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HOME POKER GAME ETIQUETTE & RULES


 


Home poker etiquette involves being aware of and complying with poker rules and customs and behaving as a decent, respectful person. Poker is a social activity as well as a game. Like any game there are rules to be followed. Like any social activity there are behavioral customs and expectations.

While observing home poker etiquette and poker rules may not necessarily make you a winning player, it will make you someone who others will enjoy playing with and inviting to take part in their home poker games.

In home poker games you are usually playing with friends, acquaintances, neighbors or relatives. Home poker etiquette is, therefore, often less formal. But, that does not mean that poker etiquette and rules can be ignored. Here are some of the basic expectations of poker etiquette applied especially for home poker games and tournaments.

Playing in a casino card room is a bit different, so we have added additional considerations for casino poker etiquette.


Be a Respectful Guest

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Be mindful that you are a guest in someone's home. You were taught how to behave in that situation when you were a youngster. Just because there is a poker game going on does not give you liberty to behave badly. Respect your host and your host's home and thank them at the end of the session. If you are a frequent guest at others' games, but do not reciprocate by hosting a game yourself, bring a gift every so often. Perhaps a dessert, beverages or snacks. Even something as simple as some new decks of cards. Your host will appreciate the gesture.


Be a Considerate Host

 

Hosting a home poker game is more than setting up a table and playing cards. A considerate host will take steps to ensure his or her guests' comfort. The environment and atmosphere you provide plays a huge role in determining how much your guests enjoy (or do not enjoy) themselves.

Make sure the area you are playing in is clean. This is especially important if you are serving food. A filthy looking environment is a major turn-off.
Clean the table and chairs. Set out side tables so drinks and snacks do not have to be placed on playing table.
Have clean glasses, plates and utensils available.
Have paper towels, napkins and tissues handy.
Clean the bathroom. Make sure there is soap and clean hand towels (consider buying paper "guest towels"). Put on a full roll of toilet paper and have additional rolls in plain sight.
Make room in the refrigerator for your guests to store any beverages or food they bring.
Designate a spot for coats, etc.
Provide parking instructions to players in advance. Let them know where it is permissible to park and where parking is prohibited in your neighborhood.
Make it obvious on what entrance to your house you want your guests to use. (Put on exterior lighting, etc.)
Inform your guests of the location of the bathroom and if there are other rooms or areas of your home they should not enter.
Keep pets away. Ill behaved pets that steal food or sniff crotches are repulsive. A cat that insists on jumping onto the table is a major annoyance.


Attendance

 

When you accept an invitation to play in a home game you should honor it. Others are expecting you to show up and many people dislike playing in a shorthanded game. If you are unreliable, you are not going to get many invitations to play. Should something come up that prevents you from playing you should inform the host or organizer as soon as possible so that they can find another player.

Home poker games typically have designated starting and ending times. Obviously, you should get there on time. What about leaving? Some groups may not care at all, while others might take this very seriously. Generally, you probably will be expected to stay until the end, barring some unforeseen emergency or unless you have made it clear from the start that you must leave early. You certainly have the right to leave whenever you want whether winning, losing or even. Exercising that right is the potentially problematic part. While no one is going to stop you from leaving early you may run the risk of not being invited back, especially if you leave as a big winner. A potential problem with an early departure is that the game may become shorthanded prompting others to quit as well. The remaining players will likely consider you responsible for causing a premature break up of their game and ruining their evening of fun.


Be Clear About Expectations

 

This is something that applies to both those who are hosting the game and inviting others to play as well as the players who are attending. It is especially vital for new players to the group. Make sure everyone has an understanding about the expectations. Necessary information should include many of the basic rules and topics discussed here. Very important are money matters, including such things as the stakes or limits being played and minimum bankroll or buy in. Be sure to bring enough money to play. (Recommendation: minimum of approximately 50 to 100 times the largest bet.) Do not rely on playing on credit or borrowing from others unless you have been told it is allowed. But, even so, incurring a debt as a result of gaming is always a bad idea.

It is your obligation to make certain you fully understand and accept all the risks involved. Never play for stakes or under circumstances where you can not afford the level of loss you may incur. Do not invite anyone to play that you know or suspect can not afford it or who has a gambling problem. Do not invite an inexperienced or poor player as a "fish" to be taken unfair advantage of. Never play in a game or site unless you are certain it is safe and legal to do so. It's all on you, so play responsibly and ethically, with full personal acceptance of the risks, or don't play at all.


Dealing & Handling Cards

 

The cards that have been dealt to you should remain on the table in clear sight of the other players. In a game such as draw poker you can pick them up to look at them, but the cards must always remain visible to the other players. Don't show your cards to other players or spectators during the hand, even if you have dropped out. It is your obligation to protect your cards from being accidentally mixed with discarded or "mucked" cards. Should that happen, your hand is declared dead. When folding, discard in way that does not expose any of your cards. If you accidentally expose any of your live cards, that is just too bad, you are not entitled to replacement cards.

