One of the main reasons poker became the second national pastime for a while there one decade ago was the online boom. Players who weren’t quite familiar with the rules of the road could still feel comfortable sitting on the couch and chasing straights. Online poker lets beginners and rookies get in the game without worrying about making mistakes, slowing the table down, or generally mucking things up. Between intuitive software that handled much of the gameplay mechanics, and easy to find rules right there on the screen, the online game was a godsend for poker novices.

Fast forward to 2018, however, and the government’s 2011 crackdown on the online poker industry has halted much of that progress in its tracks. Today, players who aren’t lucky enough to live in Nevada, New Jersey, or Delaware – where online poker has been legalized and regulated – are forced to find their nearest local casino or card club to find some action.

And as a result, poker rooms from coast to coast are seeing an influx of players who aren’t quite prepared to make the adjustment from online to live play. Don’t get me wrong now, many of these players know when to check-raise a scare card on the turn or find the fold button when a flush draw isn’t getting the right pot odds. These guys and gals can play poker, and well in fact, thanks to their training online. But, to blend a few phrases, these newbies are fish out of water when it comes to the rules of live tournament poker. Think about it for a minute, and you’ll see why.

During an online tournament, your chips and cards are just graphics and pixels on the screen, so you never have to worry about how to handle them. But in a live game, there are countless things that can go wrong when it comes to physically manipulating poker’s equipment. You might fold out of turn, or grab an opponent’s chip by mistake, or commit any number of violations.

This extends to player actions too, as there won’t be any buttons to click when you want to call or raise. Instead, you’ll need to know the right way to signal your actions to fellow players and the dealer. And when you realize that the latest edition of the Tournament Director’s Association (TDA) rulebook includes 71 different rules governing poker play, it’s no wonder even experienced players have trouble remembering correct conduct.

All in all, every poker player can stand to benefit from brushing up on the TDA rules and regulations. Casinos across the country are moving rapidly toward widespread adoption of the TDA guidelines, rather than relying on their own house rules. And with TDA head honcho Matt Savage – who holds an annual conference with fellow tournament directors to refine the rulebook – heading up World Poker Tour (WPT) events, these rules will soon be gospel for poker players everywhere.

With that in mind, let’s run through seven of the most important rules to remember when playing live tournaments, complete with the actual text straight from the TDA rulebook:

1 – Never Disclose the Contents of Your Hand


67: No Disclosure“Players must protect other players in the tournament at all times.

Therefore players, whether in the hand or not, must not:

  • Discuss contents of live or mucked hands,
  • Advise or criticize play at any time,
  • Read a hand that hasn’t been tabled.

One-player-to-a-hand is in effect. Among other things, this rule prohibits showing a hand to or discussing strategy with another player, advisor, or spectator.”


This one may seem like a no-brainer at first glance, but play a few orbits in any local casino nightly tournament, and you’ll realize quickly why it gets top billing on this list. Simply put, many recreational poker players just don’t know when to shut up. For the most part, their chatter is idle and innocent, and no ill will is intended. Even so, talking about the contents of your hand at any point while action is still pending can have severe consequences – both for you, and the rest of the table.

The most common scenario involving a violation of Rule #67 goes something like this. You’re holding pocket Kings and the flop comes down with not one but two Aces on board. Given your opponent’s preflop aggression, it’s understandable to think he might’ve just made trip Aces to crush your cowboys. Thus, you plan to play this pot cautiously while looking to avoid damage, so you bet small with the intention of folding to a big raise.

Like clockwork, your opponent indeed slides out a stack of raising chips, and you’re already reaching to fold what seem to be cracked pocket Kings. But then, from across the table, you hear a clue…

“That’s just my luck, I fold A-6 suited and bang, two more hit the flop. And these guys are betting too, I could’ve won a big one.”

A player who doesn’t know about Rule #61 is leaning over to tell his neighbor about his misfortune, revealing he folded an Ace. His banter may seem like basic small talk, but now that you’ve heard the news, the actual hand being contested plays out much differently.

You know where three of the deck’s four Aces are now, with two on the flop and one in the muck courtesy of our Chatty Cathy. Armed with this information, you correctly deduce that the odds of your opponent having the case Ace have been sliced in half. One reraise later and you force the opponent to fold his bold bluff, raking in a nice pot in the process – and all thanks to the third player’s table talk.

In this example, things worked out for you personally, but just imagine losing a pot like that because somebody else couldn’t keep quiet. Those ones sting badly, worse than bad beats even, because they never should’ve happened if everyone just followed the rules. The idea of protecting other players at the table, as Rule #67 calls for, may seem counter-intuitive in a poker tournament. After all, it’s your objective to take chips from opponents whenever possible.

