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How to host a great Poker Night

Plugged In

Kenny Rogers offers some great advice about knowing when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em, but when it comes to putting together a world-class poker night for you and your buddies, he's pretty useless.

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Don't fold 'em

The key to throwing a great poker night is to remember that it's not just about the game — it's about the people. Instead of silently staring at the TV, you're gathered around a table eating, drinking and relaxing (sort of), the perfect ingredients for a good conversation. And the cash on the table ensures that everyone stays on their toes.

Your particular group of friends will determine the specifics, but here are a few of suggestions on how to both prepare for and throw a winning poker night.

Pre-game prep

Before your pals show up and take you for all your worth, get yourself in the proper poker-playing mood.

- Read Doyle Brunson's Super System
This was the first book to focus on poker strategy and many believe it's still the best. Legendary poker pro Doyle Brunson offers tips on controlling emotion, learning the tell signs of your fellow players and reasoning your next move in a variety of poker games. Grab a copy online.

- Watch "The Sting"
If you're going to set the mood of the room, there's really no better choice than this 1973 classic starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman. A very close second is "The Cincinnati Kid," starring Steve McQueen. If you prefer something a little more modern, "Oceans 11" will suffice — but lacks the panache of the others.

Accessorize!

You don't want to splurge too much getting your poker party ready -- that cash might come in handy during the games -- but without the right accessories and grub, it's destined to be a bust.

- KEM cards
If you're planning for poker night to be a regular occurrence, it's wise to spend a little extra upfront to avoid having to replace materials constantly. KEM cards are made entirely of plastic, so they're easy to clean when they get smudged and they don't tear. They're used in poker rooms around the world, come in a variety of options and average around $30 per set.

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Sidepot Poker Chips

- Custom poker chips
Sure, you could buy a set of economical chips at the local drug store, but that's no fun. Create your own house currency through a service like Sidepot. It's not cheap (the price averages about 60-75 cents per chip with a 500 chip minimum order), but you'll get something unique and the chips will be casino-quality ceramic instead of the flimsy plastic ones so many people use.

- Poker beer
Really, any beer will likely make your buddies happy, so you can just as easily opt for a Budweiser or Shiner. But if you really want to be meta at your game, Poker Beer is the way to go. It offers both the hops your friends crave and bottle caps/labels that set you up for a quick game of five-card stud.

- Not health food
The Rachel Rays and Giada DeLaurentiises of the world are pushing to make poker night a catered affair, with gourmet pulled pork sandwiches and fancy queso dip. Phooey. Grab some chips, order a few pizzas and have some pretzels handy. No one's going to be focusing on the food when the pot starts to build. It's your one night a week to eat what you shouldn't.

- Hoyle's Rules of Games
Inevitably, someone at the game is going to be used to playing by different rules than everyone else (or they may be one of those newbies who keeps getting confused about whether a flush or straight is better to have). Hoyle's is the bible of card games, offering official rules that everyone can agree to.

Good games to play

You're all set to play some poker...but, uh, what game should you play? Try these to get you started.

- Texas Hold 'Em
Currently the most popular poker game on the planet, this is the one you see the pros playing on TV. Two cards are dealt face down to each player and then five are dealt face up on the table as community cards, with betting rounds in between. Whoever can make the best five-card hand — or bluffs the rest of the players into folding -- wins.

- 5 (or 7) Card Draw
Before Texas Hold 'Em took off, this was the game people played. It's the simplest poker game, which makes it good for beginners. Hands of 5 (or 7) are dealt face down, followed by a round of betting. After that, players can exchange cards, followed by another round of betting, and the remaining players reveal their hand. Whoever has the best wins.

- Lowball
This fun variant on poker turns things on their head, with the worst hand splitting the pot with the best.

- Acey Deucey
Technically not poker, this card game still involves wagering — and comes in handy when a player is close to busting and the group wants to keep the night going. Everyone antes into the pot each turn. Two cards are then dealt face-up to one player, who bets a certain percentage of the pot that the next card he or she receives will be between the first two cards. Watch out. Money can shift quickly with this one.

Can't find anyone to play with?

You're not the only one. Sometimes it's hard bringing everyone together for a poker party, so when all else fails, check out these electronic versions and practice for the day when the party finally gets started.

- Zynga Poker

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Zynga Poker

New to town and don't have any friends to invite over yet? There's always a seat at the table online. Zynga might be better known for its other games like FarmVille, but Zynga Poker is nearly as popular. Play it here!

- Red Dead Redemption
The poker mini-game in this western odyssey from Rockstar Games is actually pretty addictive — and many players find themselves eschewing the main storyline to sit at the table for a few hours. Not only can you learn the game of poker, you can learn to cheat. (Not that you ever would with your friends, right?) Added bonus: If you lose your shirt at the table and get especially frustrated, you can walk outside the saloon and shoot someone. That tends to ruin a real world poker night. Buy it online

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