When dealing the cards you must do so in a manner that protects the identity of the cards. Hold the deck in your hand close to the table surface and slightly tilted down and away from you so no one can see the bottom card. Deal the cards close to the table surface as well, so that no one can see a card as it is dealt. Never play with the deck in the midst of a hand or do anything that others might think is intended as trying to peek at upcoming cards. When you are the dealer it is your obligation to pay attention and deal the cards properly since your mistakes can end up costing other players money.

If the dealer accidentally exposes a player's card that card is ruled "dead" and a replacement card is provided. The player is not entitled to decide if he wants to keep the card or not. Any card exposed in this situation must be displayed to the other players so that everyone is aware of it. If a replacement card is needed it is usually provided after all the other cards are dealt in their usual order. For example, if dealing holdem the dealer exposes the second card dealt to player 6, the original sequence of dealing should be observed. That is, the very next card is dealt to player 7 and likewise to the other players in order. Once all the other players cards have been dealt player 6 gets his exposed card replaced.

Do not bend, fold, cut or mark the cards in any way as this may make you suspected of cheating. Don't take out your anger of losing by ripping up the cards. Even if they are your cards you'll look like a jerk. If they are not yours you have no right to destroy someone's property. You risk either never being invited back, or getting your deck ripped up when it's your turn to host the game.


Observe Proper Poker Actions

 

Following proper actions is one of the most important things you can do. You should always be paying attention to the action at the table and act only when it is your turn. Do not announce your action before it is your turn. Prematurely disclosing your intention may give you or another player an unfair advantage. You also must never fold unless there has been a bet. No matter how bad your cards are, if you are first to act or it has been checked to you, you must check as well. Folding in the absence of a bet could give another player an unfair advantage.

Try not to take an excessive amount of time to make your actions. Most of your decisions will be fairly straight forward and they should only take a moment to make. There will be times where you will need to think something through and when those situations arise just say you are going to need some extra time. But, if you continually make the other players wait while you ponder your hand it will annoy them. They may also feel you are deliberately trying to get the next player to act prematurely and thus potentially gain an advantage.

There are only four actions you can take during a poker hand: check, bet, raise, fold. When it is time to take your action it is best to verbally announce what you are doing. Bear in mind, you can make only one of these actions per turn. The classic violation of this rule is called a "string bet" in which a player says something like: "I call your bet and raise you...". You cannot both call and raise in the same turn. Whatever you say first is the only thing that is allowable, so in this example you have called. When you want to raise just say "raise". You may also find yourself in a string bet situation if you move chips into the pot in two separate motions without having verbally declared your action. That is, putting the amount of chips out to call the bet, then returning to your stack and placing a raise out there. Place all the chips out at once. Also keep in mind that your verbal declaration is binding. Once you've said it you've done it. If you say something like "I guess I fold. Oh, wait! I call" you've folded.

As noted, you should verbally announce each of your actions, that way there is no ambiguity of what you are doing. There are, however, some situations in which a non-verbal action signals your intention: Tapping the table in front of you with your hand/fingers will be taken to mean you "check". If you move a single overvalued chip into the pot without announcing a raise it will be taken to mean you are just calling. Throwing your cards away or turning your hand face down in stud means you have folded. It is always preferable to make a verbal declaration along with non-verbal actions. This is especially true when your intention is to make a raise.


Showing Called Hands

 

When a hand is called at the end it is the player who made the bet who must reveal their hand first. But, rather than engage in any bantering back and forth you might as well just show your cards. You are going to need to show to win, anyway. If requested, all hands, including the losers, must be shown in a called hand. If every player has checked at the final round, players reveal their hands in clockwise order starting with the player closest to the dealer's left.

Never deliberately delay revealing what you think is the best hand, something that is refered to as "slow rolling". In a "slow roll" a player with a powerful hand lets all the other players reveal and announce their hands. Someone thinks they have made the winning hand, then the slow roller reveals the actual winner. Another similar move is to say something like "I have 2 pair...both are aces" when you have four of a kind. You will not win any friends with these kinds of "bush league" moves. Just declare the hand you have and forget theatrics.


No Rabbit Hunting

 

"Rabbit hunting" is requesting to see what the next card would have been after the hand is over. Though it might be intersting to know, it is really a pointless activity and slows up the game, so it should not be an act to be requested or granted.


Don't Make it Personal, Don't Take it Personally

Poker is a game. Checking, betting, raising and folding are just the tactics used in that game. Don't mistake them as expressions of emotion. They are not personal barbs aimed at you by others, or by you toward others. A bet or raise is not an act of malevolence. Another player bets or raises you because they have a hand that warrants that action, not out of meanness. A check is not an act of kindness. You check because your hand warrants that action, not because you are nice. Don't take these things personnally.

