Understanding a Poker Table

Learn how a table's set up, the player positions and more


You might think, what’s to understand?  It’s a table you sit at it and play.  That kind of thinking would be a dead giveaway you’re a novice, not something you want other players to know. 

Even if you’ve been playing for a while its likely you might not firmly grasp all the aspects that go into what going on at a poker table.  There’s even etiquette that should be followed.  Whether you’re playing online or in real life you should understand the table, which starts dictating play before a single card’s been dealt.

The Table Itself

The table itself is going to usually be circle or oval shaped with a felt top, unless you’re playing at home and any table will do.  The number of players that can sit at the table varies depending on the game that’s being played and of course the size of the table.  You can play ring games which just include one table, or you can play tournaments that have multiple tables.  In the latter case, each table will have a single winner who win then move on to another table with winners from the other prior tables.

The Dealer

The dealer’s position can be argued as the most important one at the table.  That’s because where they’re sitting is going to determine the position everyone else is in.  The dealer position is the most desirable at the table since they are going to be the last to act in a betting round. 

Now when there’s a professional or set dealer for a game there has to be a way to change up the positions so that it’s fair to everyone.  That’s where the dealer button comes into play.  The dealer button doesn’t have to be a button so to speak but is usually a disc that indicates which player is in the dealer position.  It is rotated around the table clockwise one position each game, just as the cards are dealt.  A common term for being in this position is “on the button”.  The button is also referred to as the buck.

Then playing with blinds there are some rules with how the dealer button is moved.  For one in head’s up play, that is when only two players enter a game, the dealer is the small blind and the other player is the big blind.  Also when players get eliminated from play it can mess with the dealer button position if the small blinds go out.  In that instance when the player who was getting the small blind next goes out all you do is simply skip the small blind. 

That means there would be a dealer and a big blind only.  Typically the dead button rule is used if the player getting the button next is eliminated.  In a dead button situation you move the button one to the left where the empty seat is as you would if someone were there, and on the next round everything will be as it should be.

The Player Positions

There are many positions in the game of poker and they vary depending on whether or not blinds are being used.  Since you can just disregard the blind positions if you’re not playing with them the seating order here includes them.  Of course the position also vary depending on the number of players in the game.

Dealer:  We’ve discussed this position above.  To recap it is the most desirable position at the table since they are dealt cards last and are last to act in the betting round, giving them the advantage of already seeing how everyone else acts in the first round.

Small Blind:  This is the position just to the left of the dealer button.  The small blind must put in a minimum amount to the pot before the cards are dealt.  This is done because community card games like Texas Hold’Em typically don’t have antes.  The betting goes round the whole table before it comes back to the small blind.  At that point they must put in the remaining amount that was put in by the small blind or meet the raise if there was one in order to keep playing the hand.

Big Blind:  This is the position directly to the left of the small blind.  The same rules for the small blind apply to this position except the big blind must put in a bigger bet usually twice that of the small blind.  Also when betting finally comes back to the big blind they must meet the raise if there was one to stay in the game.

Early:  If there aren’t blinds the early position will be directly after the dealer.  Even when there’s blinds this is the least desirable of positions due to have to be the one to pull the trigger on betting first.  That’s why this position is said to be under the gun.  Unlike the blinds there can be more than one player in the early position depending on how many people are at the table and includes the small and big blinds if there are any. 

Middle:  This position again can be single or multiple players depending on the number at the table.  The middle is the seat(s) directly to the left of the early position but before the late position.  This position is aptly named as you see how some players bet but not others. 

Late:  This is where you want to be in a poker game.  Again there can be more than one player in this position and it includes the dealer who has the best of the late seats.  These players to the left of the middle position have the advantage of seeing what other bet and can read into it before making their own decision. 

Table Etiquette

There are most certainly etiquette guidelines to sitting at a table, though some grossly overlook them.  If you don’t want to be shunned at the tables you must learn to play with at least minimum manners.  The first rule of thumb is don’t splash the pot.  Contrary to watch you see in the movies coolly tossing your chips into the pot is a poker faux pa. 

Not only does this make a mess of chips on the table that someone is going to have to straighten out after they win, but it can also be seen as a method of shortchanging the pot.  When you throw a wad of chips in instead of putting them in a neat stack its difficult for the dealer to be certain of how much you’re really putting in.  The last thing you want anyone to think is that you’re stiffing the table.

One of the biggest and most obvious of etiquette guidelines is being civil in the way you speak to other players, whether this be by voice at a regular table game or chatting in an online game.  It doesn’t matter if you’re having a bad run, there’s no excuse for using profane language (unless the whole table is throwing around swear words) harassing, verbally abusing, heckling, pressuring or making other players feel uncomfortable in general. 

This includes using a language other than what the majority of the players at the table speak.  This can quickly get you tossed out of a game or banned from the chat ability online and even from the entire site or operation.  Equally so if you are talking or chatting with a friend who’s at a table you aren’t a part of you need to keep the talk to a minimum so as not to distract the other players.  And in no way are you to coach another player while a game is going on.

It’s understandable that someone may need a minute to make a decision when betting turns to them.  It’s a game that requires thinking.  However, taking an excessively long time slows the game and makes other players disgruntle.  There’s no set rule or amount of time but getting upwards of five minutes is really pushing it.  For online play there are handy options worked into the system.  For those playing a multiple tables it’s suggested to use the pre-select boxes if you can.  Also many online poker room offer an option to sit out the next hand so you can leave your computer for a minute if needed.

It’s a big no-no in poker to comment on the cards that are being dealt.  Even if you have folded your hand, mentioning cards you had or doing anything to express emotion after seeing community cards dealt because that could throw the game off for those still involved.  It’s very understandable seeing as if you throw your hands up in disappointment after seeing an Ace on the Turn that others will get the impression you had an Ace.  It’s best just to stay neutral to the game as you would if you were still in it.

It’s also in poor taste to comment on another player personally.  Never make negative comments about the appearance of other players whether in person or online when some people post pictures.  This is just a basic guideline to everyday etiquette.  Also in online play you should be respectful of other players when choosing your image.  Things that are considered profane or offense will quickly be caught and asked to be removed.

Lastly, try not to leave the game while playing is going on even if it’s between hands.  Much of the time there will be a break for going to the bathroom and taking care of anything else.  Other players will become very uneasy with someone going off and coming repeatedly.  No one will know if you’re getting coaching or cheating in a number of other ways.  It also slows the game down which we already know isn’t considerate to everyone else.