SIF@HOME: Bradley's Home Game Rules
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I have written up these rather extensive rules and procedures for my
home game. Even early in the draft, they reached a rather pedantic level
of detail that probably makes me look about as neurotic as I am. But,
I've thought it through and I have good reasons to be so detailed.
I run a tight ship of a home game. The goal is to make sure that the
rules are very clear, with no confusions, so that if something goes wrong
when there is some cash on the line, everyone knows what to expect. Also,
understanding the type of games that will get played, who gets invited,
and how they will be selected helps the game get started smoothly, and
helps keep from feelings being hurt if someone isn't invited.
In Baltimore, I ran home games regularly all through college and two
years post-college. When I lived in Boston, I was a regular at many
home games, one of which is the (in)famous River Street, which
(albeit temporarily) grew from a home game into a small for-profit
poker club. I've seen friendships destroyed and angry fights at
many a home game that made me quite sad. I'm sure we'll have our
share of drama at SIF@HOME, but by making the rules and procedures
clear, I hope to keep it to a minimum. I guess I ask everyone to
bear with me and trust a little bit that having well-defined
structure is good for the game.
That said, I am very open to the idea of changing the rules and
procedures based on input from everyone. I'd like this to be a
community, and, as such, it should have input from all its members.
So, if you are a member of the game (or, even if you are just an
avid reader of my blog) please use comments on this blog page as a
way to submit ideas and changes.
Table Of Contents
SIF@HOME is always mixed games. Each game will consist of either six
or eight total games. Half of the games are always limit poker and
half are always NL/PL. The mix will be decided by negotiation of the
first arriving players who are present at the game start time; so, be
prompt if you want to give input on the mix. If full and complete
consensus cannot be reached on at least three limit varieties and
three NL/PL varieties, majority vote will be used to fill out the
games to make a full six games. If players arrive while negotiation
is still ongoing, the newcomer will get a full say in the mix
selection; those arriving after the mix consensus has been reached and
written down have no input for that session.
The PL/NL choices are: PLO/8, PLO, NL HE, PL Stud/8, PL Stud,
PL London Lowball, NL 2-7 Single-Draw Lowball, PL 5-Card-Draw-High, PL
Double-Board HE, PL 5 Card Stud, NL Crazy Pineapple.
The limit choices are: Razz, Stud, O/8, HE, Stud/8, 2-7 Triple
Draw Lowball, Badugi, Stud High/Low (Chip Declare),
The list of game choices is subject to change, by notice will be on
this page when the game is announced.
The game changes ever round. Some have asked for it to change less
frequently, but mixed games are all about handling the changes, so it
will continue to change every round.
Some have asked for limit-only mixed games, or for there to be more
limit variations than NL/PL in the mix. The goal of this home game is
to mix up PL/NL and limit into a great, exciting mix. If that's not
something that interests you, then this isn't your home game. The
Brits play and enjoy PL Stud and other variations; we can too. I've
decreased the ante levels for PL ante games to make sure they don't
play too big.
This section covers issues of getting enough players to make a game
happen, and the procedures I'll use to try to make a game happen.
Required Number and Short-Handed Rules
Since we are playing mixed games, the game will be considered to have
enough players if at least six players are in attendance.
The goal is to have eight players attend, but the game will go with a
minimum of six and maximum of nine.
I will take great effort to make sure that arriving players don't show
up only to find that a game will be short-handed (i.e., five or
less). However, I of course cannot guarantee that unforeseen events
cause otherwise “Definite” players to become no-shows.
I am always happy to run a game short-handed, but
by the same token, no one who does show should feel obligated to
play with less than six players. The same rule applies if there are
unexpected early departures, but I will try to schedule as best I
can to avoid those as well.
Announcement, RSVP, and Critical Mass
Usually, this game run once each month. A poll is usually sent to regular players for date selection. After a date is selected, a “save the date” message is sent a few weeks before the game.
At least five days before each game, I will send out an announcement to the entire
invite list of a proposed date and time for the next game. People have
until noon two days before the game date to reply if they would like to
join the critical mass for the game; each responder should declare
herself a Definite or a Maybe for that game. Please
only declare yourself a Definite if you can be present for four hours
of the game, and indicate in your reply what time you expect to arrive
and need to leave.
