matter if people are still playing or not. This is particularly useful if there’s some external restriction on how long the tournament can go, like the venue’s closing time, the host’s bedtime, etc. The best way to do this is to choose the time before the tournament and include it in the schedule. If that’s not possible, be sure to give ample warning before the appointed time arrives so players can adjust their play strategies accordingly. When the time ends, the player with the most chips takes first place, the player holding the second-most chips takes second, and so on.
After you’ve chosen the poker tournament structure you want to run, the next step is to select the buy-in. You’ll also want to decide how many chips, and in what denominations, to issue to starting players. Both of these will dictate how many chips you need to have on hand for the tournament. Handling the buy-in process itself can also be a source of stress for new tournament directors.
Fortunately, addressing these concerns is fairly straightforward. A little thought and planning here greatly increases the chances of your tournament being a success.
How much is the buy-in?
The most important question to your players is probably how much the initial buy-in will cost them. Some players are happy to potentially lose a lot of money to participate in the excitement of a big tournament. Others would be just fine buying in for $0 and playing for bragging rights. Set the buy-in too high, and some players won’t be able to afford to join in. Set it too low, and some players might feel that the several hours the tournament will take won’t be worth their time.
The simplest thing to do is to ask the people you want to invite how much they’d like to spend. If you can find a sweet spot that attracts the most players to your tournament, you’re golden. Otherwise, you may need to split your guest list into two, and run a separate tournament later for the folks that aren’t interested in the first one.
Starting stack sizes
One of the things that dictates the length of your tournament is the proportion between the starting stack size and the blinds level. The larger the blinds are in proportion to the starting stack, the faster players will bust out of the tournament.
Tournament starting stack sizes are often expressed with a “T” followed by the amount of chips given at the beginning. This “T” (for “tournament”) represents a fictitious currency that the chips are denominated in, which has no relation to the real-life currency the buy-ins and payouts take place in. Thus, a T100 tournament issues 100 units worth of chips to its starting players, and a T1,000 tournament issues ten times as much. Both of these tournaments could have a $5 buy-in, or $25, or whatever the tournament director decides.
Again, starting stack sizes’ relation to the blind levels dictate the length of the tournament. A T100 tournament should theoretically play exactly the same as a T1,000 tournament with blinds set at ten times those of the T100 tournament. Of course, some players may be susceptible to a psychological difference—a T1,000 tournament might feel like a “bigger deal”, and a T5,000 or T10,000 tourney might feel even bigger than that! Larger starting stack sizes can also give you more flexibility in customizing your blind sizes. The one drawback to a bigger starting stack is that you may need more chips to cover all of your players.
Starting stack chip breakdowns
Naturally, the most important thing to keep in mind when determining your starting chip stack is that the denominations issued are compatible with the blinds schedule. If the first round of blinds is T20-T40, and the smallest chip you issue is a T25, your tournament is not off to a great start.
A good starting point in coming up with a starting stack is to follow the ratio 1:2:3:4, where for every chip you have of the highest denomination, there is two of the next-highest denomination, and so on. Using more than three or four chip colors is generally not very effective; it is more expensive, and you’ll need to do more chip color-ups throughout the tournament.
Just like the tournament size, there’s a psychological aspect to choosing a chip breakdown. You could theoretically run a T1,000 tournament by simply giving everyone 40 T25 chips. But 40 chips may not feel like very much to some players, leading them to play much more tightly than they otherwise would, lengthening the tournament. Instead, you can use some T5 chips to give each player a hoard of chips to start with. If you start each player with 28 × T25 and 60 × T5, for instance, they now start with 88 chips. Despite both adding up to T1000, the second stack starts them with more than double what they would have with just T25 chips.
With the starting stack sizes decided, it’s simple to determine how many chips you need. Just multiply the number of chips of each denomination in each stack by how many players you expect to have. It’s probably a good idea to have enough extra chips for a few extra players. That way, you’ll be covered if something unforeseen happens and you need them.
If you plan to allow rebuys, be sure to account for those in your inventory as well. It’s generally fine to simply issue a few large-denomination chips (like ten T100 chips or two T500 chips for a T1000 rebuy). When a player has to rebuy, all of their low-denomination chips have ended up with the other players. A rebuying player can simply break their large chips down by making change from those players or the pot. This keeps a rebuy from flooding the table with low-value chips.
