Tavern Poker

Tavern Poker: Why, When, and Where to Play

Tavern Poker (or Pub Poker) is a great way to get your feet wet playing live poker. There are a number of tavern poker organizations in the US that allow new (or experienced) players the option of playing live poker in a laid-back environment. These organizations typically offer a night of poker either for free or for a token charge. If there is a charge, it is often used toward food of some type. Tavern or pub poker games are typically held in a restaurant or bar, and there is some expectation that food or drinks will be ordered to help “pay for the space,” but this is not required.

Why Play

The number one reason to play tavern poker is if you are a newcomer who wants to get a feel for what it’s like to play live tournament poker. You may know the fundamentals of the game, but are still not exactly comfortable with who does what and when. If this sounds like you, we highly recommend a pub poker experience. You will be able to get comfortable with the flow of action, when and how to bet, and what the requirements are for when to show your hand in a low-stress environment.

For more experienced players, if you are working on a significant shift in your game, tavern poker can also be a good place to practice this new technique before you try it out at your local casino.

If you live far from a card room in a state without legal online poker, you may find a tavern poker league. These 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).

Or, perhaps, you are looking for some fun and camaraderie with fellow poker players in a low-stakes environment. Maybe you visit a casino on occasion, but you would also like a regular game where you can hang out with friends, relax, and get some reps in. Perhaps while you are working on solidifying a new poker skill.

Tavern Poker

When to Try Tavern Poker

We recommend that new players venture out to play pub poker once they know the fundamentals of the game and are starting to think about playing live. Before you start to look for games near you, you might read up on the fundamentals of poker, or perhaps sign up for some poker training. Another idea would be to take a quiz to see whether poker is the right card game for you.

Once you feel comfortable with the game, tavern poker leagues are a great place to get your start. They are how we started playing!

Where to Find Tavern Poker

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, All In Poker League (California), Eastern Poker Tour (New England), Snowman Poker League (Texas), and Pub Poker Tours (mostly East Coast).

Just google tavern poker (or pub poker), and you may be surprised at how close your local game might be.

The Experience

Once you find a group, all you need to do to sign up is select a location and a night. Then just register for the game. Each site will have a helpful host that will give you all the details on playing. We have also found players to be very friendly and happy to help out a new player. After all, there’s no real money on the line.

Tavern poker is generally played without a fixed dealer. Dealing and shuffling are rotated around the table. You may want to practice your shuffling, dealing (and chip counting!) skills before you play. This can be off-putting at first, but once you settle into the rhythm you will likely be ok.  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 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. World Tavern Poker, the largest league in the country, joins up with a number of other leagues to hold a championship in Las Vegas every year. Others have their own championship events.

Ways to Use Tavern Poker to Work on Your Game

As we mentioned above, tavern poker is a great place to get comfortable with the fundamentals of poker. Playing will help you learn basic live poker skills such as hiding your cards from your neighbors, calculating pot odds (and pot sizes) in a fast-paced game, practicing starting hand choices (and seeing the outcomes), identifying player types at your table, and learning how to read other players.

You will also get more comfortable with all of the many things that happen around a poker table. Did you fail to protect your hand and have it get scooped by the dealer when you are still playing? Did you confuse the pink chips with the red and bet 10,000 instead of a thousand chips? Or did you fail to raise when last to act when you had the nuts? In all of these cases, be glad that you are playing for free, and not in a $300 tournament.

You will also, hopefully, master the basics of self-monitoring and management. Things like slowing down your breathing, learning not to smile when you look down at pocket aces, and when to (and not to) peek at your hand. And you definitely will want to practice not grabbing, or even looking at, those chips when you have a monster hand. Getting in lots of practice will also hopefully help you get past the novice’s malady of shaking hands when you have huge cards.

Also, by the way, tavern poker is just plain fun.


While there are many reasons to join a tavern poker league, there are a few things you should be aware of as well. As mentioned previously, the blind levels are extremely aggressive, and thus the results often come down largely to luck. The players are also very aggressive, perhaps even more so than you will find in your local casino. Smart players know that with such aggressive blind levels, the best way to win the hand is to scare everyone else away.

While most players are warm and friendly, happy to help newcomers, some do take the game a bit too seriously. If the players at your local league often curse or yell at others, you might want to find the second closest game near you.

Since the deal is passed around in tavern poker, those folks shuffling and dealing may be just as new as you. Have patience for other players and their lack of skills, just as you would hope they have patience for you.

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