Mike Caro poker word is Tipping

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2006) in Poker Player newspaper.

Sometimes in poker, things that seem unimportant make a shocking difference to your bankroll. Tipping the dealer is an example. Most of us tip routinely and appropriately. And I’m in favor of that, as you’ll soon discover.

But one thing that’s seldom discussed is that tipping changes the value of poker hands and often dictates which ones we can profitably play.

I’d feel honored if you listened closely to this obscure lecture I delivered online years ago.

The odd truth about tipping

Sooner or later, if you’re going to play poker seriously, play to supplement your income, or play to earn your living, you’re going to have to think about tipping.

Well, actually, if you play poker online, tipping is not an issue. On the Internet, human dealers are non-existent – you meet virtual, imaginary ones and they wouldn’t know what to do with a tip if you gave them one.

How much should you tip when you win a pot? Should you tip at all? Some professional players never tip, but I believe you have an obligation to do so. Why? It’s because dealers in real-world casinos are paid very low wages and expect to make up the difference through tips.

Ah, I hear you wondering – why is that MY problem? Why doesn’t the casino pay dealers more? Actually, if you’re a winning player, you probably should be happy that the casinos don’t pay dealers more. The tip method most likely works in your favor.

Who pays most?

Paying the dealers more would actually work against the better players, because they’re more selective, entering fewer pots, thus winning fewer of them, and tipping less often. If dealers would be paid more and tipping were not customary, the house would charge more, and everyone would pay the difference equally. The way the system works now, it’s the weaker, looser players who are paying tips disproportionately, because they win more pots. Strong, more-selective, long-term winning players get a break. They play fewer pots, win fewer pots, and pay less in tips, even if they tip the same amount as the weaker players each time they win a pot.

So, how much should you tip? Oddly, the lower-limit games are sometimes more lucrative for dealers than the big games. Low-limit players who are less sophisticated about the long-term nature of poker, usually tip larger portions of the pots they win. They may tip $3 out of a $45 pot, when they won $30 and the other $15 was theirs to begin with. Let me tell you right now, if you tip $3 out of each $30 you win, you won’t be around long without constantly replenishing your bankroll.

Usual tip

Just one dollar (with occasionally larger amounts for very large pots) is the usual tip for $3/$6 limit and up games. Fifty cents is sometimes fine at lower limits. When I say $3/$6 and up games, I mean way up! A dollar tip today is often customary for even $100/$200 games and larger. I usually tip a dollar — and sometimes two or three dollars for any hand that has many extra bets in it. If it’s a small pot with little betting, I don’t tip at all, and you probably shouldn’t, either.

They tell me that the average amount I tip in a night is considerably higher than most other professionals. But, I feel I can survive the extra tax, and it makes me feel good. But, if you’re only winning marginally, excessive tipping can make the difference between surviving and staying at home sulking. So, don’t feel pressured into making tips you don’t want to make. If you want my guidelines, tip nothing on small pots in $3/$6 games, tip 50 cents on medium pots, and a dollar on large ones. In $5/$10 games and up, usually tip a dollar, if the pot’s big enough. There is no sliding scale that requires larger tips in the bigger games. That just isn’t customary. The theory is that you’re adding to the dealer’s income equally, regardless of the limit of the game.

Less money

Even some dealers understand that it’s not a good idea to encourage excessive tipping. Players may be generous for a single night, but too much tipping and they might not be able to afford to play as often, and that means less money overall for the dealers.

The monumental concept behind tipping is that it often means you can’t play marginal hands. Many hands would be worth 25 to 50 cents in profit if you didn’t tip, but when you do tip, you’ve got to factor in how often you’re going to win the pot and how often you’re going to pay the dollar tip. Often it overwhelms the tiny profit on these marginal hands and turns them from small winners into small losers. This can mean you shouldn’t play them at all. So, tipping can make your best strategy tighter.

Next half hour

In bigger games, some players just pay a dealer upfront and say, “That’s for the next half hour, win or lose.” Sometimes, they pay as the dealer leaves the table. As long as the amount they pay is the same, win or lose, they can then play marginal hands. That’s because they won’t pay any more if they win many pots than if they don’t win any – so they can pursue all pots with marginally profitable hands. That kind of bulk tipping is something you might consider, but it isn’t customary in smaller games. You might try it, though.

The concept is the same as with collection vs. rake. Collection is table rent. Once you’ve paid it, you can win as many pots as you want without penalty. But if it’s a rake game, you pay the house its money only when you win a hand, so you’ve got to play more conservatively. If you consider a tip part of the rake, then you can voluntarily switch over to the collection method for tips manually, if you want. Just pay the dealer in advance for the time to be dealt – and announce that you’re giving that amount win or lose – so, in case you never win a pot, the dealer will get something. They appreciate that and don’t expect further tips. In this case, three dollars is plenty for a half hour in a large game. That’s six dollars an hour, and if all the players at the table did that, 10 handed, it would be sixty dollars an hour extra for each dealer. Not everyone will end up paying that much on average, so you’re certainly paying more than your fair share.