Now that you know how many chips to buy, it’s time to actually get your hands on some. It’s a good idea to choose chips of a unique style from an online vendor. If you go with one of the sets of chips readily available at your local big-box store, like the ubiquitous dice chips, you run the risk of one of your players owning the same chip set. Unscrupulous players may notice this and sneak in chips from home to give themselves an advantage. If you plan to host regular poker tournaments, it may be worthwhile to invest in a customized chip set. You can have the chips printed with a unique logo or text inlay. This can be expensive—expect to pay $1 or more per chip. However, it neutralizes any threat of foreign chips, and lends a much more professional image to your game.
What chip colors should you choose? The standard ones, of course! Any players that have participated in a casino poker game will instantly understand your chip values. That way, those players can be the ones to explain the chips to the newbies. That saves you from having to run from table to table to remind everyone, no, the purple chips are actually T20 in this tournament… Besides, if any of your new players later go on to play in casino poker games, they’ll appreciate not having to learn new chip colors.
Chip colors are not as standardized above the 500 level. You may need to improvise a bit if you need chips valued that high. Chips valued 1,000 are often orange and 5,000 chips are often grey. You may also be able to get away with repurposing yellow and white chips for higher values if necessary; there’s not much call for a T½ or T1 chip in a T10,000 tournament.
Blue chips have no standard value, but are often readily available. They are often seen as $1, $2, or $10 chips in casinos. You can use them for any of these values, or for higher denominations.
Nothing will ruin a poker tournament more than, when it’s time to pay the winners out, having nothing to pay them with because it’s been stolen. It’s also important to remember that chips represent a monetary value, just like cash does. So be sure to treat them like cash. A busy tournament director is going to be running from table to table, settling rules disputes, settling seating arrangements, managing color-ups, ensuring the blinds schedule is being followed, and more. You simply aren’t going to be able to devote your attention to keeping an eye on the prize pool and extra chips. Both cash and chips need to be secured at all times.
Before players arrive, set up some kind of way to secure your cash and chips. A simple option is to use a basic cash box. For your chips, you may need something like a locking briefcase or a larger lockbox. If you use a birdcage-style chip carrier, it can be secured by placing a large-hasp padlock onto the handle, so the cover can’t be removed. If possible, the best option is to place cash and chips into a safe or locking drawer in a large piece of furniture like a dresser or desk. After all, while someone could theoretically slip your cash box out of the room for later enjoyment, it’s a lot more obvious if someone tries to steal a chest of drawers.
Collecting the buy-ins
There are a couple of preparations to make before the day of the tournament arrives in order to ensure the buy-in process goes smoothly. You will greatly speed things up the day of the tournament if you’ve already portioned your chips into pre-made starting stacks. Putting each starting stack into a rack looks quite professional. You can hand the whole rack to the player as they pay for the buy-in. However, depending on the size of the tournament, it may get expensive to have enough chip racks on hand. Fortunately, there’s a number of alternatives; you can use plastic zipper bags, Tupperware-style bowls, or small boxes. Another interesting option is to put the chips in foam can koozies. Not only does this keep the chips contained, it gives the player something to keep their drink cold with.
Before the tournament, be sure to go to the bank and get change. Some players may arrive at the tournament having just hit the ATM and needing change back from their buy-in. You will also probably be dividing the prize pool between a number of players, so be prepared for the possibility of having to pay out odd amounts. Of course, whatever change you don’t use can be brought back to the bank afterward, so don’t skimp out.
Everything’s set up and the players are starting to arrive. What now? Have each player come up one by one to a cashier station set up in a convenient location. As they give you their buy-in cash, return any change necessary. Before you give them their chips, splash them out and have the player agree that the correct amount is there. This will eliminate any accusations of shortages later. (Having a chip count board as part of your cashier station makes this process smoother.) Send the player to their designated seat and you’re good to go!
Some poker players find the pace of a typical cash game to be too slow-paced for their liking. Hand after hand is played, money changes hands back and forth. A group of players equally matched in skill may end a night of play more or less where they started out.
Players that want a more exciting night of poker may prefer to stage a poker tournament instead of a typical cash game. In a poker tournament, either you win big—usually only the top three or four players win anything—or you go home with nothing.
