16 Home Poker Game Tips: Etiquette and Smarts in Your Neighborhood Game
There are standard rules of behavior in every endeavor of life. I remember reading a great book years ago called Etiquette for Outlaws. It includes the rules of etiquette for drinking hard liquor, using drugs, and other things that I can’t mention in polite company. I don’t remember if there was a section about gambling or not.
But I have lots of experience with poker, as it turns out, including with hosting and playing in home poker games. I have plenty of advice and tips to offer for players who want to get the most out of their home poker experience.
I include these tips for you below. I hope they smooth your road down home poker achievement, regardless of what your goals might be.
1- Don’t Be a Slob with Your Drinks
If you’re drinking at the table, regardless of the kind of drink, keep an eye on it. If there’s condensation getting onto the table, get a napkin or a paper towel and clean it up. Don’t get so drunk that you’re liable to spill your drink. For that matter, don’t get drunk.
Most of the rules that apply to holding and drinking something apply the same way at the poker table as they do anywhere else. If you can use a coaster or a drink holder, that’s the best case scenario.
2- Bring Your Own Beer
Many hosts provide soft drinks and/or beer, but it’s never a mistake to bring some beer to a poker game. Also, when you bring beer to a poker game, bring it to share. Your friends will do the same thing.
Hard liquor is another story. Before bringing a pint of whiskey to your buddy’s house for his home poker game, make sure that’s not going to cause any kinds of problems. Not everyone is okay with your drinking of hard liquor.
I shy away from drinking whiskey at the poker table for multiple reasons. For one thing, it impairs your judgment, even if you have a high tolerance and think you’re used to it. For another, most people (myself included) behave poorly when they’ve been drinking hard liquor.
Finally, unless you’re taking an Uber, you have to get home. Driving yourself home after a night of poker and drinking is folly for obvious reasons.
3- Don’t Lie and Don’t Cheat
Okay, so some aspects of lying in poker are expected. You’re supposed to misrepresent your hand while you’re in it. That’s just part of the game.
But lying and cheating in a larger sense is anathema to a poker game. This isn’t Monopoly we’re talking about here. Cheating in a poker game can get you roughed up or shot. You could lose good friends. At the very least, once you get caught cheating in a home poker game, you can expect to never be invited back again.
4- Keep Your Cards Face up and Visible If You’re in the Hand
Of course, not all games have face-up cards, but in those that do, you should keep them face-up and visible as long as you’re still involved in the hand. Trying to obscure your cards is cheap and unethical. It can also cause confusion, because the dealer and other players might think you’ve folded even when your intention was to stay involved in the hand.
I’m a fan of playing poker hard, but at the same time, I want to offer my opponents as fair a game as I can. I expect them to show me the same courtesy, so it’s the least I can do.
5- Bring Enough Money
If you don’t have enough money to stay in the game for at least half the night, you didn’t bring enough money. Of course, if your home poker game plays a lot of no limit poker, you might bust out really fast. That happened to me once. I had AK suited before the flop, and one of the other players had AA. Naturally, I lost to him, but I was all-in.
In that case, I’d brought enough money to play all night. I just lost it on the first hand. No one could be mad at me about that.
Most home poker games I’ve played in didn’t do a lot of no limit holdem, though. The games I’ve been involved in were a lot friendlier than that.
Most home poker games have a standard buy-in. You should be able to buy in 3 or 4 times before going broke. If you’re playing well, going broke will be unlikely anyway, but I don’t expect everyone reading this to play well all the time, either.
6- Announce It Beforehand if You’re Leaving Early
If you want to anger a room full of poker players, win a big pot, then abruptly announce that you’re cashing out and leaving. This is considered extremely rude.
You want to give your opponents a sporting chance to win at least some of their money back.
If you need to leave, announce how many more hands you’re going to play or how much longer you’re going to stay. If you’ve won a big pot, it’s a good idea to wait a couple hands before making this announcement.
This is the fair way to let everyone know you’re about to leave.
It’s better to plan on staying for the entire night, but everyone should understand that’s not always popular.
7- Decide What Game You’re Going to Deal BEFORE the Deck Lands in Your Hands
One of the biggest rules of etiquette in any game, especially a card game, is to never hold up the game. If you’re the next person to deal, decide what game you’re going to deal before you get the cards. No one wants to wait for you to entertain suggestions from all the players about which game you’re going to play next.
