By KiPPlaying poker for the first time in a casino or at a house game can be quite intimidating. The actual gameplay itself is hard enough to follow but what typically spooks people are all of the ancillary, nitpicky rules. Honestly, as it relates to gameplay, there is nothing to be worried about. You may lose money as a newcomer to the game but most seasoned players cherish the opportunity to break in fresh meat; it amounts to an easy moneymaking opportunity.
The best way to anger a poker vet is to avoid learning basic etiquette. By no means should poker be compared to golf in terms of respect and adoration of the rules but where money is on the table, etiquette matters. When in doubt, paying attention and being respectful of others will get you 90% of the way there. However, ADANAI’s guide to poker etiquette will keep you completely out of trouble.
For 99% of human beings, this shouldn’t be an issue. That being said, if you just ran 10 miles in the Vegas desert, please shower up before hitting the tables. Just ate a garlic and blue cheese slice? Brush your teeth (maybe twice). Nobody likes sitting next to someone with unbearable body odor. It happens at the poker table more often than in any other area of the casino. Grinders or addicts or both tend to lose track of time, and the most well groomed individual begins to emit a certain scent after the 18th hour.
Also, if you are sick, either take a pass or be extra careful to sneeze away from the table. Germs spread especially fast between chips and cards. Keep the snot rockets off the felt.
You’d think a back slapping game of poker goes hand in hand with colorful language, but in a casino, the use of four-letter words can get you thrown out. In a tournament, you receive a penalty. Cursing is frowned upon because emotions often run high at the table. Outlawing bad language helps prevent abusive speech, which may lead to escalated incidents of violence.
Poker rooms have given up on the idea of banning phone usage. It’s generally okay to check your text messages or listen to music while at the table but when in a hand, put the phone down. It slows down the action, which annoys everyone.
Also, if your significant other calls to yell at you about getting home late, step away from the table and handle your business. Don’t sit there and give everyone a front row seat to your personal life.
Be a good winner
Football great Barry Sanders never celebrated when he scored a touchdown. Instead, he ran directly over to the official and handed off the ball. Why? Because Barry Sanders knows that truly exceptional players should act like they’ve been there before.
Approach poker in the same way. If you pull off a complicated multi-level bluff, no need to rub it in your opponent’s face. If you get lucky and draw out on someone, acknowledge the good fortune and move on. Take a page from poker powerhouse Phil Ivey’s book. He never gloats after making a spectacular play.
Be a good loser
Reacting poorly to a loss can be one of the most unprofitable behaviors in poker. If someone gets lucky against you, that means you had the best hand and played it well. Over time, playing optimal hands leads to profitability. Berating the opponent who relied on a roll of the die rather than solid strategy doesn’t make any sense. You want this kind of uncalculated play to continue because more often than not, odds will end up in your favor. Good players take more bad beats than bad players because good players get their money into the pot when they are ahead.
More importantly, nobody likes a sore sport. Joviality during the mostly recreational game of poker goes over much better than equating the loss off a hand to the loss of an actual appendage. Suck it up.
Don’t leave after winning a big pot
This applies mainly to home games. In a casino, you can stand up and cash your chips in anytime you want. Granted, if you are a regular at a particular casino, this behavior will likely impact how people play against you. If you notoriously leave after winning, expect less action from your opponents (i.e. they’ll muck sub-optimal hands against you because they know they don’t stand much of a chance of recovering their “donkey” bet off of you).
In a home game, winning a huge pot and all of a sudden remembering that you left the oven on at home guarantees that you won’t be invited back. The idea here is that it is polite to give people a chance to win their money back.
By the way, having a lot of money in front of you in a poker game relative to the others at the table is generally a huge advantage so you would be silly to leave if you can help it.
A corollary: if you win a big hand, it is bad form to stand up from the table and take an hour break. In a casino, there are limits on how long of a break you can take. In a home game, fine, go stretch your legs or sit out a hand or two but big long breaks, especially if you find yourself on the earning side of the spectrum for the evening, annoys the other players.
Tip your dealer
Whether in a casino or at a home game, dealers work hard to run a smooth operation. Tips comprise a big chunk of what they make, just like with bartenders or servers, so show them some love. Be generous and who knows, good card karma may flow your way. One to five times the small blind suffices as a general tipping rule for low stakes games.
Don’t touch others cards or chips
Didn’t your mother teach you to keep your hands to yourself? While the chips may look like innocuous little clay discs, they represent real money. If someone were sitting with a stack of bills in front of them instead of chips, you wouldn’t ask to help rearrange it or stick it in their wallet for them.
In a friendly home game, sometimes people who aren’t in the hand peak at their neighbor’s cards to play along. This should only be done after asking permission. Casinos, however, take a hard line against showing and telling.
Also, if someone folds their hand, it is really bad form to look at the cards they set down. Feel free to ask the folder what they had, but prepare for a cold shoulder response. This too goes for the winning hand after everyone has folded to a bet. The winner could be bluffing and it is completely up to them if they want to show their cards. The old pay to play philosophy.
A little banter lends to the fun of the mostly social game of poker. Furthermore, talking a little sometimes gets a read from an opponent. However, discussing a hand in progress is a big no-no. Leave the commentating to the professionals; even they tend to sully the task.
The only exception is if you are part of a heads up pot or last to act during an all-in situation. Then, if you want to verbalize your logic for everyone at the table to hear, go for it.
Poker is not a team sport so if someone in a hand makes a blatant (or not so blatant) mistake, keep quiet. Save it until after the hand is over and even then, ask them first if they want the tip. Some players would rather get paper cuts from all 52 cards in the deck than get unsolicited advice from another player.