However, not all poker tournaments are the same. There are a couple different ways to structure a poker tournament, meaning it’s important to choose the type that fits your game best. As a tournament director, it’s also important to run a tournament you feel comfortable hosting. In this post, we explore the most common poker tournament structures, as well as some optional additions that players may enjoy.
Which game to play?
The first decision to be made when setting up a poker tournament is, of course, what kind of poker you’ll be playing. The simple answer to this question is to spread whatever your players want to play. The vast majority of poker tournaments, however, are Texas hold’em games, with Omaha making up most of the rest. Mixed games are also popular, where a different game is played each hand, cycling through a list.
Tournament poker is almost universally no-limit (see “Betting in poker“). Limit poker is simply too drawn-out for a tournament setting. No-limit poker allows a player to go all in, risking all of their tournament chips on one pot. That allows them to build up a big chip stack in a hurry, at the risk of busting out of the tournament entirely. A limit tournament would go on and on as the weaker players’ chip stacks are slowly whittled down.
A freeze-out tournament is the type most people think of when they hear the words “poker tournament”, because it’s the type most frequently used in professional settings like casino poker rooms and the WSOP. It’s also the simplest type of tournament.
How it works is that each player is issued a set of chips when they buy in to the tournament. These are all of the chips they’ll ever have. Once a player runs out of chips, that’s it—they’re out of the tournament for good. If the tournament is big enough to have multiple tables of players, as players drop out, tables are combined from time to time. This ensures that each game has a sufficient number of players.
Simple, but not always the best for home games
Freeze-out tournaments are simple to run, making them a good fit for an inexperienced tournament director, but they can be problematic in social situations. What do the eliminated players do? It’s a bit gauche to ask them to leave, but they can’t participate in the tournament anymore. They can watch the rest of the tournament from the sidelines, but not everyone finds this fun, and some players may get nervous with spectators watching them.
One way to handle this is to hold several short tournaments (perhaps one to two hours each) in quick succession. This means that eliminated players won’t have long to wait before they’re back in the game. It also allows players to “get revenge” on the players that busted them out in an earlier tournament.
Another option is to set up a cash game, or another non-poker game, alongside the tournament. Those who busted out can play in this game while they wait for the tournament to end. If you choose to do this, though, be sure to use chips and cards of a different design than those being used for the tournament. Otherwise, players may be tempted to smuggle tournament chips to the cash game and redeem them for real money.
A shootout tournament is a tournament structure for large numbers of players. In a shootout tournament, each table is played down to a single remaining player. After a winner has been determined for each table, they all play against each other in a final table.
While this structure is useful for managing a large tournament because the tournament director does not have to worry about rebalancing the tables, it does have some drawbacks for the players. All of the problems of a freeze-out tournament are there, of course. A table winner may also find themselves with a large chunk of time to kill while they’re waiting for the other tables to be resolved.
Rebuys and add-ons
One way to make a tournament more fun for the players is to allow rebuys. When a player runs out of chips, they can pay into the tournament pool to receive another stack of chips. They then continue playing with their replenished funds. Rebuys benefit all of the players in the tournament. The less-skilled players get to keep playing even when they’ve busted out. Meanwhile, the better players get to enjoy a larger prize pool every time a player rebuys.
Some tournaments offer add-ons, which is similar to a rebuy, except that the player has not busted out. In some tournaments, an add-on can be purchased with the initial buy-in. This gives the player a bigger starting stack. Players can also purchase an add-on between hands, when they feel low on chips.
Allowing rebuys and add-ons does require a bit more thought and attention from the tournament director. The director has to determine what the amounts of the rebuys and/or add-ons will be. A cutoff on rebuys and also needs to be established, so as to ensure that the tournament doesn’t go on forever. The director will, of course, also have to collect the money from the players and add it to the prize pool. This could potentially divert their attention from other aspects of managing the tournament.
Therefore, it may be a good idea for an inexperienced tournament director to leave out rebuys and add-ons. Later, when they become more experienced and comfortable with their role, they can be added in.
Poke is a unique two-player game combining the mechanics of a trick-taking game with those of poker. In the first part of the hand, players draw cards to make the strongest poker hand they can. In the second, they play those hands out in the style of a classic trick-taking game.
