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Five Tips for Running and Crushing Your Thanksgiving Poker Game

Thanksgiving Poker Game

Thanksgiving is a time to overeat and argue about everything from politics, to sports, to what the best movie of the year was. It’s also a chance to spend precious quality time with family members you love and tolerate those you don’t for one night a year. 

One thing you can do to spice up your night and get all the family involved is fire up a home poker game. It’s a fun way to get the whole family involved in some friendly competition, and if they’re the gambling type, it’s also a chance to make some bucks and help mitigate those holiday expenses. 

We’re here with some advice on how to put that game together and subsequently crush it. Here are the five things you need to do for a successful Thanksgiving home game.

1. Use your surroundings

First things first, you gotta work with what you got. The bare essentials you need are a deck of cards and something to bet with. If you have a poker set, complete with chips, then you’re ready to go. If you have multiple decks of cards, then you can get multiple tables going. 

The number of chips each person gets depends on the type of game and who you ask, but a general rule of thumb would be about 50 chips per person. If you don’t have chips, then it’s time to get creative. 

The easiest would be to use spare change, but remember, you can assign any value you want to the coins so that penny could equal $1. If there isn’t enough change, scour the house for any board games that have play money or anything in large quantities, like Scrabble tiles.

If there was a pretty unpopular dish at Thanksgiving dinner, like peas, go ahead and opt for them as currency too. Try not to use something delicious, though, because you risk eating into your profits until nothing is left. To avoid that, you could use uncooked legumes like beans or chickpeas. You can even use rice in a pinch, but it’s harder to keep track of those tiny little grains. 

If you’ve turned the house upside down and found none of these, then you can always just make your own chips out of pieces of paper and write down the value on each little slip. Just keep your eye out for counterfeiters. 

2. Pick the right game

If you’re the only one with poker experience, it’s probably best not to start everyone off with a H.O.R.S.E. game. Assess the general skill level of everyone involved and pick your game accordingly. If there are a bunch of first-timers, then No-Limit Hold’em is definitely the way to go. 

If you have a few more experienced gamblers who want to spice things up, then you can throw in some Pot-Limit Omaha or 7 Card Stud. You can even throw in some 2-7 Triple Draw and Badugi for players who like low games. If you really want to ramp up the fun factor, make the game Dealer’s Choice, where the dealer picks what game you play every hand. 

Also, if you really couldn’t find anything to gamble with or use as a chip substitute, you could play a game that doesn’t need any like Open-face Chinese poker. This is a great zero-sum game where players win points off each other depending on what hands they get. There is a four-player maximum, though, since each player’s hand has 13 cards. 

3. Structure, structure, structure

Thanksgiving dinners are already long affairs and lots of times food comas are quick to follow. If you decided to start a tournament, you don’t want it to drag on until there are people falling asleep at the table. 

That’s why it’s important to structure your tournament properly. Chances are you aren’t a tournament director and don’t know how to calculate tournament length based on blind structure, but the almighty internet can help with that. There are lots of free blind calculators online where you input how long you want the tournament to last, how many players there are and how many chips. Then it’ll spit out a blind structure for you to follow. 

You can use any timer, or again, go online for a free poker tournament clock. If you don’t want to juggle multiple websites, there are a few that do everything for you. Blind Valet, which is free if you have nine players or less, will handle everything and you can even put in profile photos for each player. If the home game expands, Blind Valet’s paid version lets you create poker leagues and tournament series. 

4. Know your opponents

In poker, there’s an old saying, “play the player, not the cards.” Chances are that during Thanksgiving, you know most people around you pretty well. You should use this advantage to help siphon money out of your loved ones. There are bound to be players at the table you’ve never met, though, but there are a few types of players and strategies to play against them that might help you come out on top.

The Clueless Cousin: This is someone you had to explain the rules, the chip denomination and the hand rankings to. Chances are this is their first time playing poker and they have a little sheet with the hand rankings close by that they’ll check every street. These players are usually just happy to be in the game and will overvalue their hands and call all the way down to the river just to be involved. Some can be bluffed, others will call anything down with a pair. So bet when you have it, check down when you don’t. Be careful, though; sometimes these players hit monster hands without even realizing it.

The Arrogant Uncle: We all know one. This is the guy that dominates every conversation he’s in with stories about himself, is convinced he wins every argument (even if he loses) and probably had a bit too much to drink during dinner. When it comes to cards, this style translates over and he’ll bustle around betting big and bluffing every chance he gets. The good thing about overly aggressive players is that you can usually just let them hang themselves, just give them time. Play hands with big draw potential like suited connectors and then let this player bet themselves into bankruptcy when you hit your flush or straight. Depending on their range, you can even do this with top pair if they’ve been showing down weak hands. Don’t try to bluff them, though; chances are slim that this kind of player will back down and, yes, they do get lucky sometimes. 

The Gambling Granny: The wild card. She’s lived a long life and now she’s not afraid to risk it all at the table. This is one of the hardest players to play against because not only do they know enough about the game, their seemingly erratic play is hard to pin down and they’ll make it expensive for you to find out if they really have it or are just bluffing. They’ll also be chasing their draws no matter the price and putting a high price on yours. You can wait until you have a strong hand, avoid the Gambling Granny completely or re-buckle your belt and go toe to toe with this gambling legend. 

5. Have fun

The most important thing in any home game is to have fun and make sure those around you have fun too. This is the way most people are introduced to the game and if they have a bad experience, they might never try again. Be friendly, talk, laugh. Don’t put on a hoodie, sunglasses and headphones and pretend you’re a pro. Don’t berate players for bad play, everyone’s learning and everyone makes mistakes. In any case, you make money when your opponents make mistakes. So why correct them? We know bad beats can suck, but it’s all a part of the game we love to play. Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful and enjoy time with family, so make sure you bring some of that spirit into your Thanksgiving home game.