There is an old saying in poker that all you need to win is a "chip and a chair," meaning a poker chip and a seat at one of the casino tables.
If you couldn't snag a seat at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas this summer, you can still feel like you're there by holding a poker party in your own home. "It's more of a social outlet to get people together, and for them to have a great time," said Bobby Conti of Long Island Texas Hold 'Em group.
Brendan Schultz, 22, holds about two poker games a week among friends at his Dix Hills home. The games sometime run from 8 p.m. until 4 a.m., the group said on a recent Friday night. It's all perfectly friendly and perfectly legal because Schultz does not take "a rake" or money to run the game.
Schultz and his poker pals say the key to starting up a game is to keep the betting around 10 or 25 cents for the "blinds" or mandatory bets.
"Start small," Schultz said. "Big games aren't necessary, in the beginning."
There are legal limits on playing the game, even in one's home. The "house," or those hosting the game, cannot take money from the players outside the regular betting. Otherwise, it is considered gambling, which is mostly illegal in New York State.
In fact, guests don't have to play for cash. At some home games, the top winners can get a "prize," perhaps a bottle of wine, for being the top chip winner. It's just the thrill of winning something that counts, Conti said.
That's how Terry Villano, owner of Long Island Poker and Casino in Coram, runs casino games for parties and fundraisers. She gives the partygoers play money, which is later used to buy raffle tickets; winners are chosen at random for prizes.
Whether to hire a professional dealer depends on players' skill and finances. Dealers can be hired for about $150 for a few hours from Villano's company. Having a professional dealer is helpful, especially to beginners. "There is control in the game," Villano said. "Rules are followed. The dealer is the boss."
For a successful poker night at home, there are a few supplies needed to make it an entertaining night. Those are a table to fit the players, a stack of poker chips in at least three colors (to represent different dollar amounts) and a deck of playing cards. Classic poker visors, a great gift for guests as a favor, can be bought at Walmart (a pack of 10 costs $26.92).
Poker chips are available at local retail stores, and sometimes can be found in drugstores. Amazon sells a set of chips for as little as $4.99. What's a party without food? Villano advises keeping greasy foods to a minimum to avoid messing up the cards and chips.
Winning hands, from best to least
Royal flush: An ace, king, queen, jack and 10 of the same suit.
Straight flush: Any five consecutive cards that are of the same suit.
Four of a kind: Any four cards of the same value (four 8's for example.)
Full house: Three of a kind and a pair.
Flush: Any five cards of the same suit.
Straight: Any five consecutive cards of any suit.
Three of a kind: Three cards of the same value.
Two pairS: Two pairs of cards of the same value.
A pair: One pair of cards of the same value.
High card: One card that is the highest on the table.
How to play Texas Hold 'em
Players form the best hand by any variation of two cards dealt to them and five "community cards" seen by all.
BETTING Each player gets two cards. Without a fixed dealer, a player is designated as the "button," or dealer, for each hand. Before more cards are dealt, players must bet or fold. The player to the left of the button (small blind) starts by posting half the round's bet. The person to their left (full blind) posts a full bet. For example, if the small blind posts a $2 bet, the big blind must post $4. The two blinds must bet, but other players can fold, call or raise. Betting goes to the left.
More betting occurs after three community cards are dealt face up (called the "flop"). Third round of betting occurs after fourth community card (the "turn") is dealt face up. And a final round of betting after the fifth community card is dealt face up ("the river").
WHO WINS After all betting, remaining players show best five-card hand using any variation of the two they hold and any community cards. The best hand wins the money in the "pot." Position of the "button" rotates clockwise after the first round, and the blinds and betting begins again. Bets usually are higher after the deal goes around the table once.
TWO WAYS TO PLAY Regular play, or cash game, means you come to the table with as many chips as you are willing to buy and play with, and leave when you like. In tournament play, everyone pays the same amount of money for an equal number of chips, and there is an elimination process.