I will not run the game unless I feel assured that six people have
identified as Definite for the entire game time. I will not book
more than nine Definites for any four hour period.
Around 6PM, two days before the game, I will send an email either
confirming the game, or announcing that the game has not reached
critical mass, and will not occur. Therefore, if you wish
the game to go, please be sure to reply as a Definite by noon two
days before the game date. If the game has critical mass,
all Definites will receive an email confirming their status as
Definites, and all Maybes will receive an email asking if they want
to stay on the Maybe list, or perhaps convert to a Definite.
If you are in receipt of a message that names you a
“Definite”, I expect you'll arrive and you don't have to
reply unless you need to cancel.
I will generally take two Maybes for every seat not claimed by a
Definite. Maybes can convert to Definites on a
first-come-first-serve basis up until 10PM on the day before
the game. After that, seats are given in a
first-come-first-serve basis to the Maybes if they show for the
game, but a Maybe must give up his seat if a Definite
arrives, even if the Definite arrives late. If you
are in receipt of a message that names you as a “Maybe”,
it is really better if you get in touch and confirm as a Definite to
lock up your seat.
In general, the goal here is to give a strong incentive for people to
commit as a Definite.
I have not yet established a rule for what to do when Definites become
no-shows. I hope it won't happen. If you need to cancel, please try to
do so before I've declared critical mass, or, if something else comes up,
try to give me 24 hours notice so I can call off the game before people
are committed to arriving.
This game is for people that I know in Real Life, those who already
know my close friends in Real Life, or for friends of people I know in
Real Life. However, if you'd like to bring a friend, you must arrange
with me ahead of time.
I have purposefully made the stakes reasonable but still non-trivial,
so there has to be some consideration that we make sure people who
come are comfortable with the stakes and are a good fit for the
group. Poker can be an emotional game, and it sometimes takes a
while to be sure that everyone's temperament is a match. This is
a big concern in home games, because we don't have the
infrastructure of a casino to make it possible for strangers to
play against strangers.
Generally, I use a “vouch” system for deciding who to
invite. If a friend that I know really well can indicate to me
that they feel comfortable bringing in a particular new person,
that's fine with me. But, if you're a new player who has just
been brought in, please understand that you may not be able to
bring friends right away. Just talk to me about it, and I'll be
frank about whether I think it's time to expand the circle.
Generally, I want to do so, but like all things in life, it takes
time for everyone to get to know each other and get comfortable.
It's real money on the table, and we all have to have some sense
that no one is going to be dishonorable with anyone else. It
takes time to build that trust.
As for rail-birds, I'm generally against it. My apartment is large
enough to host the game itself, but I don't want to have a
full-blown cocktail party atmosphere. Eight people traipsing
through your place one a month is often enough to bring you to the
point of frustration, so I don't want to start turning my
apartment into a casino once a month. I'm willing to make
exceptions to this if there's a friend of a friend who would
really like to learn the games with the long term goal of becoming
a regular player in the game. Certainly talk to me about that
possibility, but I'll need some tough convincing. Generally, the
people who come should be players, not watchers (except for my
wife, who lives here but doesn't play poker, so you darn well
better make her feel welcome. :)
- Minimum Buy-in:
- The minimum buy-in is $1.
This is so small so that people can goof off on short stacks
on occasion when they have lost a buy-in and want to limit
their losses for the day. While it won't be illegal, it
will be considered bad etiquette to repeatedly rebuy for
amounts less than $20. Exercise the short-rebuy prerogative
sparingly, and ask the other players if they mind if you are
unsure if you are being rude.
- Maximum Buy-in:
- The maximum buy-in is $200,
or half the largest stack if someone at the table has more than
$400. The goal of this rule is to keep the game from getting too
deep-stacked, but to also keep a very large stack from dominating
the table during PL/NL rounds. The idea is that at any time, even
the biggest stack could lose that honor to someone else in one pot,
and leave the victor with the same sized big-stack that loser once
- NL/PL blind games:
- Blinds will be $1/$1 for
the NL/PL blind-based games. Note that the small blind and big
blind are the same amount, as in European card rooms. Both
blinds have options to raise before the next betting round. The
goal here is to keep the game a bit smaller than a $1/$2 game,
and encourage more play beyond the first betting round.
