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Ethics and Etiquette

Poker is not a sociable game but it is distinctly a social game. That is, it is a game one must play with others, and we may assume that every human being would rather be popular than unpopular and also that every group will soon reject a player who is generally disliked by the other players. Therefore if you are playing in a poker game and you want to keep on playing, it behooves you to conform to the social customs of the game and make sure that the other players do not hate you enough to kick you out.

It is notably unprofitable to be recognized as a good fellow in poker games, but it is almost as bad to be characterized as a prime sonofabitch. The object of the winning player is to steer a middle course. He wants to be known as a tough but fair opponent, as a ruthless but honest adversary. The problem is, "How to be honest and yet a winner." My advice is as follows:

1.    Sandbagging is a logical part of the game to the thinking player, but for some reason it enrages the average player. Many professional games have been forced to introduce the house rule that you cannot check and then raise. Find out what the custom of the game is and observe it. If it makes the opponents mad for you to check the best hand and then raise, don't do it. It may slightly restrict your style, but it doesn't really have a great effect on your winnings or losses in the long run. In fact, much money is lost by failure to bet the best hand, in the vain hope that some one will bet into you.

2.    In some games any comments you make are taken with a grain of salt, in other games the gentlemanly code is adopted and you are not supposed to say that you have a bad hand when you have a good one, that you filled a flush when in fact you didn't, etc. In such games, don't compromise your popularity by violating the customs. You won't lose anything by keeping your mouth shut; the bet speaks for itself anyway.

A woman wrote to Dorothy Dix and said, "Dear Miss Dix: A man wants to marry me but he doesn't know I have false teeth. Should I tell him?" Dorothy Dix answered with classic succinctness, "Keep your mouth shut."
Since the poker player would be a fool to tell the truth about his hand and may win undying unpopularity by playing the gay deceiver and the chatterbox, this is good advice for the poker player too.

3.    Be just a little more conservative than the standard estab
lished in the game. In all except the toughest games in the country,  the majority of players are more liberal  than  they should be. From curiosity, boredom, or sheer ignorance, they play too often, raise too often, and call too often. It is neither winning style nor good etiquette to become known as the Rock if Gibraltar in such games. If you play them just a little closer to the chest than the average conservative player in the game, but stick your neck out with a gambling play now and then, you will maintain your chances of winning and avoid being stigmatized as a greedy soul who likes money better than good fellowship. It is true that conservatism pays in poker, but don't try to make it pay too much.

4.    Conform to the pace of the game. Old-fashioned poker players like to take every step with the greatest deliberation, with close figuring before betting and excursions into psychological analysis before deciding whether or not to call. In distinction to this, the public game in a licensed club or gambling house moves with machine-gun precision and if you pause for as much as ten seconds you will be subjected to impatient prods from the other players. If you are by nature a slow thinker you may suffer a bit in the fast games, but not as much as you will suffer from violating the custom of the game.

5.    Don't be a stickler for the laws in an amateur game. The players commit the most horrible crimes known to poker. They drop out of turn. They want to look at your hand when you bet and didn't get called. They relinquish a pot and then want to reclaim it when they find out that they had the best hand after all.

Let them get away with it. I assume your principal desire is to be a winning player (that is the purpose for which this website was created) and in such a game you will be a winning player just by avoiding the more horrible of the mistakes that are made all around you. Be content with that. They will eventually kick you out of the game because you win too much, but if you don't hurt their feelings by insisting on strict interpretation of the laws you will last quite a while longer.

6.    Lose a few arguments. For example, if you have put in your ante and someone says you haven't, why not put it in again? On this subject I would like to make one sage observation. If you argue and then give in reluctantly, you have done just as much damage to yourself as if you argued and never gave in. In fact, you have done more damage; if you decide to stand on the fact that you are right, you may win the admiration of some players. Equally you will win their admiration when you give in fast and graciously although it is obvious that you were right all the time; it is apparent that you are not picayune about small amounts. So you must either stand on your rights or yield with no murmuring or muttering, and you shouldn't do either of them all the time.

7.    The traditional problem of etiquette is saved for last: Can you quit when you are a big winner?

Here again the answer depends on the game. In a public game you should have no qualms at all; in a club game you should simply take care to give ample advance notice, such as a half-hour or an hour; and in a truly social game you mustn't. You can nurse your stack and you can refrain from doing anything that would keep the game going, but you can't give the impression that you are in there for the money and not for the sheer fun of it. At least wait until someone else quits and then go along with him.

 
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