When you decide to go play poker, you have two basic options. You can stay home and enjoy the conveniences of online poker, or you can venture out into the wild that is brick and mortar (live) poker. If you go with the latter, there are some “customs and courtesies” that you need to be aware of. In this guide, we’re going to walk you through all of these customs and courtesies known as live poker etiquettes.
Why are these important? Well, there are a few reasons. First, if you make etiquette mistakes in live poker, you could be penalized or lose money by your hand being killed or by driving away recreational players. Second, following proper etiquette helps you avoid awkward situations. This ensures that you’re going to have an enjoyable time playing at the local casino, card room, tournament, or home game. Break enough etiquette rules, and you may be asked to leave or asked not to come back.
One of the biggest reasons that people elect to play live poker instead of online is for the social aspects. The game brings out all kinds of interesting personalities and makes for a great environment to get some interesting conversation or to make some new friends. That being said, there is still a game being played while you are at the table. This means that there are some specific rules that need to be followed. On top of the rules, there are some strategic considerations that you need to be aware of regarding your table talk.
Berating Other Players
The interesting part of this etiquette tip is that most people think it only has to deal with being respectful. In fact, it has more to do with making you money than anything else. Why is poker profitable? It’s profitable because recreational players who come to have fun keep coming back for more. They’re happy to show up and lose money as long as they’re having a good time.
The key part of that phrase is that this only works if they are having a good time. Do you think the recreational fish are going to want to come back if you yell at them or call them an idiot? Will they be excited to get in their car and come play next time if they know you’re going to treat them disrespectfully? The answer in case you’re not sure is a resounding “heck no!”
If you’re berating other players, you’re causing the easy money to leave the building. Even if you’re berating good players, you’re creating an environment that’s hostile and no fun. You need to cut it out because you’re not only costing yourself money, but you’re ruining the rest of the poker community.
Look, we get it. When you lose a big pot, you want to vent. But, if your venting involves telling the player who made a mistake what they did wrong, you should probably stop. Yes, it may make you feel better to let them know just how badly they screwed up, but you’re also teaching them how not to make that mistake again. What does that do? That makes them a better player. Simple logic tells you that making your opponent better at anything is not a good long-term winning strategy. Give them enough free lessons, and they’ll no longer be a recreational fish.
Talking About the Hand
This etiquette tip is actually a rule in most live poker settings. You are not allowed to talk about the current hand while it’s going on. This is ESPECIALLY true if you are not involved in the hand. For example, let’s say you fold 8-7 and the flop comes out 8-8-8. You can’t hit the table, sigh loudly, or tell the table that you folded the 8. There is pending action and giving that information away will affect the action of the hand.
Another example, that we see a lot, is people making their predictions on what they think is going on in the hand. We also see people that will point out when certain conditions change in the hand. Remember this…you are not the announcer for ESPN. We don’t need you to tell us what you think people are holding or if the flush gets there on the river. This is true even if something seems like complete common sense to you.
We’ve seen several instances where someone comments on a draw completing on the river and then the player in the hand acts shocked because they missed it. When you do this, you’re costing other players at the table money. You wouldn’t want them to do this when you’re in the hand so please don’t do it when you aren’t in the hand.
In some live cash game settings, they will allow you to talk about the hand when you are heads up. The places that allow this, though, are becoming few and far between. The best advice we can give you is to just not talk about the hand unless you’ve checked what the house rules are on the issue. If you do this and influence action, you can bet that you’re going to hear about it from the other players at the table. You’ll also hear about it from the floor staff who will most likely warn you that if you do it again, you’ll be penalized or asked to leave the poker room.
We fully understand that everyone playing poker in a brick and mortar setting is an adult, but we’re still playing a “gentleman’s game.” That being said, there are going to be some rules about swearing. If you’re playing in a home game, the rules will be up to the person running the game. Usually, home games don’t have a ton of control and will let you get away with whatever you want when it comes to language. Again, this will be contingent on the specific game that you’re playing in.
