Poker Etiquette

With the explosion of poker tournaments on television, a novice player may get the wrong impression of what constitutes acceptable behavior at the poker table. These unofficial rules apply to both traditional cardrooms and online sites.

Don’t run to the wicket

As your principal taught you in grade school walk, don’t run. It is considered bad form to stampede to the wicket when the live one goes broke. At least let the fellow leave the cardroom first with some semblance of dignity. In winter, the guy might be going out to warm up his car, so designate a lookout to see if he has indeed left the building.

Online, a similar concept occurs when a fish goes busted. All at once players can’t hit the “auto-post” button to the off position fast enough. This sudden quitting is probably not as big a deal online as there are multitudes of players in cyberspace. However, it still makes you look like a “nit,” to borrow Daniel Negreanu’s term.

Don’t heckle the dealers

The dealers have a tough enough job to begin with. They have to deal with drunks, keep the game flowing, and listen to a lot of garbage from the players. It isn’t the dealer’s fault that it came runner-runner for you to lose a monster pot. Most casinos have automatic shufflers now anyway, so blame the shuffle machine.

An even sillier comment seen online is, “That’s _______ for ya!” (Insert your favourite online site). Years ago there was a flaw with the random number generator utilized by a couple of sites, but that problem has been fixed. One site now uses the “random background thermal noise on a zener diode” for its algorithm - I’m no quantum physicist, but that even sounds sexy. I doubt any hacker will crack that one soon.

Don’t give lessons at the table

When you start talking about having “15 outs,” or “betting for value,” some players at the table may not have a clue what you are talking about. It is in your best interest as a player to keep these opponents in the dark. After repeated free lessons like that, heaven forbid they go out and buy a book or two. Don’t let your ego get the better of you by announcing to the world how poker savvy you are.

One of the best investments I ever made was buying “Fast Teddy” breakfast after an all night session broke up. I was a cocky kid at the time, but Teddy had been around for years. He left me to ponder this pearl, “You want these guys to smarten up so they take your money?”

No ribbing

It kind of amazes me that casinos even have ribs on the menu. You know, those greasy little morsels of fat that are perfect for daubing cards. Chicken wings are just as bad too; I’m always wary when a player always seems to order the BBQ wings, and never orders a bowl of soup.

Also, you might want to keep your eye on a player who has long pointed fingernails and claims that he is a classical guitarist. The fact that he’s wearing a Hooters shirt underneath his plaid jacket may be a hint that this guy is nicking the cards with those nails. Ask him to spell “Feliciano” and you might get the answer you are looking for.

English only at the table

This may seem as if it has ethnically biased overtones, but there are a couple of good reasons for enforcing this rule. If you sit down at an online table and two players are talking Danish to each other, there is a chance that you will be the “meat in the sandwich,” so to speak.

I remember there was a short-lived club in town located in the back of a Greek restaurant. Although I’ve picked up some Greek over the years (many, many words beginning with M and ending with an A), I wouldn’t exactly call myself fluent in the language.

Anyway, at this club not only were you allowed to speak Greek, conversing in Greek was allowed during a hand! I’ll pass on a game like that, thank you very much.

Be a courteous loser

Watch the old-timers. They have taken so many bad beats and been on the receiving end of some good luck that it doesn’t faze them either way anymore. Just as it is a major blunder to hit a cut-shot straight in billiards, it’s a major faux pas to swear in a casino. I recall playing at the Bellagio and swore under my breath after losing a hand. I thought it was barely audible, but the dealer quietly said, “Don’t do that again sir, or you will be asked to leave.”

On a couple of fronts I was shocked by the chastisement, but I did give the dealer the male-cranial-downward-nod as a non-verbal sign that I’d heard what he’d said. On one front, to be called “sir” is extremely rare in the pawnbroking trade, and secondly swearing was almost mandatory in the poker clubs.

But it makes sense for the casinos to put in a zero tolerance policy when it comes to salty language. The casinos want a pleasant environment for their players, and staff for that matter.

And, if you have just been knocked out of a tournament, at least shake the winner’s hand and leave with a courteous, “Good luck all” with truly as little sarcasm as possible.

Be a gracious winner

In my opinion, this is where television has had a negative influence on poker. I know there are millions of dollars up for grabs in the big tourneys, but watching guys pumping their fists and diving into the crowd after a winning a hand is a bad example of how to act at the table.

This isn’t the NFL – do the Canadian hockey player thing, put the puck in the net and keep the celebrations to a minimum. This may be easy for me to say, as I’ve never been at the final table of a WSOP event, but be gracious when you win another player’s checks.

Certainly don’t do what I did one time in an Omaha split game at a club: I bet on the end, and the guy looked at his hand for a while and called. I showed my cards; he looked some more and finally threw his hand away. Curiosity got the better of me and I asked to see the dude’s cards (we didn’t have a rule that a hand was automatically dead when it was thrown away).

It turned out he had a better flush than me (my ace wasn’t suited with my bicycle), so I’d effectively just given him half of the pot. I never did that again – point being, just take the money, be happy and don’t needle the other guy by asking to see his hand.

So keep these unofficial rules in mind the next time you play poker. Your game might just become a little better because of them. Now go get ‘em!

Ceri Jones is a pawnbroker, poker player, and part-time fashion consultant.