Popular culture has painted a fairly misleading picture of what really happens at the poker table. Be it at home with a bunch of friends or on a crowded casino floor, it’s not quite as it looks on TV.
Consequently, those who decide to get into poker for the first time may have questions or concerns regarding the basic etiquette of the game. Should you attempt to emulate the behaviour of those you’ve seen playing poker in the movies, or conduct yourself with quiet decorum throughout?
The answer…well, it depends entirely on who you’re playing against.
In some instances, you’ll find yourself at a poker table where stern silence is the order of the day throughout. Elsewhere, you’ll be playing against the kinds of drunken hooligans who really don’t care what you do.
Either way, there’s much to be said for a certain degree of common courtesy at the poker table. If playing poker on a regular basis is something you plan to do, knowing how to conduct yourself accordingly is important.
As for the good news – none of what follows is particularly taxing. It’s simply a case of doing what’s needed to avoid rubbing others up the wrong way, which isn’t too much to ask.
Here’s a brief five-point guide to the art of common courtesy at the poker table:
1. Keep Your Paraphernalia Controlled and Compact
First up, there’s nothing more annoying than an amateurish or arrogant player who thinks they own the table. Along with slouching in their chair and wearing an unbearably smug smirk, they also spread their cards, chips and everything else out all over the place. For one reason or another, they feel they’re the right to occupy 40% of the table, leaving the other five people to share the remaining 60%.
It’s a mark of courtesy and professionalism to keep all of your bits and pieces tidy, ensuring you occupy a compact space directly in front of you. And while you’re at it, under no circumstances should anything else be placed on the table. Mobile phones, car keys, snacks, cigarettes – all unpleasant and unnecessary distractions to keep out of sight.
2. Don’t Allow Yourself to Become Distracted
This ties in with the above, as it’s no less than infuriating to play against somebody who doesn’t want to be there. Or at least, is only dedicating a small amount of their attention to the game, with the rest being diverted elsewhere. You’ll come across players like this all the time – those who answer calls at the table, those who spend the whole game sending and receiving text messages etc.
Technically speaking, a distracted player who isn’t focusing on the game could be a sitting duck. If they’re not giving the game their full attention, they could be prime for bleeding of their bankroll. Still, it doesn’t make for an immersive, engaging or enjoyable experience, when you get the impression someone at the table would rather be somewhere else.
3. If You Don’t Have Something Nice to Say…
Talking smack at the poker table is pretty much the norm in the movies and on TV. It’s the preferred approach for those looking to get under the skin of their fellow players, in order to invoke an emotional response and force them to make bold decisions. And it’s something that can work, but should really be avoided at all costs when playing poker in the real world.
Truth is, talking smack at a real-life poker table is something that could earn you a real smack in the mouth. It’s just not something that takes place at a civilised poker table and will NOT work in your favour. Best case scenario, you’ll be labelled as a moron and never invited back. Worst case scenario, you’ll rub someone up the wrong way, get the brunt of the blame when they lose and find yourself in a world of pain for your efforts.
If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all!
4. Patience is a Virtue
On one side of the spectrum, you have the gracious and courteous poker player, who accepts that we all had to start somewhere. When playing against noobs, they’re happy to take their time, provide helpful advice and tolerate mistakes when they occur. On the opposite end, you have those who sigh, grimace and act like the world’s ending when playing against a newcomer.
No prizes for guessing which of the two is the preferred individual to encounter at the poker table. The thing is, patience is one of the most important qualities you can have as a gambler across the board. Impatience, impulsiveness and a short temper are recipes for disaster. Which basically means that if you’re unable to conduct yourself appropriately with amateurs at the table, poker might not be the game for you.
5. Demonstrate Humility and Good Humour
Last but not least, common courtesy at the poker table often begins and ends with humility. In a nutshell, this means ensuring you conduct yourself with the same decorum, whatever the outcome may be. Of course, you’re there to win, and you’re well within your rights to be happy when you do. Likewise, nobody is going to criticise you for being well and truly bummed out, if you lose your entire stack.
But in both instances, it’s the way you conduct yourself in these kinds of scenarios that makes all the difference. Winning is great, but try not to rub it in the faces of those around you have just lost. Avoid the temptation to be smug and self-satisfied, or at least hide the fact that that is how you are feeling. In the same vein, don’t throw the toys out of the pram and have a major tantrum when you lose. Laugh it off, consider why it happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Humility and good humour hold the key to an enjoyable gambling experience – both for you and for everyone else around you.