The highly anticipated grudge match between Cate Hall and Mike Dentale has now spun off a new controversy because apparently no one initially tipped the dealers. Now, this particular event muddied the waters of responsibility because it was a charity event. James Guill covers the nuance well in the linked article, so I won’t go into the specifics, but he brings up the issue of tipping in poker in general. Guill cites a Daniel Negreanu tweet that includes the general axiom “Players are never required to tip.”


To Tip, Or Not To Tip…

I imagine a good number of dealers and poker room managers will bristle at this comment, but of course it is valid statement. In fact, tipping, unless expressly stated ahead of time, is never mandated in any service context, in or outside of poker.

Poker adds another layer of complexity to the general problem of tipping because not only does the house take a rake, but some players are playing as a means of self-employment, rather than entertainment. The profits they make are keeping a roof over their heads. Tipping is no small matter in determining the profitability of a player grinding it out in a $5-$10 NLH game for hours every day.

Certainly, there is a contingent of players who believe in “no tipping ever.” However, I am going to start with the premise that most players agree some form of tipping should occur. If one is going to play in a card room regularly, it is only the coldest among us who could cheerfully interact with the hardworking dealers, and then fail to throw in anything after a big cash hand victory or saunter out at the end of a tournament with 100% of the winnings tucked in his pocket.

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My Experience

On the other hand, how much to tip in cash or a tournament is certainly up for debate. I ran into this issue last July when I was fortunate enough to receive the 30% share of a tournament bad beat (I flopped a royal flush and my opponent made quad 10s on the river). I won $11,600 in a $50 buy-in tournament, which was several times more than my previous top tournament cash. Until that moment, the exact percentage to tip did not matter much to me. If I won $800 and tipped 10% it was $80, if I decided 8% was more equitable, I’d round to $65. The $15 delta just did not seem all that critical, and I tended toward the high end of that 8%-10% range.

But now 10% was $1,160 and 8% was $928 and a $232 difference is no small change. Both of those figures seemed pretty high, and I started to wonder how much people who win tournaments for hundred of thousands of dollars tip. I was pretty sure that players winning $500,000 were not leaving $40,000 for the dealers. So how much do they leave? I found myself scanning the Internet for advice, but before I could gather my thoughts, I witnessed my even more fortunate bad beat colleague (a young guy with limited tournament experience) leave $2,000 of his $20,000. Social pressure and a desire not to look bad led me to tip about 10% as well.



After this event, I studied poker tipping conventions and thought about the issue more myself. These are some of the factors that I believe should be taken into account when deciding how much to tip:

  • The raw amount of the tip.  There is an inverse relationship between the amount of your win and the percentage of tip you should leave.  If you win $20 in a cash hand and tip $1 (5%), you do not therefore have to tip $20 when you win $400.  Yes, it should be more than $1, but something more in the $5-$10 range makes more sense. The same holds true for smaller tournaments cashes versus larger ones.
  • Poker as vocation versus avocation. If you are playing poker merely for entertainment, and winning or losing does not impact the quality of your life, then I think tipping generously is a good practice. If your profit margin affects your ability to feed your family, you need to be judicious in deciding how much to tip.
  • Quality of service. As at a restaurant, while all reasonable service should be recognized, superior service deserves a little bump.  Great dealers make the poker experience special, and they should be rewarded.
  • Personal preference within a conventional range.  Those who tip at all are going to be irritated by those who never tip. However, within the reasonable range of tipping convention, your choice to tip at the high end does not make you morally superior to those who do not.
  • What is included in the house rake?  At some poker rooms, the tournament rake includes a portion held back for dealer gratuity.  Make sure you understand how the portion of your buy-in that is held out of the prize pool is allotted. If 3% of a buy-in goes to the dealers, you can adjust your tip size accordingly.

Live poker has a service component delivered by trained, but often poorly paid, professionals. Tipping is part of the implicit agreement you make when you play. How much to tip is a personal matter, but one, like many elements of poker, that should be considered thoughtfully.


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