Poke was created by the American game collector, inventor, and author Sid Sackson, perhaps best known for his classic board game Acquire. The rules of Poke were first published in Esquire magazine in 1946, and it was later included in Sackson’s 1969 book A Gamut of Games.
Object of Poke
The object of Poke is to score points by forming good poker hands and collecting tricks.
To play Poke, you’ll need a typical 52-card deck of playing cards. Because you deserve a deck of cards that won’t fail you in the middle of a game, always play with Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. You’ll also need a Contract Bridge-style scoresheet. If you don’t have a pre-printed Bridge scorepad handy, you can easily make a scoresheet by hand. Divide the page into two columns (one for each player, traditionally labeled “WE” and “THEY”) and then divide the columns into upper and lower halves by a horizontal line. Unlike regular poker, there is no betting, so you won’t need chips or money or anything like that. (Unless you just have to bet on it.)
Shuffle and deal five cards to each player. The rest of the deck becomes the stock.
The non-dealer acts first. They examine their hand, hoping to have a strong hand, both as a poker hand and at trick-taking. With this in mind, they decide whether they wish to discard any cards. If they do, they may discard up to three cards, and are dealt replacements from the stock. However, drawing doubles the player; any tricks the dealer captures will count double at the end of the hand. If the player is still not satisfied with their hand, they may discard a second time, and doing so redoubles them, making their opponent’s tricks count quadruple. Should a player choose to simply stand pat, they incur no penalty and are not doubled or redoubled.
After the non-dealer finalizes their hand, the dealer has the chance to draw cards. Unlike the non-dealer, the dealer’s first draw is free; they are not penalized for choosing not to stand pat. The dealer also has the option to double and redouble themselves by drawing a second and third time.
Play of the hand
The non-dealer leads any card they wish to the first trick. The dealer responds by playing any card from their hand. Whoever played the higher card wins the trick. Unlike in most trick-taking games, suits are wholly irrelevant to trick play; there is not even a requirement to follow suit. In the event of a tie, the player who led to the trick wins it. After a trick has been played, leave it on the table, keeping it clear who played which card. When a player wins a trick, they lead to the next one.
If a player has a pair in their hand, they may lead both cards at once. This effectively leads to two tricks at the same time. Their opponent can only beat this type of lead by playing a higher pair; if they cannot, they may play any two cards and lose both tricks. Likewise, a player holding three or four of a kind may lead the whole set at once, and their opponent can only beat them if they have a higher-ranking set with the appropriate number of cards.
After all five tricks have been played, each player counts up the number of tricks they have won. If a player’s opponent was not doubled or redoubled, each trick the player captured scores one point. If the opponent was doubled, each trick is worth two points; with a redoubled opponent, each trick is worth four points. These points are recorded below the horizontal line on the scoresheet.
Once the trick scores have been tallied, the players determine who had the better hand according to the usual rank of poker hands. Whichever player had the stronger hand scores an honor score as follows:
- Royal flush: 1,000 points
- Straight flush: 750 points
- Four of a kind: 600 points
- Full house: 500 points
- Flush: 400 points
- Straight: 300 points
- Three of a kind: 200 points
- Two pair: 100 points
- One pair: 50 points
This honor score is recorded above the line. If a player takes in all five tricks on a hand, they score a 250-point bonus, also recorded above the line.
After the hand is scored, the non-dealer collects the cards, shuffles, and deals the next hand.
Game and rubber
Game play continues until one player reaches 20 or more points below the line, ending the first game. This player scores a 100-point bonus above the line for winning the first game. (If both players tie at 20 or more points below the line, it is ignored until further game play breaks the tie.) The scores below the line are then zeroed out, and another game is played.
When a player wins two games, a rubber is completed. The player ending the rubber scores the usual game bonus, plus a 500-point rubber bonus above the line if their opponent won a game, or a 750-point bonus if they didn’t. The scores above the line are then totaled, and whichever player has the higher score is the winner.
Triple Draw Lowball (often called just Triple Draw) is a form of lowball poker for two to six players. It’s a fairly simple game, especially if you’re familiar with Five-Card Draw or other Draw Poker variants. However, having four chances to bet instead of one makes Triple Draw an exciting, competitive game with large pots and lots of betting action. Triple Draw has become popular in Las Vegas casinos, being included in many high-limit mixed game rotations.