When you’re playing in a more official setting, things are a little different. Most places now will allow you to swear as long as it is not directed at another player or over the top. If every other word out of your mouth is a swear word, you may be asked to cut it out. If it’s every now and then, it shouldn’t be a problem as long as it’s not directed at another player.
For example, you could say, “This hand is sh*t.” But if you said, “You are sh*t,” then you’d be breaking the rules and could be assessed a penalty or asked to leave the poker room depending on the situation and severity. If your swearing is directed at the dealer or the staff, expect to be removed from the poker room.
When to Be Quiet
Technically, if you’re not involved in the current hand, you are supposed to be quiet and not talk. Now, this is a rule that is not enforced unless it needs to be. As long as you aren’t disturbing the players in the hand, you should be fine to continue talking with a few conditions. First, if a huge pot develops, it’s customary for everyone at the table to be quiet and respect the big action. This usually happens naturally as everyone gets interested in the hand, but sometimes people are oblivious and need to be nudged. Don’t be shocked if you get nudged if you’re talking through a huge pot.
Second, if you’re talking across the table as opposed to a player right next to you, you’ll need to be more respectful during pots. Third, if you’re talking on your phone or to someone who isn’t even playing at the table, you should probably step away from the table if it’s going to be a longer conversation. There’s nothing that’s going to annoy the other players faster than a conversation with someone who isn’t even part of the game.
For those of you saying that you don’t care if it annoys other players, we have a few thoughts. You need to check your attitude and start respecting other people. You also may get asked to leave or get penalized by the staff if you’re bothering other players at the table. If you start running off their customers, you’re going to be asked to leave.
If you’ve played a lot of live poker before in an organized setting, you probably have no issues with this. If you’re new or have only played in home games, you may not be aware of this rule that still seems to catch players off guard these days. In the old movies, players would always raise the same way. They would “see the raise” by putting out the correct number of chips for a call, and then raise by placing out more chips.
While this is cool in the movies, it doesn’t fly in a brick and mortar setting. You have two options to make sure that your raises are counted. You can verbally announce raise, or you need to move the calling chips and raising chips to the middle of the pot at the same time. Let’s look at a few examples and nuances to make sure this is clear.
The best course of action is to announce raise and announce the amount you are raising to before you do anything. When you do this, whatever you say goes. Verbal action is always binding and supersedes anything you do or don’t do with your chips. If you don’t want to do things verbally, then you need to make sure that you do everything as one motion if you want to raise. Count out the total number of chips you want to put in the middle (the call plus the raise) and THEN push it across the betting line or push it forward towards the middle of the pot.
You CANNOT push something out and go back to your stack for more UNLESS you verbally announce it BEFORE you do anything. The best way to simplify this is just to announce what you want to do if you aren’t sure the best way to do it.
Protecting Your Cards
It might seem silly to you that we’re addressing this, but you’d be shocked at how many times we’ve seen competent players get their hand killed because they neglected to protect it. What does protecting your hand mean? Protecting your hand means two things. First, it means protecting your cards so that your opponents can’t see what you have. Second, it means protecting your cards so that they don’t accidentally get pushed into the muck.
Let’s look at each of these briefly. Protecting your cards from your opponents seeing them is obviously important because it is really hard to beat someone if they know exactly what you have. Make sure that when you are looking at your cards, no one can catch a glimpse. If you are sitting in one of the seats in the middle of the table, this becomes especially important. Even if your opponents aren’t shady, sometimes they can’t help but see your cards if you don’t protect them when you look.
There are a few things you can do to ensure this is not an issue. First, don’t look at your cards multiple times throughout the hand. Look once, remember what you have, and then don’t look at your cards again the rest of the hand. The more times that you flip them up, the more times people have an option to see your cards. Second, make sure that you are using your hands to shield your cards on all sides and are only lifting up your cards as far as you need to. If you have bad vision, bend down towards your cards. Don’t bring them towards you by lifting them off the table.
In addition to protecting your cards from your opponents, you need to protect them from accidentally getting tossed into the muck. If the dealer thinks you are folding or that your cards are folded ones, they may accidentally pull the cards into the muck. Guess what happens when this occurs? Your hand is dead, and you forfeit any money that you have in the middle of the pot. As unfair as that may seem, there is nothing that can be done.