For most of us, we only get to play poker once a week. Don’t ruin it for us by making us wait for you to decide on a game. That time would be better spent playing a hand.
This principle of not holding up the game applies to almost all the poker etiquette rules on this page. Most of them have keeping the game moving as an unspoken reason behind them.
8- When You Fold, Turn Your Cards Face down and Push Them into the Muck
No one should be confused about whether you’re in the hand or not. See #4, also.
Anyone who knows anything about what’s going on in a poker game will recognize that turning your cards over and mucking them means you’re folding.
But it’s never a mistake to be too clear. See #9.
9- Announce Your Actions in a Loud, Clear Voice
Even though you’re going to turn your cards over and muck them when you fold, you should still announce, “Fold!”
You also want to announce any other action you take—bet, check, or raise. Other people will be able to tell you’re betting by the chips you’re shoving toward the pot, but you want to avoid the appearance of trying to do something and stopping when you notice another’s reaction.
10- Don’t Advise People How to Play Their Hands
This rule of etiquette applies even when your opponent asks your advice.
I did have a guy ask me one time if he did the right thing folding J8 suited preflop from late position in the face of a bet and 2 raises. I don’t feel like I have a responsibility to give him good advice in that situation, so I told him, well, man. You gotta play that and see what kind of hand develops.
He was a sweet guy, but he had no business being at the poker table with the likes of me or Lobster.
One of the rules in every card game is “one player to a hand.” This means you have no business looking at another’s hand an advising him what to do with it. If asked, demur politely.
Here’s the thing, too:
If you give good advice, he might lose anyway. When he does, he’ll blame you, no matter how correct your advice was.
You certainly won’t make any friends at the poker table if you start giving other poker players unsolicited advice about how to play their hands. No one’s interested in your opinion about how to play their hand, ESPECIALLY when they didn’t ask for it.
11- Don’t Look at Another Player’s Hand Without Permission
It’s better to not look at another player’s hand at all. In most games, if you show one player your face-down cards, you’re expected to show the other players, too.
Most players won’t show you their cards unless you’ve already folded and you’re out of action. If they do, get ready for accusations of collusion. You’re not allowed to collude with the other players at the poker table. It’s a form of cheating that’s taken pretty seriously by most poker players.
If you’ve looked at one player’s hand, definitely don’t look at anyone else’s. No matter what you do after that, someone is going to think you’re giving someone else clues about what one of their opponents is holding.
You don’t need that grief, man, and there’s only one way to avoid it for certain.
12- Don’t Call out What People Might Have in Their Hands
The dealer is allowed to call out what cards are being dealt. In fact, that’s encouraged.
But he’s the only person who should be doing that.
If you’re just a player, and you start doing the same thing, God forbid you make a mistake and call out the wrong card. Also, what purpose does it serve for you to perform the same function as the dealer at the same time the dealer is doing it?
You’re just going to look obnoxious at best, and a disingenuous poor sport at worst.
13- Don’t Brag When You’re Winning or Complain When You’re Losing
If you’re doing it right, Thursday night poker night is all about playing with just enough money to make things interesting. For most adults, penny ante poker is just a waste of time. The game only matters if the money matters.
But when money matters, feelings can easily get into an uproar.
If you want to continue to host poker night, or if you want to continue to attend someone else’s weekly poker game, you need to learn not to brag when you’re winning. That will anger people faster than you ever thought possible.
I’m notorious for teasing my kids with a silly victory dance any time I win at a board game. My ex-wife used to get terribly mad about it.
But that’s nothing compared to the anger you’ll deal with at the poker table if you start bragging about how well you’re doing.
And the thing is, bragging’s unnecessary, anyway. The other players can see the size of your chip stack. They’re right there in front of you on the table. They already know you’re winning.
Act like you’ve been there before.
Also, no one likes a whiney baby poor loser. Poker’s a game of chance. Get used to it.
The worst players are the ones who complain and get mad about bad beats. Not only are they poor sports, but they don’t understand the game well enough to know they should be HAPPY about bad beats.
Think about it.
The only way you can get a bad beat is if you get into a hand with the stronger cards to begin with. This means you’re playing with an edge. If you’re getting bad beats, then you’re getting into advantageous situations repeatedly. In the long run, you’ll eventually win money.
