10 Unwritten Laws of Poker

Posted on: June 16, 2020

“Manners maketh man.” — William Horman 

Life is made up of rules, both written and unwritten, meant to help us become better people and to live better lives. The same goes with poker. Whether or not it is something you wish to get into seriously, it is best to keep in mind and practice poker etiquette. If you like playing in the casino, follow casino poker rules and etiquette.  

They are not Biblical. You will not be condemned if you don’t follow them. But you might be that player no one else likes to play with, and so you won’t get invited to as many games as you would like. If you enjoy socializing but do not follow poker etiquette, you might be that player others would rather not be friends with.  

You might get left out from the poker world you wish to be part of. So be a good human being and follow poker etiquette. They may be “unwritten,” but their effects around the poker table are palpable. If you play poker not just for the fun and thrill but for the actual stakes or your bottomline, then following them may increase your chances of winning. 

Ready? Here we go: 

Do not angle shoot 

Tadas Peckaitis (professional poker player, author, and coach) defines angle shooting as “when a player makes an intentional and unethical move to take advantage of less experienced players, or a situation at the table.” 

He refers to it as a gray area because it is not exactly cheating, but it is not exactly right either.  

Angle shooting can be done in many ways. Among the most common are: 

  • Hiding your high-value chips to make it look like you have a shorter stack 
  • Acting like you’re about to call by moving your chips to the middle 
  • Acting out of turn on purpose 
  • Taking a peek at another player’s hole cards 
  • Saying you have the nuts when you really don’t to force the other player to muck  

Do not slow roll 

Slow rolling it when — at a showdown — you know you have the best hand but do not show it to the other player, manipulating them into thinking they are going to win. This is deliberate and shows that you take pleasure in giving others a hard time.  

But if the other player is doing it, then you can give him a taste of his own medicine. Then again, how they behave does not have anything to do with you. How you respond to their behavior has everything to do with you. Take the high road. 

Do not waste time 

It may not be easy to make decisions from one move to another when the stakes are high, but don’t take too much time especially when you know you are going to fold. You need to respect the time (and possible winnings) of the other players at the table. 

Do not make a habit of calling the clock 

This means asking the floorman to limit the time of another playing who is making a decision. That may be acceptable if you have observed that the player is wasting time on purpose. But don’t be the one to stoop low and abuse it for your own benefit. 

Do not act out of turn 

Patience is a virtue, and being patient is also a way of being polite and courteous. Declare your move only when it’s your turn. Doing so means you give other players information. It could, in turn, spoil the whole hand. This may be considered rude. 

Do not allow distractions at the table 

Constantly checking your phone (or worse, chatting) while playing poker could mean you miss something and act out of turn or miss what is being said. Pay attention. Do not disturb the other players who are paying attention. If you do not want to win, let them. 

Do not show your cards 

This may especially be tempting if you are playing with a friend or a poker acquaintance who already folded. They might accidentally give your hand away or think you are asking for advice, which is against the rules of poker (as with giving advice). 

Do not forget to extend respect — to the other players and the dealer 

Play poker in the spirit of friendly fun with the possibility of winning big. No need for trash talking or psychological manipulation. Focus on your mental game and strategy. Respect the dealer, too. Remember they are doing their job which is not always easy. 

Do not splash the pot 

We see this often in movies: players sitting around a poker table and one tosses his chips into the pot. Why be dramatic when you can calmly push your chips into the pot neatly instead? Splashing the pot might give the dealer a harder time to count your bet. This could lead to a misunderstanding if any of the other bets are also miscounted. 

Oh, and show your most valuable chips. Hiding them is misleading. 

Do not whine about bad beats 

With poker, as with life, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Sometimes, the losses come one after another before you suddenly get a lucky hand. Hence the expression, “Play the cards you are dealt with.” 

Whining or being loud about an upsetting bad beat is childish and may distract other tables that are playing. It may seem like you are calling attention to yourself, which is a recipe for getting judged as a bad sport. Know what you are signed up for. 

These are just some pointers in poker etiquette. It’s basically about common sense and our innate sense of values like: 

  • Modesty (don’t gloat when you win big) 
  • Courtesy (don’t talk when you’re not in the hand) 
  • Humility (don’t be a know-it-all and teach others how to play just because they do it differently from you) 
  • Sensitivity (don’t play, win, and run if you win big — especially cash — in the first round) 

In any aspect of life, it always feels like to be liked, accepted, welcomed, and wanted. So don’t be a war freak, be a gracious winner, be a more gracious loser, pay attention, be respectful, and play fair.   

Be sharp, strategic, even shrewd, but play fair. Do not cross the line and trade your class and manners for a chance at winning that is not even guaranteed.  

What’s guaranteed is that you will have more games to play, with the same circle of players, with new players, and with players who actually look up to you.  

Oh, and please do not forget to practice proper hygiene. Smelling bad might be the worst distraction you could ever give all the players at the table.