Sign Up For Card Player's Newsletter And Free Bi-Monthly Online Magazine

One Time, Dealer: The Etiquette Of Checking

by Dealer Chick |  Published: Jul 31, 2019


Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a dealer on the circuit grind? Have a question about behavior, etiquette, or anything else related to running a poker game? Do you want to know what dealers really think about while they’re pitching cards? What it takes to become a dealer? How you should treat dealers? Are dealers people, too?

Send your questions for The Dealer Chick (TDC) to, and read on for more advice, adventures, and real talk about life on the road for a traveling poker dealer.

The Etiquette Of Checking


So, I had a situation happen, not for the first (or second) time, and I see it happen to other players frequently. I’m playing a tournament, in seat 3. The button is in seat 5. There are three players in the hand, and action is on the turn. Seat 6 is first to act, and he checks, supposedly. Seat 9 is next to act, but is still waiting for Seat 6. After about a minute, Seat 6 says, “Why y’all looking at me? I checked already!” Really? In your head? Because I didn’t see or hear anything. Even the dealer missed his check. Apparently, everyone was supposed to notice that his pinky finger twitched. By this point, I’m seriously frustrated and trying to keep my anger in check (pun intended!) Is there a ruling on proper checking etiquette?

— Signed,

Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

Dear Check Yourself,

Can we get an Amen? Poker players hate when someone slows down the action. Nothing—and I mean nothing—can slow down the action. Action. Action. Action. Get those hands out. Keep it moving. We can’t get unstuck without hands. We can’t double up without hands. The dealer had to check a player in, what? We just lost three seconds of play! Unforgiveable! But when they’re the ones doing it, it’s all, “Why you looking at me? I checked already!”

But did you? Did you really check, or did you just scratch your shoulder? Did you check, or did you blink because you have something in your eye? Was the slight nod of your chin a check or code for, “Hey, girl!” If you nod and blink, am I supposed to give you my number or burn a card? When I look at you because it’s your action and you say, “Yup,” are you agreeing with previous statements made, or am I supposed to assume you’re not going to bet? Or, maybe you say, “Go.” Really? Go where? Will there be snacks when we get there?

The slowing of action is often caused by players. Maybe it’s the guy who, when facing a bet, counts his chip stack down four times—rearranging his stacks multiple ways, multiple times—before ultimately folding. Or the guy who stares intently at the flop as if to burn a hole through the felt then says, “Is it on me? Sorry, I folded in my head.” Or the guy who rambles on and on about how poker savvy he is, how he never folds his favorite hand and how the guy shoving into him played his hand so poorly that he almost has to call, but then he folds—like everyone knew he would. There’s a million ways that time gets wasted, and they’re all annoying. And while some of the time wasters one could argue are part of the game—the table talk, the tanking, the attempts at reading someone’s soul—the ones that are avoidable are the most irritating.

The lack of paying attention is inexcusable by players and dealers, in most situations. Dealers get distracted for legitimate reasons. Maybe a supervisor is talking to them from over the player’s shoulder, maybe an announcement on the PA grabs their attention. Players also get distracted by reasonable interruptions. Cocktail waitresses, the massage therapist they ordered or another player talking to them because they didn’t realize he had a hand. These occasions that briefly halt the action are not the problem. The problem is the lack of paying attention, and the lack of following rules that were put in place to keep the game moving.

Which brings us back to checking etiquette. There are rules in play about checking and rules that explain the player’s responsibility to keep the game moving. Players need to accept some responsibility for keeping the game moving. I’m not going to quote the WSOP Live Action or Tournament rules here, but trust me, they exist. Section 2, paragraph 138, sub-paragraph B, Roman numeral 8, I think. Okay, I don’t know where, but I’ve read them. Google it, if you don’t believe me. But the rules say, in no un-certain terms, that players are expected to act in a way that keeps the game moving by doing things such as: pushing bets in far enough for the dealer to reach, folding cards directly toward the dealer (not away from the dealer, or Helicoptering over her head), and checking by rapping their hand on the felt in a clear manner so as to not cause confusion. And there it is. Confusion. The ultimate game-stopper. The biggest reason the play gets paused. Where’s the action?

Dealers learn to read players. After we deal to you a few times, we know if you’re the guy who checks by tapping a chip on another chip. Or if you’re the guy who’s always tapping a chip so when it’s your action, we ignore the fact that you’re tapping a chip. Because yes, Seat Five taps chips to check, but you always use your index finger. Seat Seven always rests his forearm across his chest and wiggles his fingers on his shoulder. Seat Ten twirls his finger in the air, Seat Three simply makes eye contact and raises a brow. None of these examples play by the rules of clarity, but they are all real-life situations in poker.

The part I find utterly humorous is that most of the confusion could be avoided if people would just follow one rule: verbal is binding. Just speak. Use your words. Say check, raise or fold, and do it before you throw the single over-sized chip into the pot. Say call as you count out the bet. I’ll go on to the next player while you organize your chips and move them across the line. Three seconds saved, boom.

By poker career standards, I’m still new to the game. I wasn’t around pre-Moneymaker, I didn’t engage during the internet boom, I didn’t earn my stripes in the backrooms of anywhere. But I’ve talked to those who did. I’ve talked to the lifers, the dealers, the gamblers and the card-sharks who grew up with poker. I always hear the same story: poker is a gentleman’s game, which means there is etiquette, or proper rules of engagement. Every couple of years the Tournament Director’s Association convenes to clarify old rules or make new ones, all to streamline the game we all love. They do this for clarity and consistency, for players to have reasonable expectations of the game no matter where they play it. It doesn’t matter what transformation poker is/did/will experience; the bones of the game remain the same. It’s not about a dealer babysitting ten players and being the scapegoat when it all goes wrong. It’s about people coming together, taking risks, making moves, having fun and being respectful to each other and the game. ♠