But when you reveal the contents of your hand with action still pending, this revealed information fundamentally changes the game. One player might not hear the table talk, giving another a huge advantage. Or both players might hear, leaving the rest of the hand to play out in some Twilight Zone where mucked cards are now known. In each case, the fundamental nature of the game changes, and all because of loose lips.

Just remember, you’re always free to discuss what you held after the current hand has been completed. Wait for the pot to be pushed, then regale the table with tales of your big folds or missed flops. Other forms of disclosure include telling another player how to proceed given the current scenario. Anything that resembles “I would do X” or “Maybe Y is a good idea” should be considered forbidden with action pending.

To sum this essential rule up, it’s always best to keep quiet about your cards or strategy while other players are still left to act. Everybody deserves the chance to play the game on equal footing, and that all goes away when a player makes his hole cards known.

2 – Protect Your Hand at All Times


65. Accidentally Killed / Fouled / Exposed Hands“A: Players must protect their hands at all times, including at showdown while waiting for hands to be read.

If the dealer kills a hand by mistake, or if in TD’s judgment a hand is fouled and cannot be identified to 100% certainty, the player has no redress and is not entitled to a refund of called bets.

If a hand is fouled but can be identified, it remains in play despite any cards exposed.”

One of the most tragic scenes you can see play out in a poker tournament occurs when a great hand goes into the muck by mistake. This debacle usually strikes when you’re sitting in the #1 or #9 seats, which are both situated directly next to the dealer. With the dealer within arm’s reach, and their hands in auto-muck mode collecting folded hands, it can be easy for them to accidentally take your cards too.

Just ask Estelle Denis, a French player who found herself living every poker enthusiast’s dream back in 2009. After ponying up $10,000 to play the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event, Denis outlasted the bulk of a 6,494-player field to find herself deep with only 220 players remaining. The winner would receive $8.5 million, and like anybody else still left with chips on the table, Denis had her sights set on the seven-figure sum.

But then, disaster struck in especially cruel fashion. As you can see in this cringe-worthy clip, Denis found the perfect scenario to make her stand – holding pocket Aces with significant action in front of her. She shoved her last 142,000 over a 32,000-chip open, only to look down and find her pocket rockets nowhere to be found.

The dealer was in the process of mucking folded hands, and without any protection on her Aces, Denis’ hand was scooped up too. In the end, her cards were irretrievable, meaning she had to pay the 32,000 bet and forfeit the hand altogether. Denis wound up busting a short time later in 203rd place, good for $36,000 and change, along with a lifelong question of what might have been.

Rule #65 is responsible for the card protectors you’ll often see recreational players deploy. Little trinkets and tchotchkes, blackjack tokens, or maybe even a Buddha statue are all commonly used to, literally, protect a player’s hand. You can also do like the pros do and use a single chip from your stack. Just make sure to keep your hole cards “capped” with any small object that lets the dealer know they’re still live and in play.

3 – Raising Silently with a Single Chip Is Actually a Call


49. Oversized Chip Betting

“If facing a bet or blind, pushing out a single oversized chip (including your last chip) is a call if ‘raise’ isn’t first declared.

To raise with an overchip you must declare ‘raise’ before the chip hits the table surface.If raise is declared but no amount is stated, the raise is the maximum allowable for that chip.

If not facing a bet, pushing out an overchip silently (no declaration) is a bet of the maximum for the chip.”


One of most common causes for the floor being called to a tournament table is confusion over chip usage.  Picture a hand with blinds set at 100/200. After a few folds around the table, the action moves to you with A-K, so you bump the action up by tossing out a 500-chip. Suddenly, the dealer slides you back three 100 chips to make change, and that’s where the confusion sets in.

You intended to raise your big slick to 500, and using a single 500-chip seemed like the most efficient way to do so. But without audibly declaring “raise” beforehand, using a single chip when facing a bet or blind is always a call according to Rule #49.

The impetus for this rule isn’t always apparent, but it stems from the scourge of “angle shooting.” Without Rule #49 in place, an unscrupulous player might toss out the 500-chip in that spot, then sit back and gauge his opponent’s reaction to decide how to proceed.

If the opponent goes to fold, then the bettor maintains he was raising to 500 and wins the pot. But if the opponent reaches for reraising chips, the bettor can cry foul and claim he was simply calling the 200. By requiring a verbal declaration to raise with a single chip, Rule #49 seeks to avoid these sordid disputes altogether.

But be sure to remember how the rule differs between when you’re facing a bet or blind, and when you’re first to act. After the flop, turn, or river, a player acting without a bet in front of them can toss out a single chip and wager its full value without making a verbal declaration. In that case, the “chip speaks,” so take a moment and make sure you’re reaching for the right color and denomination before firing.