The best way to protect against this is to keep a card protector on top of your cards and/or keep your hands on your cards at all times. Personally, our staff likes to do both because it also protects you in case someone folds their hand aggressively, and it flies into your cards. The card protector just protects against the dealer folding your hand. When your hand is there, someone will have to work to fold your hand accidentally.
This becomes especially important if you are sitting in the one or nine or ten seat (depending on how many people are at the table). If you’re sitting on the side that the dealer puts the muck cards, you need to be extra vigilant. Time after time we see players get mad at the dealer when their cards get pulled into the muck when in reality, it is your responsibility. The dealer is having to do a lot, and if they accidentally snag your cards because you aren’t paying attention or protecting your hand, that’s on you.
PLEASE make sure that you pay attention to this tip on every single hand. It can be one of the costliest etiquette mistakes on this entire list.
If there is a dirty side of poker, it’s 100% angle shooting. An angle shot is when someone tries to take advantage of a rule or loophole to gain an unfair advantage. It’s the act of using a technicality to try and win at poker in a manner that is usually viewed as dirty.
For example, let’s say that you bet on the river and your opponent says, “alright, you got it.” You assume your opponent has folded and you muck your cards only to realize that your opponent hasn’t thrown their cards in yet. Even though they alluded that they were folding, they technically hadn’t folded yet. The dealer would be forced to award the pot to your opponent because they are the only player still with a live hand. This is an example of angle shooting.
We want to take a look at angle shooting from both sides of the aisle. First of all, you should never be angle shooting to get an advantage. Play the game the way that it is supposed to be played. There’s zero reasons to be a scummy player who has to “cheat” to win. The only reason that we put cheat in quotes is that angle shooting is technically not cheating. Though it’s not cheating, a lot of poker rooms will still assess penalties for angle shooting and will likely look to kick you out or ban you if you do something habitually.
On the other side of the aisle, you need to be on the lookout for angle shooters. They come in all shapes and sizes, and some of their tricks are impressively dirty. Know the rules and if you are ever unsure about something, immediately ask the dealer or the floor staff. The time to deal with an angle shooter is while the action is going on not afterward.
Most importantly, make sure that you never muck the winning hand until the dealer pushes you the pot. A lot of angle shooting deals with trying to get you to fold before the pot has been awarded. The best way to avoid this is to NEVER release your cards until you are pushed the pot. We won’t even let the dealer take our cards until they push the pot. It’s a great habit to get into and one you should do 100% of the time that you play.
Stop the angle shooters in their tracks and then call them out after their angle doesn’t work. We don’t have time for that garbage in our poker community. It’s bad for the game and drives the recreational players away with a sour taste in their mouths.
Acting in Turn
It seems silly to have to tell grown adults how important it is to play in turn, but it’s necessary. When you’re playing at the poker table, you need to be acting in turn. This is ALSO important when you are planning on folding. If you fold out of turn, it can force a player acting before you to do something different knowing that you are not going to be in the hand. Out of respect for the game and the other players at the table, make sure that you do everything in turn.
From a selfish standpoint, if you make a habit out of folding out of turn it can cost you money. Players will wait to see if you look like you’re going to fold before they act. If you have a hand and aren’t acting like you’re going to fold, then your opponents may fold a marginal hand because they know you’re looking to play. This should be one of the best examples of how little things that are seemingly not important could cost you a lot of money.
Let’s say you are dealt pocket aces. Imagine your opponent looks down at pocket fours and is not sure if they should play. They see that you don’t look like you’re going to fold like you normally do. They assume you are planning on playing and probably have a big hand. Instead of coming in for a raise, they elect to fold. You end up raising and only take down the blinds getting no value out of your aces. You lose out on at least one raise worth of chips because you can’t follow some basic etiquette tips.
This is going to be a short section because there is nothing that is up for debate. If you’ve ever watched poker in the movies, you know that every now and then people will splash the pot. This is when instead of pushing their chips into the middle they throw them into the middle, so they splash all over the place. Here’s the part that is not up for debate. If you throw your chips in the middle or splash your chips, you are a moron.
