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As we count down to the November Nine action, we can take a look at some of the unspoken rules and guidelines that players are normally expected to follow at live poker tournaments.

Pretty much all professional and serious poker players who compete frequently in live tournaments are aware of these guidelines, but they can surprise some novice poker players who are getting their feet wet during their first few live events.

Larger Denomination Chips Should Be Viewable At All Times

There is an important unwritten rule about how you stack your tournament chips in a poker event. Basically, the larger denomination chips should be prominently displayed at the front or on top of your stack at all times.

This is a courtesy to give other opponents at your table a general idea of how many chips you have “behind” you in case of an all-in situation. Hiding T100,000 chips behind a stack of T100s is a no-no at live events, and will likely draw the ire of most poker players at your table.

Continuous non-compliance with this unspoken rule could result in a “time out” from the tournament table — especially in No Limit tournament formats.

No Calling On The River With The Best Possible Hand

This rule is indeed written in the fine print of many tournament rules, but many beginning live tournament players are unaware of it. There are a couple of caveats to this guideline, but you cannot be the final person to Call or Check the best possible hand on the River.

For example, if the community board is As-2d-7h-8h-Js, then you must press the action with your Ten-Nine hole cards — if you are the final person to act. It is perfectly fine to check or call on the River if there is another person behind you who must still act, but if the final decision is up to you, your only option is to Bet or Raise.

Many live tournaments enforce a mandatory “time out” rule for failure to press the action when a player is last to act, holding the best possible hand, and doesn’t increase the pot. The overall aim of this rule is to eliminate the possibility of collusion.

Food & Drink Residue Should Not Find Their Way Onto Playing Cards

This issue has come to the forefront in live poker tournaments thanks to the ongoing Phil Ivey vs. Borgata Casino Edge Sorting Saga. Some poker players can gain an advantage from the smallest of markings on playing cards, including those left by greasy food and room-temperature beverages that were once ice-cold.

Every playing card in any poker game should be exactly the same when it is face down. No exceptions! You’d be surprised at how easy some players can identify a card that has a smudge of ranch dressing caked on it, so do your part to ensure an equal playing field for all competitors in a live event.

No Obvious Reactions To Community Cards

In juicy cash games, “fish” are afforded an enormous amount of leeway when it comes to reacting to community cards when they’ve already mucked their hand. This is not the case in live poker tournaments, where everyone is on more equal footing and competing for a top slot within a global prize pool.

If you were dealt a pocket pair, decided to muck, and then notice you would have flopped a Set or Quads once the community cards hit the felt, you should refrain from reacting to it until the hand is over.

Ivey Actually Loses

Even wincing can give away valuable information and influence action from other players who are still going against one another to take down the pot you forfeited. Be very conscious of this unwritten guideline, as failure to do so could get you temporarily booted from the tournament.

Verbal And Physical Actions Trump All Others

Be careful what you say in a live poker tournament! If you say “I’m all-in,” then that is what you are, regardless of whether you’re joking. If you say “2,500,” then that is the amount of your bet, even if you only physically place one T500 chip into the pot.

There is a lot of potential for collusion and angle-shooting in a live tournament, which is why there are some unspoken rules about how contradicting actions affect your participation in a hand.

If you throw you cards into the muck, then your hand is forfeited. It does not matter whether you intended to remain in the hand, as it is the player’s responsibility to always protect his or her hole cards.

Again, this is a common guideline that seasoned live players are already aware of, but one that recreational players can lose a significant pot over. In short, your verbal and physical actions in a live event shouldn’t contradict one another. In a day and age in which “chain bets” and other questionable poker actions are the cause of much debate, it is best to make your poker decisions clear and concise while at the table.

Major Live Tournament Chips Are Not “Swag”

During the Moneymaker Poker Boom, new participants at major live tournaments frequently pocketed a tournament chip as a souvenir. Don’t do this! Even if it’s a small denomination chip, you are taking a tiny percentage out of the event.

Most major events are great about giving players clothing, card protectors or other memorabilia to reminisce about an unforgettable experience.

If you absolutely have your heart set on an actual major live event chip, head over to the tournament director and ask for a spare one that is not currently in play. You may or may not be able to obtain one this way, but it is better than taking one off an actual tournament table, as doing so may get you permanently eliminated from the event in question.

When all else fails, head over to the casino’s souvenir shop to pick up collectibles that have zero negative effect on an event’s fluctuating equity.

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David Huber

David Huber has been involved in the poker industry for more than a decade: initially as a professional online poker player and later as an editor, consultant, writer, and forum manager. Known as "dhubermex" online, David's poker-related work has been heavily published across numerous websites since 2004.