A Look at House Rules: Table Talk

A Look at House Rules: Table Talk 0001

If you have played live poker games, you have already been exposed to players who never stop talking — about anything and everything — and you’ve started to figure out that poker is a very social game.

Your favorite limit and game type will often see the same players arrive at the same time every day. It’s almost as if their car had autopilot installed and even if they had planned to do something different when the key hit the ignition, the car magically arrives at their favorite poker room and off they go to start another socializing event intricately entwined with a game of cards. If you spend enough time at the tables with the same players, you get to know everything about them. Some of it you’d rather not know, but it’s all part of the game and the big picture of socializing at the tables.

Here’s a tip with regard to all that nonstop table talk: pay attention.

Listen to your opponents as they socialize, and also watch their playing patterns and see if you can tap into a very important part of poker that will enhance your game and help you pocket a few extra dollars when the conversations go in a more personal direction about what’s going on in their lives today. They may become more aggressive when talking about an incident that got them fired up or more passive and turn into a calling station if something happened that left them feeling blue and unhappy. Not tuning your opponents’ chatter out can be profitable, you may discover.

Meanwhile, whether you have put in countless hours playing live poker or you are stepping into the game for the first time, there are things you need to know about table talk because some of it is against house rules and is not good for the game. The following rules covering players’ talk are pretty standard rules in most card rooms.

Verbalizing what you folded

If you folded preflop — or at any point in the hand before showdown — you are not allowed to tell anyone at the table what you threw away even if you are whispering to the player seated next to you, because you are giving players still in action knowledge.

For example, let’s say the board comes down {A-Hearts}{3-Spades}{3-Hearts}{3-Diamonds}{9-Hearts} and a player holding {A-}{K-} has heard you exclaim out loud on the flop that you threw away {A-}{3-}. By the river that player knows not to fear anyone having the {3-Clubs} — the “case” trey — and thus can freely bet knowing that the worst case scenario would be losing to pocket nines or splitting the pot with another player holding an ace. And since you threw away an ace also, the chances of any of the {A-}{K-}’s opponents holding an ace are very slim.

Influencing the action

You may have an insaniac at your table who is running over the action in a raising war with anyone who comes into the pot. It can be frustrating in such circumstances when you have a marginal hand and want to limp in to see the flop or the turn card. However, even if you want to see the insaniac’s hand or force him into slowing down, it’s unethical and goes against most house rules when you sing out to an opponent “Call him! He’s raised every hand and he can’t have a hand every time.” You just influenced the action. Don’t! Just like the previous example in which announcing what you folded can affect how players still in the hand play, here, too, is an example of table talk influencing the action, and house rules forbid it.

If you are the one on a rush and running over the game, you want action from everyone at the table and thus wouldn’t want others to encourage each other in this way to slow you down. But on days that your big hands are getting mowed down and a hurricane is hitting your chip stacks, you could be the insaniac and winning just one pot could help your emotional state. Still, you cannot influence the action with your table talk to try to make that happen.

Gaining information

Even if you are heads-up, it’s unethical and against house rules to talk about your hand, the board cards, or your opponent’s hand.

You may have watched poker on TV and have seen some of your favorite poker stars talking it up during a hand in a heads-up match. “I think you flopped a pair with a straight draw and backed into a flush,” says one pro while watching for any kind of visible tell that would indicate a big hand. This may work on TV but don’t try it in your local card room. Remember, pay attention to the players at your table — you’ll gain enough information that way to know where they are in a hand without risking admonishment by management.

Criticizing another player’s play

Everyone who plays poker has been called a “donk” (short for donkey) or a “fish” or worse at the table. Usually those doing the critiquing of another player’s play just lost a big hand to the player they are verbally bashing. “How could you even call with that hand before the flop? You’re an idiot!” they’ll complain.

For starters, that kind of talk can ruin a great game. The “idiot” may just get up and cash out, leaving a bunch of rocks at the table to try and bust a few pieces of granite off of each other. At some point in every player’s career, everyone is an idiot, fish, or a donkey. It’s part of the learning process and no matter how high the stakes get, someone at the table is always part of the food chain when it comes to chip accumulation. While this breach of etiquette isn’t necessarily breaking a house rule, being abusive with one’s table talk and/or conduct is and will be dealt with depending on the card room.

Asking for help

You are not allowed to ask anyone at the table for help in playing a hand, including the dealer. You may ask what you can bet at any given point or general game questions, but you cannot ask what you should do in a particular hand. The house rules always state “one player to a hand.”

Here’s a tip: if you need help on how to play a hand, make a mental note of the entire hand and discuss it later with someone who will talk through the hand and tell you what your course of action should have been.

Reading a hand at showdown

It is unethical and against house rules to read anyone’s hand that isn’t laying face up on the table at showdown. The player next to you may have allowed you to see his or her hole cards during the betting action and you know the player backed into a flush after betting a set all the way. Even if the player picks up the hand to throw it in the muck after paying off in a raising war, it’s completely wrong for you to say anything here, including “turn up your cards.”

Another tip: If you call the last bet, always turn your cards face up on the table and let the dealer and/or other players read your cards if you feel you might be missing something.

Home games

As a courtesy and to protect the integrity of a home game, everything stated above applies with one exception. Bragging rights, massive hilarity, and insane action in home games may be fueled by making fun of another player in the game, and later when that player returns the favor when holding the best hand, it’s all part of the game.

If you’re new to a particular home game, just settle in and pay attention, and soon you’ll be right in the flow of the fun. Proceed accordingly.

Online poker

The chat feature in online poker can affect the action and play of a hand. Obviously you would never see another player’s hole cards during the hand, and the software automatically shows the hole cards at showdown, but the chat feature can allow verbal abuse, telling the table what cards you threw away, and other examples of influencing the action, say, by typing in “Call him, he doesn’t have anything.”

As soon as someone at your table alerts support that you are doing those things, you will probably be warned to stop, and if it persists, your chat privileges could be revoked for an extended period of time.

NOTE: In all games — online, home, and live — the general rule of thumb is “English only” at the tables, unless you are playing live in a non-English speaking country. The standard for the language allowed protects the integrity of the game.

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