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How to Begin a Session — Epilogue

Know the rules: Part II

by Barry Tanenbaum |  Published: Feb 01, 2011


In my last column, I started a new thought regarding beginning a session. Specifically, if you visit a new cardroom, you need to understand the rules. Never assume that the rules you are used to playing with are the ones that the new place uses.
The column then listed some of the more important issues and rules to understand:
• What is a bet?
• How many raises are allowed?
• Posting rules
• Seat/table changes
• Does money stay in the pot?
• Any special promotions?
I discussed the first two points in depth. I will now conclude this series by looking at the remainder of these topics.
Posting rules: This is fairly straightforward. Are you required to post to get a hand? If so, what are your options? Can you wait for the big blind to pass without penalty, or will that require you to post an extra blind? Can you post between the small blind and the button if you care to do so (with the button passing you, of course)?
In many games, you do not need to post, but can be dealt in right away. Nevertheless, you may have rights. Can you decline to be dealt in until the button passes, or must you take a hand even if you are just a couple away from the big blind? Oftentimes, the dealer will not take the time to explain any options, and will just shoot you cards if you are sitting at the table and have chips. You need to speak up if you want to delay being dealt in.
It’s also worth exploring posting options when you miss a blind. Can you buy the button (post a big and small blind to the left of the button and receive the button on the next hand)? A number of players who do not understand or recognize this option elect to post both blinds after the button, which cannot be as advantageous as buying the button.
Seat/table changes: The rules about this issue differ in almost every cardroom. Let’s say that you have been playing for a while and want to change seats. In some places, you just wait until the seat you want opens up and then hope to be the first person to shout that you want it. In others, you can ask the dealer for it, and hope that he tells subsequent dealers until the seat opens. Still other places have seat-change buttons that you must request, or a seat-change list to which you physically have to add your name. Just waiting for a seat to open may deprive you of any chance to get it.
Table changes are somewhat more uniform, but you still need to understand the rules. Do you need to bring all of your chips over during a table change? In fact, in some no-limit games, you are barred from bringing over more than a maximum buy-in. Is there some minimum that you need to have in order to make a table change? I have seen people with short stacks change tables, only to be told that they must have the game minimum at the new table. They sometimes do not have the extra money, can’t go back to the old table where their seat has been taken, and are shut out of the game.
Must you post after a table change, or does it depend on whether or not the change was voluntary (did you request it or was it the result of playing in a must-move game)?
Does money stay in the pot? This is somewhat less important, because it arises only if you or someone else makes a mistake. There is a raise and a reraise. You do not notice the reraise and call two bets. Now, you find out that it’s three bets to you. Can you take your two bets back? Rules vary, and it helps to know them, especially if you play no-limit and may have bet a considerable amount before you learned it was insufficient.
It would be nice if you could always pay perfect attention at all times, but mistakes do happen.
Any special promotions? I am guilty of not paying enough attention to this, partially because I am accustomed to playing in places that do not offer promotions, and partially because I am a purist and do not believe in them.
But promotions exist, and ignoring them is completely foolish. If there is a high-hand award, you need to know to turn your hand over if everyone else folds and you have a qualifier. If there is a bad-beat jackpot, you need to know what it entails, so that you do not fold when you have made a good read that you are beat when you hold a qualifying hand, or just toss it into the muck when you see a better hand exposed.
By the way, asking when you happen to hold what you believe may be a qualifying hand is often too late. Many places with bad-beat jackpots also have a rule that any discussion of the jackpot during a qualifying hand invalidates the award. If you hold A-A and the flop is A-10-10, and an opponent moves all in for a huge stack after you have four-bet, so you cleverly suspect that you may be losing to 10-10, asking if aces full of tens qualifies for the jackpot automatically disqualifies you from it. In some places, this could involve tens of thousands of dollars, so it really helps to understand the rules.
Another promotion that’s prevalent in low-limit games is something like “Aces cracked wins a rack.” If you hold A-A, happen to lose the pot (sometimes of a minimum size), and show your rockets, you are awarded a rack of chips. Knowing this rule can keep you from tossing your aces away when you realize during the hand that you are beat.
Knowing that this rule exists is important even if you never get aces. Because it does not hurt to lose with aces, many of your opponents will avoid raising with them, hoping to invite you to beat them so that they can win the rack. Realizing this will help when you have a hand like Q-Q and raise a few limpers, continue betting, and end up being shown aces by a player who never made an aggressive move. I am not suggesting that you slow-play your queens, but you need to be aware of the possibilities.
Conclusion: It is hard enough when you walk into a strange cardroom to get oriented at all — learning where the games are, how to sign up, and how to get chips. But not knowing the basic rules of that cardroom can also cost you dearly. Take the time to ask a floorman about a couple of specific ones, and if there are any unusual ones that he can help you with. It is your money at risk, so it always helps to know the house rules. ♠

Barry Tanenbaum is the author of Advanced Limit Hold’em Strategy, and collaborator on Limit Hold’em: Winning Short-Handed Strategies. Barry offers private lessons tailored to the individual student. Please see his website,, or write to him at