Poker etiquette separates truly great players from the rest. Poker aficionados describe etiquette as ‘a set of unspoken rules’ that players ought to follow during their poker playing sessions as part of their poker strategy. This rather generic description of etiquette will not suffice. As a budding poker player, it's imperative to understand precisely what poker etiquette entails and how best to fine-tune your poker playing prowess so that you can conduct yourself with decorum at the poker tables. 

The suave and sophisticated James Bond is about as debonair a character as you could possibly hope to meet. His comportment at the poker table is particularly impressive in that it extols the virtues of poker etiquette. The fabulously well received film Casino Royale (2006) is a fitting tribute to the fascinating game of poker; it graciously depicts the genteel behavior expected of players at a high-class establishment.

Poker Table Etiquette

Etiquette at the poker table adds tremendous value to the game. Think of it as the mice en scene of a play, or the milieu of a fascinating story. Etiquette creates an atmosphere conducive to congeniality where all players are respectful of one another and the great game of poker in all its majesty. True to form, many novice poker players are simply interested in playing poker and winning poker pots. The rather abstract concept of poker etiquette appears difficult to grasp, but it is certainly easily understood. 

We've all heard the age-old mantra – ‘It's not about winning or losing, it's about how you play the game.’ Take some time to think about that statement. Therein lies the foundation of poker etiquette. Proud poker play dignifies games; it separates us from those who go on tilt and fail to adhere to generally accepted norms and practices in the game. When you behave with distinction, you are automatically respected by fellow poker players.

Acting respectfully towards other players is but one component of poker etiquette. When you sit down to a 6 max or 9 max game of Texas Hold'em Poker at a live venue, your behavior comes into sharp focus. The poker dealer, fellow players, and fans on the rail will be scrutinizing your every move, starting with your posture, your hand gestures, your betting behavior, your calls, your raises, your folds, your exaltations and your exasperation. Nothing goes unnoticed at the poker table, because you are dealing with people who make it a point to understand poker psychology

That's not to say that raucous behavior never occurs, or that ornery characters don't make a scene. However, all of these unwritten poker rules which we are about to reveal automatically endear you to your fans on the rail, your poker opponents, and the poker community at large.

When you’re learning how to play poker, don’t discount the importance of etiquette. Poker is a game of rules, with plenty of room for self-expression. Legendary poker players have a distinctive flair about them; they know how to work the table graciously, while retaining maximum control over their emotions and their conduct.

Poker Etiquette Examples That Every Player Should Follow

•    Behave in a genteel fashion at the poker tables – this is not as easy as it sounds, since some of us are hot tempered by our very nature. If you are extremely competitive, you may be used to ‘sledging’ your opponents at the table, otherwise known as ‘trash talking’. While this may be okay in certain competitive sports, it's probably best not to unnecessarily evoke the ire of other players.

Poker is a thinking person's game. Internalize the multi-faceted elements of the game and mentally calculate what is needed to succeed. You certainly don't want to get into a heated discussion at the table – this will detract from your ability to perform at your best. Ever heard the expression, ‘Empty barrels make the most noise’ - it's true in poker too!

•    Play with precision and clarity – this one takes time. Many novices make the mistake of simply shoving a couple of chips into the middle of the table, without anyone really understanding how many chips were placed there, or why it was done in such a willy-nilly fashion to begin with. Be neat. Stack your chips on top of one another and slide them across the felt. Announce the total that you wish to bet, and make it clear that you are going to raise.

Don't throw chips across the table – it is disrespectful and unworthy of the great game of poker. Besides, you certainly don't want your opponents to be ticked off by your conduct, since this will affect the way they treat you. Always be clear about your actions at the poker table. That's how winning is done.

•    Win or lose, hold your head up high – Ever heard the expression ‘Be humble in victory and gracious in defeat’ – it's apropos in poker too. We all go through the motions as poker players; sometimes variance will get you down and cramp your style. Sometimes you'll be on a hot streak when you're holding the nuts and everything is going your way. Throughout it all, it's important to check yourself before you wreck yourself.

