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How to Distribute Chips For a Poker Home Game

Running a poker home game for the first time can be a challenging task. A number of factors need to be considered when you’re hosting a poker game for the first time.

Are you running a poker tournament, or a cash game? How many poker players are expected to show up? How many poker chips do you need, and what should the chip distribution look like for a tournament?

If you’re planning on running a poker tournament at your home game, then this article is for you.

Let’s take a look at what kind of a chip set you need for a tournament, the values to assign to the poker chips, the number of chips in the starting stack, and the various options for tournament structures in a home game.

Tournament Structures and Starting Stacks

Once you’ve determined the buy-in amount, the first factor to consider is the desired length of your poker tournament. More poker chips in the starting stacks, and longer levels will create a lengthier game.

For example, let’s say you’re looking to run an event that takes six hours or more to determine a winner. In this case you’ll want to assign a larger number of chips to the starting stacks, and create levels where the big blind amount increases in a slow and steady fashion.

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Slow Structure Tournaments

So for a longer tournament duration, you’ll want to use a chip distribution involving larger starting stacks and a slow structure. For this kind of a tournament, you’ll want to give players at least 3,000 in starting chips, with levels of 30 minutes or more. The big blind should increase in small increments.

Many tournaments start with the blinds at 25/50 (small blind 25 chips, big blind 50 chips), but for an even longer tournament you can consider starting the blinds at 5/10. 

Several free tools are available to help determine the optimal tournament structure for the desired duration of your home game tournament. An tool like the PokerStars Clock app allows you to input the number of players, starting stacks, and level duration, and gives you an estimated time for how long the tournament will run.

According to the PokerStars clock, a 25-player tournament, with 3,000 starting stacks, 30-minute levels and blinds starting at 25/50 gives an estimated tournament duration of nine hours. This poker tournament would use the standard PokerStars blind structure, beginning with the blinds at 25/50:

PokerStars Clock Slow Structure Input PokerStars Clock Slow Structure Blinds and Levels

Medium Structure Tournaments

Perhaps you and your group of poker player buddies aren’t looking to go quite this deep. Let’s take a look at some options for a medium structure tournaments. 

Using the PokerStars Clock, let’s see what happens when we use the same blind structure, but reduce the levels to 20 minutes, and use a chip distribution that gives players 1,500 starting chips:

PokerStars Clock Medium Structure Input PokerStars Clock Medium Structure Blinds and Levels

In this scenario, the PokerStars Clock estimates a five-hour duration to determine the champion in this tournament

Note that the app gives you a plan to take breaks every four levels, and that the break duration is the same number of minutes as whatever level length you’ve chosen. Reducing these breaks to 10 minutes or so will cut down on the total time of the tournament. 

Fast Structure Tournaments

If you’re looking to get a quick home poker game tournament session done in three hours or less, you’ll want to go with a fast tournament structure. Typically, you’ll want to assign small starting stacks and use shorter levels to reach the end of the poker tournament in a relatively quick fashion.

Let’s use the PokerStars Clock again to see what kind of starting chips and level duration we need to get a three-hour tournament:

PokerSars Clock Fast Structure Input PokerStars Clock Fast Structure Blind and Levels

In this setup, we start everyone with 1,000 chips, use the same blind structure (starting at 25/50), and increase the big blind every 15 minutes. The PokerStars Clock app estimates a three-hour duration for this tournament.

Tools like the PokerStars Clock are great for seeing how different chip distributions, level duration and blind structure affect the overall length of the tournament. All of the above scenarios are assuming that your tournament is a single entry event, without rebuys, add-ons, or re-entry options.

Beginning your tournament at 5/10 blinds (or any other added levels) will add time to the overall event and give players more levels of deep stacked play. Starting with less chips, using shorter levels and taking away levels (such as going from 200/400 directly to 400/800) will make for a shorter tournament.

Poker Chip Setup

Once you’ve decided on the structure of your poker tournament home game, you’ll need to make sure you have the proper poker chip setup to facilitate your event. You’ll need to make sure you have a chip set that can accommodate the number of players in the tournament, and enough different color chips so that you can assign proper denomination chips to each stack.

Remember that the starting chip stack is going to look completely different than late-level stacks, as far as chip colors and denomination chips. When assigning chip values, remember to keep things simple, don’t use unnecessary denominations, and most importantly have enough poker chips to facilitate the tournament.

Typically, you’ll want to have poker chip values of 5, 25, 100, 500, 1000, 5000, and perhaps keep going up in a similar pattern depending on how many total chips are in the tournament. If you want to follow the casino tradition, red chips are usually worth 5, green chips are 25, and black chips are 100.

Generally speaking, there’s no need for denomination chips like 10, 200, 2000, etc, when those amounts can easily be accomplished using the small chip values.

Have Fun! Remember to have your tournament buy-in, starting chips, structure and especially your poker chip set all in place and ready to go before your tournament begins.

Note: Want to upgrade your poker skills? Get our free preflop charts and start playing like a pro before the flop. Download now!

Home > How to Distribute Chips For a Poker Home Game
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About the Author

Geoffrey Fisk

Freelance writer and poker player based in San Diego, California.

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