Thoughts from the Felt: Etiquette Digression

4 December 2008, Created By: Sean Lind
Thoughts from the Felt: Etiquette Digression
Every time I sit at a table, I seem to find myself with players completely oblivious to standard poker etiquette rules (written and unwritten). As you can imagine, this makes me rather angry.

When it comes to poker etiquette, some of the points are official rules, whereas others are unwritten, yet every bit as important. The problem I have is with all the players who lean on the rule book, invoking their self-serving poker rights. They exploit the rules that serve them, and refuse to abide by any rules that are unwritten. These people must be stopped.

The Instigator Penalty

In 1992 the NHL introduced the instigator penalty. This penalty is given to the player responsible for starting a fight. The idea was to create a rule to help control the game, clean it up and make it more respectable for TV. If a team got penalized, the reasoning went, and players got kicked out of the game for starting a fight, there would be much less fighting in the league, making it more of a gentleman's game.

Mats Sundin
Mats Sundin went 1,305 games with only two fights, and instigated neither one.

Unfortunately, the attempt to control this aspect of the game created other problems on the ice. Hockey used to be somewhat of a self-governing game. If you injured or assaulted a team's star goal scorer, you would have a player fighting you every time you stepped on the ice for the rest of that game, and maybe the next.

For this reason, people didn't touch the stars or the goalies, and the star players remained mostly injury free, with the room to shine.

Once the instigator penalty came into play, this avenue of self-governing recourse for attacks on a team's star players was closed, making it open game to take them out.

In poker, the casinos and poker rooms have created whole sets of rules to eliminate, as much as possible, cheating from the game. The creation of these rules has opened up avenues for regular players to exploit the rules for their own gain.

Showdown Hands

It has always been understood that a player can play his hand any way he likes; no one has the right to tell him otherwise. This idea extended to the concept of mucking the losing hand at showdown: if you didn't want anyone to see your losing hand, that was your prerogative.

Enter the anticollusion rule: this rule allows any player at the table the right to request to see any hand that reaches showdown. This is to keep players from being able to hide their collusion (a form of cheating).

It's a good rule, but is being seriously abused by players who are ignorant of or choose to disregard the unwritten etiquette rules. At least part of the cause is that according to the casino rules, and thanks to casino security, a player no longer has to worry about being physically reminded of their infractions like in the old days.

The players who ask to see other players' hands do so to gain unearned information on the other players' game. This is the equivalent of asking to see the opposing team's playbook after they finish a football game. Even though this information would help you greatly in the future, it's information you were never supposed to have.

Asking to see others' hands is a serious breach of time-honored etiquette, yet it's a faux pas anyone has the right to commit, thanks to the current rule set.

Another example of players hiding behind the rule book happens to be the one etiquette infraction that upsets me more than all others.

The Slow Roll

Under no circumstances is it ever OK to slow-roll. It's offensive, and completely uncalled for. Not only is it a seriously rude gesture, it gains the player no advantage in the game. Thus, it's completely useless, other than as a catalyst for fights.

Casinos and cardrooms have a set of rules which determines who needs to turn over their hands in what order. These rules came into being to help eliminate these time-suck situations:

Chris Ferguson
This is a conversation you will never hear Chris "Jesus" Ferguson having.

"What do you have?"

"Well, what do you have?"

"You have a straight? Flush? Set? Two pair?

"I only have a pair."

"What pair?"


"What's your kicker?"

"It's low."

"How low?"

I can't tell you how many times I've heard conversations just like this. If you turned over your hand after the betting was complete, the pot would be shipped and stacked before we got to the second line. Now that there are rules in place to dictate the order of hand showing, these conversations happen ... less often.

But this rule has now opened the door for slow-rolling. All the same players who request to see hands for their own information likewise lean on the rule of hand-showing order. Even if they have the absolute nuts, meaning it's 100% that they won the pot, they'll sit with their hand closed, forcing everyone else to open their hands first before showing.

cowboy revolver
There was a time when this fashion accessory was common in cardrooms.

This is the textbook definition of a slow roll. I've seen multiple fights, and I've heard of people being shot (in history) over this very infraction. It is a seriously offensive thing to do, and has been against the rules of poker etiquette since the day poker was invented.

It is never OK to slow roll - if you have what could logically be the winning hand, you should show it immediately after betting is complete. If the money goes all-in pre-flop, you can wait until the river if you like. If by the river it's obvious that you've won, turn over your hand instead of waiting for the other players to show theirs.

Slow-rolling instills false hope that they might have won the pot in the losing players. Not only are you taking their money, you're twisting the knife just for fun. Do yourself a favor, and make sure not to slow-roll. If you're going to play poker, I can guarantee it will get you into trouble.

Poker was created by and for miscreant roughnecks. It has never been a noble game, but has always been a game of respect.

Follow the rules of conduct written on the walls, and follow the rules of logic and common decency. To play the game as it was meant to be, you should imagine everyone at the table has a Smith & Wesson six-shooter, and isn't afraid to use it.





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