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Poker Etiquette


How is your table etiquette?

Every game, sport, or community participation has a collection of formal rules, usually gathered in a manual of some kind. Workplaces have them. Sports teams have them. Even poker rooms have them. Sometimes they are posed as policies. Regardless of what they are called, they are an important for keeping order and ensuring a fair playing field.

However, between the lines of any handbook rest a host of unwritten rules. The maintenance of these rules can be met with just as much, if not more, passion and fervor than their formal counterparts.

In the game of golf, where the rulebook is nearly as long as the bible, there are hundreds of rules that instruct a player how to, for instance, drop a ball after going out of bounds, deal with a tree branch that interferes with your swing, or what happens if your ball breaks into two after a drive. A large percentage of players are do not follow the rule book religiously and most people don’t care. In tournaments, this is a different story. Especially, on any professional circuit.

Staying discipline to the rules is integral to the integrity of the game. The unwritten rule of golf pertain more to etiquette. At my local golf course, there is a sign listing some of the most common unwritten rules that, if ignored, do not cost you a penalty stroke. Instead, they are just good manners and include fixing ball marks and divots, raking bunkers after your shot, and staying quiet when a player is addressing their ball.

For new players, navigating the unwritten rules, the fodder of good etiquette, can feel overwhelming. This applies to the poker table, too. I remember how I was more nervous about following the unwritten rules of the game rather than playing well at my first live table in a casino. I suspect this has been the case for many others. So, what are some of the more important rules of etiquette during live play? Here is a small list of bad manners you are likely to see at your next table:

Talking about your cards during play

Mostly for the cards you just folded, this rule pertains to giving away information that influences the decisions of other players at the table. For instance, if you folded your pair deuces pre-flop and a deuce is dealt on the flop, saying “I would have spiked a set” while play is continuing is not cool. Even other non-verbal grand gestures with the delivery of the community cards might be considered bad manners by some players.

Splashing the pot

A frequent problem, when a bet is made and the chip fall into the pot in a scattered way, you have splashed the pot. Sometimes, the chips will roll in several directions on the table, an annoyance for the dealer who has to distinguish your bet from the chips already in the pot. Sometimes this happens accidentally but always make your bet smooth and clean.

Slow rolling

Having experienced this recently in a very big hand, I can attest that slow rolling is very bad manners. Essentially, to slow roll someone is to delay turning over your hand at a showdown when you know you have the best hand, leading your opponent to believe they might have won or simply teasing them.

String betting

String betting happens when a player makes two chip movements in making a single bet. Unless a player states their bet size verbally, the first movement of chips across the line is considered the official bet. No more chips can be pushed across. To do so is to string bet. For instance, if I am making a sizable bet requiring two towers of chips and I push one across the line and then the other without verbally declaring the bet size, the dealer will identify it as a string bet and only the first tower pushed over the line will constitute my bet. Most players do this accidentally. It usually results in confusion and an awkward pause to the flow of the game.

Being a jerk

Being belligerent at the table is terrible etiquette. While some dealers have a large threshold for foul language, their tolerance is much shorter when verbal aggression is used to target other players. If it targets them, you might get a visit from the floor boss.

Only showing cards to the players next to you

On occasion, a player will induce a fold from his opponent. Feeling proud about his maneuver, he will flash his cards to a player (or two) on his side of the table. The general rule is that if you are going to show your cards to one, you should show them to all.

Invading personal space

When you are at a table with 8 or 9 other players, things can get a little cramped. Feet and elbows get knocked and chairs rub. Most people are very respectful of the space of the players on either side of them. They get up and sit down thoughtfully and don’t stake out more territory when they should. Then there’s that guy. He’s the guy who steals your arm rest at the movie theater. His elbows spill onto your piece of the table. His chips tend to migrate to far. He takes up space like he’s watching the big game in his own living room. I’m a pretty skinny fellow and I have had countless players invade my space because, well, it’s there. To not be considerate of your neighbors is also bad manners.

Like any game anywhere, there is an implicit code of conduct which defines good behavior. Often the little details are what make or break the enjoyment of a session. It’s good to be familiar with some of the basics, especially if you are an online specialist venturing to the casino for your first taste at real live play. So keep those elbows for pick-up basketball and the insults for family gatherings…


Kelly Doell, PhD is a mental performance consultant. Learn more about how his work can help your performance at www.KellyDoell.com




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