Poker and etiquette don’t often go together. A game with rich traditions of shootouts, boozing, and drugs seems beyond polite protocol. And yet there are rules of decorum generally followed at the table. I know. I broke one recently.
Now to put my lapse in etiquette judgment in perspective, I was peeved by the lack of play in a $4-$8 limit game. Anytime I had a hand, no one came along. I had pocket aces that won me all of $6, then flopped the nut flush and could not get any action. So when I looked down to see pocket kings after a pre-flop raise, I just called. Well, after an ace on the flop sealed my fate, the winner was kind enough to tell me that she would have folded her A-Q and I would have won the pot if only I had re-raised. Telling people how they should have played or what they should have done—not cool. One might even say it’s poor etiquette.
And it was not a fully accurate observation on her part. It is pretty hard to get rid of people before the flop in the low limit games with a raise and, her snarky comment set me on edge. So when I was dealt pocket queens in the big blind, I was feeling pretty good. Until it folded around to the small blind and I heard someone say, “split?” Yes, I know that is what we do at these low limit games and I had done it a number of times holding good hands and bad, but this time I simply was not in the mood. I flipped over my cards and said something to the effect of, “Not really, I was thinking of raising.” The small blind said he was going to fold anyway, the dealer pushed over his measly two dollars and I gave it to the dealer as a tip. Well, the table responded as if I had kicked a kitten. I was told no one would ever split a pot the next hand I was in, that I had apparently angered the poker gods and committed a sin that would haunt me all of my poker playing life.
The dealer, bless his heart, tried to help out. I asked him to return the $2 to the player, but the player declined. It was a mess. I had proven to be a poor sport, breaking a basic rule of the table, and I was now blackballed. Strategically, it was not even a good move on my part. You do not want to become the target at a table; you do not want to draw unnecessary attention to yourself. You certainly do not want to be that exposed, that transparent. Good rule of thumb, do not let your emotions get in the way of playing the way you want others to play. I banished myself to another table and made a promise to play nice from then on.
What other rules should you remember at a table? Do not slow roll your winner; it is just rude. If you have the winner, just flip it over. If you want to see another person’s hand, you can ask to see it. They may not like it, but it is not poor form. Unnecessary celebrations are unseemly; it is fine to be happy, but your win came at someone’s expense, so try to be mindful of that. Next, do not show your cards until the hand is over. In a similar vein, do not react to a hand you are not in—the flop would have hit you? Keep it to yourself. You may be done with that hand, but others are not and extra information from you will give some player an unfair advantage. Of course, you probably already know all of these rules. I thought I knew all the rules, but we all can slip up from time to time. So, let this be a gentle reminder before your next game. A little good sportsmanship can go a long way.