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Prompted by Steve's post with the final question:
How did you get your group started?

Actually, it's a whole big thing that just kinda morphed into what it's become. I'll start from the beginning and go the whole way through it cause the little things here and there really helped shape it.

A quick intro being that when I moved to Richmond two and a half years ago, I met a few guys that would go to a bar for Monday Night Football pretty consistently. But during the off-season, we really didn't get together very often. So toward the end of last season, I suggested that we start playing poker on Monday nights rather than just sitting around doing nothing. There were about six or seven of us that were regulars at MNF, and they didn't have anything starting, so we could get pretty much all the guys from MNF weekly.

The game was a hodge-podge of whatever, but really wasn't casino worthy. We'd play a Hold'em or an Omaha hand ever so often. But it was a dealer calls game, and there were a lot of wild card games and just a general mix of things. Pass the Trash, Chicago, Baseball, Follow the Queen, those sort of games. We played a max bet limit of $.75 a round. You could bet $.75 and then there were no raises, or you could go as low as a nickle and raise it as many times as possible until it got up to $.75. It was a fun and friendly game which was more about being social than playing poker and certainly not about the money since it was a $5 buy-in and leaving up $5 was a great night, losing it all was rare.

Games like those are easy to set up and keep together as long as you have enough people. It's mostly about the social event so it's best to keep it just friends unless you want to branch out and find some more friends.

Once MNF started up again we moved the game to Weds nights. It worked well for everyone. Ideal if you or your buddies have girlfriends, wives, boyfriends (though it doesn't usually work in this case), whatever, is to set it up for a night when the girls are doing a girl's night sorta thing. That's why we're doing Weds nights.

I met the fiancee of one of my wife's friends, and he was big into poker ... casino poker ... like I was. I was the only guy in the group that really liked casino poker and had ever really gone out of my way a few times in my life to get to Atlantic City. With a second person who liked casino poker, we started morphing some of our games.

One night while playing, I suggested that we put together a Hold'em tournament. Everyone buys in for $20, the top couple of people won it all. Because we had a regular list of people that was only seven strong (one guy had moved out of town), we decided to open the list to friends of friends who would be interested.

The list has suddenly blown out to 12 people, which was good cause some of the regulars had some other things that they would miss the game every so often for. GMAT classes, night classes, things like that. We got 9 people for the tournament, which we held on a weekend. I talked about it here:
There were a few friends of friends, which wasn't a problem since everyone was at least friends with one of the regulars. We all got along pretty well, so there were no problems.

After the tournament, we all admitted that even though most of us had lost our $20, it was a ton of fun. We decided that rather than playing the hodge-podge of games that we should start structuring it more like casinos, playing only casino games. We decided to stick to Hold'em, Omaha, and Seven Card Stud. We quickly figured out that Stud didn't work if you had more than 7 people in the game. :-)

We thought about how to keep the game fairly low stakes. So we thought about doing something where the top limit was a quarter, but couldn't figure how to get that so it wasn't really messy. So we caved and made the limits $.25 / $.50, and started buying in for $10 a night. The problem we found with that was, that people would make stupid bets trying to show off because they really didn't have much to lose.

We've since decided to up the limits to $.50 / $1.00 to keep the games more casino-like. These limits keep someone from doing things like blind raises or playing their hands blind. In some of the earlier weeks, we would have people playing blind and even raising blind. With quarter/fifty limits, they could get away with doing this because they would tend to throw in about two or three bucks in total. In a low limit game, you can typically get four or five other players with this sort of action. So if you luck out and win the hand, you'll rake a good $10 pot or so, and if you don't, you're only losing $2 or $3. But with the increased stakes, it's a totally different story. You come in blind, and one person with power starts playing you back, and you're in trouble. All of a sudden, you've gotta throw in $5 - $7 to stay in the game. And since the stakes are higher, less people are playing. So rather than throwing in say $2.50 for the chance to rake a $10 pot, you're suddenly throwing in $6 for a shot at a $12 pot. Odds are no different, but the risk is dramatically increased without much better a reward. Not really worth playing your cards blind all of a sudden.

The tricky thing in all of this is making sure you've got players that will all get along. We're buying in for $15, with an understanding that you may need to buy in for as much as another $15 or $20 later in the night. There is rarely less than $90 on the table, primarily because even if there are only five players, someone will buy in for another $15 fairly quickly. With that much money on the table, the players must be friendly for the games to work well. This isn't to say that friends of friends won't work. But ideal would be to either start a low stakes friendly game and increase the stakes once people have gotten to know each other, or to make sure everyone is already friends with each other. The problem is that if two people in a higher stakes game (not that $15 is necessarily high, it all depends on people's financials) don't get along and an argument over the rules of a game or someone's hands breaks out, things can get ugly.

We haven't had any problems though. As long as the game itself is honest and there isn't any cheating, I don't anticipate any future problems. We all get along pretty well at this point. And the rules are established, so there really can't be any arguments.

So some general thoughts:
Low stakes and friendly games work really well to get friends of friends in. The best part is that later once you know everyone you can raise the stakes without being too concerned about people not getting along.
It's also good to have more people on the list than you want playing every night. We've got 12 on our list, and remember that Hold'em can accommodate up to 12 easily if you need. But with 12 on our list, we have nights with as few as five players, and as many as nine. Don't expect everyone to show up unless everyone tells you they can make it all the time and they do for the first month or two.
And the best nights to pick up a game are nights when significant others are doing something else. :-)

Hope this helps!

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