Poker strategy: Etiquette

You might not be the best player at your poker table, but you can be the best behaved. Join us for a crash course in poker etiquette

Poker’s a game played by adults. We can all agree that it’s dull when it’s played in silence, with players that never show emotion, celebrate a big pot or drop the odd f-bomb when they’re outdrawn on the river. It’s also a game where you have to try and convince your opponents that you’ve got the opposite of what you’ve actually got in your hand, and it encourages speech play and mind games, reverse tells and misdirection. But how far can you go? Can you do what you want at the poker table as long as it’s within the rules?

We’re all for liberty and freedom of speech, but poker etiquette exists for a reason. It should be an enjoyable game for everyone and that means that you need to play with respect and follow the rules that aren’t necessarily strictly enforced by the floor. It makes the game better for everyone and keeps the depraved players in check. Make sure you’re not one of them with our guide to what’s acceptable and what’s not at the poker table.

Know your game

It sounds obvious but you should do your best to learn the basics of the game before you play. Other players won’t appreciate it if you constantly ask them questions, and they certainly won’t respect you if you go all-in before the flop in the first hand of a tournament with only the blinds up for grabs. There’s a flip side to this too though. Poker needs new players and they have to start somewhere if you’re playing with someone who’s never played live before, try and be patient. Help them out as much as you can and hope that they’re quick learners. No one wants to be made to look like an idiot and poker’s stressful enough when you’re starting out without some idiot making their lives a misery. Remember, you want players like this at your table. They might get lucky and take your chips, but you’re far more likely to take theirs, so why not do it with a smile on your face and a twinkle in your eyes?

If you’re the new player, don’t sit and suffer in silence. Talk to the dealer and ask if you’re not sure about anything. And concentrate. There’s nothing worse than a player who makes the same mistake over and over again. Respect works both ways.

Bricks and mortar

If you’re playing live, try and play nicely. If you’re miserable you’re likely to make everyone else at the table miserable. Don’t berate people for playing badly and don’t sit at the table with headphones on and music blaring so loud that you keep having to ask what the previous action was, or be reminded to put your blinds in. Poker’s a social game, so don’t act like a delinquent.

We don’t mind industrial language at the table – we’re all adults after all. But some people don’t like it. And no one likes a constantly volley of abusive language directed at them. If you need to swear do it with humour or do it under your breath and you might want to check your local house rules or you could face ejection.

Abusing people is obviously a no-no. And that goes double for the dealer. Yes, you just lost a $500 pot when an idiot misplayed his top pair.

Deal with it, it’s a big part of the game. If you can’t you probably need to go to anger management classes or consider give up playing. This goes for online as well. Abuse in the chatbox is a big part of online play, where people hide behind their screens saying things they’d never dare to in the real world. If someone’s abusing you, try and ignore it. If they go over the line just report them to the site.

The best poker players know that losing and getting unlucky is a big part of the game. Try to smile and congratulate people when they win a pot, no matter how they win it. Keeping your emotions in check is the right thing to do and it will actually help you become a better player.

Mum’s the word

Talking about your hand could get you in trouble as well. If you’ve folded you can’t say anything until the hand’s over. There are people still playing and anything you say could affect the action. There’s no quicker way to piss someone off at the table than talking about a hand while they’re involved in a huge pot.

If you’re in the hand then you shouldn’t talk about it if it’s multiway and even if you’re heads-up you need to be very careful what you say. If in doubt, just stay quiet or talk about the weather or what you’re having for dinner. You’re not Tony G.

Don’t be a bore

Poker’s infected with stallers. Timers exist online which give you a certain amount of time to make your action, but there’s nothing in the rule book about how long you can take when you’re playing live. Players can call the clock after a ‘reasonable’ amount of time, but no one knows what this is.

If you’ve got a big decision to make then take your time. If you’re aware you’re taking too much time an apology to the table always helps. If your opponents know you’re not a serial staller they should be sympathetic, but they might still call the clock on you. Don’t take this personally.

If, however, you’ve got 2-7 preflop and you’re stalling for whatever reason, just stop. If you want to disguise what you’re doing just take five seconds to fold every hand you’re not playing. Stalling on every hand makes the game unbearable for the other players and it’s unnecessary.

You have the right to call the clock on others and you should exercise this if people are taking too long. Be reasonable though. Don’t call the clock too quickly on someone if it’s obvious they have a big decision. And if it’s the first time they’ve tanked for a long time, cut them some slack. Daniel Negreanu gives everyone a chance and then gradually cuts down the length of time he takes to call the

Angle shooting

Okay, this is a real no-no. The line between cheating and angle shooting is really slim and you need to stay as far away from it as possible. Angle shooting means gaining an edge by taking advantage of any technicalities in the rules. And it’s dirty. Ivan Freitez might have won the 2011 EPT Grand Final and €1.5m, but he appalled the poker world by raising on the river with the nuts and saying he meant to call, citing language problems for the mistake. He did this with the effective nuts twice. The tournament director wasn’t able to do anything – what Freitez had done wasn’t actually against the rules – but he did make the table aware that it had happened before and made it very clear he was disgusted with actions of the former Venezuelan socialist revolutionary (true story!)

And there’s other things you can do at the table that are likely to make you the least popular player since Scotty Nguyen got smashed at the WSOP. Don’t slowroll anyone. If you’ve got the nuts or what is obviously the best hand, don’t take your time turning it over. Flip it and rake your chips. Don’t move your chips forward as if you’re betting and pull them back to try and get a reaction. If someone asks you how many chips you’ve got when you’ve moved all-in, don’t give them a low number if you want a call and a high number if you want them to fold. Be honest or don’t say anything at all.

The rest?

We’ll be quick with the rest. Don’t ask to see someone’s hand if they’ve mucked their cards. Don’t act out of turn at the table. Don’t hide your big denomination chips at the back of your stack and don’t hide your cards so people can’t see them and think you’ve folded. Don’t talk in a really loud voice when someone’s got a tough decision to make. Don’t destroy your cards if you get outdrawn. Don’t eat greasy food and play with your chips. If you are eating food use cutlery. Wash your hands before you leave the toilet. Talking of personal hygiene, don’t come to the table stinking to high heaven. We don’t care if they are your lucky underpants and you can’t wash them. There’s nothing worse than sitting next to someone who reeks of death. Sorry if we’re sounding like your parents – we’re nearly done.

Be humble in victory

There’s only one thing in poker worse than a bad loser, and that’s a bad winner. Yes, emotions are running high.Yes,you can look pleased. And yes, you can pump a fist into the air when you win a particularly nail- biting tournament. You can even start running around the room waving your arms around your head, before pulling your shirt over your face and sinking to your knees. So long as you’re playing online. If you’re playing in the real world and do it, don’t expect your opponent to respect you. Take the win, shake your opponent’s hand and save the celebrations until you’re away from the table. Then buy the biggest bottle of bubbly you can find, down it in one and keep at it until you wake up the next morning with a huge smile on your face.

Above all, just act with a bit of common sense. Most decent people don’t fall foul of poker etiquette because they treat others with respect. They want to win but they don’t have to trample on others to get there. If you do get pulled up on something just apologise and try not to make the same mistake again.


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