Table Stakes – Rules for Money in Cash Games

Dealing & House Procedures, Rules

August 27, 2007

All cash games played in reputable casinos, and any reputable cash game played elsewhere for that matter, follows a set of rules for putting money on the table and taking it off. These rules, collectively, are known as “table stakes”, are something every player needs to understand and every house needs to correctly implement.

When a player sits at a table stakes game, they purchase chips. These may be purchased from the dealer, or another agent of the house such as a chip runner. If the chips are purchased from a runner, the dealer announces how much money the player “is behind” and the player can take a hand and make bets with that money as if he had the chips in front of him. In the event that a player with money behind loses a hand, it is the dealer’s responsibility to determine how much money he owes to the winner, and to collect that money from him when the runner arrives and pay the correct players. It makes sense not to allow players to take a hand with money behind in split pot games since the accounting could easily become prohibitive.

While the rules vary from location to location, in most games money on the table (or possibly just $100 bills) plays. While this is true, players should still convert their money to chips unless they are playing with an unusually large amount of money in a limit game.

At any time in a table stakes game, a player may go into their pocket at get more money or casino chips and place them on the table. However this money does not play (ie. cannot be used in a hand) until a new hand is started. This means that you cannot go into you pocket and get more money mid-hand and make use of it. You only have the stack you started the hand with. In other words, you can’t add to your stack after getting a winning hand, but also sets a maximum on what you can lose in a hand.

Most table stakes tables have some minimum allowed chip buy for new players. This is to prevent players from playing with ridiculously short chip stacks, which may be a substantial advantage in certain circumstances. The normal minimum is 10 big bets for a limit game, and 50 big blinds for a no limit holdem game but the house has the final say on the matter. When purchasing more chips between hands, a player may have to purchase back above the minimum or purchase up to some smaller reload minimum. In certain big bet formats (NL, PL, etc.) there may also be an initial buy maximum, and no additional purchases between hands that take you above that limit are allowed. Maximums are often 100, 200, or 500 big blinds for NL games. If a player moves above the maximum buy by winning chips during play, they lose the ability to purchase more between hands.

In a table stakes game, a player is free to leave at any time, taking all their chips and cash on the table with them. If they are in the process of playing a hand, their hand is declared dead when they leave and any interest they have in the pot is forfit. The house then provides a means to convert the chips back into cash, usually a cashier’s cage. This is the only legal method for taking money off the table in a table stakes game – otherwise all money placed on the table plus any winnings has to stay there until you quit. Establishments with drink service make exceptions for small amounts taken off to tip cocktail waitresses or other similar casino personnel. But remember that taking money or chips off the table and pocketing it is against the rules. In many establishments, you cannot sit at the same table shortly after leaving it (perhaps for a half hour or hour) to prevent a player from quitting, pocketing some chips, sitting with a lesser amount, and thus effectivly taking chips off the table.

Because the amount of money a player has on the table is fixed once a hand begins, it is possible that the player will find themselves facing a bet they can’t call in full. In this case, the player declares themselves “all in” and partially calls the bet with their remaining chips. Going all in guarantees that you will see the showdown for this hand and have an opportunity to win, but only for the part of your opponents bets you were able to match.  Once action is completed on that round, the dealer creates what is called a side pot, where all action above and beyond what the all-in player had chips for occurs. All future bets on the hand likewise go into the side pot.

For example, suppose you’re playing 20-40 limit holdem and are partway thought a hand, on the turn. There’s already $100 in the pot. You have $17 in front of you, and an opponent bets $40. You’re next to act and being unable to cover the bet, you go all in. One player behind you calls. $17 from each bet (for a total of $51) is added to the main pot, and the remaining $23 each from your opponents’ bets is places in a side pot. All future bets will likewise be placed in the side pot. When the hand concludes, assuming both other players stay to the showdown, they will show down their hands for the side pot (which you have no chance to win) and then the best of the three hands will take the $151 main pot.

In a similar fashion, when you would like to bet or raise, but do not have a full supply of chips to do so, you can move all in. Opponents only have to call the undersized bet/raise, not the full value given in the game structure, to remain in the pot. Unlike a normal bet or raise, a all-in bet may not re-open the action for players that have already acted. In limit poker, an all-in must constitute at least half of a full bet or raise to re-open the action. In big bet structure such as NL and PL, the all-in bet must be a full minimum bet/raise to re-open the action. Be aware that sometimes the limit rule is erroneously applied to NL so check if you’re unsure about your cardroom.

In no limit games, since players can bet as much as they have available, it’s possible to move all-in at any time.  Likewise, in pot limit or spread games, if the limit is greater than your remaining chips, you can bet all your chips and move in.

In limit games, when a player makes or calls a bet that uses exactly all of their chips, they should declare they are “clean” as they make the bet.  While no side pot is immediately created,  the clean player is all-in and all future action will take place in the side pot.

In some larger games, chips on the table below a certain denomination (usually the smallest needed to ante or pay the small blind) don’t play, and therefore cannot be used as part of an all-in.

At most public card rooms, when a person moves all-in and loses, and wants to buy back in but does not have any money readily available, they can “reserve” their seat while they make an ATM run or until some amount of time expires and the house decides they won’t be back. While they are gone they don’t accumulate missed blind buttons, and they can buy back in (sometimes for the lower re-buy minimum) when they return and continue playing.

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