Stepping into the arena of live poker introduces a set of etiquette guidelines that you should follow at all times.
The unwritten rules of poker etiquette can sometimes overlap with the written rules of the game. Some live poker rooms specifically outline some of the rules on the following list.
If you abide by the following “10 Unwritten Rules of Poker Etiquette” wherever you play poker, you’ll always be in good standing with your fellow players, dealers, and poker room management.
Rule #1: Avoid Angle Shooting
Perhaps the most unethical move in a poker game, an angle shoot can take many forms. Any move that aims to intentionally deceive other poker players by breaking the rules of the game can count as an angle shoot.
Whether it breaks an official poker room house rule, or an unwritten etiquette rule, angle shooting is universally frowned upon in the game. A player that attempts an angle shoot is generally trying to gain an unfair advantage at the poker table.
A few examples of angle shooting could include:
- Acting out of turn
- Hiding large denomination chips
- String betting
- Pump fake betting
- Verbally declaring an action, then claiming you didn’t
While bluffing and deception are big parts of the game, both written poker rules and unwritten etiquette rules define angle shooting as an unacceptable tactic.
Rule #2: Don’t String Bet
String betting can fall under the category of angle shooting, but many players string bet without even knowing that they’re doing it. While experienced players generally know better, a first-time player to the poker table might string bet without any awareness that the move is illegal in almost any poker room.
When making a bet in a live poker game, you must push the entire bet forward in one motion. For example, let’s say you’re playing in a $2/$5 No-Limit Texas Hold’em cash game at the Lodge, look down at pocket aces, and want to open-raise to $25 preflop.
To legally make a $25 bet or raise, you must push $25 in chips forward, all in one motion. Grabbing five $5 chips and putting them over the betting line at the same time would constitute a legal bet.
If you take one $5 chip, put it over the betting line, then grab four more $5 chips and push those forward a couple of seconds later, that counts as a string bet. The dealer would declare that only the first $5 chip counts, and therefore your attempted $25 raise counts as a $5 call.
Be aware of the betting line rules at a casino poker room or card club before you play. Some rooms strictly enforce the betting line, and only chips that completely clear the line count as part of your bet.
Rule #3: Don’t Slow Roll
Slow rolling isn’t technically against the official rules at a poker room, but it’s one of the most egregious breaches of poker etiquette.
A slow roll happens when a player that holds the nuts, or a hand that’s certainly the winning hand, takes a deliberately long time to turn their hand face up at showdown. Slow rolling is often performed as a show of taunting, and can infuriate even the most seasoned of players.
For example, let’s say you have 4♠ 4♦ on a 4♥ 8♦ 8♣ A♠ 7♠ board, and make an all-in on the river. Your opponent takes several minutes to make a decision before finally calling.
Much to your surprise, your opponent reveals 8♥ 8♠ as their hole cards, and your full house is no good against the opponent’s quad eights. Your villainous foe had no reason to tank for several minutes while holding the nuts in that spot, and you’ve unfortunately been coolered and slow rolled in the same hand.
Rule #4: Pay Attention
Live poker games play out much slower than their online counterparts. An average full-ring live cash game sees 25-30 hands per hour dealt.
That pace can slow to a crawl, however, if one or more players at the table isn’t paying attention. Phones, tablets, earbuds, and extraneous conversations are often the culprits when a player isn’t paying attention.
Whether you’re in Las Vegas, Austin, or any other live poker hotspot, you’ll encounter the oblivious, time-wasting poker player at the table fairly often. The action will get around to these players, and they’ll be deeply invested in a text message, video on their mobile device, or other activity that has nothing to do with the poker table.
Patience is key in poker, but even longtime players can get frustrated with players that aren’t paying attention. Don’t be that player.
Rule #5: Don’t Hit and Run
The poker hit and run occurs when a player wins a big pot, then leaves the game shortly thereafter. While no official rule exists against the hit and run, the practice often doesn’t go over well at the poker table.
Losing most or all of your chip stack is frustrating enough. Those bad feelings are compounded, however, when your opponent quickly gets up and leaves, giving you no opportunity to win back your money.
If you win a massive pot, try to stick around for a while after the hand if possible.
