Etiquette at the Poker Table
Poker is viewed by many, first and foremost, as a form of pure entertainment. There are some players that truly only care about how much money they can win, which is fine of course, but there are also a lot of players that are primarily interested in having fun. These players would obviously love to win some money if they could, but they don't mind losing providing they are having an enjoyable experience.
This is one reason why it's so important to act properly and be respectful while playing poker. To some extent, every player has a responsibility to ensure that other players have a positive experience. Knowing the rules of how to play is simply not enough, as you need to know the rules on how to behave too.
There's a great deal of etiquette involved in poker. There are some unwritten rules which dictate what you should and shouldn't do and breaking these will likely alienate your fellow players. You should be aware of these, as you don't want to upset your opponents and ruin their overall gaming experience. There are several formal rules too, which you need to abide by in order to avoid a penalty or being asked to leave a game altogether.
Below we list and explain our top five rules for behaving "correctly" at the poker table, along with our top five taboos that you should avoid. In addition to that, we also focus in on some extra etiquette that's worth mentioning.
Five Golden Rules To Follow
The following rules are what we consider to be the five golden rules of poker that you should always try to follow when playing it live. They aren't in any particular order because they are all equally important, in our opinion.
If you play live poker for long enough you'll probably encounter plenty of players who don't follow this rule. It's a very easy one to stick to yourself and there's really no excuse for not being polite and courteous to your fellow players or your dealers for that matter. You don't have to overdo it and you can even stay quiet if you want to, but using good manners isn't hard to do and it'll create a more welcoming atmosphere at the table.
You have a responsibility to pay attention to what's happening at the poker table while you're playing and it's especially important to know when it's your turn to act. It certainly won't take long for other players to get frustrated if they have to constantly remind you when to play. You should also ensure that you post your blinds and antes in a timely manner and that you avoid acting out of turn. Don't take an excessive amount of time while making simple decisions and don't keep players waiting while you order a drink or something to eat.
Making your actions clear will not only make your life easier but your opponent's life as well. Shoving a few chips into the pot and mumbling "call" or "raise" under your breath doesn't give you an advantage and it'll probably just annoy your opponents. It's not hard to slide a neat stack of chips in front of you and declare your actions with clarity. This will avoid any confusion and it will help ensure that you don't get accused of trying to gain an unfair advantage by misrepresenting the action you are taking.
If you win a hand without going to a showdown, you can choose to show the table your cards. What you cannot do, though, is show them to just one player. This potentially gives that player an unfair advantage, as they are then in possession of information that no-one else has access to. It may not be extremely helpful to them, but it's the principle of the matter that's the real concern. As the saying goes, "If you show one, you must show all." The same rule applies if you decide to muck (throw away without showing) a losing hand after going to showdown.
No one likes a poor loser or a poor winner, so you should always try to be gracious in both defeat and victory while at the poker table. There's nothing wrong with showing a little bit of frustration following a particularly crushing defeat, but you won't gain any respect by going on a massive rant every time you lose a hand.
Likewise, a small celebration after winning a big pot is perfectly acceptable. Celebrating too wildly is just going to agitate your opponents and gloating about how brilliantly you played a hand is equally annoying. If you want the respect of your opponents, then you should act with some degree of humility.
Top Five Poker Table Taboos
Poker etiquette isn't just about what you should do, but it's also about what you should NOT do. The following points are the top five taboos that you should avoid at the poker table, and again these are in no particular order.
Revealing your cards during a hand, regardless of whether you are still active or not, is very poor poker etiquette. It gives away information to the table that may provide an advantage to one player over another. For example, if one player is on a draw and hoping for certain cards to come and you reveal that you had one or more of those cards, this could change the way they play the hand, which ultimately is an unfair advantage.
Please keep in mind that there's more than one way to reveal your cards to the table. It's easy to avoid telling everyone what you have, but you need to be careful not to reveal your cards accidentally too. Carelessly throwing your cards away when folding, for example, can easily result in exposing them. Your reaction to seeing a flop after folding your cards can also give away unplanned information. If you exclaim in frustration that you would have made a great hand, then players may be able to determine what exactly was in your hand to some degree of certainty.
Giving a running commentary during a hand that you aren't involved in definitely goes against poker etiquette. No one wants to hear your views about what each player may or may not have, what they should do next, or what you think is going to happen. It can be annoying to the players that are involved in the hand, as they probably just want to concentrate. It could also be constituted as giving advice to a player, which is prohibited in most poker rooms.
It's not your place to criticize the way any of your opponents have played. Even if they have made a huge mistake, or you are just trying to offer constructive feedback, it's simply not the way to behave at a poker table. Everyone has the right to play how they want, within the rules of course, and it's not your responsibility to point out where they might be going wrong. In any case, why would you want to help your opponents improve their game? You want them to make mistakes, as that ultimately improves your chances of beating them, so please keep that in mind.
