While you’re undeniably ace as a skilled poker player, you may come shorthanded when hosting a memorable game night with the guys. If you’re going to provide the space, you’ll need to hit the jackpot with food, ambience, cocktails and the right poker pals. We hit up four experts on how to up the ante and impress for seamless, poker party perfection at your home.
1. Who to Invite (Choose Wisely)
“When you go to a casino, most poker tables seat between 8-10 players, and I like to keep it around 8 players max when I host a poker game at home,” says former New York Knicks professional basketball player and current White House ambassador, Jason Collins. “The best part of hosting a good game is the people you invite. During a night of poker, you’ll spend most of the time telling stories and making conversation with the other players at the table. It’s important to invite people who you get along with well and have fun stories to tell. You’ll want a couple different types of poker players, including at least one with deep pockets and/or isn’t afraid to gamble on a few hands. You also need an action player; it’s no fun when all the players at the table play conservatively. Inviting strangers can be iffy, especially if you’re playing high-stakes poker. Everyone at the game should be there by invitation only or vouched for by someone you know.”
2. Setting Up the Space (Practicality Rules)
From lighting to chairs to the actual poker table, everything has to make sense for the poker party. “There is nothing more annoying than trying to see your cards and it being too dark,” says David E. Merrell, Creative Director of AOO Events, who organizes intimate events for celebrities like Robin Thicke and Bruno Mars. “If you can’t find a spot that has great overhead lighting, then bring in some floor lamps to put around the perimeter. If you want your poker buddies to be comfortable, use chairs that are the proper height and are comfortable to sit in to make the game more pleasant. If you have to use a card table chair, grab some outside flat cushions and add them to the seats for elevation and comfort. And get a table big enough to accommodate the playing area with space for food and beverage.”
3. Booze to Serve (Don’t Forget Whisky)
Antonio Esfandiari, professional poker player who has won World Poker and World Series of Poker championships, says: “Whoever is hosting should provide the booze. A bartender certainly wouldn’t hurt, but it really depends on the kind of game you are having. A bunch of amateurs having fun playing then yes, definitely a bartender!” Choose a liquor that’s a crowd pleaser like a good Whiskey such as Crown Royal’s new Crown Royal Vanilla.
4. The (Uncomplicated) Grub
“Poker is a game that requires focus, so you don’t want to be worried about timers and cooking while you have guests over,” says celebrity chef and TV personality Brian Malarkey, who helms award winning restaurants like Herringbone and The Ivory on Sunset. “I suggest putting together an outstanding, substantial charcuterie table (not plate, table). It’s the perfect thing for people to be able to get up and nosh on while playing. It isn’t a dish that requires heating or cooling; it gets better the longer it sits out. The meats gets saltier and the cheeses get softer. Go to the market, get butcher paper, to line the table, and pile on meats, cheeses, mustards and jams. You can also get your guests involved by having them bring their favorite cheeses and meats to add to the table.”
Classics such as Proscuitto, Soppressata, Speck & Capicola—pair those with some interesting cheeses—ask at the counter and get some great new flavors: think Aged Cheddar, Firm Parmigiano, Creamy Brie, Crumbly Chèvre, and Blue if you can handle it. Slice the hard cheeses beforehand for easier eating. Now the fun: look for savory jams, especially Fig/Fruit, which is not the stuff of toast but you can find amazing “compotes,” jams, etc., near the cheese and salami. Pickles of all kinds brighten all these flavors and, of course, some nuts add great flavors and textures.