Guide to Table Talk in Live Poker - Strategy and Rules

Dominic Field

Aug 9, 2023

Guide to Table Talk in Poker

If you’re new to live poker, there are certain adjustments you’ll need to make. Since online poker is a solitary pursuit, talking during a hand isn’t really a concern. But in a land-based poker room, it’s extremely common.

For some players, “coffeehousing” is a legitimate strategy, either to confuse, intimidate, or anger their opponents. But if you want to engage in conversation, it’s vital to stay within the rules. We’ll discuss these in this article, as well as help you to understand the strategy behind table talk.

Why Talk at the Poker Table?

Poker started out as a social activity. Ultimately, the old adage about it being a “people game played with cards” is true. For many, playing poker is just a hobby, an enjoyable way to pass the time - and table talk is all part of the fun.

However, for others, it can be their main poker strategy. Some players are well-known for their obnoxious approach at the table. They are constantly chattering in an attempt to elicit information or even antagonise their opponents. 

Other poker players, such as Daniel Negreanu, take a more subtle approach. They’ll use chit-chat to help paint a picture in their mind of how the hand is playing out. And of course, in some cases - think Phil Hellmuth - table talk is nothing more than a way to vent when on tilt.

What Are The Rules On Table Talk?

Before we look at how table talk can be used to gain an edge, it’s important to understand what is allowed. One of the most fundamental concepts at the table is, of course, the one-player-to-a-hand rule. You cannot share the contents of your hand with anyone else in order to seek advice. Therefore, you cannot openly discuss the hand in progress.

However, many situations arise during a game where you simply have to talk about ongoing events. Some are as simple as asking how much a player bet if you didn’t hear them announce the amount. Few players at the table would have an issue with this type of talk at the table. 

Where it becomes a grey area though, is when players start making direct verbal statements. Claiming “I bet you’ve got Aces” is not discussing the hand, strictly speaking. But we all have a good idea of what’s really going on here. It’s an intimidation tactic designed to pick up extra information to help them make a decision.

Unacceptable Things To Say at the Table

Let’s take a look at a few examples of table talk that are clearly over the line:

  • Declaring what you folded. Imagine a flop of J-J-5 and a player shouts “I folded a jack!” A player holding a weak jack no longer needs to worry about being out-kicked. This gives a clear advantage and is an obvious breach of the rules.

  • Commentary on the hand. Stating facts about the hand that might appear obvious is also against the rules. Yes, someone probably does have the flush when the turn brings a fourth diamond. But a different player in the hand may not have even realised there are four diamonds out there. You’re simply not allowed to point this out.

  • Opinions that might influence decisions. If a player puts out a big bet, an observation like “he’s stealing” or “she’s pot committed now” may influence how another player acts. Just by hearing these things, the player may re-evaluate the decision they were about to make.

  • Appropriate questions out of turn. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask an opponent who is betting into you how many chips they have left behind. But if it’s not yet your turn to act, or if you’re not even in the hand, asking the same question is a big no-no.

  • Insults and overly-aggressive language. You’ll probably get away with politely suggesting that someone made a terrible call when they sucked out on you. You can even tell them to keep on playing such bad hands. But if you go into a full meltdown, with foul language and insults, expect a severe penalty.

Ultimately, the dealer will determine what is and isn’t acceptable. If you’re new to a card room and aren’t sure about the policies, you can always ask. But as a general rule, if you’re in any doubt, err on the side of silent caution.

Table Talk Strategies

Now we know what isn’t allowed in a live poker game, what are some of the legal approaches to table talk? And why exactly do players do it? Let’s take a look.

Small Talk

As we already mentioned, poker is a social game at its heart. Making small talk is perfectly acceptable. But that friendly player who just wants to know more about you is quite possibly building an idea of who you are in their mind. 

By asking you about poker books, internet forums, or what games you’ve played recently, they can discover your level of experience and ability. Seeking your opinion on how you’d have played a hand reveals the way you think, which can be used against you later on. Even the most innocuous of questions can give information about your personality away.

Setting Traps

A common table talk strategy is to use chit-chat to set up opportunities later on. For instance, vaguely declaring that you have a big hand, only to show a total bluff, is instantly memorable.

But why would a player do this? Is it simply to put someone on tilt? Possibly. Or are they actually setting a trap for the future? Next time they tell you they’re holding a monster, don’t be surprised if they actually have the goods.

Fishing For Clues

Questions are probably the most common way to try and elicit information through table talk. This is where talkative players will really test the boundary of what’s acceptable and what’s not. The aim is usually to learn something about the way they play, either generally, or in this specific hand.

Asking “do you want me to call?” or even “can you beat top pair?” is walking the line of acceptability pretty tightly. The answer you give in that spot is often not as important as the way in which you respond. It’s a common tell in poker that when someone acts weak, they are really strong. And of course, the opposite is also true.

Famous Trash Talkers

Poker is full of famous - and infamous - trash talkers. Here are a couple of the best-known examples.

Tony G

Tony GAntanas Guoga, better known to the poker world as Tony G, is a fearsome competitor. He’s made more than $11 million from live tournaments and is a regular at the high-stakes cash tables. But he’s best known for his table-talking antics, especially his run-ins with Phil Hellmuth.

One of his earliest and most famous rants came during the 2006 Intercontinental Poker Championships against Russian player Ralph Perry. A visibly agitated Tony G needled his opponent relentlessly, forcing him into an extremely loose all-in call through speech-play. But he then continued with a barrage of sarcastic comments. Finally, after the board sealed Perry’s fate, he bellowed “come on Russian, it’s time to go!” and “you’re a terrible player”.

Will Kassouf

Largely unknown until a deep run in the 2016 WSOP Main Event, Kassouf did not come to fame due to his poker-playing ability. Instead, it was the Brit’s motor mouth that thrust him into the spotlight, launching into long-winded speech-play rants against all and sundry.

One particularly frustrating example led to Stacy Matuson folding the best hand after a lengthy Kassouf performance. The entire table was frustrated at his behaviour, leading to the involvement of tournament officials. Even when told to keep quiet, Kassouf began miming gestures, pushing the rules to the extreme. Although his now-famous “nine high like a boss” bluff got through, he incurred a one-round penalty for his pathetic antics.


Table talk is not for everyone. Many players avoid it altogether, freezing like a statue in the face of direct questions. They will refuse to hand over any information, no matter how innocuous it might seem. But for others, coffeehousing is not only part of the fun of poker, but a legitimate tactic.

However you wish to play poker is ultimately down to you as an individual. But if you want to play the table talk game, it’s important to stay within the rules. You don’t want to find yourself facing time away from the table or even expulsion from the game because you crossed the line.

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