- PL Ante games:
- PL ante games
will play with an “effective” $0.10 ante. The
button will ante for everyone, rounding to the nearest dollar
(to keep away chips worth less than a $1). With 3-4 players,
there is no ante; with 5-9, the ante is $1. The bring-in will
- Limit blind games:
- Blinds will be $2/$4 and
games will play as $4/$8 limit, using standard rules for when
the bet goes from small to big.
- Limit Ante games:
- Limit ante games will play
with an “effective” $0.25 ante. The button will
ante for everyone, rounding to the nearest dollar (to keep
away chips worth less than a $1). With 3-5 players, the ante
is $1; with 6-9, the ante is $2. The bring-in will be $2.
Any player may double-bet on fourth street in Stud-high (but
not Stud high/low) when a pair shows.
- Straddling in Blind Games:
- In both NL/PL and
limit blind games, straddling will be permitted. A player in
the position to the immediate left of all blind bets may
straddle for double the previous blind bet. That straddle
will become a blind bet. Players may thus restraddle an
existing straddle bet, which doubles the previous straddle to
its right. This can continue all around the table, such that
the small blind becomes the first to act on the first round.
(Note: this differs from Robert's rules, which allows for only
one straddle. This rule allows for N-2 straddles, where N is
the number of players dealt into the hand.)
- Capped Betting in Limit Games:
- The third raise makes a cap (meaning there can be more than four bets
in a straddled pot). Heads-up unlimited raising is permitted,
if the pot is heads-up when the second raise for that betting
round goes into the pot.
Unless they are trumped by rules stated in this document, the game will
Rules of Poker. I have made efforts to check and see
where these rules differ, and have noted such here.
Rulings (i.e., interpretation of the rules) are a difficult matter in a
home game, since there is no management who is reasonably
disinterested in the outcome of a particular situation. Barring a
better solution, I will act as “floorperson” on all
disputes (except when I have an active hand at the moment the
dispute begins). In the former cases, my decisions will be final.
I will strive to decide each case in a way that is equitable to the
game as a whole. For example, in a serious misdeal situation that
cannot be rectified, I might decide to pay out based on mathematical
equity to each active hand at the given moment. This is unorthodox,
but if it seems to serve the friendliness of the game, I'll go that
If I am an active player, I will remain neutral. In those cases,
decisions are made by consensus of all inactive players. Consensus
must be reached, and the decision is final. It's in the best
interest of the game for everyone to try to come to a consensus. If
it becomes clear that consensus can't be found, then I will muck my
hand, make a ruling and give up my interest in the a pot. I'd
rather not do this, of course, so I ask that people make reasonable
efforts to reach consensus when a ruling is needed and I'm in the
It's a home game, so we deviate from Robert's Rules'
one player to a
hand rule slightly. Namely, it is permissible to show your
hand to inactive players, but you cannot receive advice on how
to play it. However, all players in the game have the right to
see the hand that has been shown, when the hand is complete.
Players who wish to share the contents of their hands with
others are required to hold out the hand from the muck so they
can show it at the end. This rule exists to keep the home game
spirit of “playing along” but also make sure
everyone has equal information in the game.
Dealing and Card Shortages
We typically play “risky” with the number of cards in the
deck. We play 2-7 TD up to seven handed (people to the left of
the big blind sit out until seven-handed is reached). Still,
seven-handed 2-7 TD often requires reshuffles. We play other
draw games a full nine-handed, and reshuffle the predraw muck.
In Stud games, we go for the full nine-handed as well, since,
due to folds, it really is unlikely that we will run out of
cards. However, we never use burn cards in Stud games to
minimize the likelihood.
The dealer is reminded to be careful about running out of cards.
Triple Draw is dealt such that no one can receive the same card
they discarded on that particular round. Mucks are merged after
each draw; however, so it is possible to receive the same card you
discarded on an earlier round of drawing.
The button moves even with Stud games, both to keep count of when the
game should change, and to indicate the actual dealer. Each
person takes a turn dealing when on the button, but the dealer
should never be the one to shuffle a deck. If
you are handed a deck for your deal, do not shuffle it; merely cut
it immediately before your deal. You will shuffle when your deal
is complete, and hand the cleaned deck to the person two to your
left. If a dealer reshuffles his own deck, the deck must be then
given to someone else to shuffle. It is unlikely that someone
would try to stack the deck in this game, but we might as well
make it difficult if someone were to try.
