Hosting a Poker Night

Four playing cards and a cigar.

The essential equipment of a poker night.

The quintessential manly social event is the poker night. There’s gambling, booze, and rarely a feminine influence. Even better, it’s based around an activity rather than just socialising. I’m not going to get into how to play again. This time I’m going to talk about hosting the game. A poker night is a type of party and all the usual hosting etiquette applies.

The Simple Points

A poker night should be a casual affair centred entirely on the game. It’s one of the few parties where a t-shirt is undeniably appropriate. There’s no guest of honour or theme, it’s all about the poker. So, there shouldn’t be any other entertainment either. You don’t have to lay any money on the line if you don’t want, it’s perfectly acceptable to just play for fun.

Guest List

If you have regular poker nights then your guest list is predetermined, just invite the same guys as last time. If this is the first time, or even if your poker nights are few and far between, choosing who to invite is a harder choice. It’s best if everyone plays on the same level, but you don’t want to freeze out the rookies either. The hardest part is whittling it down. You’ll typically have no more than eight people playing each hand, so inviting more people means either splitting up to play multiple simultaneous games or people are forced to sit out. I’d say you should look to have eight players or however many can play at your table, whichever’s less.

Game Space

Obviously, you need a place to play. The best is a dedicated poker table in a room that’s decorated for such activities. If that’s not viable, you can use your dining room table, but not the kitchen. Besides your usual hosting duties, you’re also responsible for providing the cards and chips.


Poker night is the time for the pub food. Chicken wings, nachos, and various deep fried appetizers are perfect fare for the occasion. This is also the time to break out the craft beer and your best scotch. If you don’t feel comfortable mixing drinks while you’re trying to play, don’t feel you have to. You’ll also want to either make sure serving food doesn’t take you away from the table too much, or get some help. If you get help, ask someone you live with or is also playing.


Cigars are a traditional part of the poker night, but you may not want to do any smoking. If you’re using a room you wouldn’t smoke in otherwise, then skip them. Same if anyone there doesn’t want to be around that. They have a right to clean air, you don’t have the right to smoke. If you decide to include cigars, you need to provide ashtrays. You can either provide decent quality cigars yourself, or expect everyone to bring their own. If you do provide them, one per person is plenty. Its important enough to reiterate, don’t force anyone to be around smoking or exclude anyone because they want clean air.


A Gentleman’s Guide to Gambling

Roulette TableGambling is one of the most manly forms of entertainment. The entire thrill is the risk, and there aren’t many other activities that you can do with a martini in one hand and the other arm wrapped around a beautiful woman in a fancy cocktail dress. 

A word of warning, irresponsible gambling can easily ruin your life. Always treat your losses as the cost of an evening’s entertainment and keep the rest of your money as far away as practical, bring only cash and chips to the casino. Avoid the games of chance, like bingo and slots. In all honesty, Russian roulette would be a better idea, at least then you don’t have to suffer when you lose. 

Basic Betting

You can bet on anything with an uncertain outcome, from the weather to wars, but the most popular is sports. Gamblers place their bets based on their observations and intuition, often with more being wagered on some outcomes than others. The winners then divide the entire pot (the combined total of all the wagers) proportionally based on their original bets. The inequality of vets is typically called “giving odds” and is generally expressed as a ratio of potential winnings to amount wagered. 

Many team sports have a point spread system. This makes it reasonable to bet on the clearly inferior team. In a point spread you’re not betting on who will win but rather by how much. So, your team can lose but you still win the bet. 

Another common form of gambling is the betting pool. A betting pool has many participants and each one wagers the same amount on a different possible outcome. Whoever guesses right or closest wins some or all of the pot. 

The Sport of Kings

Gambling on horse racing involves betting on which horse will win, not surprisingly. You can also bet on a horse to place or show, meaning to be in the top 2 or 3 respectively, reducing both the risk and the reward. 


The classic casino evokes images of classic James Bond and Connery’s distinctive accent ordering a “vodka martini, shaken, not stirred.” The casino can be a place where a gentleman can enjoy himself and exude class, so long as he avoids the seedy casinos that plague gambling Meccas like Las Vegas and Atlantic City, and the “Indian Casinos” that make everyone victims of racism to line a few pockets. 

There are four casino table games that are really gentleman’s games; roulette, craps, poker, and blackjack. Table games take bets using “chips,” coloured plastic discs that have no cash value elsewhere. Typically chips are bought from a cashier on the casino floor and sold back later, but many casinos will also give them away as promotions. It’s also common for casinos to encourage large bets with incentives like high roller suites, free food, and exclusive tables. Sometimes you can buy chips at the table, by placing cash on the table and having the dealer pass you chips, neither cash nor chips should ever change hands directly. 


Blackjack is one of the simplest card games around. The goal is to have a hand that adds up to a larger number than the dealer’s does but not greater than twenty one. Each of the numbered cards are worth the number on them, face cards are worth ten, and aces are worth either one or eleven. 

A hand starts with the dealer dealing two cards to every player, including himself, all face up except one of his own. Each player then plays his own hand. The player chooses to hit or stand, meaning take a new card or accept the hand as it is. If a player is dealt two of the same card it gives the option of “doubling down” which means each one becomes the first card in a new hand, doubling the player’s risk and potential reward. The dealer moves on to the next player when each stands, has twenty one, or “busts” meaning they’re dealt more than twenty one. After all the other players, the dealer turns over his other card and deals the rest of his own cards. Unlike the players, the dealer must hit until he has seventeen or more, although whether or not he can use the ace as an eleven varies. 

If the dealer busts all the players win, otherwise players with better hands win and players with worse hands lose. If a player and the dealer have equal hands, the player’s wager is returned. If the initial cards in a hand equal twenty one that hand beats all others. Any player who busts automatically loses. 

