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The Rules Guy: How To Conduct Yourself at the Poker Table

by Card Player News Team |  Published: May 29, 2013


Most players learn poker’s explicit rules pretty quickly: the “one-chip rule,” for example, or “verbal declarations are binding.” But not everyone seems to have digested the game’s vast book of unwritten rules, admonitions like “don’t berate other players (particularly bad ones)” or “say ‘nice hand’ even when you mean something entirely different.”

Enter “The Rules Guy.” TRG believes that civility and sportsmanship are never wrong, and that bad behavior (even when you’re simply trying to get an edge) is bad for the game. Have you got a question about how to conduct yourself at the poker table? Email TRG at

To Tip, Or Not To Tip: That is Not the Question

Dear The Rules Guy:

I’ve played poker at all kinds of stakes and I’ve worked in card rooms as a prop. I never toke anyone, not even cocktail waitresses. Why should I? Why should it be my responsibility to pay their wages? What do you think?

—Ingrate in Inglewood

Dear Ingrate,

You remind The Rules Guy of Mr. Pink in the Quentin Tarantino cult classic Reservoir Dogs. Remember the scene where the crew has finished breakfast and they’re settling the tab? That’s when Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) articulates his rationale for not tossing in a tip:

“I don’t tip…I don’t believe in it…I don’t tip because society says I have to. I tip when somebody deserves it. When somebody really puts forth an effort, they deserve a little something extra. But this tipping automatically, that’s for the birds. As far as I’m concerned they’re just doing their job.”

There’s a lot of logic in Mr. Pink’s argument. And there’s a lot of nonsense in society’s approach to tipping, particularly in the United States. Tipping is prohibited at McDonald’s, for example, but encouraged at Starbucks. We never tip bus drivers, but we usually tip taxi drivers (as well as the guys who open the cab door for us outside the Venetian). Tipping seems like it should be a reward, a bonus for some unexpected, or unexpectedly good, service — and sometimes it is. But tipping really isn’t a reward at all these days. In many business, tipping has turned into a supplemental form of wages.
And that’s the reality in poker (brick-and-mortar poker at least). Get over it. And pony up.

That means you, Ingrate, and everyone playing table poker where tipping is the norm. The Rules Guy brooks no dissension on this point, even though he realizes that (a) this is a personal decision; (b) tipping is not, strictly speaking, required; and © some of you will insist on not doing it. But the reality is that, collectively, we must pay our share.

Philosophically, of course, TRG believes that employees should not be dependent on the whims of customers for a substantial component of their livelihood. TRG believes that, in the perfect poker world, casinos and card rooms would pay dealers and all of the others who make our games run smoothly a wage that precludes the necessity of tipping.
But we don’t live in that world, at least not now. In our world, dealers rely on tokes for the lion’s share of their income. And the logical consequence of that reality is this one: If dealers can’t earn a reasonable living at their profession, they’ll take their skills and talents to some other job where they can. Which means that it’s in our collective self-interest to ensure that motivated, competent, and personable people administer and manage our games.

A bad dealer is a nightmare. A bad dealer might get in 20 hands an hour instead of 30 — a direct hit to a winning player’s hourly earn. A bad dealer miscounts bets and side-pots, generating mistakes that often cost someone money — and always slow things down. A bad dealer’s attitude infects the game and the players, to everyone’s detriment.
Good dealers, on the other hand, manage the cards, the players, and the action with speed, accuracy, and grace — and everyone benefits. Good dealers earn their income, every cent of it. And we should be eager to pay our share.

In TRG’s experience, there are more good dealers than bad ones, and we should all want more of the former and fewer of the latter. Ensuring that dealers earn a decent wage is one way to realize that goal.

We don’t have a choice when it comes to paying rake (or time); that’s the fixed cost of playing. We do have a choice when it comes to tipping, and whether you tip or don’t is up to you. But seriously: How can you not? How could you go to a restaurant with table service and not tip your server, a la Mr. Pink, assuming the service was anywhere on the spectrum from competent to outstanding? The tip is simply one of the costs of your experience.

For TRG, whether to tip is not a very interesting question; it’s a given. But how much? The answer, again, must be personal, as well as informed by the implicit standards of your room and game. A decent rule of thumb is $1 for a small pot (it’s acceptable to tip nothing for a truly small pot — for example, if you’ve successfully stolen the blinds, particularly if the dealer knows you’re generally a tipper). If the pot is substantial (say, $100 plus), $2 is decent, and for bigger games and bigger pots, from $2 to $5 is reasonable to generous. TRG does not play nosebleed stakes, and frankly has no insight about what is customary in big games — but hopes those of you who do play big remember to tip appropriately.

On the flip side, you don’t need to reward all dealers equally. You don’t need to tip for rude, sluggish, or willfully bad service (and shouldn’t; people should earn their tips). You don’t even need to tip extravagantly. But you do need to tip. For the two reasons outlined above: because the dealers depend on tips and because you should want fast, conscientious, and intelligent professionals in your card room.

And while you’re being generous: Floor people deserve your largesse for keeping the games running smoothly and settling disputes well (and for being helpful to you personally, like the ones who will steer you to the best game going or contact you when a good game is brewing). TRG likes to tip floor people at the holidays, but something now and again will always be welcomed and remembered. If your room uses chip runners, a buck from time to time is hardly going to cut into your roll and will absolutely add to theirs (their life-roll that is). Porters are almost always overlooked by players, but imagine doing their job for a week or two? You’ll want to give them the occasional tip.
Even if you think like Mr. Pink, don’t be like Mr. Pink. Tip well and tip often. Your generosity will pay off in spades. ♠

TRG wants to hear from tippers and the Mr Pinks of the poker world. In the next column, TRG will address tipping in tournament situations (hint: do it). Email him at