When in doubt, it’s easiest to simply declare all of your bets verbally. Just get into the habit of announcing “raise to 500” or “call” before you ever move a chip forward. After that, the chip itself doesn’t matter, as your verbal intention is binding. Other players like to avoid the single chip rule entirely by adding a small denomination chip to any bet or raise. A raise to 500 would be 525, a wager of 1,000 would bump up to 1,050, and so on.

4 – You Can’t Have a Live Hand Unless You’re Seated


30. At Your Seat and Live Hands“To have a live hand, players must be at their seats when the last card is dealt to all players on the initial deal.

Players not then at their seats may not look at their cards, which are killed immediately. Their posted blinds and antes forfeit to the pot.”


31. At the Table with Action Pending“Players with live hands (including players all-in or otherwise finished betting) must remain at the table for all betting rounds and showdown.

Leaving the table is incompatible with protecting your hand and following the action, and is subject to penalty.”


This pair of rules has been designed to curb an especially annoying habit shared by live players at every level. Look, live poker can be slow going sometimes, and if you have a short attention span – or a weak bladder – the temptation to get up and go in between hands can be overwhelming. You might be checking on a pal’s progress a few tables over, or jogging to the restroom to relieve yourself. Whatever the cause though, players will leave the table far more often than you’d imagine.

And when they do, a familiar scene tends to repeat itself. The wanderer will notice that a new hand is beginning and sprint back to their seat, usually yelling “I’m here, I’m back!” to the dealer. Before Rule #30 – a controversial provision among poker pros known as “last card off the deck” – was implemented in recent years, players like this could severely hold up a game. Just picture eight players impatiently waiting a minute or so for one guy to get back and muck 2-7 to get the idea…

Nowadays, however, players have a strict timeline in place. You can still get up and walk around, stretch, or use the amenities – but you need to be back with your butt in the chair before the dealer distributes the last card. Get back mid-deal with cards still in the air, and all is well. But return even a second after the deal has concluded, and your mucking your dead cards will be the first thing the dealer does next.

On another note, you might see TV poker pros hop up and leave the table to converse with pals on the rail, but this only occurs after all player actions are over. In other words, when all that’s left to do is sweat the cards, you’re free to leave the table. But try to bet and run, or hide from an opponent’s stare while bluffing, and leaving the table will kill your hand via Rule #31.

5 – Never Pocket or Conceal Your Chips from View


63. Chips Out of View and in Transit“Players may not hold or transport chips in a way that takes them out of view.

A player who does so will forfeit the chips and may be disqualified.”


If you play cash games regularly, the habit of holding your chips in a pocket or backpack in between tables can be hard to break. Cash game chips are yours, however, paid for with cash to be used in a fluid session. If you want to pocket them and leave the table, more power to you. But in a tournament, every last chip in play is really the property of the casino. And even though you bought in, taking them off the table or concealing them in any way is essentially a crime.

That may sound melodramatic, but the integrity of the tournament depends on knowing that no chips have been passed between players, or faked for reintroduction at a later stage. Rule #63 is there for a reason, so don’t make the mistake of removing your chips from play.

6 – Keep Your Chip Stacks Tidy and Readable


25. Cards & Chips Kept Visible, Countable & Manageable“Players are entitled to a reasonable estimation of their opponents’ chip counts; thus, chips should be kept in countable stacks. The TDA recommends clean stacks of 20 chips each as a standard.

Higher denomination chips must be visible and identifiable at all times.”

A particularly annoying breed of tournament player believes they can gain an advantage by obscuring opponents’ view of their chips. They might hide a large denomination chip behind their ante chips, hoping to lure an unsuspecting player to shove on the would-be short stack. Others stack their chips in odd amounts, knowing an opponent won’t be able to easily scan and count them during a heated pot.

Both of these moves are shady from an ethical standpoint, and thanks to Rule #25, illegal under TDA rules. The respectable play is to arrange your chips in stacks of 20, with the largest denominations up front and clearly visible.

7 – Respect the Game and Fellow Players


70: Etiquette Violations“Etiquette violations are subject to enforcement actions, and examples include but are not limited to: persistent delay of the game, unnecessarily touching another player’s person, cards, or chips, repeatedly acting out of turn, betting out of reach of the dealer, abusive conduct, and excessive chatter.”

On a final note, poker may be viewed by many as a rough and tumble game played by cutthroats who have no compunction about taking a stranger’s money. And it is, without a doubt. But it’s also a game, which means it’s meant to be enjoyed by all involved. Whether you’re a grizzled pro playing to put food on the table, or a tourist looking to have a good time, there’s never a good reason to engage in abusive table talk, improper player actions, or other breaches of poker etiquette.


Poker tournaments can be a grind and it’s easy to make mistakes. Use these 7 rules to remember to help you avoid costly mistakes.

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