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

by Card Player News Team |  Published: Dec 20, 2017


Props To The Good Guys

This will be my final column as Card Player’s The Rules Guy. A little more than five years ago, TRG started opining on the state of behavior at the poker table – not just about the rules and how they get twisted, and sometimes cast aside entirely, but also about the unwritten rules of how to behave at the poker table. Most of the questions and comments TRG has received over the years have to do with bad behavior, but TRG wants to point out that the nice, decent players – to be known henceforth as “the good guys” (and includes any gender you like) – far outnumber the bad apples.

TRG hereby takes this opportunity to salute the good guys – the men and women who are generous and kind to dealers, cashiers, floor people, and servers. The players who go out of their way to welcome newbies. The folks who offer friendly advice on game procedures and social norms. The players who are quick to console a player on a bad run (and maybe even get him or her back in game).

“The good guys” also include the card room staff who approach their jobs with seriousness leavened by good humor and a commitment to hospitality. And finally, “the good guys” refers to TRG’s many poker-playing friends and colleagues who were generous in answering questions and presenting differing points of view.

It’s the good guys that make going to the poker room a bit like going to a really cool club – and TRG believes that feeling of camaraderie and community is as much a part of poker as winning.

To all of you good guys, and to all of the people who took the time to write questions, TRG offers his heartfelt thanks.

Dear The Rules Guy,

I had a situation come up this week at my local card room where I was made to feel like I was out of line, angling, and wasting time by a few of the players at the table as well as the floor person who came to make a ruling.

It was $2-$3 no-limit hold’em game. The hand began as a multi-way pot where I led the betting on all streets, getting it to heads up by the time we went to the river. The river card gave me a full house that I confidently felt was the best hand. My opponent had about $100 left, and I bet $65 hoping that he’d manage to put it all in.

My opponent placed his hand over his entire stack and slid it into the center of the table (at least 12-14 inches from where his stack was and well beyond the betting line) and slowly began counting chips out. I looked over at the dealer and immediately said to him, “I call.” The dealer looked perplexed . I explained, “He has in one motion put his entire stack out in the middle…I call.” The dealer and I didn’t agree on the situation and I asked that the floor person be called for a ruling.

In the minute or so it took to get the floor man over, some of the players who began in the hand, started complaining and berating me that I was wrong and wasting time. The floor person came and agreed with the dealer that it would just be a call. At the time, I felt fully justified in arguing my point that my opponent had put all his chips in the middle. I know that the track on the felt is meaningless but on this particular kidney-shaped table, the track is an arms length away and well beyond the area players, including this one, use to cut out chips. After the floor person’s ruling, I was not fully convinced, but now I’m second guessing myself. Was I right, wrong, using the rules effectively, or angling?

Crisis of Conscience


Dear Crisis of Conscience:

TRG wants to dub you “Grasshopper” after the 1970s TV show Kung Fu. You must have patience, Grasshopper, patience. If he is going to call, he will call. If he is going to move in, he will move in. But it is his decision to make, Grasshopper, and you forced it with your eagerness – which did nothing but put you in a bad spot.

Grasshopper, do not misunderstand TRG. Your opponent is not blameless. But had you simply displayed some patience, you might have won his stack and you surely would have avoided the wrath of the table.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: TRG does not believe you were angling. Given the nature of the action and given the nature of your opponent’s action, you reasonably thought he was moving in. There’s no evidence you were angling to turn a call into an all-in (certainly not angling in any fishy way). So you can rest easy on that one.

Your opponent, on the other hand, might be an angler. His dramatic motion – covering his stack with his hand and pushing it forward well beyond the space required to do some counting – seems tailor-made to induce an action on your part, presumably a flinch that might suggest you were bluffing.

And, boy, did you take the bait! TRG would not have been the least bit surprised to see him pull the entire stack back and say, “I fold.” Which would have been scummy on his part, but probably within the rules.

You are correct that betting circles are semi-useless when it comes to determining a betting action. The rules are surprisingly vague. Typically, a bet is forward motion and the release of chips; what you describe is forward motion but not quite a release. To TRG, it’s entirely possible that he’s counting his stack to see how much he has left if he just calls.

It’s impossible to know what’s going on in your opponent’s mind, of course, and an angle may have been the furthest thing from his mind. But that’s actually irrelevant. You jumped the gun in your eagerness to showdown. All you had to do was wait. In fact, you should have tightened down your poker face and done nothing. The action is squarely on him. You’ve made a bet, and he has three choices: fold, call, or raise.

You don’t need to do anything and doing anything could give him information. One of the players or the dealer would have precipitated some action if the waiting becomes drawn out. (Note well: TRG thinks the most you could possibly win here is the call. Your opponent knows he cannot get you to fold; if he believed he had the best hand, he’d move in immediately. If he has calling hand, then he’ll save the $35.)

A final note: It’s fine to want to stack someone off. That’s why (in part) we go to the card room. (Or, rather, that’s one reason we go to the card room.) But $35 in a $2-$3 game is hardly life-changing. You could have just let this one go and be happy that he called. TRG isn’t saying you’re a bad person, Grasshopper – just that some fights really are not worth the effort.



over 3 years ago

Great post! Thanks TRG