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09/06/2006 No. 51
he Guardian Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Friday June 9, 2006
How to play poker
(How to play has been running from issue 16)

The cruelty of poker, as discussed last week, is not restricted to games between strangers. Financial loss ranges from annoying to crippling wherever it happens. Sure, it hurts to slide your money over to some anonymous opponent on the internet - but if anything, it can be harder among friends. Home games are frequently riddled with tricky dynamics of pride and rivalry.

Between mates, it is often no less awkward to be on the winning end of the proposition. If you know what the money means to somebody, how they earn it and why they need it, you can feel bad about taking it off them. You may remember Alice in Wonderland saying that when she has been formally introduced to a pudding, she feels too guilty to eat it.

The biggest problem with "social" poker is that guests rarely get up and leave when they have lost too much money. They leave only when the evening is over. This can lead to people getting in over their heads, and everybody feeling bad. If you are thinking of having home poker nights, a diplomatic option could be to host a series of tournaments instead of a cash game. Let's say you have five friends over to play five £20 tournaments. Everybody's maximum loss potential is £100 (you can adjust the figures according to your friends' bankrolls), and they'll get some bang for their buck.

Of course, when people get knocked out, they don't want to sit around for ages doing nothing. Ideally, each tournament would only last about an hour. But how can you control it? Funnily enough, this very morning I bumped into Thomas Kremser, Europe's leading tournament director. (If you've ever watched a televised poker game and seen a tall, important-looking Austrian gentleman standing behind the table and setting the rules, that's Thomas.) I snatched the opportunity to ask him for his perfect six-player, no-limit hold 'em, mates' tournament structure.

"Give everybody 1,000 in chips," said Thomas. "Start the blinds at 25-50, and increase them every 10 minutes. Go to 50-100, then 100-200, then 200-400, then 300-600. If the game still continues, increase to 500-1,000 and it will end within the hour."

There was a pause.

"Wait a minute," said Thomas. "In home games, people shuffle and deal very slowly. Put the blinds up every 12 minutes, not every 10, to allow for this extra business."

That's why Thomas is the best. He thinks of everything. So there is your perfect structure for a social tournament evening: good luck, and may your friendships remain intact.

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