If you live far from a card room in a state without legal online poker, you may still have access to a tavern poker league. Tavern poker leagues allow you to fit in poker practice at little cost (there is no entry fee, but generally purchase of food or alcohol is expected by the host tavern). Whether you lack poker options, or  are just looking for a regular game, tavern poker may be for you.

There are a number of tavern (or bar) poker leagues available throughout the country. The largest of these leagues is World Tavern Poker with over 400 participating bars across the country. Other large leagues include Missouri Legend Poker, West Coast Poker League (California), Eastern Poker Tour (New England), Snowman Poker League (Texas), and Texas Hold’Em Poker Tours (Florida).

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Tavern poker is generally played without a fixed dealer. Dealing and shuffling is typically rotated around the table. You may want to practice your shuffling, dealing (and chip counting!) skills before you play, as each of these skills will likely be required of you. This can be off-putting at first, but once you settle into the rhythm you will likely find that it is not a distraction.  Another thing to note about tavern poker is that the blind levels are aggressively short (10 – 15 minutes). As Arnold Snyder will tell you in The Tournament Poker Formula, this means that luck plays an unusually large role in your tavern poker results.

Weekly prizes vary widely. Some simply award points for each game, building up to quarterly or annual tournaments. Others offer small prizes, such as gift certificates. Finally, some offer actual weekly cash prizes based on player buy ins. Prizes at regional or national tournaments can be more significant. Some offer large cash prizes and others offer buy ins and travel costs to national events such as the World Series of Poker.

Here are some of the pros and cons of tavern poker:

Tavern Poker Pros

  • Essentially Free
  • Tournaments run once or twice a week every week, sometimes with two games a night
  • Great place to practice your game, or even new strategies you would like to try out
  • Can ultimately lead to Regional or National Championships with real money prizes (or buy ins to WSOP events)
  • Generally a positive social atmosphere

Tavern Poker Cons

  • Some venues have small turnouts resulting in only single or two table tournaments
  • Due to time constraints, structures are often very aggressive, and can result in a lot of “bingo” poker
  • While buy in is free, food and alcohol costs can add up if you are not careful
  • Rotating deal can result in disagreements due to inexperienced dealers

Whether you are just starting out, looking for practice, or looking for a regular (legal) game. Tavern poker may be worth a try.


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