Act in turn
A common mistake, acting before your turn,, impacts the play of the hand. The equivalent of stepping in front of someone at a water fountain, your counterparts won’t take lightly to the slight on a regular basis. Pay attention to the action. If you aren’t you probably shouldn’t be playing anyway.
Time is a factor. Don’t tank on every hand
By all means, take your time contemplating your next move, especially in a big pot or on the river. Not every play should require two minutes of deep thought though. Players are very conscious of maximizing “HPH,” the number of hands per hour they accomplish. Constantly going in the tank – the think tank that is – impedes that goal.
Interestingly, many of today’s young players take extra long to act as a way of putting opponents on tilt. In a tournament, don’t be afraid to call the clock on a player or ask the dealer to move the action along. (In a cash game, calling the clock is poor etiquette but it is quite all right to say something about someone taking too long to act.)
Do not “slow roll”
At showdown, either muck your hand or turn it up to see who won. Once the other players have tabled their hand, there is no reason to wait. The dramatic reveal is very bad etiquette and will 100% draw the ire of people at the table. Some consider the “slow roll” one of the rudest moves in poker.
Abide by house rules / respect the dealer’s rulings
Make sure you know the nuances specific to the particular game you’re sitting down to before action begins. A newcomer to a home game should ask the host about any special practices or exceptions. The gesture usually goes a long way.
More so than the host, the dealer acts as the arbiter of all disputes. If you are in a casino, you can call the floor (like asking to speak to the manager) and they will make a binding secondary ruling.
No taking money off of the table
Cashing out after winning a big hand may be bad manners, but taking money off the table is downright grounds for removal. So long as you remain at the table, everything you have won in the session must be in play for the other players to win back. Don’t go slipping that extra $100 bill you just won into your pocket.
No string bets / raises
Pay attention: Assume you want to make a bet of $25 dollars. The appropriate way to do it is to say “twenty-five dollars” and then put the appropriate chip denomination out in front of you all at once. Just putting the chips across the line works without verbalizing your bet so long as you do it in one singular motion.
String bets arise when you neglect to announce the amount you intend on betting and then proceed to place chips on the table in a series of forward motions. Think of it as double dipping. Each chip gets one dip.
Reason being, in theory you could call an audible on how much you plan to bet based on other players reactions to the first move. If you are bluffing and see someone immediately reaching for chips to call your bet, you could decide not to put the second group of chips (or even the entirety of the chips already in your hand) into the pot. Most cases, the dealer will prevent you from making a string bet but to avoid issues, always declare your bet verbally first, THEN put the corresponding chips in front of the line. In the epic poker film “Rounders”, Teddy KGB does one of most tilting string bets / splash the pot moves of all time.
Don’t splash the pot
The most stereotypical poker move is to dramatically throw your chips into the pot with a nice high arc. While it may look cool in the movies, it screws up the real thing. During each round of betting, the dealer keeps track of the action by keeping each individual’s bets in front of him. This also helps the dealer verify that the right amount of money has gone into the pot. If someone is calling a bet of $49, that could end up being 13 chips (nine $5 dollar and four $1 dollar chips). If those chips go directly into the pot and co-mingle, there is no way to know if the call was for the right amount without spending ample energy separating the pot back out.
Don’t make change from the pot
If you are calling a bet of $12 dollars but only have three $5 dollars chips, then call and put those three chips in front of you. While there may be three $1 dollar chips in the pot right next to you, wait until the dealer pulls your money into the pot and provides you the change. This goes back to the rule of never touching money on the table that isn’t yours.
Handling your cards
Protect your cards
Cards fly around the table during a game. Among other misfortunes, your cards can sometimes get caught up with the discards, so make sure to protect them by putting a protector on top of them when you’re not looking at them (a chip, a good luck charm, etc). Once your cards hit the muck, they immediately become dead, unplayable.
Players sitting directly next to the dealer are most at risk of premature mucking. This hand in the 2009 World Series of Poker has become legendary as poker professional Estelle Denis had her Aces mucked at a crucial time of the tournament.
For obvious reasons, always make a conscious effort to keep prying eyes away from your hole cards. When looking at your cards, use your hands as barriers. You wouldn’t bet your life’s savings in a Texas Hold’Em matchup against Superman.
Exposing your cards after folding
When folding your hand, muck them face down towards the dealer. Even if it is a garbage hand, you never know if those cards may become important later. For example, you fold 2♥7♥ face up to show your unplayable junk then, later in the hand, someone trying to hit a ♥ flush draw decides to fold because they know two of their “outs” have been removed from the equation.
The only time it is okay to fold face up is if you are last to act at the end of the hand and your play won’t impact any other action. Many players do this if they are making a big lay-down and want to show the table how “disciplined” they can be for mind game purposes.
Keep your cards on the table
Another thing people like to do when they first start is pick their cards up off the table and hold them in front of their face. In the most casual home games, this may fly, but in any casino or home game involving real money (not toothpicks), it is frowned upon. When the cards come off the table, the chances of some sort of funny business go up exponentially. If people don’t automatically assume you are trying to cheat, the show of inexperience will definitely perturb them.
In closing, if you find yourself in a situation where you mistakenly break poker etiquette, don’t stress about it. Very experienced players lose their cool a lot. Bleeding money can do that to the most leveled head gambler. As aforementioned, paying attention to the game and being respectful of others feelings and space gets you 90% of the way there.