Historically, poker has had a bad reputation for shady characters and brawls. Those days are long gone and poker is reputable game played honourably, for the most part. There will always be a few that ruin it for the rest though. To avoid violating poker etiquette online or live, we’re sharing our own top ten rules of how to behave in both poker settings.
By the end of this article you should be able to conduct yourself well anywhere when playing poker. This list is in no particular order so be to sure to comply with all of them.
1. Don’t abuse live chat
Every online poker site I’ve ever played on has the ability to chat to other players. For the most part, this is used in good spirits with players saying “nice hand” and “good game”. But there is always the opportunity to violate poker etiquette and abuse the chat feature by using foul language and insulting players repeatedly. This is less common than years ago but it does still exist on many poker sites.
Players tend to abuse live chat when they’ve been beaten or gotten unlucky. It’s an emotional response by players who can’t stay composed. If you have impulsive tendencies like that, I recommend you mute chat altogether and take a break.
2. Protect your hand at all times
Protecting your hand in live settings is an absolute must. Even if you’re not intending to take advantage of informational edges, it is in poor ethics to hide your cards. Therefore, you should always make sure your cards and big value chips are visible at all times. By disguising the fact, you are still involved in play, opponents may take an action that they otherwise wouldn’t. This is akin to cheating if done intentionally.
In addition to protecting your hand, you should also keep your high value chips at the front of your stack. This ensures others players get an idea how many chips you have. By hiding them at the back you’re intentionally hiding the fact you have more chips which can impact other players decisions. Thankfully, these aren’t issues on the best poker sites. It’s impossible to act out of turn or hide chips from view.
3. Act in turn
Following up on the previous rule, acting in turn is critical in live poker games. For the same reason as before, by acting out of turn, you’re taking away the action an opponent. If you bet out of turn, they will usually act more passively. If they are in position, you are illegally taking their advantage away. That’s why I urge readers to act when its your turn. You may get an advantage by acting out of turn but it is poor etiquette and another form of cheating.
4. Be charitable
Whilst you’re probably not in poker to make friends, there is a lot of advantages to being charitable. Building an honourable and charitable image is one as you’ll be more liked. It’s considered excellent etiquette to make charitable donations with winnings. In most places, winnings from gambling are tax free. So, it’s an unspoken matter that winning players donate to good causes from time to time.
Another form of charity is to tip dealers well. This can be in side games for cash games or when you win a tournament. There are numerous players who have been charitable with winnings e.g., Barry Greenstein.
5. Don’t take too long over decisions
In online poker you get a fixed amount of time before your hand is mucked. Timing out is annoying but its not unethical in online games. You’re only harming yourself and you can only really run the clock down once. In live games however, there isn’t a clock on each player when action is on them. In theory, a player can take as long as they want before a dealer calls the clock on them. However, it is considered bad poker etiquette to continuously take very long over decisions.
Not only is it annoying other players at the table, it slows the game down. In cash games, it might mean a player is paying more per hour for their seat. In a tournament, they’re getting fewer hands each blind level. Live poker is slow enough as it is without you taking 5 minutes over a trivial decision!
6. Avoid splashing the pot
You’ve probably seen it countless times on TV or in movies, a player throwing chips at the poker table. Whilst it may look dramatic and fun to throw chips around, its actually bad poker etiquette. Consider the dealer and how hard you’re making it for them? There are already chips in the pot and now they have to filter out yours and stack them back up again. Its something idiots do to look cool or players that are already angry. Please avoid splashing the pot as it slows the game down, irritates the other players and makes the dealers job even harder.
7. Honour swap deals
A person is only as good as their word. If you say you’re going to trade 10% with another player, honour the deal. There is nothing worse than a player who goes back on an agreement. This also extends to staking arrangements. If you have promised your backer, you will play x amount, then you must honour your word. Sadly, there are players who have welched on deals and don’t honour swap deals or staking agreements. Don’t be one of them. You’ll ruin your reputation and won’t find yourself a backer in the future.
8. Don’t talk about your hand during play
Beginners make this mistake with great regularity. They’ve folded King Eight and now the flop has come King Eight Four. They proceed to tell their neighbour at the table what they would have made. This can seem an innocent mistake but its actually very silly and harmful to other players involved. By giving away vital information about your hand, you’re ruining the hand for others. Anyone with basic understanding of maths can determine that there is one less King in the deck.
In addition to not talking about your hand during play, please also avoid giving obvious tells when you fold and would hit. I’ve seen it loads of times when a player folds, then bangs the table in anger when they clearly would have hit the flop. This is huge tell-tale sign that they have folded a strong hand that would have connected. Check out Sean Sheikan doing it below in the World Series of Poker in 2005.
9. Avoid string betting
String betting is where you repeatedly go back to chips to make your bet. This is another action that is frowned upon in the poker world. By reaching back for more chips you’re able to elicit a reaction from opponents. Another form of string betting is to drop chips over the betting line individually. Similar to splashing the pot it is an uncool way of using your poker chips.
Fortunately, most poker rooms prohibit string betting in all forms. However, there are cardrooms that seem more relaxed about it. Therefore, if you see it in real-time, please make a point of highlighting it to the card room manager or the dealer. Finally, to avoid placing a string bet yourself, I recommend you always announce your bet verbally before placing your bet (in a single motion). By doing this, you cannot string bet, even by accident.
10. Don’t hit and run
Don’t worry, this isn’t ploughing your car into opponents! A hit and run is where a player wins a big pot then immediately leaves the table. They may leave to play on another table or quit the session altogether. Either way, it’s considered poor poker etiquette as you’re eliminating the chance of your opponent winning money back.
Whilst it’s not illegal, it is pretty uncool. Consider being on the other side of a hit and run. Perhaps you have pocket kings and lose to a two outer on the river? How would you feel if your opponent instantly left after winning 200 big blinds? It’s in poor taste. If you were going to leave soon anyway, I suggest at least waiting 10 minutes or so.