Top Ten Tips for Hosting a COVID-Safe Poker Night

For most of 2020, and all of 2021 so far, COVID-19 has spread havoc all over the world, causing widespread panic and restrictions that have seen entire countries shut down overnight. In times like these, organizing a poker night can be a challenging prospect, even more so than usual. It might take a bit of extra planning, preparation and creativity, but hosting a poker night may still be possible. To get you started, here are ten tips to help host a COVID-safe poker night.

1. CONSIDER GOING ONLINE

One of the most significant societal changes to result from COVID-19 has been the shift away from in-person contact. Many businesses have invested significant resources into technology for people to communicate and interact virtually, even more so in the last year or two. Some online casinos have servers for players to host private games, and there are many other alternatives out there. Online games operate exactly the same as regular online poker, but your group controls all the game settings such as the blinds and number of players.

It might take a bit of research to find the best website to host your game, and someone with a bit of technical expertise to set it up, but an online game might be the best option, at least for the moment. It means nobody has to travel, everybody can provide their own refreshments, there won’t be any need to clean up, or pack gear away, and it’s impossible to catch the virus from a computer screen.

2. MAKE ALL THE USUAL ARRANGEMENTS

If playing online isn’t an option, for whatever reason, and you decide to host a poker night in person, you still need to make all the usual arrangements. Make a checklist of everything you will need; writing it all down will make sure you don’t forget anything important. The list should include:

GAME TYPE—What type of poker game are you going to play? Texas Hold’em, Omaha, Five Card Draw, or one of the other poker variants?

Tip—If you can’t decide, pick Five Card Draw, it’s the most straightforward variant to play. Alternatively, ask everybody who’s coming to vote on what game type to play.

GUEST LIST—Who is invited? If you are going to have a waiting list in the event of too many players, how are you planning to tell everyone about the game?

Tip—Social media is the easiest way to invite a group of people to an event and get an idea of how many are planning to attend.

VENUE—Where the game will take place? Inside or outside? Will there be a smoking area?

Tip—Pick a venue that will allow you to play without disturbing neighbors, family or roommates.

RULES—Is the game going to be a tournament or cash game? What are the blind and ante levels? Are there going to be rebuys?

Tip—Have a clear idea of the rules, write them down and display them where players can see them. Make sure everybody understands and agrees on the rules before you start playing, so if there are disputes, you can refer back to the agreed rules. If one decision becomes particularly divisive, take it to a vote and stick by the result, consistency is key.

FOOD AND DRINKS—What kind of food will you serve? Snacks, or a substantial meal? Will you provide drinks or make it BYO?

Tip—Ask everyone to bring a share plate, while also preparing a few things. If you are hosting a regular poker game, it can get expensive always providing the food. If everyone brings something along, you won’t need to bear the cost all the time.

EQUIPMENT—What kind of table you will use? How many chairs you will need? How many chips and decks of cards will you need?

Tip—As a general rule, a table should be able to seat between six and ten people. Any more than ten and you will need to set up a second table. You will also need to find enough chairs for everyone who is coming. If you get stuck, ask everyone to bring a camping chair, or other portable furniture.

ENTERTAINMENT—If you’re having a long poker game, sparkling conversation will only entertain people for so long. Some background music or a TV will help set the mood and keep people who are not in the hand entertained.

Tip—Have a play list ready filled with a wide variety of music. You can’t please everyone, but if you have a large array of music available, odds are you will find something that everyone likes. You could also allow everyone to have a turn picking a song or playlist.

DIVIDE THE POKER CHIPS—Poker doesn’t have an official standard for how to divide the poker chips, or what values should be assigned to each colour. The easiest method to divide the chips is to have a flat rate for the buy-in, then give everyone an equal starting stack. Check out our article on dividing poker chips.

Tip—Every player should get the equivalent of 50 initial big blinds as a minimum, and 100 as a maximum for a starting stack. Budget two to three starting stacks per player. If you want to have rebuys, budget at least three to five starting stacks per player, it’s better to have too many chips than not enough.

Tip—Keep the variety of chip values low, four as a minimum, and eight as a maximum. Most of the chips should be the lowest value, with only be a handful of the higher denominations.

Tip—If the buy-in is $25 and you want to have the chips represent real-world values, you could have five different chip values and use the denominations, $5, $2, 1$, 50c 25c. The big blind is 50c, while the small one is 25c. This should work out to be one $5 chip, three $2, five $1, eleven 50c, and fourteen 25c chips per person.

Tip—If you’d rather pretend to be high rollers, keep the buy in at the same level, but assign larger values to the chips. You could use $2500, $5000, $10,000, $50,000 and $100,000. To start, the small blind would be $2500, and the big would be $5000. This would work out to be two $100,000 chips, three $50,000, seven $10,000, ten $5000 and twelve $2500 for a total of 500,000 per player, or roughly one hundred big blinds.

3. HAVE A LOOK AT THE CURRENT COVID GUIDELINES FOR YOUR AREA

The guidelines around COVID-19 restrictions can change frequently, and without warning. Check what the current advice is and plan accordingly, if you can only have five people in private residences, then don’t invite more than four others to the game. Most importantly, ask anyone who is feeling unwell, or has COVID-like symptoms to stay at home.