Object of Triple Draw Lowball
The object of Triple Draw Lowball is to form the lowest-ranking poker hand after drawing new cards up to three times.
Triple Draw uses the same standard 52-card deck as most other poker games. We suggest that you give Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards a try if you haven’t yet. You’ll also need something to bet with, probably poker chips. The game is typically played with fixed limits (see “Betting in poker“), so all players should agree to what the limits will be.
Upon receiving their cards, players evaluate the strength of their hand. Triple Draw is most frequently played with deuce-to-seven lowball rules. In this version of lowball, straights and flushes are taken into consideration when ranking hands, and aces count high. That means the lowest possible hand is 2-3-4-5-7 (because 2-3-4-5-6 forms a straight). The first betting round then begins, with the player to the left of the big blind (the player under the gun) starting the betting. Betting follows the typical rules of betting in poker.
After the first round of betting is resolved, the first draw occurs, starting with the player to the left of the dealer (the small blind). This player discards any number of cards, from zero to five, face down in front of them. The dealer then deals them the appropriate number of replacement cards from the stub. This continues, clockwise, until all active players have had a chance to swap cards. The dealer then collects the discards and sets them aside.
When the first draw finishes, the second betting round begins, starting this time with the small blind player. This is followed by a second draw (conducted the same way as the first), then the third betting round, then the third draw, then the fourth and final betting round. Betting limits are typically doubled on the third and fourth betting rounds. If there are at least two active players left at the end of the fourth betting round, they reveal their hands. Whoever has the lowest-ranked poker hand wins the pot.
East–West is a poker game for two players. Much like Pai Gow Poker or Chinese Poker, the challenge in the game is placing cards you receive into one of three hands. East–West has two major differences with those games, though. First, there is one community card that you share with your opponent. Second, there is no gambling in this game at all!
East–West was created by German author Reiner Knizia. It was first published in German, in his 1995 Wild West-themed compendium of family-oriented poker games, Kartenspiele im Wilden Westen. The book was translated to English and published in 2007 as Blazing Aces! A Fistful of Family Card Games.
Object of East–West
The object of East–West is to strategically place cards drawn from the stock into one of three poker hands. The ultimate goal is to win two out of the three hands.
East–West was created to be played with a German deck of cards. To make an equivalent pack from an English-style 52-card deck like Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, just remove the 6s through 2s. You’ll be left with a deck containing aces through 7s in each of the four suits, for 32 cards in all.
Both players should sit on the same side of the table. One player will play the left or “West” side of the board, while the other will play the right or “East” side.
The nondealer goes first. They draw a card from the stock and place it next to any one of the three board cards, on their designated side. The dealer goes next, doing the same thing, placing their card on the opposite side. Players continue alternating in this way, drawing cards and placing them.
Each player thus builds three poker hands. Each hand consists of one of the board cards and the other cards on that row on their side. A player may only place cards on their side, not on their opponent’s. Once a player has placed four cards on a row, the hand is complete (making a five-card hand, including the board card) and no more cards may be added to it.
Razz is a form of seven-card stud poker, typically played as a lowball poker game. It can support from two to eight players. While nowhere near as popular as the more well-known poker games like Texas Hold’em and Omaha, Razz has nevertheless been an enduring staple of high-level poker play. It was one of the games played at the second World Series of Poker in 1971. A Razz event has been held as part of the WSOP every year since 1973. Razz is the “R” in the frequently-used “HORSE” progression of poker games.
Object of Razz
The object of Razz is to win money by convincing the other players that you possess the best ace-to-five lowball hand. That is, you want the lowest-ranking hand according to the usual rank of poker hands, with straights and flushes disregarded.
Like most poker games, all you need to play Razz is a 52-card deck of playing cards and something to bet with. For the cards, you owe it to yourself to use Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. Most people use poker chips as their betting instrument. We’ve seen other things used, but can get really strange in a hurry. You’ll need to establish betting limits, as well. Razz is typically played as a limit poker game, so make sure you establish what the limits are before playing.
All players ante. Shuffle and deal two cards face down to each player, then one card face up. This face-up card is referred to as the door card.
