Poker etiquette: what you need to know

Poker.Org Staff
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Published: June 28, 2022 10:38 AM EDT

Etiquette is the set of rules and manners that dictate behavior, both in personal and professional settings. Poker etiquette is the collection of norms and rules in and around the poker tables. If you don’t know proper poker etiquette, you’re bound to make obvious wrong moves and gaffes that can get you into trouble.

Official poker rules sometimes dictate player behavior directly. Most often, etiquette refers to the unwritten rules — the things that the poker community has come to expect as normal and acceptable conduct.

Some poker etiquette is more optional but it’s still part of being a good person and competitor. Other behaviors may be enforced by poker room management, such as being overly argumentative or mistreating others to the level of abuse. 

The best approach is for players to understand poker etiquette and adhere to those norms.

Basic life skills also apply to poker

Many aspects of poker etiquette are the same as basic social etiquette. Keeping a tidy chip stack is akin to maintaining an organized desk space in an office. Tipping dealers and serving staff mimics the rules in any restaurant or customer service-based establishment.

It’s important to be just as respectful of fellow poker players and dealers, just like we expect athletes to show respect to their opponents and officials.

Some poker etiquette has even seeped into life etiquette. For example, someone who unnecessarily delays revealing information is guilty of a slow roll — a discouraged move in poker.

Be respectful of your fellow players (and dealers)

It should go without saying that poker players should respect others at the table, including the dealers and poker room staff. Respect is a common courtesy and the only acceptable default attitude. 

Respect can be as simple as responding to a fellow player’s comment. It can also be baseline-appropriate behavior at a poker table, such as not berating the dealer because you understand they don’t control the hand outcomes.

Sometimes, respect is as simple as refraining from making comments that contain racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia. Avoiding isms and phobias is a form of respect.

Don’t disrupt the action

When players are in a hand, it’s considered proper poker etiquette for others to stay out of it. “Two players to a hand” is a common phrase that doesn’t just refer to heads-up play. The term indicates that players not in a hand shouldn’t comment on it until it’s over.

Being loud or obnoxious disrupts the action, drawing attention away from the game. Some offensive players take the opposite approach, constantly slowing down a game by being distracted or by not acting on hands in a timely manner.

Avoid arguments

There are often disagreements in poker. When people sit at a table together for long periods of time, arguments can pop up about everything from politics to poker rules and etiquette. Often, these conflicts turn contentious and begin to disrupt the game.

It’s best to avoid arguments altogether. If you disagree with players at your table, you can put on headphones or just take a short walk around the poker room. Use any method you can to diffuse an argument before it begins.

Be gracious, win or lose

This is an unwritten rule in any sport: Be gracious when you win or lose a hand.

Minimizing any celebration when you hold the winning hand is common poker etiquette. Excessive celebration may even warrant a penalty from poker room staff. Sometimes, it’s best to simply accept your winnings in silence.

Losing a hand can prompt some players to become angry with opponents or even with the dealer. This is in no way acceptable, because losing is a part of poker. Be as gracious in loss as you are in victory.

Tip your dealer & the serving staff

Remember that poker dealers depend on tips for part of their wages. Similar to servers, baristas, valets, bartenders, and most people in the customer service industry, dealers depend on tips. This applies to dealers working in big Las Vegas casinos as well as the ones you’ll meet in home games.

If you’re unsure how much or when to tip a dealer, ask a member of the poker room staff or fellow players. Don’t forget to tip the servers who bring your food and drinks to the tables, too.

Gameplay etiquette

There are rules for every poker game, but gameplay etiquette is also vital. The unwritten rules of poker etiquette during play make the game a pleasant experience. They also ensure that the game moves along without unnecessary delays.

More importantly, there are actions that aren’t considered overt cheating but are discouraged during gameplay. Slow rolling and angle shooting are two ways a player can try to gain an unfair advantage. While not explicitly against the rules in many poker rooms, abusing the unwritten rules of poker play can sour a game and often prompt players to leave.

Pay attention to the game

Live casino poker can be slow. To stay alert and use time wisely, players sometimes wear headphones to listen to podcasts or music. They may read articles on their phone, post to or browse social media, or read a physical book. 

When passing the time, make sure you’re always paying attention to the game. Keep one eye on the game so you can act in turn, without delaying the action unnecessarily. Helping a game move along faster benefits everyone, including you.

When you’re out, you’re out

When you are out, you are out. In a cash game, if you’re out and can’t purchase more chips or afford another buy-in, simply leave the game. Don’t distract others by asking for money. And in a poker tournament, if there are no re-entry or rebuy options, losing all your chips means you must leave the table and the floor. 

There’s no reason to delay the inevitable. If you have to tell a bad-beat story or complain, leave the poker area and call someone who will listen. Being respectful of players who haven’t hit the rail yet is common poker etiquette.

Don’t hit and run

“Hit and run” is a term used in cash-game poker. This refers to a person who sits down to play, wins a big pot or several poker hands in a row, and then leaves. While it’s not against any written rules, it’s not proper poker etiquette.

