Poker is sometimes called the thinking man's game, with a heavy reliance on player interaction and strategy, it is one of the few games at the casino that relies more on skill than luck. The rules are simple enough and can take anywhere from a few days, to a few months before you gain a real understanding of how to play. While the standard rules are easy enough to discover, there are some unwritten rules and protocols that you may not know.
It seems that every poker game has at least one player who makes a fool of themselves or acts like a jerk, attracting the ire of everyone around them. A lot of the time, it's unintentional, but that doesn't diminish the hatred. If you want to avoid being that person, read on and find out the unwritten rules and etiquette of poker.
THE START OF THE GAME
All poker games start the same way, the dealer chip and blinds are assigned, and the first hand is dealt. Even during these early stages, there are a few unwritten rules and basic poker etiquette you should follow to avoid unintentionally making enemies at the poker tables.
CHIPPING UP, THEN WALKING OUT
Unless expressly stated in the rules for a live ring game, nothing is stopping you from sitting down for one hand, chipping up, then walking out, taking all your profits and a chunk of the money off the table. While it’s not technically against the rules, it is a major dick move; imagine if the table has 1000 worth of chips spread among six players, then one person wins 800 of it and leaves after one hand.
This is considered poor poker etiquette because you’re not giving anyone else a chance to win their money back. A general rule of thumb in a ring game, especially if it’s a private game, is to announce at the start if you’re planning to leave prematurely, outline exactly how long you can play and make sure everyone is aware. The same goes for if you’re planning to leave, let everyone know half an hour before you're going.
Short stacking is a legitimate tactic, rather than buying in for the regular amount, you only ask for half. Having a short stack means that you have less room to make plays at the poker table, you're either going all-in or folding. This kind of aggression is expected in the later stages of a tournament, but in a casual ring game, the tactic is likely to make you enemies.
You might be perfectly happy to risk all your money on one hand, but most people won’t, especially if the game has only just started. It's not against the rules to buy as a short stack, but just be aware you may find everyone at the table gets very annoyed, especially if you do it repeatedly.
PAY ATTENTION & ACT SWIFTLY
There is nothing more frustrating than someone who talks non-stop at the table, then doesn't post their blind, or slows the game because they were too busy talking to notice it was their turn to act. This always goes the same way; the offending player laughs awkwardly, carefully counts out the chips for the blind, looks at their cards, then acts. Meanwhile, everyone else is silently hating on them for holding the game up.
You might be able to get away with this once, but after slowing the game down a few times, expect some unkind words to come your way. Poker is a social game, but the rate of hands being dealt is already very low, and if the table is full, then there isn't any excuse for not having your play already planned out. Nobody wants to wait while you make a food order or try to flag down a server for a drink, play poker first, everything else comes second.
Other players can call for a timer on a particular person if they are a repeat offender, but they shouldn't have to, everybody should take responsibility for their actions and play the game. Online poker games already have a timer, and the blinds are automatically posted, so this isn't much of an issue. If you miss the hand because you're doing something else, there is no going back. You can't argue with software, well, you can, but it won’t listen.
ALWAYS ANNOUNCE YOUR ACTION
If you want to raise, say raise, if you're going to call say it. Some players get caught up in the subterfuge of trying to avoid giving away tells by signaling the dealer with complicated hand gestures. If you are a pro player with millions of dollars on the line, fair enough. For a local $100 game at the casino, just communicate as you usually would, rather than forcing the dealer and the other players to decipher your made-up hand signals that you've half-remembered from the World Series of Poker.
ACT WHEN IT’S YOUR TURN
You might have just been dealt pocket aces, and you're keen to get in the hand as quickly as possible, calm down and wait until your turn. Acting out of turn by betting or folding is considered very rude, but it can also influence the outcome of the game. When you fold out of turn, the players preceding you know there is one less person in the game, so they might decide to play a hand they would normally fold. Some casinos will make you honor your bet; even if it’s out of turn. If the preceding players start betting large amounts, and you want to fold, your chips will still stay in the middle. So, take a breath, and wait your turn.
