A new year is upon us, and with it comes the usual activity of making resolutions — for life and for poker. Many life resolutions fall by the wayside pretty quickly, particularly if they involve food (i.e., consuming less of) or exercise (i.e., doing more of). But aspirations and goals can frame your mind and change your behavior, so the effort is well worth making.
Most players’ poker resolutions are strategic in nature or bankroll-related — these are obviously highly personal. But I want you to consider another category of resolutions, namely, those that involve becoming a better citizen of the poker community.
I’m talking about behavior at the tables, from little things, like understanding and complying with procedures, to the biggest things, like not berating other players or dealers. Here’s a guide to the resolutions every poker player should consider for the new year:
1. I resolve to play fast
The slow pace of play is really hurting live poker. You know something’s wrong when fixed-limit hold’em players tank preflop (!) and tournament players take 30 seconds to make a routine fold in Level 1. If you need time, take it; if you don’t, make your action and get on with the game.
2. I resolve to act in turn
It’s shocking to me how many players don’t know or understand the rule here. You must, always, act in turn. Regardless of your action! This includes checking, betting, and folding. This also includes asking for any information (“What’s the bet?” or “How much do you have behind?”). Acting out of turn is explicitly forbidden and with good reason: It gives too much information to players who, by virtue of position, aren’t entitled to it. It also can significantly change the dynamic of a hand.
3. I resolve to stack chips neatly
This is more important in tournaments than anywhere else, and more important in no-limit games than in fixed-limit games. But having a countable stack, with big chips in front, is one of those things you should always consciously try to do.
4. I resolve to make my actions unambiguous
You’ll probably make a string bet just once in your poker career, and you’ll probably learn the one chip rule very quickly. But for many players, plenty of actions are ambiguous. For instance, if I say “Raise $500,” does that mean I raise by $500 or I make it $500 straight? Resolve to be very clear about your actions, either verbally or with your chips (and verbal clarity is by far the best approach).
5. I resolve to learn the rules — both the general rules of the game and the specific idiosyncrasies of my card room
A lot of rule-breaking is from ignorance, and it will give you more confidence and a greater sense of competence if you actually learn the rules as written and as they are applied. You can find the general rules online in many places, and your card room should post its own set. (If there’s a poker god out there, resolve to create a generally accepted set of rules for the game!)
6. I resolve to move on
After the pot has been pushed, resolve to let that hand go. No berating or bemoaning your fate, whether on that hand, in that session, in the recent past, or in your whole life. No grousing about how unlucky you are, and no snarky comments like “good call.” Let. It. Go. Even better, start thinking about the next hand.
7. I resolve be polite to dealers, chip runners, servers, and floor people
I have little doubt that most of you are nice people. I also have little doubt that some of you, after taking a beat or getting felted or simply sitting for hours without a playable hand, direct your anger and frustration at the people who work long hours to make your game possible. Don’t. (If there’s a problem with anyone, ask for the floor.)
8. I resolve to treat my opponents with respect
Demonstrate respect for everyone involved in the game, even the foul-mouthed, slow-rolling, trash-talking lout in seat four. He may not deserve it, but your sense of your own character demands it. You can also show respect by putting your cellphone on silent and taking calls away from the table. (Please!)
The value of these resolutions should be self-evident, but in case it’s not, I think that better behavior will bring more and more players into the game — obviously a good thing. I also believe that resolving to behave better at the table can help you discard petty annoyances and focus on much bigger matters: the hands you’re dealt and how you play them. That’s a win-win.
Good luck with all your resolutions — and good luck at the tables — in 2015.