The fair way to play is to stay at the table for a certain period of time, especially if you just arrived and took a lot of chips from the other players at the table. It’s common courtesy to give opponents the opportunity to win those chips back — or at least believe you had the intention of playing for a reasonable amount of time.

Don’t angle shoot

Using a particular angle to gain an unfair advantage or to trick another player is considered “shooting an angle.” Some forms of angle shooting are more obvious than others.

String bets

A string bet is a form of angle shooting, described as putting some chips out to gauge the reaction of an opponent and then reaching for more chips based on this information. Another way of using chips unethically is to put some forward, separating a potential bet from the rest of your stack, but not putting them over the betting line, just to gauge an opponent’s reaction.

Hiding chips

When a player intentionally hides chips, such as putting large denominations behind smaller ones, it’s a form of angle shooting. This is the same type of poker etiquette breach as lying or intentionally misrepresenting your stack when a player tries to see it or asks how much you have.

Gestures

Certain hand or body movements can also represent an angle shoot:

  • Pretending to muck your cards but holding onto them in an effort to trick opponents.
  • Acting like you’re planning to leave a cash game when you’re actually planning to stay.
  • Hinting at any action by physical movements and then doing something else.

There are many ways to gain advantages in poker without being intentionally deceptive or outright lying.

Know the game

Knowing the rules of the game before sitting down to play is common courtesy. Don’t expect the game to slow down so you can finally learn Omaha or Texas Holdem without any prior study or education.

New players can be an exception to the rule, especially if it’s their first time at a table. Online poker players who switch to live poker will go through an adjustment period. Beginners in poker may know most of the house rules but be unaware of some poker etiquette, which is normal. Players can even forget a rule or act out of turn accidentally at times.

For the most part, though, the player should know the game and the unwritten poker rules.

Betting & raising like a pro

Know the rules of betting and raising for a particular game before you sit down to play. Occasional mistakes will happen, but other players can tell if you’re learning as you go, or if you knew the rules beforehand.

Know the amounts

The most important factor in betting and raising like a pro poker player is knowing the amounts. In limit poker, know the minimum and maximum bets, and the maximum number of permitted bets. In pot limit games, be able to judge the amount of the pot without asking the dealer every time. These are common courtesies to other players and the dealer, and they make the game move along more smoothly. 

Know the betting order

Another part of betting etiquette is staying aware of the betting order and who is in or out of a hand. Know who has the button and the action before you.

Use your words

Professional players also know that the safest way to bet and raise is to verbally express the action. “I raise” and “I call” are simple phrases that eliminate potential misunderstandings and ensure proper poker etiquette.

Speak up

Speak clearly, look at the dealer to ensure that they understand your action, and don’t take too long to make any betting or raising decision unless it’s occasionally warranted.

Don’t slow roll

Contrary to popular belief, slow rolling isn’t simply taking your time to make a decision. A slow roll is taking too much time to make a move that should be automatic. 

If a player has the nuts, the strongest hand, or an unbeatable hand in a certain situation, there’s no reason to delay a move. If you delay a call on the river when you clearly hold the best hand, you’re slow rolling. That’s rude, especially for an experienced player.

Poker table etiquette

At poker tables, a small group of people need to maintain a certain level of etiquette so they can enjoy a smooth and friendly game, with a home-game atmosphere. This includes respectful behavior and general decency. But there are also unwritten rules of poker etiquette for the table itself.

With so many chips and cards on the table at any given time, it’s important to maintain orderly chip stacks and keep your hole cards near you. “Splashing the pot” (spilling chips across the table) can cause confusion for the dealer. Throwing cards shows disrespect and a lack of self control.

Keep a tidy chip stack

In tournament poker, players are supposed to keep their chips in stacks of 20 and separate them by value. This lets dealers, tournament staff, and other players accurately count each player’s chips.

In cash games, the poker etiquette rules are a bit lighter, but most players prefer stacks of 20 for ease of counting.

In both forms of poker, though, players must keep their high-denomination chips visible to other players and the dealer. Keeping a tidy stack of chips prevents them from falling into piles and mixing with someone else’s chips.

Protect your hole cards

It seems like common sense that a player should protect their hole cards. However, as a game progresses, players can become careless with the way they look at their cards. They can forget that opponents are often seated in the range of peripheral vision. No one should look at another’s cards, but players should protect their own cards in the first place.

There’s a reason many players use card protectors. Placing a chip or another card protector on your hole cards keeps them from being confused with community cards, or accidentally mucked.

Know how to fold ‘em

There are many ways to fold cards, but the best way is to simply slide them toward the dealer when he or she is watching. A player can also muck with a light toss of the cards.

Emotions can prompt players to sometimes angrily muck cards. This can potentially hurt a dealer or another player, or it may cause a card to fall to the floor. This not only delays a game and is unnecessary, but it borders on abusive behavior. 

The takeaway

Live poker has many variables. Every player is different, and the dynamics of most games vary as well. It’s important to keep the game accessible to all players by maintaining a certain level of poker etiquette.

Using respect and common courtesies at the poker table can make the difference between a good or a bad experience. A good experience keeps players coming back, and a bad experience can keep them away.

For the good of the game, know and maintain proper poker etiquette.

Featured image source: Flickr by Frédéric BISSON used under CC license