Poker Etiquette

In this article, I’ll be discussing the ins and outs of poker etiquette. Having a basic working knowledge of how to behave at the tables will help you avoid any unpleasant situations that could have been easily avoided by exercising a little decorum. 


The rules of poker etiquette can seem tricky, namely owing to the fact they aren't always the same everywhere you go. If you’ve ever found yourself in an unfamiliar casino getting the stink eye for doing something that would have been perfectly permissible back home, you know what I mean. In this article I’ll be discussing the ins and outs of poker etiquette to help you avoid any unpleasant situations that could have been easily avoided by exercising a little decorum. 

The Top Tips for Perfect Poker Etiquette

First, the best thing to do if you are unsure of a venue’s rules or procedures is to ask dealer or floor staff. 

Next, let’s talk about proper poker etiquette for 3 of the most common situations:

You’re asked how many chips you have. Your only responsibility is to make your chips clearly visible. This means if a player asks you how much you have, you don't have to tell them - though you certainly can if you're so inclined.  It is perfectly acceptable to invite them to count for themselves. If your opponent simply cannot see very well, the dealer is allowed to count your chips for him, so don't roll off the rails if this happens.

You’re table talking in a multi-way pot. In serious games (i.e. not purely recreational games at your buddy's house), it is generally not permissible to engage in table talk. Even if this is not an outright rule, it is considered exceptionally bad form. The reason for this most likely comes down to the fact that table talk gives the player who is not talking an unfair advantage, since they can freeroll off the information you may be collecting from an opponent. It also belies information about yourself. This particular bit of poker etiquette could also stem from a desire to stop collusion between players who could be trying to team play an unsuspecting an opponent by exchanging information via coded table talk. I myself don't see the harm in it in certain games, but if you want to be safe (and I want you to be safe), keep the table talk for heads up - and even then stick to non-poker related topics, like cars, weekend plans, the weather, etc.

You want to open up about a folded handWhen it comes to poker etiquette, this is a BIG no-no. Do NOT reveal the contents of your hand once you've folded. Don't even allude to the merits of your hand. Even non-verbal communication, like sighing, tossing down your hand emphatically, snorting, whatever - can have a major impact on how the other players play their hands. Don't even talk about your hand to other players who have folded. Wait for the action to play out and then you can talk about your hand all you want. Until then, zip it. 

Things You Shouldn't Do, but Are Technically Allowed to Do...

Slowrolling. Slowrolling is when you take an unnecessarily long time to turn over a winning hand. Your intention may be just to drag out the suspense a bit, but you look like an ass. Throw that sucker down and move on. Slowrolling can also refer to taking a long time to call all-in with a sure winning hand in a heads up situation. (If you have the nuts, but there are still people left to act after you, you may want to act like you have a tough decision to make to bleed their stacks a little more. This is bluffing, and it is fair game.)

Here’s the thing: slowrolling gives your opponent a false sense of hope, and then guts them when they realize they're screwed. Keep in mind, I've noticed that slowrolling is part and parcel of the game in certain cultures, so while it is frowned upon in Western culture, don't take it too hard if you're slowrolled while playing elsewhere. 

Angleshooting. Some old school road gamblers are into this, but it is definitely poor poker etiquette. Angleshooting is essentially doing something that is borderline within the rules to give yourself an edge at the expense of someone else (e.g. acting out of turn). It will give you an advantage in the short term by giving you an (unfair) advantage in the particular confrontation, but it is bad for your long term expectation since you won't be invited back to the game or win you any friends – and as I’ll discuss in a bit, you don’t want the other players to loathe you. 

Killing the Sweat. This is probably the least frowned upon of all the legal but taboo moves. If someone is all-in and you've folded one or more of their outs, keep it to yourself. Don't ruin the fun. Let them keep that excitement and hope. Killing the sweat is the ultimate party pooper.

To talk or not to talk, that is the question... 

As you've doubtlessly noticed, a lot of the poker etiquette I've been discussing has to do with talking. It's important to make a crucial distinction here: while there are definitely things you shouldn't be bantering about, this doesn't mean you shouldn't talk. In fact, I like to change it up. Sometimes I'll be the life of the party, other times I'll keep to myself and just play. It depends on what I'm trying to achieve at that particular table. 

When deciding what's right for you, your main consideration should be whether you are more likely to extract information or betray information. Great players like Daniel Negreanu and Antonio Esfandiari are so comfortable in the game that they can chat away without belying any information about their hand. In fact, their friendliness and ease can draw other players into the conversation and these players might divulge some valuable information about their hands. If you're naturally an animated, outgoing person, then you can certainly chat it up (as long as you keep to the approved subject matter). If, however, you are naturally more reserved, don't let even the most charming Negreanru's of the world entice you in to a conversation if you're more comfortable staying relatively silent. There is no rule in poker that you have to chat. Phil Hellmuth and Phil Ivey, for example, say very little at the table. There's no formula to table chit chat that will ensure your success. It simply depends on your personality and your comfort level. A comfortable player is a courteous player - and that's what poker etiquette is really all about. So ask yourself if talking makes are you more likely to gain an advantage or give one away. This should be the determining factor in your level of gamesmanship.

Now, let's talk about being polite when you’re outside of a hand. The benefits include:

  • Your opponents who are more of the gambling types will be more likely to give you small, and seemingly insignificant action, like a peel pre-flop or more peels on the flop with a bottom pair. You should welcome every bit of extra cash you can get.
  • Your opponents are more likely to respect your big bets and less likely to bust you out of the game. If you’re nice, they will want to keep you around. They aren't going to make it their mission to knock you out, and trust me, if you're enough of a jerk, they will want you out of there as soon as possible. Sure, they may not go out their way to do it, but they certainly aren't going to show you an iota of mercy.
  • If you're playing in a private game, you're more likely to be invited back.
  • Your opponents are more likely to be comfortable around you and share their thought process. Understanding how your opponents think can help you win against them, and this is like money in the bank.
  • You will have more fun when you’re liked. You don't have to be the table captain or the life of the party, but you should at least be nice. 

The one universal key to good poker etiquette really boils down to one principle: you should be polite and you should be yourself. 

Photo Credit: Yannick Croissant | Flickr