How to Protect Yourself at the Poker Table

Advice from a Poker Dealer

This is about money!

If you are going to play poker, real poker, not that fake online crap, then you should read this carefully. At the poker table, it is always obvious who actually cares about their money.

As a dealer for the last decade, I have seen and heard of things you would never consider when you sit down at a table. Dealer mistakes, bad supervisor decisions, and fouled decks (with missing, extra, or incorrect cards) are just a few examples of the wild and unexpected things that can happen when your money is on the line!

Let me be clear, this is not a strategy guide. How you play your cards is your business. This guide is about giving yourself as much physical advantage as possible.

Rule #1. Pay Attention

Yes, the waitress is gorgeous. Yes, sports are on the TV. Yes, the conversation is engaging. But if you fail to pay attention to the game, kiss your money goodbye. You are the sucker everyone is aiming for.

This means no headphones. I have seen players with headphones saying “CALL”, not knowing there was a verbal raise. The onus is always on the player, not the dealer, to know when it is their turn, and how much the bet is.

Not watching or not listening to the action at the table puts you at a huge disadvantage. It is never worthwhile to tune the table out.

Be attentive, commit your eyes and ears to the action on the table.

Paying attention is paramount to protecting your money, if only in that it lets other players know your are not a sucker.

Rule #2. Protect Your Eyes

2004 WSOP Champion Greg “Fossilman” Reymer wearing his famous holographic glasses

We are creatures of habit and of pattern recognition. If I notice that you glance at my chips everytime you have a strong hand, that gives me an advantage over you. Why not hide your eyes and deny me that advantage? Your other option is for you to change your habit, which will cost you a lot more money than a pair of sunglasses, I promise.

Rule #3. Protect Your Cards

This means creating a direct line of sight from your eyes to the corner of the cards, through a peep hole you create with your hands.

If anyone else can see your cards for any reason, you have failed.

This also means placing an object on top of your cards to signify they are in play. This can be a poker chip, trinket, coin, or whatever you desire.

Your card protector cannot be bigger than the cards. It is there to protect your cards from the dealer, who may accidentally muck your hand, or from other players who may throw their cards into yours and kill your hand.

Never lift your cards off the table! Never hide your cards underneath or behind chips or other objects! Your hand may be ruled dead as a result.

If you have a winning hand, turn it up directly in front of you and keep your finger on it. This is called “tabling a hand”. Do not release a winning hand until you are paid!

Rule #4: Protect Your Stack

Keep your stack organized in exact easily countable amounts. The proper amount is stacks of 20 chips of each color. Often you can tell someone’s experience at playing and winning, based on how they stack their chips! If they are not used to winning their stacks will be uneven and chaotic.

Why keep stacks organized? To improve betting posture. With even stacks you can make precise bets with ease and comfort, allowing you to give away less information in the motion of betting. Taking the time to count out the chips is unnecessary and can only cause more harm than good, based solely on body language.

Keeping your stack organized also protects it if someone else’s chips or the pot are accidentally knocked into it.

Rule #5: Protect Your Bets

Do not throw money directly into the pile! This is called “splashing the pot”. Do not frivolously toss money into other players’ bets or stacks. Place your bets directly in front of you and train yourself to use the same spot on the table and same motion every time you bet. This will leave no doubt as to whose money it is and give you some consistency in body language.

BONUS TIP: Always Showdown When All-In

I once knocked myself out of a huge poker tournament. I was all-in with a small pair, and my opponent had flopped the nuts, an Ace-high straight! With frustration I threw my cards into the muck. The next two cards that came put an Ace-high straight on the board, splitting the pot to everyone with “live” cards. My cards were dead.

I have seen multiple winning hands get thrown away at the table because players misread their cards. If all your chips are in the pot, just show your cards and hope for the best. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by not showing.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I’m on a mission to write 39 stories for my 39th Birthday. This is Story #5. The rest can be found here:

Please INSPIRE ME TO WRITE more by sharing my stories. Thanks.

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