It makes things impossible on the dealer, slows the game down, and is obnoxious. If you’re a good player, you should be more concerned about getting in more hands instead of doing something you think looks cool. End of story. We promise we aren’t personally annoyed by this one. Ok, maybe we are…
Making a Deal to Check it Down
You’ve all seen this situation if you’ve spent enough time around a poker table. A short stack goes all in, and two bigger stacks make the call. The bigger stacks both don’t want to bet the other off the pot and agree to check down the pot all the way to showdown. This may sound like a great idea if you’re the bigger stacks, but its 100% against the rules and 100% not fair to the short stack that is all in.
When you elect to do that, it makes their odds of surviving the hand much less. It’s also collusion. It’s two players colluding together to try and knock out another opponent. As you can probably guess, collusion is highly frowned upon. Are you not allowed to check the pot down? No, you are allowed to check it down with someone. BUT, the big difference is that you can’t agree to check the pot down. If you both check things down without saying anything, that is fine.
A lot of times you will see people just start tapping the table in a rapid manner. This is a non-verbal way of saying, “hey, we’re going to check this down.” Is this wrong, too? Well, that’s going to be up to you and your ethics. Some would say it’s still collusion while some would say that this is fine. It’s up to you. The important part is that you know that it’s not ok to verbally agree to check down a pot at any point.
Respect the Staff
This is another poker etiquette tip that we’re sad that we have to mention to grown adults. Unfortunately, based on what we’ve seen, we have to. It is extremely important that when playing at a home game or in a brick and mortar card room that you treat the staff with respect. Let’s talk about the selfish and unselfish reasons why this is important.
The unselfish reason that respecting the poker room staff is important is that being a good person should be something you strive for. Nobody should want to be the jerk that no one likes to be around. Seriously people, we are all grown adults. We shouldn’t have to tell you that being kind to other people is important.
The selfish reason you should respect the staff is that it’s very hard to make money playing poker if you aren’t even allowed in the same room as the poker tables. What? Let’s explain. If you’re rude to the dealers, rude to the cashiers, or rude to the staff, you’ll be given a ticket to leave the poker room so fast your head will spin. Many of our friends run poker rooms all across the world, and they laugh at how many people they kick out of the poker room on a daily basis.
You are not special. You do not have special privileges that allow you to treat the poker room staff like garbage. They have no issues throwing you out whether you’re a low roller or a high roller. Remember, the rake is not that much more at the higher stakes. They aren’t going to lose a ton of money or bat an eyebrow if they have to throw you out.
Please, just be a good person and treat the staff with respect. You’re going to have a much more fun and profitable experience if you just treat the staff with respect.
One of the biggest questions that a lot of newer players have is who you should tip, how much you should tip them, and when you should tip. While tipping is never mandatory, it is customary in several situations when you’re playing poker live. Let’s take a look at each tipping situation you might encounter in the poker room.
A chip runner is someone in the poker room who will run and purchase chips for you while you’re sitting at the table. Sometimes you’ll be able to buy chips directly from the dealer, but sometimes you’ll have to use a chip runner if you need to reload after losing some chips. It is customary to tip the chip runner a few bucks for their efforts. Anywhere from $1-$5 is plenty for each time the chip runner has to run and get you more chips.
Some people might argue that $1 is too little of a tip for this, but you have to remember at which point in the game you usually are using a chip runner. If it’s when you first sit down, we might elect to tip on the higher side of this range. If it’s when we’re reloading, though, we’re getting more chips because we just lost all of our money. It’s hard to motivate yourself to tip a bunch of money when you most likely just lost a huge pot. This is completely up to you, though. And, if you feel like tipping more, please don’t let us stop you.
When you win a pot in live poker, it is customary to tip the dealer. The standard is usually $1 per pot you win. If you win a bigger pot, you can throw the dealer a few more bucks if you’d like. This is not necessary, though. If you tip $1 per pot you win, every dealer will be happy.