Some players actively engage in a strategy known as “ratholing”,” which involves building up a large stack, leaving the game, then re-entering the game with just the minimum buy-in. Most poker rooms set a minimum time that a player has to be away from a table before they can buy back in for a different amount than they cash out.
Both hitting and running and ratholing are considered unethical in poker. If you do need to leave shortly after winning a big pot, it doesn’t hurt to explain that to your opponents.
Rule #6: Act in a Timely Manner
There are times and places where you need to take a couple of minutes to think over a big decision in poker. When a big pot is on the line, or you’re in a big spot in the late stages of a poker tournament, there’s nothing wrong with taking a reasonable amount of time to think about your next move.
In general, however, you should act in a timely manner when the action is on you at the poker table. This unwritten rule of poker etiquette goes along with some of the other rules on this list, namely the “Pay Attention” and “Don’t Slowroll” rules.
At most poker rooms, all players at the table have the option of “calling the clock” on a player that’s tanking for an excessive amount of time. Players can call the clock whether they’re involved in a hand or not.
It’s perfectly fine to take a minute or two to make a big decision, or to feign weakness when you have a strong hand and want to lure your opponent into a trap. There are limits to how long you should tank, however, and in small pots tanking won’t go over well with the rest of the table.
Live poker cash games don’t usually include a “shot clock” or a time bank, as you might see in an online poker cash game. While you theoretically can take as much time as you want to make a decision, you’ll want to follow good poker etiquette and act in a timely manner in most poker hands.
Rule #7: Clearly Display Your Large Denomination Chips
This unwritten poker etiquette rule is also a written rule enforced in almost all poker rooms.
In almost any poker room, you must place your largest-denomination chips at either the front of your chip stack, or on top of the stack. This rule should be followed at home games, card clubs, casinos, or anywhere else that hosts a poker game.
The rule comes down to common sense – if you can’t clearly see an opponent’s biggest chips, you can’t know how much you’re playing for when you’re battling that opponent.
For example, let’s say you’re in a $1/$3 NLHE cash game at the Lodge, and you’re sitting on $1000 in chips. You have $500 in $5 chips, $300 in $25 chips, and $200 in $100 chips.
The $100 and $25 chips need to be clearly visible to all other players. You can’t hide those chips behind your $5 chips.
When in doubt about another player’s stack, always ask for a count and ask if the player has any big chips you can’t see. In regards to your own stack, always put your large-denomination chips on full display.
Rule #8: Don’t Berate the Dealer or Other Players
Sometimes an opponent will turn over the best hand with questionable hole cards, or a dealer will put out a river card that deals you an improbable and painful bad beat.
Berating the dealer or other players doesn’t solve anything, however.
Remember, the dealer is administering a random deal, and has no influence on what cards go where. Dealers will also occasionally make mistakes, but it’s important to go about your interactions with dealers respectfully.
In poker, you’ll lose hands to players that take lines that you wouldn’t. Even if you think your opponent played badly, you shouldn’t berate them for their strategy.
If all of your opponents played perfect strategy, poker would be an impossible game to win.
Rule #9: Don’t Tell Bad Beat Stories
We’ve all been one-outed, lost with 97 percent equity on the flop, or had our souls crushed with an unlikely bad beat in a big spot.
Your good friends, especially the ones that play poker, understand how it goes in this one-of-a-kind game. If you need to tell a bad beat story, they’ll probably put up with it.
Your fellow poker players at the Lodge, however, don’t want to hear your bad beat story.
Rule #10: Don’t Talk About the Hand While it’s Going On
Your words can influence the action in a hand. Let’s say the opponent to your left folds preflop in a $1/$3 game, and you open raise from the cutoff with A♠ T♥.
Three spades hit on the flop, and your neighbor to the left slams the table, saying “I would have flopped a flush!”
Now you know (if you believe this player) that your chance of picking up a fourth spade on the turn or river is reduced because your neighbor folded two spades.
You’ll see players talk about hands as they’re going on, and some players will commentate during big pots when they’re not even involved. Don’t be one of those commentators.
If you’re heads-up in a hand, and you or your opponent is facing their final decision, it might be ok to engage in speech play. Even that is a slippery slope though, and it’s best to not talk about hands while they’re playing out.