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The Rules Guy How To Conduct Yourself At the Poker Table

by Card Player News Team |  Published: Feb 17, 2016


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. What’s wrong? What’s right? What’s an angle? Got a question about how to behave at the poker table (or a comment about a column)? Email TRG at

Rule #1 in Poker: S%@t Happens… Move On

Dear The Rules Guy:

I was on the button in a $2-3 blind no-limit hold’em game. On my right in seat 6 was an arrogant, self-absorbed player who had twice been warned by previous dealers not to hide his hole cards. (He was constantly covering his cards with his hands.) Everyone limped to me, and I raised to $20 while holding QSpade Suit JSpade Suit. The big blind (BB), under the gun (UTG), and seat 6 called.

On a flop of JHeart Suit5Spade Suit3Spade Suit, all three checked. With top pair and a flush draw, I bet $45, and was called by BB and UTG. Again, seat 6 was covering his cards and the knew dealer forgot about him. She burned a card and started to flip over the turn card when seat 6 mucked his cards face up with the exposed cards landing on top of the flop. However, instead of stopping the action and mucking his cards, she continued and placed the QClub Suit on the turn. I now had top two pair with my flush draw. The dealer mucked seat 6’s exposed cards but announced that since he technically still had a hand when she exposed the turn card, she would have to replace the queen with another card.

Two gentlemen not in the hand vigorously argued that since the queen had not been exposed prior to seat 6 expressing his desire to muck his hand, the turn card should stand. My two opponents in the hand obviously were not helped by the queen and argued just as vociferously that a replacement card – by rule – was required. The floor was summoned and since this was not a clear case of the dealer “burning and turning” while a player yet to act still held cards, a supervisor was summoned.

One of the players arguing in favor of allowing the queen to play made – I felt – the most succinct point: “The integrity of this hand was that the QClub Suit was meant to be the turn card. The inappropriate action of seat 6 should not change that. His intent was to surrender his hand, and he did so before seeing the turn card. If the dealer had killed seat 6’s hand at the time they were mucked, we would not be having this discussion.” However, after much debate, the supervisor declared that a replacement card was the correct action. Naturally, a five arrived on the turn and the big blind with A-5 made trips, and I did not improve on the river. I ended up losing a nice pot. Your thoughts, please.

— D. in Anaheim

Dear D in Anaheim:

The Rules Guy doesn’t normally take on questions that involve the precise parsing of the rules of the game. TRG’s focus is on the intersection of rules and behavior at the table, with an emphasis on behavior because TRG believes that promoting good (i.e., respectful, civil) behavior is good for the game and good for its players.

So TRG approaches your question not in terms of making some definitive ruling on what should have happened but in terms of why you should not care about this hand to the extent of writing at such length and in such detail about it.

For the record: (1) Seat 6 was very clearly wrong. (2) The dealer was probably wrong, and could have handled it differently. (3) The floor and supervisor made a reasonable decision based on what the dealer had done. Bottom line, you lost a pot you probably should have won.

But the only categorical wrong was committed by seat 6. Make that “wrongs” with an s: His inability to adhere to one of the basic procedural rules of poker – to keep your cards visible at all time – is inexcusable, as was his not acting in a timely way after the flop bet, then mucking out of turn during the deal. Seat 6 was childish, disruptive, and almost intolerably stupid.

TRG isn’t writing about this because of the gross injustice of seat 6. No, TRG is writing because he wants you, D from Anaheim, and players like you (who tend to be decent, thoughtful, and caring and who tend to exhibit a great deal of integrity) to let crap like this go.

Point #1: Poker is a lifelong game. Which means that one hand is close to meaningless – particularly a garden-variety low-stakes hand like yours. The pot contained $220 by TRG’s reckoning, minus the rake; that’s a decent pot, but if you can afford to play that game, $220 isn’t even remotely important money.

Let it go.

Point 2: Poker isn’t perfectly executed at the procedural level – which puts it on a par with any other game or activity that involves humans and judgment (humans + judgment = imperfection). Refs and umps and line judges and course officials blow calls all the time. When they do, bad things happen to those on one side of the call (and good things happen to those on the other side). Do the ones on the losing end deserve this fate? Nope. Do the ones on the winning side deserve it? Nope. Is that the way life is? Absolutely.

Let it go.

Point #3: As Buddha probably didn’t say (but Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami did): “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

You’re a poker player. That means you need to recognize that bad things happen to good players and good people. (“Pain is inevitable.”) Many players get that but fail to get the second component, how you respond is up to you and within your control. (“Suffering is optional.”) You no doubt experienced anger, frustration, and injustice when you lost this hand, so much so that you took the time to write, with great attention to detail and a sense of righteousness, to The Rules Guy. TRG does thank you for the effort and the fodder for a column, but you should…

Let it go.

Point #4: Poker is frustrating but if it’s a source of lasting pain, you will not play optimally. When you can let this kind of outcome go, your game is automatically elevated. A delta bravo at the table screws up the deal and you lose a hand. Move on to the next one. A dealer deals you one ace down and then, the second card flips face up. (Does TRG even need to specify the rank of second card?) Move on to the next hand. Or your opponent (not nemesis, not villain, your opponent) catches a one-outer on the river and felts you. Move on to the next session.

Let it go.

When you can accept the pain, and can let it go, without suffering, without righteous indignation, without clinging to the hurt and disappointment for days on end, you will play better. And you will be happier.

TRG does appreciate the question, D, and your attention to detail. But the lesson here is not to make the game perfect, (there is only karmic retribution in poker) but to embrace its imperfections, frustration, and pain.

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”