The player with the highest (and therefore worst) door card goes first. In cases where multiple players hold a card of the highest rank present, ties are broken by suit. Suits rank in the order (high) spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs (low). This player is required to make a mandatory bet called a bring-in bet. This is a blind bet equal to half of a normal bet. However, if the player wishes, they may “complete the bet” by making a full bet rather than a bring-in bet. After this first player, betting proceeds according to the normal rules for betting in poker.
After the first betting round concludes, all remaining players are dealt another face-up card. Whichever player is showing the lowest (and therefore best) hand leads off another round of betting. A fifth card is then dealt to each active player, again face up. At this point, the betting limit doubles (and remains doubled for the rest of the hand) for the ensuing betting round, which is again kicked off by the player showing the best hand. This process repeats for the sixth card.
The seventh and final card is dealt face down to each player. Occasionally, because a large percentage of the players stayed in the hand, there won’t be enough cards to go around. In this case, simply deal one card, face up, in the center of the table. This card serves as a “community card”—the seventh card of every player’s hand.
Ultimate Texas Hold’em, often abbreviated as UTH, is an adaptation of Texas Hold’em to the player-versus-the-house format of casino table games. Two to eight people (including the dealer) can play. Introduced during the height of the 2000s poker craze, Ultimate Texas Hold’em is a more approachable game for players that may be intimidated by the more confrontational style of betting found in traditional poker games.
Like Three Card Poker, Ultimate Texas Hold’em is a proprietary game owned and licensed by Scientific Games. UTH was originally developed by Roger Snow of ShuffleMaster, a manufacturer of card shuffling equipment. As with Three Card Poker, ShuffleMaster created specialized shuffling and dealing machines customized for UTH. ShuffleMaster was later acquired by Bally Technologies, which was later purchased by Scientific Games.
As with Three Card Poker, you won’t usually find the UTH tables in the poker room. Instead, look for them in the pit, alongside the Three Card Poker and Blackjack tables.
Object of Ultimate Texas Hold’em
The object of Ultimate Texas Hold’em is to recognize when you hold a hand that is likely to form a better poker hand than the dealer’s. This allows you to take advantage of opportunities to bet higher (and thus hopefully be paid higher). Alternately, the object is determine when the hand isn’t worth playing and exit the game to avoid a greater loss.
Ultimate Texas Hold’em is played with a standard 52-card deck of playing cards. If you’re playing at home, why not take advantage of the opportunity to get out your Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards? You’ll also need chips for each player to bet with. The dealer should be provided with a generous amount of chips for paying out winning wagers.
Casino UTH tables are covered in a felt surface with betting circles pre-printed on them, to organize the four bets that are available to the players. (An example of such a betting layout is shown at below right.) Unlike public-domain games like Blackjack, you’re unlikely to find UTH layouts available from anyone but Scientific Games. If you’re planning on dealing a home game instead of just playing in a casino, you’ll need to put one together yourself.
Players make their initial bets, as described below in “Making the initial bets”. After each player has bet, shuffle and deal five cards, face down; these will be the board cards. Deal two cards, also face down, to each player, including the dealer. These are the players’ hole cards.
Cards rank in their usual order in UTH, with aces high (although they can be used in an A–5 straight). Hands rank in the typical order; see rank of poker hands if you need a refresher.
Making the initial bets
A player may also choose to make an optional Trips bet. The Trips bet pays based on the best hand a player can make between their two cards and the five community cards. Whether or not the player’s hand is better than the dealer’s is immaterial to the outcome of the Trips bet. A player may choose to bet only the Trips bet, and not the Ante and Blind bets.
The Play betting circle remains empty until later on in the hand.
Play of the hand
After receiving their hand and being allowed to do so by the dealer, the player looks at their two cards. The dealer proceeds around the table, from left to right, giving each player their turn. On their turn, they may, if they wish, make their Play bet, which must be either three or four times the amount of the Ante bet. Otherwise, they check by tapping the table.
After all players have had a chance to bet or check, the dealer reveals the flop (the first three board cards). Each player who has not already made a Play bet gets a turn now. If they wish, they may now place a Play bet equal to twice the Ante bet. They may also check again, if they still do not wish to bet.
