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Poker Etiquette: Know the Unwritten Rules of the Felt

I have a computer science degree, and enjoy motorcycles, whiskey, and poker. (And not necessarily in that order.)

Etiquette rules the felt just like the real written rules.

Etiquette rules the felt just like the real written rules.

Poker Has Unwritten Rules

When you sit down to play any game, you expect that everyone knows the rules, pace, and mechanics of gameplay. But, there are always unwritten rules that when compromised, detract from the gameplay, enjoyment, and overall experience of the game. Breaking these rules can get you penalized, kicked out of the game, or worse, can start an argument or even a fight. (I've seen it all.)

So, just like driving, learning these rules of the felt will help make a game more enjoyable for everyone.

Basic Gameplay Breaches

  • Calling Hands: In the middle of a hand, it's not uncommon for someone to make a comment about the board. "Rainbow", "Paired it up", "Dead Man's Hand". All of these things may be true, but it may also clue in a clueless player, which could cause them to change their action. Maybe they were about to fold, but suddenly realize that they have trips or a flush draw. When you're not in the hand, stay quiet, and if you're in the hand, it is never in your best interest to give your opponent a reason to second guess his action. At the end of the hand, if a player doesn't reveal his hand, and you state what he has, this is a flagrant no-no as well. Perhaps he was about to fold, and you changed his mind.
  • Mucked Cards: Cards that are mucked, stay mucked. After the flop, don't reach into the pile and grab your cards, show them to people next to you, etc. You folded for a reason, so just keep it quiet. You can cry crocodile tears after the showdown, but until then, don't move, don't talk, don't anything. There's a hand, and you're not in it.
  • Showing Down: At the end of a hand, there is a show-down. if you got called, then simply turn over your hand. Don't ask what the other player has, don't stall, just turn them over or else muck them immediately. Sitting there waiting for you to acknowledge that your bluff didn't work (although the rest of us already knew) is unappreciated by all other players.
  • Slow Rolling: At a showdown, when you have the nuts, the unbeatable best hand, then just turn over your cards. Even if you called the poor donkey that just raised with 3rd pair, just put him out of his misery.
  • Hit & Run: A Hit & Run is when a player makes an exceptionally large score, maybe 2/3 of their stack or more, and then they immediately stand up an leave. This is very common on the internet, but doing it live isn't going to help you make any friends at the table. And, with a home game, it's a sure-fire way to not get invited back. Some houses have a 30-minute rule, of which you must announce your departure 30 minutes prior to leaving. Especially at a home game, where there aren't 100 other players ready to fill the table, doing a Hit & Run not only loses a player, but also the money worth playing for on the table.

Problematic Poker Players

1. Gadgets

Everyone at a table now has a mobile phone, a tablet, or some other new fangled widget. Talking on the phone while you're in the hand could get your hand folded. Other places won't deal you a hand. Either way, talking on the phone will upset someone at the table, and you'll find yourself in a sticky situation.

The worst act of gadget abuse was a guy with a tablet, and he spent the better part of the night playing sound effects in relation to the hand. It was totally obnoxious.

Playing music through crappy little speakers is a no-no as well. Get some headphones. Speaking of headphones, take those damn things off and pay attention to the game! There's nothing more annoying then everyone saying "Check" and Headphone Harry is too busy pumping up the jam to know it is his turn.

My favorite is when a jackhole is wearing sunglasses and mis-reads the board for a flush... that he doesn't have. Feel free to make that mistake every time. By the way, your sunglasses are really ugly.

2. Language

We all get frustrated, but a little decorum goes a long way. Some casinos, including home games, will boot you for dropping an F-bomb, so mind your P's & Q's. A little colorful metaphors never hurt, but everything in moderation.

3. Loud Talking

Loud talking isn't appreciated anywhere, and the poker table is no different. One of the problems presented by headphones are that the wearers often talk more loudly than needed. Or, as one section starts to have a sidebar conversation, and another starts their own sidebar, and another guy is talking to a railbird, the two poor slobs left in the hand can't hear themselves think. When you're not in a hand, it's ok to talk quietly, but continue to mind the action.

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4. Time Wasting "It's Your Turn!"

If you hear this more than a couple times in 4 hours, then you're a poker speed bump. If you're fiddling with a gadget, watching TV, sleeping, or just a putz that can't pay attention, then just know that everyone hates playing with you, and they can't wait for you to donk off your cash and leave... and you always do, because you can't pay attention.

5. Time Wasting "Tough Laydown"

Poker players always want to pretend like they're deciding whether or not to launch missiles to start a thermonuclear war. I've never understood the guy that has to have the 'incredibly long decision' on EVERY hand. And then folding with a speech to make it worse.

6. Time Wasting—Story Telling

Everyone loves to tell a good bad-beat story, but nobody wants to listen. You never have your facts straights, and the story just drones on endlessly. Also, nobody cares about your brush with fame, success, or a large aquatic species. But, if you must drop an anecdote, then do so quickly and succinctly, and at a respectable volume. (Storytelling is often the cause of loud talking.) If it is your turn to act or to deal, and you start to tell a story, then expect everyone at the table to scream at you to "STFU and act."

7. Hygiene—"You stink!"

"You stink" should refer to your play, and not your shoes, feet, fungus, armpits, or half a bottle of perfume/cologne. When going to play poker, one should imagine that they're going to an office, and dress and smell appropriately. Brush your teeth, wear deodorant, and some clean socks wouldn't hurt either. And if you're at the final table of a WPT or WSOP tournament, then feel free to wear a suit, or something fancy. But, don't wear your "Lucky jersey" that you haven't washed for 14 years. Nobody sitting next to you deserves to smell that. Further, as we saw in the WSOP a few years ago, a player was given a penalty for refusing to remove the smelly garment.

I'll group smoking and farting into this category, as I find it totally repulsive when a player comes back from smoking, and smells like they still have it. It's in their clothes, hair, hat, pants, and fingers, which makes me nearly gag. I understand that you have a nasty habit, but don't complain when I lean away from you and rip-off a nice sauerkraut bomb. Gas warfare comes in many forms, so if you're going to stick it up, allow me to give you back a little something special.

Controversial Play


Chris from Virginia on December 01, 2013:

I don't know if no headphones would be part of unspoken rules. There's always at least one person with headphones when I sit at a table and I've never had an issue with them not being able to keep up.

Definitely not a fan of people fighting over who needs to flip their cards at a showdown though, haha. What do you got? No, I called you, what do you got? Just show me! No, you show me! That's annoying...

Kevin W from Texas on May 31, 2013:

Interesting hub ClarkSteveB, I am an avid poker player and never had anything like this happen. I don't know if I just always play with people who know the game, play with different people all the time, but I thought most of them for the most part are just common sense. Thumbs up on your hub though.

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