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A Little Etiquette, Part 1

by Lou Krieger

Poker has its own little rituals and unwritten rules that smooth the game, speed it up, and eliminate confusion. It’s all part of “poker etiquette,” and while this etiquette won’t do much for you if you’re invited to take tea with the queen, it will get you through a poker game without any disruptions. Understanding poker etiquette and procedures gives beginning players a lot of problems, simply because it’s all new and the game is played at a rapid pace.

 Act in turn. Each player is expected to act in turn as play proceeds clockwise around the table. If someone bets and you plan to discard your hand, wait until it is your turn to act before doing so. Acting out of turn gives your opponents a big advantage. Knowing you will fold makes it easier for an opponent to bluff, and is unfair to the rest of the players. In poker, as in most things, it’s considered polite to wait your turn.

 Keep your cards in plain sight. In order to maintain the integrity of the game, it is important for players to keep their cards on the table during the play of the hand.

 Look at your cards by shielding them with your hands while lifting a corner of each card to peek at it. In a game like Texas hold’em, where players have only two cards in front of them, it is customary to leave them on the table after looking and to place a chip on top of them. This alerts the dealer that your hand is still in play.

 Turn your hand face up at the showdown. If you’re not sure whether you have the best hand or not, turn all of your cards face up at the showdown and allow the dealer to read your hand.

 Table stakes. Casino games are always “table stakes.” You cannot add chips or money to the amount in front of you during the play of the hand. If you run out of money during a hand, you can only contest that portion of the pot that your bets cover.

 Toking. We’re not blowing smoke here, but “toking” the dealer poker parlance for tipping is customary when you win a pot. Tokes constitute a significant part of a dealer’s income. The size of the pot and the game’s betting limits generally determine the amount of the toke. If you’re new to casino poker, take your toking cue from the other players at the table.

 Going all-in. If you do not have enough to cover the bets and raises, you are said to go all-in, and are simply contesting that portion of the pot your money covers. Others who are active in the hand can still make wagers, but those bets comprise a side pot. At the hand’s conclusion, the side pot is decided first, then the main pot. You can’t win the side pot since you invested no money in it, but you can win the main pot, and you can buy more chips or put more money on the table between hands.

 Protect your hand. In a casino, unlike in many home games, you are always responsible for your hand. Toss it in the muck and it’s fouled, and cannot win. If you are unsure of whether you hold the winning hand at the showdown, turn it face up and let the dealer read your hand.

 The rule in all cardrooms is that cards speak. Dealers, however, can make mistakes. If you think yours is the best hand, turn your cards face up and announce it. Place it halfway between your chips and the pot, and hold on to it while the dealer determines the outcome.

 We’ll cover some more of poker etiquette’s finer points next time, in Part 2 of this two-part series.

 Visit Lou Krieger online at, where you can read his blog, and check out all of his books. Write directly to him at

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