You certainly don't want to tick anyone off at the poker table, because the proverbial tables always turn in poker (pun intended). It's okay to punch your fist in the air in celebration, congratulate other players for a grueling showdown, and to smile inwardly knowing that you have reaped your just rewards. Always respect your opponents – that's what humility is all about.

•    Watch the game like a hawk and stay on point – always maintain focus at the poker table. Nothing is more frustrating to other players at the table than someone who is unaware that it's their turn to act. Rather than evoking the ire of fellow players, pay attention to the game. Make sure that all your ante bets and blinds (small blind and big blind) are posted in time. Imagine your displeasure if it was your turn to act and one of your opponents mistakenly stole your thunder?

•    Apply uniform rules at the poker table – let's assume that you’re going head-to-head against a player for a monster pot. Perhaps you win the pot because the other player falls to your raise. As a result, you scooped the pot without having to show your cards.

Now, don't make the mistake of showing one of the players at the table what your hand was – even though you don't have to show anyone – you have to show all players at the table what you were holding, or none at all. Nobody benefits from knowing what you are holding anyway, since you won. It's just good sportsmanship and good etiquette to apply consistency to your poker games.

•    If you spot a problem, direct your attention to the dealer – maybe the player next to you has an annoying habit that is preventing you from focusing on your game. Rather than confronting the player, you may wish to channel your energy in a different direction.

Speak to the dealer about possibly moving to a different seat, or a different table. If the dealer is unable to assist, look for a floor person who may be able to help you. And while you're at it, you may wish to recognize and reward good service. At the end of a hand, it's polite and proper to tip the dealer. These guys and girls typically work for minimum wage and they're banking on receiving your tips.

Live Poker Etiquette

Live poker sessions are electrifying. And what better than the King of the Ring – Texas Hold’em - to get your games off to a flying start? By now, you are fully aware that there are many rules, structures, and systems in place in poker. These govern the way you conduct yourself, and the way the game is played. Think of angle shooting as a case in point. If you’re trying to create the impression that you folded your cards to try and throw other players off their game, and then jump back into the hand showing your cards, it's unethical to say the least. 

Some poker rooms may even ask you to leave if you're caught doing this. With live poker games, all of our olfactory senses come into the equation. This means that you ought to create a good and lasting first impression of yourself. Personal hygiene is a big one. Never attend a gruelling MTT, SNG, or cash game with fetid breath, no deodorant, or what others may mistake for chocolate smears. For the love of the game, put your best foot forward every time you play live poker. Play your ‘A-Game’ all the time.

As a poker player, you're going to notice lots of different types of players competing against you. Some of these will be card sharks, others will be fish. The fish feed the sharks. The last thing you want is the absence of fish in poker competitions. Sure, at times these fish will cause you to lose a few poker hands, but overall their inexperience benefits you. You can milk them to seed the pot while treating them respectfully. If you’re mean to them, they may disappear leaving you with no options. So, let the bad beat run its course and get back to your winning ways.

Like to make a splash? You may want to think twice about splashing the pot though. Betting is the defining action in poker. It's what separates this game from other strategic games you may play. If you are ready to bet, don't throw your chips into the middle of the table because you'll splash the pot.

That's not only obnoxious behavior on your part, it shows a total lack of class. Poker etiquette is about behaving properly, with decorum. So, move your chips neatly across the felt and don't splash. While you’re at it, don't interrupt the game while other players are still making the calls, raises, or all-ins. Respect the game and the players at the table.

Poker can get tedious and extremely stressful, particularly in multi-table tournaments with monster-sized pots up for grabs. If you find yourself in such a situation, you may be tempted to take up the offer of complimentary snacks and beverages, massages, and foot rubs.

If this all sounds a little over the top, it is. Rather take a five-minute breather and walk around the casino or poker room and return to your seat refreshed and ready for action. There are many instances of poker pros being booted out of casinos for all sorts of activities deemed ‘improper etiquette’ by management.