Remember that Poker dealers are just there to do their job and they have no control over what cards are dealt. Verbally attacking a dealer because you've suffered a bad beat or are getting a poor run of cards is never acceptable. You are practically guaranteed to get some bad luck from time to time. It's simply the nature of the game and it's your responsibility to learn how to deal with the frustration and stop yourself from taking it out on the dealer.
It's also worth pointing out that this rule is applicable even if a dealer makes a mistake. Dealers are human after all, and mistakes do happen. There's no excuse for berating a dealer, even if their mistake might have cost you money.
The term slow rolling can be used to describe a few different circumstances, but it would generally apply when a player knows he has the best hand at showdown and takes a long time to turn over his cards in order to build up suspense. It could also apply when a player takes a long time to call an all in bet, despite knowing that they have the best hand at the table.
Many poker players consider slow rolling to be one of the worst breaches of etiquette. It serves no real purpose other than trying to wind up other opponents and rub salt in their wounds after you won a big pot. While some players will slow roll precisely to put down their opponents, it's really not a move that we recommend making.
More Poker Etiquette
The points discussed above are the most important to be aware of when playing live poker, in our opinion at least. There are several additional rules that others may think are just as important, or maybe even more important, so please try to follow the ones below as well.
Don't splash the pot
If you follow our golden rule #3, then you won't do this anyway, but it's a good idea to be aware of what the term means and why you shouldn't do it. Splashing the pot is basically throwing your chips into the pot when making a bet, call, or raise. This is considered bad etiquette as it makes it extremely difficult to see exactly how many chips you are betting.
Don't make string bets
A string bet is when you don't make your bet in a continuous motion (i.e. you put a few chips in front of you, then a few more, then a few more) having not announced the total amount of your bet out loud. This is frowned upon and is technically against the rules, as it not only slows down the game but it can also be used to gain an advantage over your opponents. String betting can potentially allow you to gauge an opponent's reaction to the size of your bet, and then decide whether or not to increase it based on their reaction.
String betting is a very common and often times an unintentional mistake, that's typically made by inexperienced players. It can be used by players for tactical reasons but this isn't usually the case. You don't want to be accused of attempting to cheat, so you really should try hard to avoid making string bets. Again, this is relatively easy to do if you simply follow our golden rule #3.
Be considerate to others at the table
When playing live poker it's possible that you could spend several hours sitting next to the same players. Although you obviously want to beat your opponents, you don't want to ruin the whole experience for them either. Being considerate might seem like common sense, but there may be a few things that you haven't considered in the list below.
- If smoking is permitted, it's still courteous to ask neighboring players if they would object to you having a cigarette.
- Some basic personal hygiene is also a must; sitting next to a player who doesn't smell very pleasant could negatively affect a player's experience.
- Many people are offended by swearing, so you should try to keep the profanity down to an absolute minimum.
- There's nothing wrong with having a drink when playing, but moderation is a good idea. A player who has had one too many drinks can easily ruin a game for everyone else. Besides, you're unlikely to play very well if you are drunk or even tipsy for that matter.
Keep your cards visible when you're in a hand
Keeping your cards visible when you're active in a hand might not seem like a big deal, but it's actually very important. If you have your cards hidden away behind your chip stack or underneath your hands, then many players will assume that you are no longer in the hand. This could potentially lead to someone acting out of turn through no real fault of their own.
When we say that your cards should be visible, we obviously don't mean expose them face up. We just mean that they should be placed in front of you in a way that everyone at the table can see that you are still active in a hand.
Tipping the Dealers in Poker Games
We'll finish with this point because it's somewhat controversial. It could actually be argued that it has nothing to do with poker table etiquette at all, as it doesn't affect your fellow players and there are certainly no specific rules relating to tipping the dealers. We feel it's worth mentioning though, because it's an issue that comes up as some pokers player don't really know how to approach this situation.
There is no right or wrong action to take here. You are certainly not obliged to tip a dealer at any point and a lot of poker players steadfastly refuse to tip because they are already paying rake to the casino. It's worth noting, however, that many dealers around the world aren't paid very well and some even rely on tips to make a living. This doesn't have to affect your thinking of course and the decision to tip or not is entirely up to you regardless of what a dealer earns.
With all of that being said, we are advocates of tipping the dealers. It doesn't have to be a huge amount and you definitely don't have to tip every time you win a pot, but we do believe it's reasonable to offer at least one tip at the end of your playing session.
We would also advise that you base the size of your tip more on how the dealer performed and less on how much you won or lost during your session. A dealer who has dealt quickly and efficiently, with a friendly and pleasant manner deserves a larger tip than a dealer who continuously made mistakes and wasn't particularly friendly.
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: July 2015
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