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When playing Poker for the first time , consider the following elements of poker etiquette:
Acting in Turn
Although you may see others fold or call out of turn, don't do it yourself. It is considered rude because it gives an unfair advantage to the players before you who have yet to act. This is especially important at the showdown when only three players are left. If players after you are acting out of turn while you decide what to do, say "Time!" to make it clear that you have not yet acted.
You may find it awkward at first to peek at your own cards without exposing them to others. Note that the other players have no formal obligation to alert you to your clumsiness, although some will. Watch how the other players manage it and emulate them. Leave your cards in sight at all times; holding them in your lap or passing them to your kibitzing friend is grounds for killing your hand. Finally, if you intentionally show your cards to another player during the hand, both your hands may be declared dead. Your neighbor might want to see *you* declared dead :) if this happens!
In a game with "pocket cards" like Hold'em or Omaha, it is your responsibility to "protect your own cards". This confusing phrase really means "put a chip on your cards". If your cards are just sitting out in the open, you are subject to two possible disasters. First, the dealer may scoop them up in a blink because to leave one's cards unprotected is a signal that you are folding. Second, another player's cards may happen to touch yours as they fold, disqualifying your hand and your interest in the pot. Along the same lines, when you turn your cards face up at the showdown, be careful not to lose control of your cards. If one of them falls off the table or lands face-down among the discards your hand will be dead, even if that card is not used to make your hand.
In some fast-paced games, a moment of inaction when it is your turn to act may be interpreted as a check. Usually, a verbal declaration or rapping one's hand on the table is required, but many players are impatient and will assume your pause is a check. If you need more than a second to decide what to do, call "Time!" to stop the action. While you decide, don't tap your fingers nervously; that is a clear check signal and will be considered binding.
A "string bet" is a bet that initially looks like a call, but then turns out to be a raise. Once your hand has put some chips out, you may not go back to your stack to get more chips and increase the size of your bet, unless you verbally declared the size of your bet at the beginning. If you always declare "call" or "raise" as you bet, you will be immune to this problem. Note that a verbal declaration in turn is binding, so a verbal string bet is possible and also prohibited. That means you cannot say "I call your $5, and raise you another $5!" Once you have said you call, that's it. The rest of the sentence is irrelevant. You can't raise.
Splashing the Pot
In some home games, it is customary to throw chips directly into the pot. In a public card room., this is cause for dirty looks, a reprimand from the dealer, and possibly stopping the game to count down the pot. When you bet, place your chips directly in front of you. The dealer will make sure that you have the right number and sweep them into the pot.
One Chip Rule
In some card rooms., the chip denominations and game stakes are incommensurate. For example, a $3-$6 game might use $1 and $5 chips, instead of the more sensible $3 chip. The one-chip rule says that using a large-denomination chip is just a call, even though the chip may be big enough to cover a raise. If you don't have exact change, it is best to verbally state your action when throwing that large chip into the pot. For example, suppose you are playing in a $1-$5 spread-limit game, the bet is $2 to you, and you have only $5 chips. Silently tossing a $5 chip out means you call the $2 bet. If you want to raise to $4 or $5, you must say so *before* your chip hits the felt. Whatever your action, the dealer will make any required change at the end of the betting round. Don't make change for yourself out of the pot.
In a game like Hold'em, it is possible to know that you hold "the nuts" and cannot be beaten. If this happens when all the cards are out and you get in a raising war with someone, don't stop! Raise until one of you runs out of chips. If there is the possibility of a tie, the rest of the table may clamor for you to call, since you "obviously" both have the same hand. Ignore the rabble. You'll be surprised how many of your opponents turn out to be bona fide idiots.
Hands end in one of three ways: one person bets and everyone else folds, one person bets on the final round and at least one person calls, or everybody checks on the final round. If everybody folds to a bet, the bettor need not show the winning cards and will usually toss them to the dealer face down. If somebody calls on the end, the person who bet or raised most recently is *supposed* to immediately show, or "open", their cards. They may delay doing so in a rude attempt to induce another player to show their hand in impatience, and then muck their own hand if it is not a winner. Don't do this yourself. Show your hand immediately if you get called. If you have called a bet, wait for the bettor to show, then show your own hand if it's better. If the final round is checked down, in most card rooms. everyone is supposed to open their hands immediately. Sometimes everyone will wait for someone else to show first, resulting in a time-wasting deadlock. Break the chain and show your cards.