Important Tips: Protect your pocket cards at all times. Live poker games are animated affairs with lots of action taking place at the table. Players will be jostling one another, elbowing one another at times, tossing chips into the middle, and throwing cards down at a rate of knots. Be careful that your pocket cards don't get caught up in the melee because they'll be ruled dead by the dealer. If that happens, there's no recourse and you could lose the entire pot. You may wish to place a weight on your cards to prevent them from being mucked.

Here is another important tip for you: The rules of play will differ from one casino to the next, and one country to the next. If you are at a poker room, one thing you need to be aware of is string bets. Just in case you were wondering, this type of betting has different meanings in the UK and in the US.

If you are over the betting line, you can add chips one at a time. In the UK, only your first chip matters. Always ask about the house rules with betting before you sit down to a real-money poker game. The concept of a string bet becomes even more important since some casinos only allow one part of the action to be made and not the other.

For example, if it is your turn to act and you decide to call the previous player’s $1000 bet and raise that player $2000, you may only be allowed to complete the first action – not the entire string bet.

Poker Etiquette Of Leaving the Table

Everything that begins ultimately ends and leads to a new beginning in turn. Once your poker session is over and it's time to leave the table, there are rules governing how you should leave the poker table. If you must bow out of the poker competition, or simply take a ‘potty break’, do so without drawing too much attention to yourself. Nobody needs to hear about your need to relieve yourself, or your ravenous appetite for sushi and cocktails, particularly if an intense poker game is taking place right before your eyes. 

Poker etiquette while leaving the table is just as important as poker etiquette when arriving at the table. Everything should be conducted smoothly, quietly, and politely. If you've shoved all your chips into the middle and you no longer have any chips left to play, quietly excuse yourself without interrupting anyone else. You can give advance notice that you are going to leave in the next hour, perhaps even the next 10 minutes – that is considered a courtesy to other players. Another option is to simply announce that this will be your last hand before you leave the table. 

Of course, it depends on the setting – whether formal or informal. In a formal game, it is probably best to signal to the dealer that this will be your last hand. Among friends, a home poker game is much easier to administer and you can simply leave whenever you are ready to leave. One thing you should absolutely not do at a poker table is to stay just for the sake of it. If you're uncomfortable, tired, irritable, or otherwise preoccupied – don't stick around, it will annoy other players as much as it annoys you. 

As for the timing of your exit, it's probably best to leave after the dealer button has passed you. Sometimes, you will be allocated a fixed time to go and get breakfast, lunch, or dinner while a poker tournament is in play. Use this time wisely and try to stick to the timeslots they give you.

If you need extra time, be sure to take all your chips off the table and come back when you are good and ready. It is common courtesy to inform the other players at the poker room, that way you won't be rushed while you're enjoying your meal. Upon returning to the table, you may have to wait until a seat opens up for you. 

Online Poker Etiquette

With all this talk about live poker games, you may believe that online poker etiquette is unnecessary, or impossible to implement. Fortunately, there are many rules – spoken and unspoken – that apply to online poker games. Most of this takes place via chat functionality, timing, and actions. When using the chat box, avoid typing in CAPS/UPPERCASE letters. This indicates that you are angry and will certainly not go down well with other players. 

By the same token, you don't want to abuse your chat privileges by flooding the screen with commentary. Temper your excitement, anger, or confusion by limiting chat to a minimum. Never get angry with other players online and never show too much emotion in your texting. Remember, if you're on tilt, you're off your game. When it's time to act in online poker, do so responsibly and in good time. Don't use the maximum allotted time bank for your actions – try to mix things up.

About the Author

With digital marketing strategies in his blood, Louis Wheeler has traveled around the world, exploring gambling cultures and gaining experience in casino games from 2003. If you are in a casino anywhere around the planet, you may find him right next to you, playing blackjack, roulette or texas hold'em. 

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