The dealer then reveals the last two board cards. Players have one last chance to make a Play bet, which is now limited to be exactly equal to the Ante bet. If a player still doesn’t want to bet, then they fold, surrendering all of the bets they’ve made to the dealer.
When all players have made a Play bet or folded, the dealer turns their hole cards face up. They declare the best five-card poker hand they can make using their two hole cards and the five board cards. If the dealer has at least a pair or higher, they are said to qualify. If the dealer does not qualify, the Ante bet will push, but the other two bets will still be paid out normally.
The dealer now proceeds around the table to each active player in turn, starting with the player to their right and working around to the left. The dealer reveals the player’s hole cards and announces the best poker hand the player can make. This hand is then compared to the dealer’s. If the dealer has a better hand, the dealer collects the Blind and Play bets, the Ante bet if the dealer qualified, and the player’s cards. Should the player have a better hand, they are paid out at even money on the Play bet and the Blind bet, as well as the Ante bet if the dealer qualified. If the player wins and has a straight or higher, they are paid at a higher rate on the Blind bet, as shown in the table below.
If the player made the Trips bet, it is settled regardless of if the player won or not. The Trips bet pays only if the player has three of a kind or better. If they do not, the bet loses and is collected by the dealer. If they do, it is paid according to the table below.
The payouts for the Trips and winning Blind bets are as follows:
|Royal flush||50 to 1||500 to 1|
|Straight flush||40 to 1||50 to 1|
|Four of a kind||30 to 1||10 to 1|
|Full house||8 to 1||3 to 1|
|Flush||6 to 1||3 to 2|
|Straight||5 to 1||even money|
|Three of a kind||3 to 1||even money|
After every player’s bets have been resolved, the cards are shuffled. Players then make their bets for the next hand.
Three Card Poker is a betting game played in casinos throughout the world. Unlike most forms of poker, the player wins when they can manage to beat the house, as in Blackjack and Mini Baccarat. Accordingly, Three Card Poker tables are usually located in the blackjack pit, not in the poker room.
Unlike most games played with traditional cards, Three Card Poker is a proprietary game. It was originally marketed by ShuffleMaster, a company which made and supplied automatic card shufflers to casinos. Due to a chain of acquisitions, the game is now owned by Scientific Games. Scientific Games still licenses the rights to the Three Card Poker name, as well as selling layouts and specialized shufflers that can also be programmed to deal three-card hands for each player.
Object of Three Card Poker
The object of Three Card Poker is to hold a hand higher than that of the dealer, or walk away when they feel they are unlikely to do so.
Unlike many casino table games, Three Card Poker is played with only one standard, 52-card deck of playing cards. Happily, that means if you’re wanting to play a home game, you can use your favorite deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. You’ll also need chips to bet with.
Casinos spread the game on a felt table with a printed layout that facilitates the placing and payout of bets. Each player position has three betting boxes, typically laid out as shown at right. Because Three Card Poker is a proprietary game, pre-printed felt layouts are not as readily available as those found in games such as Blackjack. If you’re playing at home, you will most likely have to get creative, making a betting layout for yourself.
All players place a bet (which must be between the posted table minimums and maximums) in the Ante box on the layout. If they wish, they may also place an additional bet in the Pair Plus circle. Shuffle and deal three cards face down to each player, including the dealer.
Rank of Three Card Poker hands
Because there are only three cards involved, the hands available in Three Card Poker and their ranking differ from traditional poker. The hands are, from highest to lowest:
- Straight flush: Three cards of the same suit, in sequence.
- Three of a kind: Three cards of the same rank.
- Straight: Three cards in sequence.
- Flush: Three cards of the same suit.
- Pair: Two cards of the same rank, plus one unmatched card.
- High card: Three unmatched cards.
Competing pairs are evaluated by the rank of the pair, with the kicker (unmatched card) breaking ties. All other hands are evaluated by comparing the top-ranked card, then the second-highest, then the lowest. Cards rank in their usual order, with aces high (although A-2-3 is a valid straight).
Play of the hand
Each player picks up their cards (touching the cards is allowed in Three Card Poker) and examines their hand. They now make the only decision in the game—whether to raise (play) or fold. If the player folds, they surrender their cards to the dealer, who collects their money from the Ante and Pair Plus circles. If they raise, they place another bet, exactly the same amount as their Ante wager, on top of their cards (which are placed in the box overlapping the Play box, such that a bet placed on top of the cards ends up being in the Play box).