On the other hand, if you’re playing poorly or just running cold, suck it up, buttercup. That’s part of the game, too. No one likes playing cards with an Eeyore.
14- Don’t Show Pity
I used to run around and play in a lot of underground cardrooms in the Dallas Fort Worth area with a buddy of mine, Tommy. One night we were playing in a game with a really dumb young guy. I can’t remember his name.
But I expressed to Tommy after the game that I felt some regret about taking the kid’s money. (He was a terrible player.)
Tommy gave me a lecture about pity I’ll never forget.
The most important thing he explained to me was that neither of us convinced that kid to sit down at the table with us to play poker. He was an adult, even though he was a young one, and it’s on him to learn how to play well enough to not lose money he can’t afford to lose.
The 2nd most important thing he explained to me is that the kid was going to lose his money to SOMEONE anyway. It might as well be us.
Tommy was right.
As a result, I’ve learned how to eliminate pity from my game. Being a good sport in poker means not taking it easy on your opponents. Give them credit for being adults. Give them credit for playing to the best of their ability, even if the cards have been running cold all night.
The appropriate attitude about winning at poker requires a certain amount of ruthlessness.
You don’t have to be a jerk about it. Some of the best and most ruthless poker players I know are also some of the most affable players, too. In fact, I’ve found that you can win more money at a table with players who are smiling and laughing than you can at a table with a bunch of guys who are frowning, moaning, and complaining.
15- Don’t Look at Your Hole Cards Until Everything’s Been Dealt
This is more of a superstition than a rule of etiquette, but it can make things easier for the dealer. It also helps prevent early tells. A “tell” is when you give some kind of physical body language clue as to what you’re holding. The earlier you look at your cards, the more time you have to give something away.
When I play Texas holdem at a casino cardroom, I don’t look at my hole cards until it’s my turn to bet. That way the players in front of me can’t pick up on any tells. I can’t give them a tell, because I don’t know what cards I hold. The players acting later in the round have more of an opportunity, but if I looked at each of the cards as they’re dealt, they’d have more of an opportunity.
Good poker is a game of small edges. You need to capitalize on as many repeated small edges as you can to win in the long run. Not looking at your cards until it’s your turn to act is one way to get a small edge.
And it’s practical in the extreme.
Just make sure you look at your cards quickly and make a decision right away. The cardinal sin in poker etiquette—at home or in the casino—is to hold up the game for any reason.
16- Most Importantly – Don’t Bet Until It’s Your Turn
When you bet out of turn, you give your opponent’s early access to information they shouldn’t have. This is bad sportsmanship.
You might think it doesn’t matter if you’re going to fold anyway, but that’s terrible for the other players in the hand. The information that you’re going to fold is info the person betting shouldn’t have unless he’s acting AFTER you. Giving him an edge over the other players by mucking your cards before it’s your turn is helping him out unnecessarily.
Signaling or declaring that you’re going to bet or raise earlier than you should does the same thing. It gives your opponent’s information before they should have it.
In most poker games, decisions about which hands are going to be played how are made in large part based on how many other players are going to be involved in the pot. They’re also made based on what those other players do.
Here’s an example:
Someone in middle position might have a low pair, like 3s or 4s. They might have 1 or 2 callers in front of them, and they might be trying to decide whether to call.
Calling might make sense if they think they can see a flop cheap, but if someone raises, they’re probably not going to be able to play.
If you act after they do but declare that you’re going to raise, that low pair might fold preflop instead of calling.
That’s bad for you and the other players, because it keeps money out of the pot that should be IN the pot.
Just wait until it’s your turn before betting, checking, raising, or folding.
Be prepared to be corrected, possibly forcefully, if you act out of turn repeatedly.
I hate it when someone does this. Most of my poker playing friends hate it too.
Playing in and hosting a home poker game can be one of the most enjoyable hobbies in the world. Having a bunch of friends over to play cards is good for the soul.
But like anything else, it’s a good idea to understand some of the rules of behavior for that kind of activity.
There’s a way to act in almost any situation that will keep you out of trouble and in the good graces of your peers. In a home poker game, common courtesy counts for a lot.
But understanding some of the specific home poker etiquette in this post will help you get along even better with your poker buddies.