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Table Talk

 

During the play of a hand keep the talk focused on the game and avoid social conversation. If you are not involved in the hand you should keep quiet. Never discuss or do anything that could reveal information about your hand or other players' hands. An obvious violation would be to blurt out something like "darn, I folded a pair of deuces!" when favorable cards hit the table. Avoid showing any reaction either verbally or physically to the cards or the play during a hand. Other inappropriate comments would be to encourage one player to call or raise another or to indicate what cards or hand you think another player is holding.


Don't Ask, Don't Tell

 

Although this point of poker etiquette is commonly ignored in a friendly home game, it is generally improper to ask the winning player what his hand was in an uncalled hand. In poker you are supposed to pay to see the other players' cards. If it is another player asking you what you had, you are under no obligation to tell. And, should you choose to reply, you are under no obligation to be truthful.

While you must always initially declare your actions, you are generally under no obligation to re-state it if asked later. For example, in a draw poker game you must announce how many cards you intend to draw when it is your turn. However, later if a player asks you how many cards you drew, you do not need to reply. This is an example of the need for every player to pay attention to the action as it occurs.


Giving Poker Lessons

 

Appointing yourself a poker instructor and giving lessons at the table is not something you want to do. Most people will consider it to be a form of bragging about how good a player you are or criticism of their play. Assuming you actually know what you are talking about a few people may actually listen to what you say and learn something. If you're a good player why give away your secrets?


Instructing & Coaching New Players

 

If a new or novice player is attending your home game make it a point to give them clear and thorough instructions. Inform them of your house rules. Explain how to play each game and any additional rules that may apply. When playing high-low split games tell them how declarations are made. As a new player it is okay to ask questions whenever you are unsure about something. But, during the play of a hand, any information asked for or given should be restricted to rule or procedural issues, not strategy or decision making. As examples, it would be fine to state that in Omaha the player must use exactly 2 cards from their hand and 3 from the board. It would not be okay to give advice on what hand you think he will need to win or what hand an opponent might have. Restrict coaching to before or after the game. If you play any of the many dealer's choice games we describe, let the new player know about HomePokerEdge.com so that they may familiarize themselves ahead of time.


Whining & Bragging

 

Everyone who plays poker has had losing sessions and received their share of bad beats. Quite frankly, no one is interested in hearing about yours, so you might as well keep them to yourself. While you may hear some seemingly sympathetic responses, no one really cares, they are just trying to be polite. You are going to lose some hands with excellent cards that you felt had no possibility of being beaten. Other players are going to suck out on you every so often. It is part of poker and you have to take it in stride. No yelling, cursing or other childish behavior. No one wants to play with a jerk. Don't be one.

Just as no one is interested in hearing you whine, others especially do not want to listen to you brag. People are going to take offense to you saying something like "Thank you boys and girls. I won $100 tonight". There are a couple of reasons for this: One is that they have been playing with you and already know you won, so your comment will be seen as rubbing it in. Another is that the money you are stuffing into your pocket used to belong to them. If someone asks you how much you won, just give a simple answer, but otherwise, don't volunteer the information. There can actually be a practical reason not to brag about your winnings: You'd like to have people think you are no better than an average player, not a consistently winning one.


Collusion

 

Player collusion is cheating. It must never be allowed, even if it appears to be unintentional. Collusion occurs when two or more players openly act together to influence the play of a hand. Obvious examples would be when one player says to another something like "I think if you and I keep betting and raising we can get Joe to fold" or "If we all check, Sue won't be able to keep raising us". Of course there are some much less obvious or more subtle methods of collusion. Whenever a player says or does something that is intended to influence others to play a hand in some type of coordinated fashion you and the other players should speak up and stop it whether you are active in the hand or not. The usual etiquette of not commenting during a hand you are not involved in does not apply to observations of cheating.

In a tournament, when one player is all-in and two or more other players are also in the hand, it is a common tactic for the others to check rather than bet, unless one has the nuts. This is especially the case when reaching the money. Each knows that playing that way will increase the chances of eliminating the all-in player. As long this occurs without any prompting or comment it is perfectly alright. However, it would never be permissible for a player to say anything or to "remind" the others about this tactic.