DON'T CHANGE SEATS AND TABLES MORE THAN ONCE
At some point, you may decide you’ve had enough of the players at a particular table; maybe there’s one person who is breaking some of these poker etiquettes, this is fine, if done sparingly. Changing tables after one hand because you're searching for a table with weaker players is an action that will not only frustrate other people at the table, but the casino as well. The same goes for changing seats; if done once, for a good reason, most people will be willing to accommodate you. But if you are asking every few minutes so you can get an advantage over the other players, expect everyone's patience to wear thin very quickly. Disrupting games so that you can try and find weaker players is likely to gain you more enemies than friends.
In an online environment, this doesn't matter as much. Some players will float around the virtual tables and even play multiple games at once. Changing tables online is far less intrusive, and doesn't affect other players too much, so go nuts.
DURING THE GAME
Once the game has started, there’s a whole different set of unwritten rules and poker etiquette to be aware of. Many of these also apply to online poker as well, and sound suspiciously like common sense, and that's because they are. If in doubt, just ask yourself if your action will affect other players, or slow the game down, if the answer is yes, then don't do it.
CONSTANTLY GOING ALL-IN, JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN AFFORD TO KEEP BUYING BACK IN
Betting on the cards is a fundamental part of poker, but believe it or not, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. Going all-in on every hand and ignoring all strategy just because you can afford to buy back in indefinitely isn't technically against the rules, but it's very annoying for other players who are trying to play properly. Some people love players with more money than common sense and will actively invite them to the table to try and cash up.
However, keep in mind the worst poker player in the world can beat the best if they go to the river every single time. Like short stacking, it removes all strategy from the game. If you have lots of money and are happy to lose thousands of dollars, good for you, but don't flaunt your money around like a jerk. Continually going all-in on garbage hands might be a bit of fun for you, but it reduces the enjoyment of the other players who aren't keen to risk their hard-earned stack on every hand.
APOLOGIZING OR OFFERING ADVICE
Winning a big hand is a great feeling, but it can also conjure up feelings of guilt, especially if you got lucky in the river. Apologizing or offering advice after winning a big hand might seem like the right thing to do, but it's really not. Tensions and emotions are running high and consoling someone while you're stacking their chips with a sly smile on your face is a sure-fire way to make them hate every fiber of your being. Worse is trying to instruct them how to play better next time; it comes off as very condescending. The best thing to do is leave the player alone and shake their hand as a sign of respect if you've just knocked them out of the game.
TELLING EVERYONE ABOUT YOUR PERSONAL PROBLEMS
Nobody cares about your political beliefs, religious ideals, or if you're having a bad day. Unless someone specifically asks you, or you know them, don't use the other players at the table as a way to air your problems. Nobody cares, and while some of the more caring people at the table might feign interest for a little while, ultimately, you're just going to make yourself a pariah. People come to the casino to play poker; not hear somebody they don't know whine about their partner leaving them. This also applies to online poker, don't fill the chat box with long messages about your personal life, it's simply weird to unload all of your issues on strangers.
GLOATING OR BERATING OTHER PLAYERS
This one sounds obvious but it’s worrying how many people need to be told this. If you win a big hand or lose one that you think you should have won. Don’t start talking smack. Don’t be that person, the one who tries to start a fight by insulting, antagonizing, or otherwise just being a general pest. There is such a thing as being a bad winner as well, just because you’ve won a hand, doesn’t give you the right to laugh at the losing player. This includes singing, dancing or anything resembling an NFL touchdown celebration.
The same goes for online; it’s a little different because keyboard warriors think they can get away with whatever they want. However, once you get a reputation as a jerk, other players might start logging off as soon as they see your username join the table. Celebrating while playing online is fine, provided you aren’t typing in the chat box. In the comfort of your own home where no one can see you, celebrate however you want, sing, dance, give your dog a high five or whatever you're into.
TALKING ABOUT A HAND IN PROGRESS
Once you fold, that's it; you're out of the hand, so don't ruin it for everyone still playing. Don't talk about what cards you had, if you would have hit, or even if you've seen a similar hand play out before. Keep quiet until the hand is over; it's as simple as that. This is even more important online because everyone can see the chat box flashing on their screen. It’s a lot harder to ignore table talk when it's flashing in your face.