Most card rooms. give every player at the table the right to see all cards that called to a showdown, even if they are mucked as losers. (This helps prevent cheating by team-play.) If you are extremely curious about a certain hand, ask the dealer to show it to you. It is considered impolite to constantly ask to see losing cards. It is even more impolite if you hold the winning cards, and in most card rooms. you will forfeit the pot if the "losing" cards turn out to be better than yours.
As a beginner, you may want to show your hand all the time, since you may have overlooked a winning hand. What you gain from one such pot will far outweigh any loss due to revealing how you played a particular losing hand. "Cards speak" at the showdown, meaning that you need not declare the value of your hand. The dealer will look at your cards and decide if you have a winner.
As a final word of caution, it is best to hold on to your winning cards until the dealer pushes you the pot. If the dealer takes your cards and incorrectly "mucks" them, many card rooms. rule that you have no further right to the pot, even if everyone saw your winning cards.
Raking in the Pot
As you win your first pot, the excitement within you will drive you beyond the realm of rational behavior, and you will immediately lunge to scoop up the precious chips with both arms. Despite the fact that no other player had done this while you watched, despite the fact that you read here not to do it, you WILL do it. Since every dealer has a witty admonition prepared for this moment, maybe it's all for the best. But next time, let the dealer push it to you, ok?
Touching Cards or Chips
Don't. Only touch your own cards and chips. Other players' chips and cards, discards, board cards, the pot and everything else are off-limits. Only the dealer touches the cards and pot.
Dealers make their living from tips. It is customary for the winner of each pot to tip the dealer 50 cents to a dollar, depending on locale and the stakes. Sometimes you will see players tip several dollars for a big pot or an extremely unlikely suck out. Sometimes you will see players stiff the dealer if the pot was tiny or split between two players. This is a personal issue, but imitating the other players is a good start.
Occasionally the dealer or a player may make a mistake, such as miscalling the winning hand at the showdown. If you are the victim of such a mistake, call it out immediately and do not let the game proceed. If your opponent is the victim, let your conscience be your guide; many see no ethical dilemma in remaining silent. If you are not involved in the pot, you must judge the texture of the game to determine whether to speak up. In general, the higher the stakes, the more likely you should keep your mouth shut.
Taking a Break
You are free to get up to stretch your legs, visit the restroom and so on. Ask the dealer how long you may be away from your seat; 20 or 30 minutes is typical. It is customary to leave your chips sitting on the table; part of the dealer's job is to keep them safe. If you miss your blind(s) while away, you may have to make them up when you return, or you may be asked to sit out a few more hands until they reach you again. If several players are gone from a table, they may all be called back to keep the game going; those who don't return in time forfeit their seats.
If you are in the happy situation of having too many chips, you may request a "color change" (except in Atlantic City). You can fill up a rack or two with your excess chips and will receive a few large denomination chips in return. These large chips are still in play, but at least you aren't inconvenienced by a mountain of chips in front of you. Remember the one chip rule when betting with them.
Leave whenever you feel like it. You never have an obligation to stay at the table, even if you've won a fortune. You should definitely leave if you are tired, losing more than you expect, or have other reasons to believe you are not playing your best game. Depending on the card room., you can redeem your chips for cash with a chip-runner or floor man or at the cashier's cage.
Last but not least is the matter of the house take. Somebody has to maintain the tastefully opulent furnishings and pay the electric bill. The money taken by the house is called the "drop", since it is dropped down a slot in the table at the end of each hand. The house will choose one of three ways to charge you to play.
A simple "time charge" is common in higher limit games and at some small games: seats are rented by the half hour, at rates ranging from $4 to $10 or so, depending on the stakes. This method charges all players equally.
Other card rooms. will "rake" a percentage of the final pot, up to some maximum, before awarding it to the winning player. The usual rake is either 5% or 10%, capped at $3 or $4. If the pot is raked, the dealer will remove chips from the pot as it grows, setting them aside until the hand is over and they are dropped into a slot in the table. This method favors the tight player who enters few pots but wins a large fraction of them.
A simpler method is to collect a fixed amount at the start of each hand; one player, usually the one with the dealer button, pays the entire amount of the drop. Depending on house rules, this "button charge" of $2-$4 may or may not play as a bet. If the chips do play as a bet, this method also favors the tighter players, but not nearly as much as the rake does.
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The author is a specialist in the field of Gambling for the past 3 years.
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