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The Rules Guy -- How To Conduct Yourself At The Poker Table

TRG Tackles The Faux Raise And Tapping The Glass


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

Arguing Against the “Pump Fake”

Dear The Rules Guy:

I know the rules vary from cardroom to cardroom, but do you have an opinion on players who grab a handful of chips, like they’re gonna raise, move across the line, then tap for a check or simply call?

— Annoyed in Anaheim

Dear Annoyed in Anaheim:

Ah yes: the faux raise. The deke check. The pump fake. The Rules Guy remembers when he was first burned by this, playing low-limit hold’em at the Bellagio about ten years ago. TRG had flopped a set of nines, and was preparing to lead out on the turn, when an older reg quite visibly grabbed a double bet’s worth of chips and acted as if he was prepared to use them.

TRG is not ashamed to say he was frozen by this preemptive display of fortitude. The villain’s angle worked: he got the free turn card and made his flush, job done. TRG is also not ashamed to admit he was easily cowed back then, nor is he ashamed to admit that not much has changed.

Except for this: The pump fake, perhaps the most transparent of angles, does not faze TRG any longer. And yet this faux action endures — TRG sees it literally every time he plays — and not surprisingly. Whether you’re betting for value or betting to protect your hand or betting to bluff, the thought that you’re going to be called or reraised will sow a bit of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Which, of course, is what the angle shooter wants — to slow you down, trip you up, make you rethink your line. And which is, on the face of it, reasonable.

Indeed, many of the legitimate tactics that good players use are designed to sow fear, uncertainty, and doubt (for example, betting or raising on the come; now’s a good time to mention the late Barry Tanenbaum’s excellent Advanced Limit Hold’em Strategy [D&B Publishing]; the central thesis of the book is about the importance of sowing fear, uncertainty, and doubt).

So is the faux raise/deke check/pump fake move an angle? Or a legitimate tactic? Should it be condemned? Or embraced?

Well, let’s start with the explicit rules. In The Rules of Poker, Krieger and Bykofsky write, “In making a bet, any chips placed beyond the betting circle (or held in the air over that circle) are considered to have been wagered.” That “held in the air” is important, since that’s what most pump fakers do: cross the line with chips, then retreat. In Robert Ciaffone’s useful Robert’s Rules of Poker, the Card Player author says that “forward motion” constitutes a betting action.

TRG has heard of rooms that enforce this idea, but has yet to play a hand in one. Moreover, not every table has a betting circle (though this seems like an eminently sensible idea). This rule should be clarified if only to head off truly serious angle shooting, like pushing a big bet near the line, taking the pot if the “bet” is uncalled and saying it wasn’t a bet at all if called and the opponent tables a bigger hand.
Indeed, the ambiguity of the explicit rules about what constitutes a bet is exactly why an understanding of the implicit rules is so important. It’s patently unethical “to either encourage or discourage action,” according to Krieger & Bykofsky — which TRG takes to mean this simply should not be done.

There’s little or no ambiguity when making verbal declarations, which is why TRG also believes that announcing your intent (in turn, of course) is always the best way to proceed. If for some reason saying “raise,” “call,” or “all in” doesn’t sit well with you, make your chips do the talking for you. In other words, be unambiguous.

That said, in nearly every case, it’s trivially easy to deal with this annoying little form of gamesmanship. Understand the pump fake for what it is: an attempt to look strong, which generally means the opposite (thank you, Mike Caro!). The pump fake can’t really hurt you in the long run, but it’s still an annoyance that most games can do without and that most players should avoid.

His Money’s Good Here

Dear The Rules Guy:

I have heard that expression “Don’t tap the aquarium!” way, way too many times. The fish are fish! Why can’t I point this out to them?

— Jaws in Jacksonville

Dear Shark:

You may be a shark now, Jaws, but you were probably a fish at one time in your poker career. Some of your best friends were, or are, fish. TRG was a fish. (Many people believe TRG is still a fish, and TRG believes in those people.) But here’s the thing about fish, and no, TRG is not going to make the point that fish provide excellent nourishment for the entire poker food chain. That is, of course, an excellent point, and it can never be repeated often enough. Poker thrives on fish, just as it thrives on donkeys, whales, idiots, suckers, pigeons, sheep, and old guys who not only don’t polarize their ranges, they don’t even know what the phrase “polarizing their range” means.

TRG wants to make a different point about the guy with 9-2 suited who sucks out on your aces or kings: That fish has paid for the right to see the next action, or the next street, or the showdown itself. He may get the money in bad, but if the cards fall his way, his deserves the pot. His money should be good in your game, and his willingness to sit down with better players, taking way the worst of it, should earn him your respect.♠

Comments? Questions? Behavioral issues? Email TRG at



almost 8 years ago

wonder why there are fewer and fewer games spread.