Brunson: Home poker rules


Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in the London Telegraph in 2005.

Doyle Brunson index.

Historical note: The following explanatory note didn’t appear in the series, but was sent with each column as submitted.

Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson stands unchallenged as the most celebrated poker player who ever lived. In 2005, at age 72, he won an unprecedented 10th championship gold bracelet at the World Series of Poker. He is among the few living members of the Poker Hall of Fame, and his books  are the bibles for poker professionals.. Through www.poker1.com and www.doylesroom.com, Brunson has teamed with Mike Caro, today’s premiere poker educator, to offer a free learning experience to players worldwide. This column is founded on  those collaborative teachings.


Doyle Brunson

On the dusty plains of Texas, poker wasn’t like it is today. You played mostly private games and you didn’t have a large selection of tables to choose from. Most games were attached to bars or pool halls. Some were in private homes. Often you settled disputes among yourselves.

I realize that some players seldom see poker competition beyond their homes. That’s why I’m revisiting a chapter from a book I wrote almost 25 years ago. It’s about some of the stickier situations regarding home poker.

First, I can’t help but relate one of my favorite home-poker stories. Frank, a mature player, growled at the much younger Baker, “Kid, you didn’t ante.” Well, Baker argued that he had anted and the debate escalated. Finally, Frank hurled a coke bottle angrily in no particular direction and it hit Baker squarely on the forehead. The kid slumped and seemed unconscious, maybe dead.

There was a medical student upstairs and we called him down to the game. When he asked what happened, three of us blurted at once, “He forgot to ante.”

Baker turned out to be all right. But it shows how overly serious home poker can be without guidelines and someone in charge.

Questions and answers

Let me answer a few questions I’ve seen come up in home games.

Q: Does a player have to call whatever’s bet by going into his pockets or can he just call whatever chips or money he has on the table?

A: Players should never be allowed to go into their pockets to bet or call bets. Only what’s on the table in front of them should play.

Q: In casinos, they always throw away the top card before dealing. This is called “burning” a card. In home games, must you burn a card before dealing?

A: It’s a good idea, but decide in advance and insist that everyone deals the same way.

Q: In dealer’s choice games, where whoever deals the hand gets to declare the form of poker, are there any special provisions that should be adopted?

A: Yes. A list of allowable choices should be agreed to in advance. Dealers shouldn’t be able to invent games or suggest unfamiliar ones. And the game chosen should be dealt once by every player (a whole round). Just playing one hand of the game gives dealers the opportunity to choose games that favor the last (dealer) position, such as hold ’em and draw poker. (Games like seven-card stud give no advantage to the dealer.) So, if everyone has a chance at each position for a given game, that’s fair.

Q: Who settles disputes?

A: Someone should be appointed or elected before the game starts to settle disputes, but there should be alternates who decide whenever the main decision-maker is involved in the controversy.

Q: When should a private home game adjourn?
A: At a predetermined time. Otherwise, there are apt to be hard feelings when losers are cut off arbitrarily.

Q: What’s a good excuse for leaving a private game early if you’re a winner?

A: You never need an excuse to leave any poker game. This needs to be understood by all players, everywhere. There’s nothing rude about leaving a game winning. Players who complain that winners are leaving with their money don’t understand a central truth about poker. When “your” money is in somebody else’s stack, it’s not your money anymore.

— DB

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