Every Thursday, Stacey Stefanich and some friends go to an Applebee's restaurant to have dinner and a drink or two. But the meal is just...

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Every Thursday, Stacey Stefanich and some friends go to an Applebee’s restaurant to have dinner and a drink or two.

But the meal is just a preamble.

The night really starts at 7:30, when they gather around poker tables at a friend’s house to best one another with a couple decks of cards and some poker chips.

Poker’s popularity has exploded in the past couple of years. Chris Moneymaker, an accountant from Tennessee with only online poker experience, was a major catalyst when he won the 2003 World Series of Poker. People now obsessively watch poker on television and play online.

And poker parties are becoming more common and even a regular part of some people’s social lives.

Renting poker goods

Poker rental information from Wild Bill’s:

• Poker tables to seat 10 people rent for $75.

• Poker chips cost from $8 per 100 to $28 per 100 for clay composite chips. Wild Bill’s manager Geri Windecker recommends 1,000 chips per person. Poker leagues usually start with 3,000.

• More details: 425-272-0244 or www.wildbills.com

“For the price of going out, we usually have a $40 buy-in with a $20 rebuy if you lose your chips,” Stefanich said. “It’s the cost of going with friends to go out, (and) with this you have the potential of making money.”

The Puyallup group threw a “Battle of Seattle” tournament recently at the Seattle home of a regular who usually makes the trip from the city. And they also hosted a couples team tournament.

Geri Windecker, manager of gaming supplier Wild Bill’s in Kent, said poker’s reputation has evolved from a backroom, sleazy game to one that is “popular with moms and kids.”

“Poker is legitimized now,” she said.

Authors Cynthia Rowley and Ilene Rosenzweig include a section on hosting a poker party in their 2005 book “The Swell Dressed Party” (Atria Books, $24.99). And Wild Bill’s rents tables and poker chips for those who want an authentic feel.

Rules of the game

How to play Texas Hold’em poker:

• The two players to the left of the dealer post the blinds, a predetermined amount of money to start the game.

• Each player is dealt two cards, called the hole or pocket cards.

• During the first round of betting, players can call, raise or fold.

• After the first round of betting, the dealer discards the top card to prevent cheating.

• The dealer then flips over three new cards, called the flop. Those are communal cards everyone can use in combination with their pocket cards to form a hand.

• Players bet again.

• The dealer burns the top card, then flips the fourth card, called the turn.

• Players bet.

• The dealer burns the top card again, then flips the fifth card, called the river.

• Players now can use any combination of cards to make the best possible five-card hand.

• After the last betting round, players show their hands.

Sources: “The Swell Dressed Party” and www.texasholdem-poker.com

Poker remains a BYOB kind of party. As Rowley and Rosenzweig note, “Poker night is not a tea party.”

But hosts still can treat guests to fun food. Rowley and Rosenzweig suggest making heroes — slathering various meats, breads and vegetables like red peppers, coleslaw or arugula on Italian bread. Slice them up, hold them together with toothpicks and throw in some potato chips.

Stefanich said their poker parties remain casual, but the host usually provides some food. One week it was Costco platters. The host for the Battle of Seattle barbecued. Stefanich likes to make a Mexican dip with layers of beans, sausage and cheese for the group, which is all male except for herself.

“I tend to make a little more masculine [food] when they come over,” Stefanich said. “I don’t dress it up for them, so they’re happy.”

Stefanich may be the only woman, but don’t underestimate her poker skills. She recently won one of their tournaments.

“I like being the girl that’s beating the boys, so that’s kind of nice, too,” she said.

Nicole Tsong: 206-464-2150 or ntsong@seattletimes.com