How to Host a Texas Hold 'Em Poker Tournament

Men gambling around a table with leisure games and chips.
Focused players at a Texas Hold 'em tournament.
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In his song, "The Gambler," legendary country musician Kenny Rogers crooned about a forlorn, lonely man, spouting wisdom about life and poker. Rogers' character had spent his life playing cards, draining him emotionally and physically.

The Gambler never met Chris Moneymaker -- and the last name says it all. In 2003, Moneymaker shocked the gaming world, winning $2.5 million at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event after paying just forty bucks to get into the tournament -- as an amateur. The success of Moneymaker and other players, combined with WSOP television coverage, has brought poker to the forefront of the gaming world.


Texas Hold 'em, is one of the most popular poker variations today, and according to gaming site,, played by more online players than any other poker variation. So, what's the allure?

In other variations of poker, you use five cards to make a good hand, though you're often dealt more. Sometimes you use all five cards, like a full house or a straight, but often, it's just a pair. You bluff, if you're a convincing player; fold if you have zilch. In Hold 'em, you get seven cards, but only two of them are private. Everything else is dealt face-up, in the middle of the table for everyone to "play off." Consequently, bluffing is harder and the game holds more of a challenge.

So, you want in on this gaming craze? Host a tournament! These tips tell you everything you need for a night of holding and folding.


Texas Hold 'Em Tournament Formats and Ideas

Before hosting a tournament, let's understand more about Hold 'em. To get started, the two players to the left of the dealer put out their blinds. Blinds are the bets, made before the cards are dealt. They help start the betting and set the standard minimum bet. The player to the dealer's immediate left places the "little blind" while the player two places over from the dealer places the "big blind." The big blind is the minimum bet and the little blind (or small blind) is 1/2 or 1/3 of that amount. Then the cards are dealt in the following order:

  1. Pocket (or hole) cards - two cards facedown
  2. Flop - three community cards face up in the center of the table
  3. Turn - one community card face up in the center of the table
  4. River – one community card face up in the center of the table

After each round of dealing, players can bet, raise the bet, check (pass the bet) or fold (give up the hand). Once the river card has been dealt (and betting is over), the remaining players show their cards and whoever makes the best five-card poker hand using their pocket cards and the cards on the table wins.


Typically, there are betting guidelines, based on what variation you're playing, such as:

  • Fixed Limit: Here, you have set bets per deal. For instance, you can bet $5 after the pocket cards and the flop; then $10 for the turn and river.
  • Pot Limit: Players bet anywhere from the initial bet to the total amount in the pot, giving more freedom to bet big.
  • No Limit: You can bet all the chips you have. Go hard or go home.

Other interesting variations play by the standard Hold 'em rules with a few twists:

  • Pineapple: Players get three private cards dealt, but discard one before continuing the game.
  • The River Wild: In this game, the river card is wild so you make it anything you want. The end of the game gets a bit crazy, because no one knows what they or opponents will have until they choose their wild card.


Tips for Hosting a Texas Hold 'Em Tournament

Aside from poker acumen, what do you need to host a successful Hold 'em tournament? First, know the law. Most U.S. states allow home tournaments as long as you don't profit off the gig. Check out local laws beforehand -- after all, a police raid ruins a good time.

Next, you need equipment; you don't have to spend a lot but if you'll be hosting tournaments on a regular basis, you may want to buy authentic supplies. Here's a checklist:


  • Two decks of cards per table
  • Tables seating 8-10 players each
  • Poker chips and a dealer button (denotes who's dealing)
  • Poker timer to time rounds
  • Snacks!

Actor Kevin Costner said in "Field of Dreams," "if you build it, [they] will come." So, now you need players. Typically, no more than eight to 10 people per table, and if you're new at this, start small with one or two tables. Decide on the entry fee for players, maybe $20 so it's affordable but still can generate a good payout. Assign the order of seating by having each player pick a card from ace through 10.

As the host, you have an important role. You set the start/finish times, and a courteous host sticks to these. You also decide the rules, payouts and formats played -- and you discuss them prior to play. Finally, you are judge and jury over disputes, bartender, waitress and the Master or Mistress of Ceremonies, responsible for a fun evening. Follow these tips and unlike Kenny Rogers, you'll have happy gamblers.


Lots More Information

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  • Bannon, Alex. "How to Host a Texas Holdem Tournament in 10 Easy Steps." July 28, 2010. (Feb. 3, 2012).
  • Bochan, Terry. "How to Play Texas Hold'em." (Feb. 23, 2012)
  • Burton, Bill. "How to Run a Home Texas Hold'em Tournament." (Feb. 6, 2012).
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