The Ultimate Guide to Poker Etiquette & the Unwritten Rules of Poker

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Poker etiquette, just like any social setting, involves unwritten rules that players should follow while they are at the poker table.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, etiquette is “the conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life.”

Should you not follow these rules, you may find yourself in a precarious situation either in the poker room or, potentially, in the parking lot.

Obviously, you’ll want to follow all the poker dos and don’ts and we’re here to help you adhere to poker etiquette as best you can.

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Image: WSOP

1. Don’t Angle Shoot

Angle shooting is just about the most disgusting thing you can do at a poker table.

Angle shooting, by definition, is the act of making unethical, intentionally deceptive tactics, especially against inexperienced players, in order to gain an advantage. This usually happens at an important moment in a cash game or tournament.

While angle shooting may not be explicitly in the rules, some versions of angle shooting actually require illegal actions, like acting out of turn.

If you’re purposefully found angle-shooting, especially as a repeat offender, some stern poker floorman may consider your hand dead or ban you from the facility.

Classic examples of angle shooting include:

  • Hiding higher denomination chips.
  • Explicitly claiming you have a specific hand (like a full house) when you don’t.
  • Pump-faking your chips to elicit a visible reaction from your opponent.
  • Using a larger sized chip “accidentally” on purpose, claiming you wanted to bet a smaller amount.
  • Trying to see your opponent’s cards.
  • Intentionally acting out of turn in order to make your opponent act differently.
  • Saying “raise” and only putting in calling chips.
  • Claiming you win at showdown before tabling your cards with a losing hand.
  • Any other act to intentionally trick an opponent in an unethical manner.

2. Don’t Slow Roll

Unless you’re playing a game that explicitly encourages slow rolling, never ever slow roll. You may end up in the desert 25 miles away from the Las Vegas strip.

It’s virtually the most unethical act you can do at a poker and is guaranteed to get yourself on your opponent’s bad list.

Slow rolling comes in two main forms:

  • When the hand goes to showdown and you take a long time to table the winning hand after your opponent has already tabled their hand.
  • When your opponent has gone all in and you take your time to call with the nuts.

In essence, it’s best to just table your hand quickly in both of these situations.

3. Don’t Intentionally Waste Time

While (in my opinion) there should be time banks at every tournament, there are several tournament series around the world that still do not use time banks.

While there are some stall tactics that are mathematically advantageous on the bubble in tournament situations, taking your sweet time every hand that doesn’t require tanking is simply rude and unnecessary.

If you’re playing in a cash game, it also hurts everyone’s bottom line as everyone plays fewer hands per hour, which will often lead to fewer big blinds won per hour.

If you’re a cash game grinder, this hurts your bottom line.

The poker room will also be upset with you as you are lowering their rake earned per hour.

4. Don’t Hit and Run

This one is more up for debate in the poker world but the general consensus is that hitting and running is not kosher.

A hit and run is when you leave immediately after winning a huge pot in a cash game.

While you are free to do so and it’s within your rights, it’s common courtesy to at least play another orbit to give players the opportunity to win their chips back.

At the very least, fold out for another orbit to give your opponents the idea that you intended to let them play for their money.

To hit and run shortly after arriving at a table is extremely against poker etiquette. If you do this at a home game, you’re just about guaranteed to never get another invite back.

5. Don’t Splash the Pot

When betting or calling, don’t splash the pot.

This is when some of your chips go into the pot before the dealer has had the opportunity to verify that you’ve put in the correct number.

Allow the dealer to take care of business and put the chips in the pot so the game can run as quickly and smoothly as possible.

6. Don’t String Bet

A string bet is when you, illegally, divide your bet into multiple components.

An old-school verbal string bet would be saying: “I call… and raise you…” while a visible string bet is when you take multiple actions to complete your bet.

This can include, but is not limited to, dropping your chips one-by-one, tossing your chips multiple times, or pushing in your chips using multiple motions.

Instead, use one smooth motion to place all chips in front of you or simply verbalize your bet before placing chips in front of you.

When you verbalize your bet, the bet is binding, and you can then use multiple motions to put out your bet.

7. Raise Correctly

In most card rooms, placing a single chip of any denomination in front of you signifies a call.

This is a common mistake, especially amongst recreational poker players. Doing so on purpose and then claiming that you meant to raise is an angle shoot.

When you raise, you also need to make sure that you are at least doubling the size of the previous bet.

For example, if the blinds are 1,000/2,000, and a player has open-raised to 5,000, the minimum raise size is 8,000.

While many players incorrectly assume the minimum raise size is 10,000, it is 8,000 because the initial raiser made a 3,000-chip raise from 2,000 to 5,000.

You cannot say raise and then change your mind and say you meant to call. This is also defined as an angle shoot.

8. Don’t Show Your Cards to Anyone

You are not allowed to show your cards to anyone in the middle of a hand.

This includes players that are not involved in the hand and people that may not be playing in that game.

When folding your cards, make sure that they remain face down and low to the table to ensure that nobody else sees them.

An exposed card can convey information to the other players still involved in the hand and affect the action. Keep your cards to yourself until the hand is over.

9. Keep Your Chips Organized

In addition to not hiding your higher-denomination chips, you need to have your chips in a well-organized manner in order to allow everyone at your table, and potentially the media, to know where you stand.

It’s within everyone’s rights. You should keep your chips in stacks of either 10 or 20, or as high as they’ll go if it’s under 20. Keep your largest denomination chips out in front in clear view.

