Can You Talk About A Poker Hand While Playing?

live poker tour gamePlaying live poker at a land based casino is by its very nature a social game and as such conversation is part and parcel of the game. If anything, were it to be played in near or total silence, poker would become a boring and miserable experience.

Often the talk can be about poker, but more often than not could be about other casino games, sports, movies, food, you name it. Within the norms of decency, no subject is off limits as a topic of chat at the felt except one. Never, ever talk about the hand in progress whether you are in the hand or out of it.

Keep Quiet About the Hand

daniel negreanu playing poker
Photos by flipchip / / CC BY-SA

Why is it so important to keep quiet about the ongoing hand? The reason behind the rule is simple. It is there to ensure that every player must make their own decisions without outside influence. Just about anything a player might say about the hand in progress can help, hurt or at the very least hinder another player, often in ways that can’t be anticipated. Because of this, players are prohibited from interfering with how the hand plays out. However, there are some problems with enforcing the rule.

The first of these problems is that situations will inevitably come up where you will need to talk about the hand in progress. As an example, it is possible and has happened in the past, that players thought that they had heard someone else at the table say that they were going all in but were unsure who said it. Or, perhaps, a player can be uncertain whether the vague hand gesture of the player to their right was checking or merely tapping his hand casually while they were thinking. In this case they will need to ask the dealer to clarify what is happening.

Or perhaps you catch something improper happening such as a player prematurely or accidently exposes their cards, or acts out of turn, or raise the wrong amount. If the dealer misses the problem and fails to get it fixed, you will need to speak up and call their attention to it, because the hand cannot continue until the problem has been solved.

Hand Subjects That It Would Otherwise Be Perfectly OK To Talk About

poker chips in shape of a question markThe second thing clouding what would otherwise look like a tight but understandable prohibition on real time table talk is that there is another whole category of subjects that might be about the hand in progress, but which would otherwise be perfectly acceptable to be talking about.

There are some facts that are supposed to be freely available to all players and as such are fair game to be spoken about out loud. For example, a player might have forgotten to bring, or misplaced their glasses, and may need to ask whether a card on the board is the king of hearts or the king diamonds.

Also, if you did not hear how big somebody declared their bet to be, you are permitted to ask, just as you can enquire as to how many chips a player’s all in bet is. You are even allowed to ask about any poker rules that you need to know such as how much the minimal legal raise would need to be in the present situation.

The dealer is ultimately responsible for ensuring that all of the players are up to speed on all of the freely available information, but they are busy elsewhere, it is even OK for other players to speak up as required.

Another problem with the outlawing the discussion of the hand in progress is that there are all kinds of debatable cases where reasonable minds disagree on whether the words spoken are indeed a violation of the rule or whether they are one of the exceptions to the rule. That’s not for us to say, but it would definitely be a smart move to give any questionable cases a swerve and opt for silence.

The fourth and final problem with the rule is probably its biggest and that is that the hand in progress is such an obvious and important subject for discussion that poker players often find it hard to resist talking about it.

Enforcement also remains a problem because many players go to the casino but are also home game players where the rule might be only lightly observed. What’s more, many dealers get tired of always having to remind players not to talk about the exact thing that are so very desperate to talk about so policing it can become inconsistent. This can causes a snowball effect of annoyance and confusion because players that don’t get corrected get the impression that small talk at the table is acceptable when it shouldn’t be and isn’t.

What Not to Say About Your Poker Hand

folding hand poker flying acesLet’s look at some examples of what is most definitely outlawed. The flop delivers AA4 and a player shouts out that they folded their ace. This is an explicit violation because it provides potentially valuable information to the other players.

The player at the table who has A2 now doesn’t need to worry that anyone else has the fourth ace with a bigger kicker. Also, there might be another player who was planning a bluff but now knows that it will be a lot harder to persuade the others that he flopped trips. In this scenario the shouting player has changed how the hand would have been played.

Another example would be when the river brings a fourth spade. The first two players both check and there are two more ready and waiting to make their move. Someone speaks up and says, “one of you must have made that flush”. Again, this is illegal, it might not seem like anything unknown is being revealed but that’s not definitely true. There could be any amount of reasons that a player might have missed the fact that they have a flush. Another player might have been thinking that they had the nuts and the highest straight possible and failed to notice the cards’ suits. Thanks to the noisy player, they have been tipped off.

Other no, no’s include when someone puts in a large pre flop re raise and you reply, “you must have a high pair”. Or when someone over bets and you inform them out loud that don’t want a call. You will be breaking the rule if somebody bets and you say out loud, “He’s committed to the pot now”. When there are four nines on the board, and you observe out loud “Any ace wins it”. Do that, and you will be breaking the rule.

Also, never speculate on your rivals’ holdings in a way that can give away information to anyone. Never take it upon yourself to provide an annoying play by play on the community cards or the action. If you do talk about the flop, you are giving players information that they are not entitled to. Criticising other players before, during or after a hand is also unwanted and unehlpful. Most rooms have strict rules about abusive behaviour, not that these always apply to guys like Phil Hellmuth.

In all of these examples, the comments have the power to help another player fathom out something they might not have grasped on their own, thus changing what they decide to do. Hence why they are forbidden.

Once again however, you are unfortunately likely to hear such remarks frequently when you play in a casino poker room, and the dealer may not be attentive enough to discipline the guilty parties. But you really shouldn’t be taking that as encouragement to join in. Lead by example and stay out of trouble and never ever discuss the one thing that you simply cannot talk about at the poker table, the hand in progress.