# In a private live game, how do you deal with severe violations of table etiquette?

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.

• +1 for very cool question. – Soner Gönül Dec 18 '12 at 23:00
• I always like to point out "string bets are illegal" outside poker situations: for instance, when watching a TV show where somebody makes a string bet, or when somebody uses the "I'll see your... and raise you" type phrasing when not actually in a live poker game. – user1934 Mar 18 '15 at 18:35
• I had an alpha that would repeatedly splashed the pot. After asking him not to several times I just stopped inviting him back. – paparazzo Jan 4 '16 at 20:00
• "felt that it was an arbitrary rule they didn't have to follow" - well said. i organize poker games all the time and see this attitude a lot. many people think they know poker, but in reality are far from it. – anton1980 Mar 23 '17 at 2:28
• Perhaps better posted on Interpersonal Skills – FantaC Mar 1 '18 at 20:45

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
• 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
• +1, if someone is a repeat offender in my home games we usually have them toss a big blind into the next pot – Clarko Jan 21 '18 at 19:32

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...

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.

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.

I've run a few pretty big regular private games in big cities and we had games in my frat house for pennies when I was a kid. Here are my thoughts:

At the frat house, etiquette violations were settled by making the offender pound a shot of warm tequila.

I have run high stakes, regular games in big cities professionally.

First of all, the level of hostility between players is way lower in private games than in a casino. It's because it's illegal, and men have guns. You bet your butt that in public rooms, having armed casino security gives weak trouble makers a pass to act up that they don't get in home games. In a casino, if two guys get in a fight, the rest of the table sits back and laughs, and security breaks it up before someone gets killed. In a home game, the other players think THEIR butt might be on the line, and they get involved. The mob tries to cool out the combatants. You can pretty much rely on the table to provide security for it self. I've never actually seen a fist fight in a home game [a saw a guy get shot once though].

How to act from an operator's point of view is a little nuanced. I have worked in a casino and it's quite different. You can 86 a guy from a casino. If you eject a guy from a private game, you have a major problem! He might go dime you out to the cops. You can't afford to piss off your players in a private game.

The worst breach of poker etiquette I ever saw was a guy who came to our club in Baltimore and lost about $2000 to a bunch of college kids one night. He was not cheated. The next day, he called me up and demanded his money back! He said, "I don't know what my wife is gonna do!", implying she might freak out and call the cops on me. I asked him for a day to think about it, and I called a bunch of other experienced operators and asked around. I was told, and my experience has since confirmed, that a real major private club gets this type of shake down about once a year. Just pay him and don't let him back in was the advice I was given. You might think that private poker clubs are run by mobsters, and some of them are, but even the mobbed up joints will just pay a guy off and ask him politely not to come back. It's not worth the trouble. Illegal joints live in fear of their losing customers! So the thing I do now in situations where I would 86 a guy in a casino, but I'm in a private game: I PAY the guy. I have$100 coupons for free play and if you find yourself drunk and in a fight at my club, you're gonna get a free \$100 bill. Even if it's your fault! Even if my real desire is to stick a piece of barbed wire in your eye, I'm gonna privately take your side, and I'm going to privately take the other guy's side when I talk to him too. I'm going to do everything I can to take personal responsibility for whatever the problem is, and make you think that I also believe the world is conspiring against you. But please pal, come back inside and let's play some poker! [Tell the girl to splash a LOT of water in his next drink.]

• I just want to point out, that I'm being harassed by certain mods on this board. Why the DV? – John Dee Aug 5 at 17:45