When all players have acted, the dealer reveals their hand. If the dealer’s hand is queen high or better, they are said to qualify. Should the dealer fail to qualify, the hand ends immediately, with each player being paid even money on their Ante bet and the Play bet pushing. (It should be noted that, so long as the player hasn’t folded, the Ante bet always pays when the dealer fails to qualify, even if the player’s hand is lower than the dealer’s.)
If the dealer qualifies, each player’s hand is compared with the dealer’s. Starting with the player to their right, and proceeding counter-clockwise around the table, the dealer reveals each player’s hand. If the player’s hand is higher than the dealer’s, they are paid even money on both the Ante and Play bets. When the dealer’s hand is higher, both bets are lost. If the dealer and player tie exactly, both bets push.
Pair Plus and Ante bonus payouts
If the player holds a high enough hand, they may get paid no matter what the dealer holds. Usually, this will happen because they made the Pair Plus bet, which operates entirely independently of the other two bets. If the player has a pair or higher, they are paid according to the hand they hold; otherwise, the bet is lost. A player holding a straight or better also receives a bonus on their Ante bet (regardless of if they played the Pair Plus bet).
Pair Plus bet and Ante bonuses are paid according to the following paytable. Note that these are typical values; some casinos may pay different rates.
|Hand||Pair Plus||Ante bonus|
|Straight flush||40 to 1||5 to 1|
|Three of a kind||30 to 1||4 to 1|
|Straight||6 to 1||even money|
|Flush:||3 to 1||–|
Three Card Poker strategy
According to Michael Shackelford of the popular Wizard of Odds gambling probabilities site, the mathematically ideal strategy for Three Card Poker is to play hands of Q-6-4 and higher and to fold hands of Q-6-3 and lower.
It should be noted that the house edge on the Pairs Plus bet is 7.28%. This is not much better than betting on a slot machine. However, to many players, the chance to catch a straight flush and win $200 on a $5 bet is too great a temptation to resist…
Liar’s Poker recasts the bluffing spirit of the game of poker into an I Doubt It-style affair, doing away with the gambling aspect altogether. That makes it an excellent game for younger players, or to familiarize new players with the poker hands. It can be played with two to eight players, but is best with three to five.
Object of Liar’s Poker
The object of Liar’s Poker is to successfully determine whether the active player in fact has the hand they claim to have.
Liar’s Poker is played with a 54-card deck of playing cards, formed by adding two jokers to a standard 52-card deck. We’d be lying if we said we didn’t wish you’d use Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards in your game. You’ll also need something to keep score with. Pencil and paper is fine, but it’s much simpler to use a supply of markers, such as poker chips.
Select the first active player by any convenient means, such as mutual agreement or high-card draw. Shuffle and deal five cards to that player only. The rest of the deck becomes the stock.
The first player looks at the five-card hand they have dealt. They then declare any standard poker hand that they assert the hand contains (jokers act as wild cards). They may simply declare the hand type that they purport to hold (e.g. “a pair”), or they may declare more specifics, such as “a pair of 10s”, “a pair of 10s with an ace kicker”, etc. The player to the left of the active player must decide whether or not they believe the declaration. If they do, they accept the hand, and the cards pass to that player.
The new active player then looks at the cards. They don’t reveal whether or not the declaration was true or not. Instead, they may discard up to four cards, face down, and draw new ones to bring the hand back up to five cards. They must then make a declaration higher than that of their predecessor. This may be a wholesale improvement in the hand (e.g. going from “a pair” to “two pair” or “a pair of 5s” to “a pair of 9s”) or it may disclose more information than the previous one. For example, if the previous player declared “a pair of jacks”, then “a pair of jacks with a queen kicker”, “a pair of jacks with a 7”, etc. would qualify as a higher declaration.
If a player doesn’t believe a declaration that has been presented to them, they call “Liar!” If the declaration was honest, then the active player reveals just as many cards needed to prove the declaration correct, and the doubter is given one point. Otherwise, the cards are discarded, face down, and the liar gets one point. In either case, the cards are shuffled. The player that scored the point is dealt a new hand and becomes the new active player.