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In some of the early cash games I played, we had one player who would consistently hold his cards below the table, out of sight. It was a group of friends, so the assumption was that he was not cheating (and his consistent losses backed this up), but he had to be told repeatedly each game, and occasionally caused betting to go out of sequence because other players didn't realize he was still in the hand.

I've seen similar behavior from other players, usually those who are new to live games, or poker in general.

I have had similar experiences with players making string bets, or failing to observe chip etiquette.

In most cases, the offenders corrected their actions after the problem was explained to them, but some either felt that it was an arbitrary rule they didn't have to follow, or simply seemed unable to remember to avoid the behavior.

Aside from the obvious step of not inviting these players back, what are the best ways to address this without ruining the current gaming session? I would like to know guidelines for both "friendly" and "serious" games, if they would be handled differently.

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+1 for very cool question. –  Soner Gönül Dec 18 '12 at 23:00
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4 Answers

up vote 19 down vote accepted

When faced with these situations in my home games, we begin to institute a penalty of some sort for any recurring violations. I think that works for both serious and friendly games - it may simply alter what penalty you choose.

Examples we have followed:

  • Folding of their hand (and either negating any bet they made on the current street or forfeiting that bet)
  • Forced time sitting out (more effective in tournaments)
  • Extra blinds paid into a random pot (usually the next pot or the next time the violator was big blind)
  • Extra blinds paid into a pot chosen by the player "victimized" by the violation
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This works great. I prefer to give the new guy some slack but after telling him a few times, hey keep your cards above the table, no talking about your folded hand while the hand is on going, etc a penalty is in order. –  Chad Jan 13 '12 at 14:59
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It's the Host's responsibility to educate the players and warn them of the rules they need to follow. If the game is too rules focused, it can kill a good evening. Like you said, most times explaining to the player (especially if they are new) the rules and upcoming repercussions, is the best thing to do.

If they fail to listen, then start beating them about the head with the rules. Robert's Rules is a great resource. When a new player starts at my game we explain the game (if they don't know how to play), the rules, and our expectations. We'll give them some leeway, but we do keep things moving. I've always told my players we are here to "prepare for the casino" as it sets the expectations of why we do somethings that they may not have at other games.

For example, after a warning and explanation;

  • [String bet] Player places enough chips on the table and is seen as a 'call' they then go back for more. They are forced to keep the original call.
  • [Cards under the table] After one more warning, the hand is dead.
  • [Chip etiquette] is one I can't seem to get people, who haven't played in a Casino, to understand. Okay, so this isn't a Vegas Casino, but hiding your high value chips is just rude. We're going to count your chips when it matters so...
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It is very important when explaining rules that you explain why the rules exist. For example, holding your cards below the table can lead to out-of-order play, which can actually be quite unfair to the other players, who either get information they wouldn't have had normally--in which case it is unfair to everyone else--or who unwittingly may reveal information or play suboptimally ("oh, I would have called if I had known someone else was still in the pot").

In our home games (NLHE) it's common for people to throw their bets into the pot; I generally try to be pretty subtle here, sometimes stacking the bets back out of the pot just a little towards the player, particularly when someone else is pausing to think. When we get to multiple raises or side pots, then I will usually explicitly point out "This is why we keep the bets out in front of us, so that we have an easier time keeping track of this."

In any event, when people understand the context for the rules, they usually have an easier time remembering and following them. Usually etiquette is based around ensuring fair play--which makes a home game fun--so that's often sufficient motivation.

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First of all rules apply equally to everyone. It is important to accept that calling a foul is not an attack on friendship or person.

Anyone can call a foul but only people involved in the hand can call for a penalty.

A penalty is either sitting out for a round of blinds or having a blind value ante for a round (penitents choice).

If a situation occurs that the group agrees is beyond a normal penalty we vote on the immediate penalty. This thankfully has not happened though we did vote not to invite one player back but that was more about his temper tantrum after a few bad beats, and happened after he left.

Generally we try to assume that no one is trying to cheat. But we are all there to have fun. If this were a serious game the rules would probably be more strict.

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