Don’t have a “dirty stack” either, where chips of multiple denominations are blended together in an unorganized manner.

This can also be where one chip of a different denomination is accidentally mixed in with a full stack of other chips. The dealer or the floorman will advise you to fix your stack.

It is kosher to have all your chips of several denominations in one stack if they are organized efficiently from top to bottom or vice versa.

10. Don’t Call the Clock Unless it’s Necessary

Calling the clock on another player, especially if it’s done rather quickly, is very much frowned upon.

Calling the clock on anyone is almost sure to ruffle some feathers, so only do so with caution and after it’s been what the majority of the table will agree is an unreasonable amount of time.

Absolutely do not call the clock when there is a big decision being made, especially if it’s for someone’s tournament life or their full stack, even if it’s been several minutes.

It’s best to let someone else take the heat but most players will allow someone to take five minutes or more if it’s a very serious moment deep in a tournament.

11. Pay Attention to the Action

Not only will paying attention to what’s going on at the table benefit your own game, it will also speed up play.

Know what the dealer is telling you and the table, so if you want to listen to music, you should do so with either just one earbud or you should be quick to remove one whenever the dealer has something to say.

You’ll be in good graces at the table and you won’t have to worry about accidentally acting out of turn.

12. Keep Quiet During the Hand

It’s totally fine to talk to an opponent or your friends during early stages of tournament play or if it’s a lively atmosphere.

But when it starts to get serious when there’s big money on the line or if there’s a big hand brewing at the table, it’s a good idea to keep your mouth shut and allow those involved to think clearly.

It’s especially important to not talk about the active hand in any capacity, including what you think players have or what you had.

You can convey information to other players, even if you don’t think you are.

13. Respect Dealers, Tournament Staff, and Opponents

Tournament staff and, especially dealers, often work long, thankless hours and are all prone to making the occasional mistake.

Everyone is human and it’s important to remember that. If there’s an error, politely explain what occurred and assure them that you are pointing it out only to keep the game fair.

It’s never the dealer’s fault that you lose and being rude to them or the tournament staff will never, ever do anything that will result in your favor.

It also makes the game very uncomfortable for others and most times just kills the vibe. Not to mention that it could also result in penalties, disqualification, and/or being banned from the poker room.

Respecting your opponents comes with the same grain of salt. Don’t try to tell others how they should have played a hand unless they explicitly ask away from the table, if they’re already out of the game or the tournament.

Even if everyone knows a player made a big mistake, it’s best not to highlight it or make fun of them. Everyone is playing in their own way and it’s better for everyone’s bottom line to keep a worse player’s money at the table.

In my opinion, there should be more consequences for rude players, especially when it comes to berating dealers, staff members, and women in poker.

Of all the plagues in the game, there is almost nothing worse than rude players and cheats.

14. Don’t Complain About Bad Beats

Bad luck happens in poker. You just have to deal with it in your own, healthy way.

Go complain to your friends and family but keep it away from the table.

Everyone has heard every story in the book, especially professional players, who will almost certainly tune out and give you nothing more than a “yeah, that’s crazy” afterwards. You’ll also lose their respect.

Not only that, you’re giving away that you are not 100% mentally on your A-game (also known as tilting) and better players can use that to their advantage.

You need to learn to take these punches on the chin and move on with your life.

15. Don’t Go Overboard Celebrating

It’s one thing when you have just won a huge tournament to go nuts, though you should give your heads-up opponent respect afterwards.

If you win a huge pot, it’s okay to have a quick celebration, there’s nothing wrong with being emotional at the table.

But keep it to a minimum and reserve your celebrations for huge moments, otherwise you will be extremely annoying to everyone in the poker room and people will think of you as being disrespectful.

16. Tip Your Dealers

If you’re playing a cash game, know that the dealers are usually depending on your tips as a source of income.

There are some exceptions to this, where players are required to tip based on time (normally every 30 or 60 minutes).

What I usually do, which dealers really appreciate, is tell the dealers when I sit down that I’m going to tip the same amount every time I win a post-flop hand no matter what.

What other players do is tip every time they rake in a pot, usually either a flat amount or based on how large the pot is.

Either way, don’t be cheap and not tip your dealers, they’re working hard and there wouldn’t be a game without them.

Conclusion

Now you know the basics of poker etiquette, which mostly come down to common sense.

Our unwritten rules apply mostly to live games but should still be considered when playing at online poker sites where you should always be respectful to your opponents even if you can’t see them.

In poker, reputation is just about everything and keeping a strong reputation will allow you to go much further in the poker world.

Adhering to poker etiquette means you don’t give away any information at the table, while everyone around you will have a better time.

Be a good person and it will all come around.

Blaise Bourgeois
Poker and Gambling Expert
Blaise Bourgeois
Poker and Gambling Expert

Blaise is an Expert Gambling Writer and a professional poker player in Brazil. He has played and traveled throughout Latin America for the last four-and-a-half years and recently won his first WSOP Circuit ring! He received his Master's in Sport Management and Sports Analytics from St. John's University. Blaise also holds a Mathematics and Computer Science degree from SUNY Purchase, where he still holds the school's Men's Soccer record for goals in a season. Blaise has worked for Catena Media, OddsSeeker, WSOP, PokerNews, and Poker.Org in various capacities. He has a passion for extensive research and aims to provide accurate…