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Copyright 2005 MSNBC.com
September 16, 2005
Seven Rules of Poker Etiquette
Ceri Jones of PokerFan.com
How to handle yourself in the club room, online,
in the casino
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 very bad etiquette for everyone to stampede
to the cashier’s cage 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
inane 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
An even sillier comment seen online is, “That’s _______
for ya!” (Insert your favorite 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?”
I’m not talking about a little good old-fashioned needling
here. I’m talking about actual ribs. It 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 poker joint 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. This is similar to Worm
imploring a couple of Russian fellows to, “Stop speaking
Sputnik!” in the movie Rounders.
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 most of 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 mandatory, and actively encouraged,
in the poker clubs. Needling your opponent was an integral part
of the club atmosphere as well.
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. The
casinos in Vegas are becoming more and more like resorts, and
it is expected that everyone’s behavior should reflect that.
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, with its Sharpies and Sprinkler Dances,
folks. 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. Don’t go off half-cocked
like Matusow did against Raymer in the 2004 Big Event, that’s
for sure. Sort of fitting that Raymer would go on to win the whole
thing that year.
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 all of these unofficial rules in mind the next time you
play poker. A pleasant playing environment for everyone involved
is good for the game — but man, I miss the club days!
Ceri Jones is writing a book entitled, “Poker Joints and
Pawn Shops: Scams, Tells and Bad Beat Stories.” He contributes
articles in his Poker column at PokerFan.com.
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