How much?

How much to tip in a tournament? Four percent is in the high end for first place in a large tournament. I believe subsequent places should tip, too, but subtract your entry fee, your buy-in, and your rebuys and tip only from your profit (unless you’re feeling generous). In smaller tournaments, you can tip as much as five percent. In fact, if the prize pool is below $20,000, I recommend a tip of five percent. Above $20,000, three or four percent.

So, again, if you’re a winning player who is selective about the hands you play, you’re better off tipping the dealers than having the house pay full wages. You should not over tip, but you should tip. Oddly, $1 or $2 is customary, even in big games. And if you pay your tips to each dealer in advance, you don’t need to avoid playing some marginal hands. Otherwise, you do.

This is “The Mad Genius of Poker” Mike Caro and that’s my secret today. — MC

See follow-up entry: Mike Caro poker word is Tokes

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Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.


12 thoughts on “Mike Caro poker word is Tipping”

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    1. Hi, Scott —

      I’m not certain what an appropriate jackpot tip would be. I know from running a casino, and from conversations with others who still do, that 10 percent is pretty common.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

  1. I can’t believe that people playing 100/200 tip that little. At a 3/6 limit game I’ll usually make it $1 a pot.

    When I play 1/2 NL, however, I usually make it $2 and if the pot is huge ( > $100) I’ll make it more.

    This comes with 2 caveats:
    1. I mostly play recreationally. I like winning more than losing, obviously, but my family doesn’t starve if I lose.
    2. In 1/2 NL I don’t play many marginal hands at all. You just don’t need to. Enough players are willing to pay you regardless that I’ve found it doesn’t make sense to get too tricky, at least where I play.

    I love the site and your work Mike. Thanks for everything

    1. Hi, Mike —

      Thanks sharing you thoughts about tipping and for the kind words.

      Also, thank you for making your first Poker1 comment (assuming you’re not the same Mike who commented above — which the software says you’re not).

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

      1. I’m not the same Mike :-)

        In general I try to tip well (restaurants, too), and I’ve found the same thing that the other Mike found, that the dealers tend to help you out a bit more if you do what you can for them. I’m sure, theoretically speaking, they try to be fair, but theory doesn’t let you order a Sam Adams instead of a Bud Light. A couple of extra bucks in tips every half hour does.

  2. I deal in a $1/$3 underground game in NYC & people usually tip at least $1 if the pot is over $20 – over $50 they tip at least $2. Unlike in Vegas casinos, though, we make nothing but tips. Maybe it’s just the convention in NYC. The only way I treat a player differently is that I’m less likely to take the rake from small pots that are somewhat at my discretion if I know he’s going to throw me a few dollars. It’s surprising that people don’t tip more at much higher stakes. I guess I thought of it as similar to restaurant service – the waiter doesn’t control the price & quality of the food, but we tip a percentage of the check, not a flat fee.

    I read all your posts with great interest – please keep up the helpful work!

    1. Hi, Dominique —

      Thanks for making your first comment at Poker1. Welcome aboard!

      Interesting thought about a restaurant tip being a percentage of the meal’s cost. I’m sure some players do increase their tips in accordance with the size of pots won. I sort of do that by tipping more on very large pots, but usually it’s the same amount hand after hand.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

  3. There are also other aspects of tipping a dealer that can work in your favor. If you regularly tip, a dealer will stop the action if something happens that could negatively affect your hand. I.E. action out of turn that you may lose your ability to bet or raise, or possibly kill your hand, call attention to a raise or bet that you may have missed, with action following you will be forced to put in extra bets you didn’t want to. Dealers can also get the attention of service, floors, etc quicker for someone that tips as opposed to someone that doesn’t. They can also provide information on “good” games in the room. It is the service industry, if you don’t tip you don’t get the best service you could.

    1. Hi, Mike —

      Thanks for making your first comment and joining our Poker1 family.

      What you’re saying is well reasoned. However, I’ve always taught dealers to provide precisely the same service to players, no matter whether they tip extravagantly or not at all.

      But, you’re right, in practice this doesn’t usually happen.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

  4. I once tipped $600.00 after one hand in a $1.00/$5.00 seven card stud limit game. My biggest tip ever. Of course I hit the bad beat jackpot on that hand which paid me $6,800 after taxes. My wife got mad and said I tipped too much. But I was on that table by accident. I was waiting on a holdem table to open and the 7 card stud table had a empty seat at the time.

    When will the store open Mike?

    1. Hi, Stan –

      Tell your wife I think your tip was appropriate (and, in fact, pretty standard) for a jackpot win of that size.

      Our Poker1 store (SHOP on the main menu system above) will be functioning by our September 1 (target day, possibly could be pushed back) grand opening of this site.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

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