Unlike other games, a blackjack dealer is expected to give sound advice to players. Specifically, discouraging them from hitting when they’re likely to bust. 


Poker is the most strategic of all casino games. It relies on your ability to hide your emotions and deceive your opponents while trying to read their subtle giveaways. 

Poker Hands
(best to worst)
Royal Flush 10, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace of the same suit
Straight Flush five cards of the same suit, in sequence
4 of a Kind four cards of the same value
Full House three matching cards and one pair
Flush five non-sequential cards from the same suit
Straight five sequential cards from different suits
3 of a Kind three matching cards
2 Pair two pairs of matching cards
1 Pair two matching cards
High Card no discernable pattern

The goal of poker is to either have a better hand than your opponents or convince them to give up or “fold.” There.                     Are ten different hands in poker. If two players have the same hand, then the player with the highest card wins, the ace is the highest and all other cards fall right where you’d expect. If two or more players have the same high card then house rules are applied.

There are many different variants of poker but the most popular are Texas Hold ‘Em and Five Card Draw.  

Five Card Draw

In five card draw each player is dealt five cards, which they keep secret. After the cards have been dealt the first round of betting happens. The first player or two to the left of the dealer must bet blind, that is without considering what cards they have. Even in casinos, where an employee always deals, one player is regarded as the dealer to determine betting order. When called on to bet each player can call or check, raise, or fold. Calling means to raise one’s own bet to match the most recent, checking is only allowed if no bets have been made in that round and means one’s not raising yet. Raising is exactly what it sounds like, raising the bet. Folding is giving up and surrendered all previous bets. The most extreme raise is to go all in which means betting everything and immediately ends the hand, with the other players being required to call or go all in themselves if they can’t match your bet.  Next, the players go around the table and can each trade in up to four cards. Play alternates between betting and trading cards until either all but one player has folded, someone has gone all in, or a predetermined number of rounds have been played at which point the remaining players show their cards unless only one is left. The hand always ends with a betting round. 

Texas Hold ‘Em

Texas hold ’em uses the same betting system as five card draw but uses very different dealing. Each player is dealt two cards to keep secret and three are dealt face up to the middle of the table. After each betting round another card is dealt to the middle. After five cards are dealt to the middle players bet one last time, then whoever can make the best hand from the cards in the middle and their own two card hand wins. 


Roulette is the only one of these games that isn’t feasible to play at home. Players place bets on the possible outcomes, typically by setting chips on a chart that includes the various outcomes and their odds. An attendant called a “croupier” then spins a wheel and throws a ball to roll around the rim in the opposite direction. The ball will eventually come to rest in one of 37 or 38 numbered pockets on the wheel. The croupier then pays the winners based on the odds of each bet that describes the outcome, and clears all the losing bets. The players can then place new bets or leave the table. 

Every roulette wheel has one or two pockets that players can’t bet on in an way. So, the odds are in the house’s favour. 


Craps is similar in principle to roulette but is much more complicated. The basic goal is to accurately predict the outcome of a series of dice rolls. The game is played on a long table with walls around the edges and the betting options printed on the surface, which is usually covered with felt. 


The shooter is the player that rolls the dice. They roll two dice after the bets a placed. The shooter throws the dice towards the far end of the table and usually bounces them off the wall at that end. All the other players can only bet. 

Come Out & Point Phases

There are two phases of dice rolling in craps. The first is the come out phase. Rolling a 2, 3, or 12 in the come out phase means bets on the pass line lose and bets on the don’t pass line win, unless 12 is rolled in which case the don’t pass line bets are returned. If 7 or 11 is rolled then the pass line wins and the don’t pass line loses. Anything else moves the game into the point phase. 

If the shooter rolls the same number in the point phase as the last come out roll, then the pass line wins and the game returns to the come out phase. If the shooter rolls a 7, then the don’t pass line wins and another player becomes the shooter. 

Line Bets

Line bets are the core bets of craps. The shooter and any other players who wish to place bets on the “pass line” or “don’t pass line” predicting the overall outcome of the shooter’s rolls. At many tables, players can place similar bets for only the point phase. 

Other Bets

Most of the betting options vary depending on the table. They all involve different possible outcomes and progressions of dice rolls. 


Craps has some specific etiquette that should always be followed. To start with, if you feel you need some instruction, come to the table during a quiet time so you can get extra help from the staff without inconveniencing the more experienced players. 

When placing bets you always want to use as few chips as you can. It’s also common to place bets for the dealers. If you want to tip the dealers, put one or more chips on the table and declare that it’s for them. It’s best to never toss chips and not place any bets after the dice are moved from the middle of the table. 

Interrupting dice rolls in any way is considered rude. It’s also inappropriate to cheer when winning on the don’t pass line, hold anything but chips and dice over the table, stack chips in any way but larger denominations towards the bottom, leave the table with mostly small denomination chips, or sit by the table without medical cause. One faux pas that could even get you booted out is to handle the dice with both hands at the same time. 


You want to keep your gambling classy. Dress on the same level as those dressed most formally. Most importantly, try to keep it fun for everyone. 

When you get drinks delivered to the table you may want to tip the server. The best way to tip a cocktail waitress is to put a chip on her tray, thank her, and flash her a smile. If a waiter brought your drink, call him “sir” instead of flashing a smile. 


Whether you believe it works or not, superstition is a big part of gambling. If you want to engage in it, don’t let it slid down the game. If you don’t want anything to do with it, don’t begrudge others their rituals. Personally, I like to add some rituals just to make it more fun, I certainly don’t believe it’ll make a difference.