Tipping Your Opponents

I’ve always been generous with poker dealers. Life has been generous with me; it feels right to share that with the people who make it possible for me to play the game I love in a public setting.

Furthermore, if you’ve never been a professional poker dealer, you might not have given thought to what a tough job it is. You simply deal the top card off the deck to all the players, but then a bunch of them will blame you for their luck. More frustratingly, they will blame you for their lack of poker skill. You’re not even allowed to say, “Well, if you hadn’t limped with pocket kings, maybe the hand would have turned out better.”

Anyway, it’s not an easy gig, but it makes live poker as we know it possible, and I’m more than happy to share a dollar or two out of a pot with the person who facilitates all that joy.

And while I’m here, I’d like to remind you to tip the food servers, cocktail waitresses, and chip runners. At least in the United States, they get most of their income from tips. I’m not saying this is a good way of compensating them, but it is the way they get compensated, and that’s not likely to change soon. Again, without these people we wouldn’t be able to have live poker the way we want it. When we’re splashing around in $50, $100, and $500 pots, surely we can pass over a couple of $1 chips (or even a $5 chip!) to say thank you to the person who brings us coffee or a hamburger.

All of which brings me to the point of this whole essay. While we’re sharing a little financial joy with the employees, how about tossing some chips to your fellow players at the table?

“Wait, what? The whole point is to take chips from the other players.”

Well, yes and no. There are two seemingly contradictory dynamics in play. Indeed, we are trying to take each other’s chips. But simultaneously, we are sharing a poker game together, not to mention invaluable minutes and hours of our lives, which we’ll never get back. It’s only sensible to be friendly, gracious, and generous (in a social way) with our fellow players.

And there we all sit with a stack of tokens that are perfect for expressing gratitude. I love tossing chips to fellow players when there’s a reason to do so.

A couple of years ago, I was sitting in a perfectly good $2/$5 NLHE game somewhere in the American southeast. They were trying to get a PLO game going, and had 10-12 people sign up. The floorman got on the P.A. and called down the list of names. Then he did it again. The table stayed empty. It became clear that nobody wanted to be the first person to leave their NLHE table, lest they arrive, the PLO game not start, and then they’d be locked out of their NLHE game. Finally the floorman announced, “In one minute, if there aren’t six people at the PLO table, I’m opening another $1/$3 NLHE game there.”

Guy across from me at the table mused, “It’s Schrödinger’s PLO game; it is both a PLO game, and not a PLO game.”* Bam! One of my $1 chips landed in front of him. He looked over at me, smiled, and said, “Finally, somebody who appreciates my humor.”

Then he did the coolest thing: he tapped the chip on his stack—an international gesture among poker players meaning, “I acknowledge you,”—then tossed the chip to the dealer. Now I was happy, he was happy, and the dealer was happy; all for the price of one American dollar.

Furthermore, you’re allowed to tip dealers for above and beyond service to the table. It was in the same venue; we were at the flop and the first person to act slid out a single $25 chip to bet. The dealer, a middle-aged woman, reached out, tossed the chip in the air and caught it, dropped it back on the felt, and in a lovely voice sang, “Here’s a quarter; call someone who cares.”

I couldn’t get a $5 chip to her fast enough. The woman sitting next to me saw what I’d done. “You’re right, that’s better than any line they have at the comedy club here.” And sent her own nickel to the dealer.

Friends, if you make a habit of this sort of thing, people will be finding all manner of excuses to toss gratitude chips to their fellow players and the dealers. Next thing you know, there will be smiles and laughter at the poker table, and for a while, that little corner of the cardroom and the world will be a slightly better place.

You know, to save my soul I couldn’t tell you whether I won during those two sessions I just told you about. May have won a rack or lost a rack, really have no idea. But the “Schrödinger” and “Quarter” incidents are both engraved in my heart and I smile every time I think of them.

Try it next time you’re at the casino, then drop me a note and let me know how much fun it was.

  • If you’re not sure why this line is hysterical, look up “Schrödinger’s Cat.”

** If you’re not sure why this line is hysterical, look up “Travis Tritt quarter.”

Lee Jones has been in the poker industry for over 30 years. He writes at the Global Poker blog, plays poker every chance he gets, and coaches poker. You can contact him at www.leejones.com.