Home Poker - Buy-in

Limit - Stakes

One of the most basic decisions about a planning a home game will be to decide how big the stakes will be. You need to be careful with stakes because there is a very fine line between different stakes levels. There are a couple of important questions you need to ask:

  • How much money is an average person willing to lose? Some people like to define the risk in a game by how high the limits are, or by how big the pots are. But they fail to realize that the ultimate metric that people use to define their risk is the amount of money they are willing to risk on the session as a whole. In my experience, most casual players are willing to risk anywhere from $20 to $50 per session. You should recognize these risk levels and then adjust the limits according. For example, if people are buying in with $20 then you should set the limits at $0.50/$1.00. If people are buying in with $50, then the limits should be $1/$2.

  • How many newbies (people who have never really played before) will you have? This is important because newbies will almost always lose their entire buy-in because they are such bad players. Since they will likely be losing all their money, you should recognize that they will probably not want to buy in with $50-$100. No one wants to simply throw away $100. If they were that inclined to throw away $100 so casually then they would probably just go buy some scratch cards or go to a casino.

Generally speaking, $0.50/$1.00 is a good limit for a fun game. This is probably the most popular stake level for casual games. In a game like this, players will leave the game with at +/- $30 at most. Most players will make or lose $10-$20. Completely amateur players can buy in for $20 and not worry about losing too much, while better players will be OK with walking away with a $30 profit at the end of the night. Any stakes lower than this though will be considered a waste of time for most players. Microlimits are fine if you are 8 years old, but adults will feel like they are playing with fake money if they are playing with dimes and quarters.

The next most popular level for fun games is $1/$2. This may be too high for newbies because these limits require you to buy in with $50. Therefore, in a game like this, you will probably want only experienced players. It is OK to have both good and bad players, as long as they have some experience playing poker. This is because bad players at this level will be aware of how much money they have at risk, and they are choosing to play the way they are. For example, I played in a $1/$2 game where one of the kids just loved chasing inside straight draws despite the obviously bad odds of doing so. He walked away a loser more often than a winner, but he knew what he was doing.

The games get more serious at any stakes that are higher than $1/$2. Even at $2/$4, you can easily lose $120 on a bad night. This is not a small amount of money for an Average Joe who makes $500 per week.

Tournament - Buy-in

The buy-in for a tourney depends on a couple of different factors. First, is how much your players are willing to spend. Second, it depends on how many tourneys you will have on one night:

  • Multiple tournaments - Some home games like to run multiple mini-tournaments after each other. This is equivalent to playing in online SNGs. In one home game I went to, we used to play 3 tournaments in 3 hours. When you are playing multiple tournaments, you can set the buy-in than what a single tournament would be at. This is for 2 reasons. First, players have the ability to make their money back. And second, players have the ability to only play in 1 or 2 mini-tournaments if they want to limit the risk of their buy-ins. If you are playing a series of mini-tourneys, the most popular buy-ins for a series of mini-tournaments are $10 on the low end and $20 on the high end. Mini-tourneys are better when you only have about 6 to 10 players. Sometimes when you have multiple tables (maybe 2 tables of 6) you can possibly hold 2 tourneys in one night. But if you have more than 20 players, then you probably shouldn't plan on having multiple tourneys. Mini-tournaments typically won't charge a fee either.

  • Single tourney - If you have more than 20 players, you will only have time for a single tournament. When deciding on the amount of the buy-in, you will make it higher since the tourney will likely last at least a couple of hours. The most popular buy-in is $20 at the low-end and $50-$100 at the higher end. It is better to have a lower buy-in if you are going to have rebuys and add-ons. This allows low-risk players to be able to afford the buy-in while letting the higher risk players to effectively increase their buying through rebuys.

Tournament - Re-buys

Most of the time, the rebuy period lasts for an hour and the typical rebuy is either equal to the buy-in or equal to half the amount. You can also have either 1 rebuy or unlimited rebuys. You can also increase the number of chips you get for a rebuy to be greater than what you got for a buy-in. This is to incentivize players to do a rebuy. For example, you could do a $50 buy-in to get $1,500 in chips and do a $50 rebuy to get $2,000 more in chips. Here are a few notes on rebuys:

  • Whether or not you have rebuys should be based on player preference and also on the characteristics of the game. Tournaments with rebuys will typically be extremely loose during the rebuy period. The rebuy period of a tournament is viewed by some poker players as being kind of a joke where some aggressive players simply make bad moves over and over with the understanding that they can buy back in. If you are playing a game where most of the players are either inexperienced or conservative, then most players will probably not want to do a rebuy. A conservative player may not be too happy with the idea of a donkey knocking them out of a tournament playing 2-7 offsuit as a goof.
  • Rebuys will make it harder to manage your tournament. In some tournaments, the host of the tournament will also be a player. It is not difficult to both run and play in a tournament if there are only 1 or 2 tables and it is a casual game where players are not going to be anal about the rules and administration of the tournament. In a rebuy tournament though, you constantly have to get up to give the players new chips when they rebuy. A rebuy tournament may want to have a dedicated host who will not be playing in the game.
  • Rebuys are good for tournaments where players will be coming from far away. If a player drove an hour to the game and got busted out with KK against AA on the 2nd hand they would be disappointed that they had to 2 hours just to play 2 hands.
  • If you have rebuys then the blinds may have to be higher because more money will be in the game.
  • Rebuys will cause your tourney to run longer.
  • When doing the actual rebuys, give players higher denomination chips since you will be probably be doing a color-up soon anyway.
  • A good estimate of the total money in a re-buy tournament will be about 2 times the buy-in times the number of players. This assumes that a few players don't do the rebuy and that a few will do more than one. Most players will do one, and only one, rebuy.


Some tournaments use antes in order to speed up a tournament. To me this is pointless because if you want to speed up the tournament then just make the blinds bigger. Using antes can be annoying because you have to make sure all the players put their antes in before every hand starts. But this is a personal preference. If the person running the tournament is a Stud player then there is a higher likelihood that there will be antes since the game of Stud uses an ante by default. Antes are also a carryover from the older days where Stud was the most popular game. In the more modern days where Hold 'Em is popular, players aren't as inclined to use antes. Besides being a pain in the ass, tournament players today tend to be so aggressive that there is no need to incentivize them to play any faster.


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Game Structure - Buy-in

HPG ADMIN on March 1, 2013