Now there is an exception to this rule of thumb. If you just steal the blinds pre-flop, a lot of people will say that a tip is not necessary. Personally, we agree with this. In our opinion, you should only be tipping if the pot goes to a flop. Some poker rooms will take a rake from pre-flop pots (while some have a no-flop, no-drop policy). If you are playing in a $1/$2 game and you steal the blinds, you’d think you are going to profit $3. But, if the poker room takes $1 and then you give the dealer $1, you’re giving away 2/3 of your profit.
Again, tipping is never mandatory, but it is expected and customary. We have talked to many dealers who will start dealing slower if the table isn’t tipping them. Yes, this is passive aggressive, but it happens. The dealers are paid at a rate that assumes they will be getting tips as well.
Whether you should tip or not and how much are two things that are highly debated within the poker world. What we’re going to do is present you with several different schools of thought and let you pick which you think is correct. We will tell you which we like more and which we like less, but ultimately the decision is going to be up to you.
First, you need to be aware that a lot of poker tournaments have started taking out additional money to give to the dealers and staff anyways. You’ll see the buy-in listed as the money that is going to the prize pool plus the money going to the house fee and then you may see an additional note of a few bucks going to the staff. In our opinion, when the tournament is doing this, they are already taking money out for a tip. If you’d like to tip still in these scenarios, go for it! But, the tournament is already taking out additional money for the staff that you have already paid with your entry fee.
What about when the tournament is not taking out this additional money for the staff and dealers? Well, this is where it gets trickier. The widely accepted thought amongst professional players is 1-5% depending on the size of the win. The bigger the win, the smaller the percentage that you give as a tip. If it’s a really small friendly tournament at your local card room, you can certainly tip more than this. We’re referring to bigger tournaments.
On the other side of the coin, some people feel that it’s the poker room’s job to pay their employees appropriately and that the players should not be responsible for tipping the staff. We’re not going to say whether this is right or wrong. The decisions will ultimately be up to you. If you feel like tipping, that’s great. The staff will be grateful. If you don’t think you should tip, no one is going to say anything to you, and you have that right.
Some people like to throw a few bucks to the cashiers when they cash out after a poker session. From our experience, this is not customary, but a handful of people do tip in this situation. If you don’t tip when you cash out, no one is going to bat an eye. But, if you do feel like throwing a bone towards the cashiers, that’s totally acceptable.
Some players like to give them the “ones.” For example, if they cash out for $242, they will tip the cashiers $2. If they cash out for $434, they’ll tip the cashier’s $4. Again, this is not necessary and is completely up to you.
A lot of card rooms in the world will give you free beverages while you’re playing. If this is the case, it is customary to tip for each drink that the waiter or waitress brings to you. The standard across the board here is $1 per drink. You are always free to tip more, but $1 a drink will keep the waiter or waitress happy.
If you don’t tip, don’t be surprised if the service slows down for you. The waiters and waitresses may start accidentally forgetting your drink or being very slow to get yours out to you. Again, this is passive aggressive, but it happens a ton. Also, if you have some sort of special request that requires the waiter or waitress to go out of their way, throw them an extra dollar or a few. Tipping is designed to reward the person serving you for making your experience better. If they do that, reward them.
Sigh…it hurts that we have to have a section fully dedicated to hygiene. If you’re going to be playing live poker anywhere around other people, please do us all a favor and respect basic hygiene. What does this mean? Take a shower. Wear deodorant. Don’t drown yourself in cologne or perfume. What do all of these tips have in common? They are common courtesies.
We shouldn’t have to beg you to have some respect for everyone else in the poker room. No recreational player is going to stick around in the game if they have to sit next to someone who smells terrible. We understand that some people sweat more than others. This is fine. But, if this is you, then you need to make sure that you do all that you can to compensate for this.
A lot of the information we’ve presented here may seem like common sense. It’s important to realize that we didn’t add anything to this list that we haven’t seen people mess up on a regular basis. Simple and common sense mistakes can sometimes have drastic consequences.
The best thing that you can do is commit these etiquette tips to memory and make sure that every time you play, you follow through with them. Eventually, they will become second nature, and you won’t have to think about them at all. You have enough to worry about at the poker table anyway; why would you complicate things and possibly cost yourself money?