Some of the games are difficult to deal; be sure to ask someone if you
are unsure when to burn, how to handle the muck, etc.
“Coffee-housing” and Inducing Action
In most clubs and poker rooms, speculating about someone's holding,
talking to players to induce action, or disclosing information about
your own hand is prohibited, except when heads-up in a cash game.
That rule does not apply here. All such
speculating and speaking will be permitted by any player with a live
hand. Basically, any sort of talking during a hand more or less
goes, no matter how many players are in the hand. It's a home game;
goof off. However, please don't use aggressive table-talk designed
to confuse and disorient opponents.
Players who have folded or otherwise have no active hand of their own
may not speculate, induce action, or otherwise
coffee-house. The only exception to this rule is the dealer in a stud
game may speculate about boards in-between betting rounds while
dealing up cards.
Too often, games have no clear end and someone inevitably seems to
leave way up, and everyone else is annoyed. All SIF@HOME games will
have a defined end time (typically about eight hours after the start
time). At that time, there is automatically a discussion about who
wants to continue the game and who wants to go home. Since everyone
knows this beforehand, there is less stigma attached with leaving.
Players may leave early or arrive late, but are asked to say so
explicitly when responding during the critical mass period. Also, players
at the game who must leave early should announce it and give the exact
leaving time when they arrive. That way, everyone knows before the
money's in play what will happen if you double up ten minutes before you
An exception is made for this rule if someone has busted out and lost
all their chips. The goal of these game duration policies is to: (a) make
sure the game doesn't get broken up early, (b) make sure enough players
stay for long enough, and (c) to avoid hit-and-run play. However,
regardless of this, someone who has lost a full buy-in should
never under any circumstances feel obligated to
In the interest of making the game continue for its full duration,
those who are playing on short money (in other words, those who
have only one, or less than one, buy-in to play with for the
entire duration) are encouraged to buy-in short-stacked. The buy-in rules permit short-stacked buy-in,
and players are encouraged to make use of that to limit the
amount that they have at risk in the game. The goal here is not
to fleece anyone for more than they can afford; therefore,
players should feel comfortable buying in for amounts around
$40-$60 if they aren't yet comfortable with the games or the
[ I realize this is a major trade-off for people who,
as I do, like to play deep-stacked PL/NL games. However, one of the
original goals of this game is to cross-pollinate the limit and NL/PL
poker worlds. As such, everyone in the game should be understanding
that some players — particularly those coming from the limit
world — have, well, limits to what they are willing to put at
risk in a single hand, and we should be respectful of that. Also, even
those who do usually play NL HE may be familiar with only that game,
and are concerned about losing a lot in a PLO or PLO/8
My apartment is 100% non-smoking. Getting in and out of my place to
the street requires someone to go with you to let you in and out. So,
don't expect to be able to smoke easily during the game. If you
absolutely cannot go five hours without a cigarette, this may not be the
home game for you. I guess I'd entertain the idea of walking everyone out
for one smoke break during the duration of the game.
I will pick up beverages and ask for donations at each game. I think
this is an easier way than everyone trying to bring their
own. I will of course take requests. I don't mind picking
things up, and then it is all centralized and there isn't
too much of one thing. Feel free to bring something special
if you want it and think I'm unlikely to get it.
I usually buy an array of carbonated soft drinks and maybe a few other
types of sugary beverages, as well as waters. I get some potato chips,
usually onion dip (which I've made for poker games since I first hosted
them), and maybe some cookies.
I generally don't drink alcohol, but I'm not opposed to it. So, the
one thing you should bring if you really want it is
alcoholic beverages. I don't know enough about them to buy
good beers, or whatever, so bring what you want in this
If this game gets going regularly, I am planning on purchasing a
serious chip set from PokerChips.com. Greg's
River Street chips were from here and they were excellent.
Currently, since the idea of
binary chip values was so antithetical, we will have $1,
$2, $5, and $25 chips. I will use my old Wood Expressions
set until such time I place a PokerChips.com order.
Here is the table that will be used at all games: the
table has arrived and is in use.. I prefer round tables,
as it is better for conversation. Don't worry, I have the
traditional green, not burgundy.