The day before the game is supposed to start, double-check the current guidelines, and ensure you are still in compliance with them. If you have to cancel at the last minute, don’t stress, let everyone know that the game will be postponed to a later date when restrictions allow. It’s better to play it safe than risk the hefty fines that can come from breaking COVID rules.

4. KEEP POLITICS AND COVID DISCUSSIONS TO A MINIMUM

Social convention dictates if you want to have a good time at a gathering, avoid talking about politics, religion or money. Now there is a fourth topic to add to that list, pretty much anything COVID-related. The world is in a very strange place at the moment, people are more divided than ever, and every armchair expert seems to have an opinion on how to best deal with the virus.

People are dying, and the restrictions are destroying lives and businesses, so COVID is an emotionally charged topic right now. The last thing you want at your poker game is for players to start getting into heated discussions, or pointless political debates about the effectiveness of lockdowns or vaccines.

When you explain the rules before the game starts, make it clear that the topic should be avoided. Don’t be a jerk about it, just remind everyone you invited them around to play poker and have fun, not to argue about the state of the world and who is to blame.

5. PLAY IN A WELL-VENTILATED AREA

Transmission of COVID-19 is more common indoors, so if possible, play outside, in a well-ventilated space, or at a venue with lots of windows and doors that can be left open. According to the latest health advice, a well-ventilated area helps reduce the risk of virus transmission because the infectious particles are more quickly diffused.

Playing outside might not be an option, and that’s fine, provided you have a few other precautions in place. Ensure all windows are open, or that the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems are well-maintained and operating correctly to help cycle out stale air. Try to limit the number of players, depending on the size of the space, refer to the current health guidelines for the best advice on how many people you can have inside an enclosed space.

6. SOCIAL DISTANCE

Social distancing is always part of the latest COVID guidelines; according to the health experts, it’s the most effective and easy method to avoid spreading disease. Poker games usually involve players sitting close to each other, and complete social distancing isn’t really an option, but there are ways to lessen the risk.

Find a table big enough to seat between six and ten players with space in between. Alternatively, have multiple tables operating to ensure everyone has enough room to social distance. Make sure you have a minimum of six per table, any less and the game stalls, and a maximum of ten, so the game runs smoothly and hands don’t take longer than a few minutes.

7. MASKS

Masks are recommended for most social outings at the moment, and while they may not be necessary in a private residence, some of your guests might feel better if everyone had them. Ask everybody who is coming whether they would prefer the game be a masked event. If the consensus is yes, then have a box of cheap masks on hand just in case anyone forgets. Playing poker in masks might make the game a bit harder, but if it will make everybody feel safer, then make the sacrifice and just be happy you can hang out with people at all.

8. ASSIGN EVERYBODY A PLATE AND A GLASS

COVID-19 isn’t a foodborne illness, at least that’s what the health experts are saying at the moment; regardless it’s still a good idea to follow safe food handling practices. Wash your hands before handling food, and if practical, wear a mask while cooking.

Give everyone a different plate and glass to lessen the chance of germs being passed around. Have tongs and other food handling implements available as well. As the host, it might be in your best interest to use paper cups and plates. After everybody is finished, you can get a large garbage bag and throw everything inside, saving time and effort.

9. SANITIZE REGULARLY

Have a few bottles of hand sanitizer in easy-to-reach places and ask everyone to sanitize their hands regularly, maybe every twenty rounds. With so many cards and chips being passed around, sanitizing is the easiest way to help stop the spread of germs.

If possible, have multiple decks of cards as well and change one out every hundred rounds. Once you’ve hit one hundred and fifty rounds, it’s also a good idea to consider calling an intermission and wiping down the table and chairs a few times. If everyone helps, you can get back to playing much faster.

10. KNOW WHO IS COMING, AND WHERE THEY HAVE BEEN

Before COVID, allowing extra players outside of the guest list to join wasn’t a problem, provided they weren’t a jerk. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. You need to know exactly who is coming, if they have been overseas recently or travelled to a hotspot. As the host, it falls on you to ensure your guests aren’t exposed to COVID by a random drop-in. Any legal ramifications are likely to fall on your head, so it’s in your best interest to be careful.

FINAL THINGS TO REMEMBER

Organizing a poker night is a tough task at the best of times, let alone with a whole host of new COVID considerations thrown into the mix. Some of the precautions might be inconvenient, or make the game a bit harder, ultimately, it should be worth it to be able to have a fun poker night with your friends.

Not everyone will be happy if you decide to implement a few or all of these precautions, but that’s not your problem. When you invite everyone, make it very clear what COVID safeguards you are planning to use. If everybody knows exactly what they are signing up for, they can’t then complain during the game.

Things will go wrong, maybe you will run out of chairs, or perhaps somebody won’t stop talking about politics. Don’t worry about it; you can’t control everything. If you feel yourself getting stressed out, just take a breath and smile, it will be fine.


This article provides general information about playing poker in a COVID-safe manner. It does not constitute medical advice. It is not meant to cover every scenario or circumstance. It is for information and suggestions only. Always follow your state’s medical directives. This article is not related to, nor a reflection of, Global Poker, its view, products, content, or its games.