Poker etiquette: 12 dos and don’ts in live play

Slow rolling, splashing the pot, string betting – these are some common mistakes to avoid in live poker, says Paul Phua

I have always preferred playing live, and more and more online players are making the transition. In the recent Paul Phua Poker School video interview with Dan Colman, we discussed some of the problems they face in terms of tells. But there is also a set of rituals and etiquette associated with live play that online players and poker novices need to be aware of. Not only does getting them wrong annoy the other players, it marks you out as a novice – easy prey!

  1. Don’t hit and run

In a cash game, you can leave whenever you want. In theory! In practice, if you do so straight after winning a very big pot, especially with a lucky hand, the other players will complain that it’s a “hit and run”. You should wait for at least an orbit.

  1. Don’t hold up the game

By all means think for a while before calling a big bet. But if you take ages over every small decision, it can be frustrating for the other players. In poker, time is money! Even worse is if you have your face buried in a laptop or mobile phone screen, and have to be prompted by the dealer every time it’s your turn to bet.

  1. Don’t go “bum-hunting”

In live cash games, you can ask to be moved away from a table where you feel you are at a disadvantage compared with other players. Equally, you can ask to be moved to a table where there are some easy “fish”. If you do that too blatantly or often, however, you may be accused of “bum-hunting”. A couple of years ago 35 pros were banned from the high-stakes poker room at the Palm Beach casino in London for poor etiquette including bum-hunting.

  1. Have a massage, eat some food – just maybe not at the same time

Long sessions can be tiring. That’s why most poker rooms offer massages while you’re sitting at the table. You can also order food at your seat, so you don’t miss any action with a meal break. That said, Victoria Coren Mitchell recently Tweeted her surprise when she saw this: “A poker player on another table is eating and having a massage at the same time. I’m tempted to hand him some nose clippers and a crossword.”

  1. Don’t talk about the hand in a multi-way pot

House rules vary on this. Some casinos apply this rule strictly; others turn a blind eye. Just be aware that you may be asked by the dealer to refrain from talking about the hand being played unless you are heads up. And it’s always wrong to do so when you yourself are not in the hand.

  1. Don’t forget to tip

It’s customary to tip the dealer when you win a good pot, and to tip the serving staff when they bring you food or drink. Exactly how much depends on how generous you are feeling and what country you are in. Watch what the regulars are doing, and follow suit.

  1. Don’t tap on the glass

When a player suffers a bad beat, they will often chastise the winner for their poor play in calling when behind. Instead, you should smile, congratulate them, and generally do everything you can to keep this “fish” happy for long enough to lose the money back again. And why do poker players say “Don’t tap on the glass?” Because, in an aquarium, tapping on the glass frightens away the fish!

  1. Beware of string bets

Different casinos in different countries all have slightly different rules. For instance, counting out the chips for your bet one by one when over the betting line is fine in most of America, but in England it’s called a “string bet” and only your first chip will count. Or a novice may throw one large chip into the middle, thinking it’s a raise, unaware that in live play any single chip counts as a call. If you’re not sure of the house rules, simply announce your raise before making it.

  1. Don’t splash the pot

When you bet, keep the chips directly in front of you. If you throw them into the middle, so that some of them “splash” the pot, it makes it hard for the dealer to work out how much you bet.

  1. Act in turn

Always wait for the action to come round to you before folding. In fact, don’t even hold your cards in an obvious folding position. This is because it helps players to know that players in late position are intending to fold, thus disadvantaging anyone who has previously acted.

  1. Be graceful when losing or winning

When you lose, don’t slam the table, swear or throw the cards at the dealer. It’s bad tactics as well as bad manners, since it tells other players you may be on tilt for the next few hands. And when you win a big pot, remember that means another player has just lost: celebrating loudly is like partying at someone else’s funeral.

  1. And above all, don’t slow roll

“Slow rolling” is when a player whose bet is called pretends at first to be caught in a bluff, and only belatedly reveals the winning hand. This may seem funny in a home game when teasing a friend, but in a casino game the whole table will line up to kick you!