ASKING TO SEE ANOTHER PLAYER’S HAND
This is a progression of the previous etiquette tip, once you're about to fold, don't show your cards to other people, don't flip them over, don't tell others what you had. Just put the cards face down and slide them to the dealer. The same goes for asking someone else about their mucked cards, it's very rude and can also affect play, which, as previously stated, should be avoided. This also applies online.
SLOW ROLLING, AND WHY IT'S THE WORST
Not to be confused with slow playing, which is a deceptive strategy where you bet low or passively even though you have highest ranked cards on the table. Slow rolling is similar but has one distinction that makes the action unacceptable.
When the game reaches a showdown, it’s a tense moment, especially if there are a few all-ins. A slow roll is when you know you have the best hand on the table, but still pretend to be unsure. Faking someone out and making them think they might have the best hand when there is no tactical advantage not only stalls the game, but it’s a seriously nasty move.
KEEP YOUR CARDS AND CHIPS ON THE TABLE
It can be tempting to take your cards off the table so nobody can see what you've got, especially if you're new and haven't figured out the best way to check your cards, but you really shouldn't. Most casinos will chastise you for it, but it might also cause confusion, the dealer sends cards to chip stacks, and if he sees your stack without any cards, he might think it was a misdeal, or some other issue and the hand might have to be mucked. Same goes for chips; if you don't have any visible chips, it makes the dealers job much harder. Other players will also find it annoying because they don't know how big your stack is, making bet sizing that much more difficult. Make sure you keep all your chips on the table and visible for everyone to see.
BEWARE OF STRING BETS, AND SPLASHING THE POT
After you've been at the table for a few hours, it’s easy to get lazy and just start lobbing your chips into the pot, splashing the other chips around, this is seen as very rude by most players. It makes more work for the dealer as well because they will have to re-stack the pot and count again.
String bets are also frowned upon, once you've placed your chips in the middle, that's it, that's your bet. You can't then add more because you see a tell from your opponent, that's called a string bet, and while the casino might let you get away with it, other players will definitely voice their displeasure for string bets to repeat offenders.
OTHER POKER ETIQUETTE TIPS
SHOWER. NO SERIOUSLY
If you're playing online at home, do whatever you want, wear pants, or don't, who cares,? When you're playing live, it's a different story. Hygiene is important, so make sure you’ve showered before sitting down at the poker tables. It's not an occasion you have to make a lot of effort for, just don't come smelling like an old lumberjack’s boot.
DON'T TAKE PHONE CALLS AT THE TABLE
Nobody wants to listen to a complete stranger have a loud conversation on their phone. Unless you are a big shot movie star, it's a safe bet nobody cares about your life outside of the poker tables. If you are expecting an important call, keep your phone on vibrate, and excuse yourself from the table. Don't sit there talking loudly and disrupt play.
DON'T TAKE AN OVERLY LONG BREAK
You can take a break whenever you feel like it, provided you're not in a hand or one of the blinds. Take a walk, make a phone call, do whatever you need. Just be aware, unless it's an official break mandated by the casino, the game will continue without you. Usually, breaks will have a time limit of 15 minutes, but it’s best to ask the dealer first.
The absolute worst thing you can do is be away for an hour or two. Don't go have dinner, start playing another game then try to return to the game; you may find you're not welcome back. Being away means there is one less player betting, and because the seat is saved, a new person can't join. If you need to be away for a while, cash out, and come back later.
A FINAL THING TO KEEP IN MIND
Knowing all these unwritten poker rules and basic etiquette is an excellent place to get started, but as time goes on, you may discover more for yourself. If in doubt, just ask yourself if your action will negatively affect other players, or slow the game down, if the answer is yes, then don't do it. You can obviously break these rules, everyone is free to play as they wish, but if you do decide to ignore this advice, and do a few of these things, or all of them, just be aware of the consequences. It may get to a point where nobody wants to play at the same table as you, and if they receive enough complaints, the casino might even consider banning you.