Online poker may feel like a free-for-all. But there are well-defined rules so players can understand what’s actually fair play. We’re here to explain some of the unwritten rules of online poker etiquette.
You’re probably aware of online etiquette no-no’s like:
- Revealing hole cards or advising other players during the hand.
- Gloating after a win, or complaining after a loss, no matter how routine it was.
- Stalling the game solely because someone is raising “too often,” or playing slowly themselves.
- Criticizing others’ play during the game.
These are never acceptable practices, but during the game, there are situations which challenge common acceptance of the rules. Different dynamics come into play, and you can legitimately consider fudging the lines.
Stalling for a prize
Nobody likes someone who plays slowly for the sake of it, or to annoy others. But taking your time when you’re one of the lowest stacks in the latter stages of a tournament and you need to survive long enough is quite understandable. Why should you hurry your own demise? Even when holding completely useless hole cards, stretching out the length of the hand on your table in the hope somebody on another table takes a fall could mean the difference between no prize at all and a mini cash. Or maybe even a significant pay jump!
Places on leaderboards can also be at stake. Even if the chip or cash prize doesn’t increase, tournament points are usually at stake.
Stalling as a self-preservation tactic can be an example of ‘implicit’ collusion, in that many players may choose to participate, even the deeper stacks. Everybody wants the shorties to be knocked out. The mid-size stacks don’t want to pay too many blinds and cripple their position while waiting for the bubble to burst, so several tables in the tournament may go on a go-slow just because everyone has the same objective.
Another situation where you may be expected to look at the bigger picture is not bluffing for a small or “empty” side pot when there’s an all-in player in a tournament. Pushing a winning hand out of the pot for no actual gain yourself, plus enabling the all-in player to stay alive, is often severely frowned upon. “Checking it down” without making a verbal agreement can be mutually beneficial to the players with chips
NOTE: It’s important to note that no attempt to communicate your intent to play this way can be made. You have to reach your decision independently. The times you miss out on chips by not betting or laying down strong hands make this negative EV play sometimes.
Nobody likes a bully, and it’s typically a risky route to take. Someone will call you down before too long if you persist.
However, a strategy to exploit players trying to fold into a prize is relentlessly raising. When you know the opponents consider the downside of committing all their chips, and losing is too terrible to contemplate, they might fold absolutely everything. This might be possible even against relatively comfortable stacks. As long as your big chip stack covers theirs, many players will choose to lay down hands they might normally take you on with, due to risking all their tournament equity where the downside is a bust out with no prize.
Hit and run
Once you’ve won chips from another player, they are now your chips. You have no obligation to hang around and allow them a chance to win them straight back. Even if you remain at a table less than one orbit, you are free to stand and take your chips with you.
There are usually house rules in place to counter any unfair salting-away of chips. You can’t take some of your chips from a table during a game, and you can’t return to the same seat for a prescribed time with less than you left with. The new player taking your seat will have chips, even though they may have fewer than you leave with, but the losing player has no grounds to insist they try to win from you and not someone else.