Another form of collusion in tournament poker is to "softplay" an opponent. It is particulary wrong once players have reached the money. Most commomly this occurs between two players who know one another. When they are heads up in a hand they simply check it all the way no matter how powerful their hand may be. Softplaying allows them to conserve their chips and prevents either of them from hurting or knocking out the other. At first glance this may not seem problematic. After all, if no one else is in the hand how does it adversely affect the other players? But remember, with each player that is eliminated the others move up in prize money. When others are softplaying it makes it more difficult for the other players to advance. Imagine this situation: There are 3 players left in a tournament, you and 2 others. If they are playing honestly and one of them knocks out the other, you advance to 2nd place and make more money. But, if they are softplaying one another that will not occur. You will not advance in the prize money unless you knock them out yourself. You are essentially playing against a team. Additionally, at the end of a hand, if you are last to act and fail to bet the nuts you may be subject to a penalty.


Other Unethical Behavior

 

Occasionally a player will misread his hand and state he has a better hand than he actually does. It's a mistake that anyone could make once in a while. But deliberately miscalling a hand in order to try to get the other players to fold will be viewed by many as cheating and it should never be done. Always make a player who claims to have the best hand show it. Never muck your hand until you see you are beaten. It should go without saying, that engaging in any unethical behavior is certainly a violation of etiquette as well.


ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS for CASINO POKER ETIQUETTE

 

Whatever is expected with home poker etiquette will also be expected when you are playing in a casino poker room, only more so. At home you know the people you are playing with. They are likely to be more understanding and tolerant of your behavior. At a casino you are playing against strangers, so casino poker etiquette tends to be more formal and more important to observe. Others will have little reservation about pointing it out should you violate a rule or behave poorly. Additionally, a casino is a highly regulated place of business. They are going to expect you to treat their employees and customers appropriately and follow their rules.


Find & Follow the House Rules

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Each card room will post their particular rules of play and standards of behavior somewhere. If not posted, rules may be in a printed pamplet at the check-in desk. Make sure you find and read them, especially if it is your first time playing or its been a while since you were there. Those are the rules you are going to be held to so you need to know them. Some common standards may include banning cell phones, smoking or communicating in a foreign language while at a table. If there is a bad beat jackpot or other bonus offered, be sure to read those eligibility requirements. Before you push all your money into a pot you better know if your hand qualifies. While you could ask for an explaination right in the middle of a hand, that tends to give away what you have. Talking about your hand may also disqualify you from winning a bonus or jackpot.


Buying or Exchanging Chips

 

If practical, it is usually better to get your chips at the poker room cashier window or "cage" before you are seated. This is especially the case when a new table is being set up, as the dealer may not have enough chips to accomodate 8 or 10 players at once. While you can usually exchange cash for chips at the table, it stops the game while the dealer attends to it and so may annoy the other players. Regardless of where you buy your chips, never hand money directly to casino personnel when you do so. Place money in front of them and let them pick it up. Follow a similar protocol when exchanging chips for cash. You will not be able to cash out at the table. It must be done at the cashier window. The dealer will exchange your smaller chips for larger denominated chips ("coloring up") if you ask.


Don't Blame the Dealer

 

Your poker room dealer is there to serve you. If you lose a hand it is not the dealer's fault. The shuffling of cards is random (unless you're in some crooked game) so the cards you get are random. There is an element of luck in poker and sometime you will get unlucky and lose. Suck it up and take it like a man (or woman). Do not abuse the dealer.


On the Table

 

The only things that should be on the table are the cards and chips (removed from the chip rack) or cash, so long as the card room lets cash play (some do, some don't). Your chips must be clearly visible to the other players. You can also usually have a small object to act as a card "protector". Once placed on the table any cash or chips must remain there, though no one will complain if you take a chip off your stack to tip a waitress. You may not put chips or cash back in your pocket until you leave the game. You also may not put additional money on the table during the play of a hand if you are an active player. It is perfectly fine to do so between hands or when you are not active in a hand. Keep food and drinks (unless a drink holder is built into the table) off the table.


Poker Actions

 

Your actions at the table are the same as in a home game. It is equally as critical that you make them properly in a casino. In fact, observing proper actions is one of the most important contributions you can make toward observing poker etiquette.


Handling Cards

 

Proper handling of cards is very important in a casino. Never take your cards off the table. Never touch another players cards or chips. Never mark the cards in any way. Such actions will place you under suspicion of cheating and casinos (as well as their government regulators) do not take kindly to cheating. Never throw the cards at another player or the dealer. It is imperative you protect your hole cards from being accidentally mucked, so place a chip or marker on top of them. Be especially careful if you are sitting to the dealer's immediate right or left. Those seats are the ones most prone to the dealer accidentally taking and mucking your cards. Players are the ones responsible for protecting their hands, so if your cards get mucked, accidentally or not, your hand is dead, you can't win the pot and you have no recourse.


Showing Losing Hands at the Showdown

 

Poker rules allows a player to request to see any called hand at the showdown. This rule is in place to deter player collusion not to gather information about what kind of hands your opponents are playing. Asking a losing player to show their hand is tantamount to accusing them of cheating and, unless that is your intention, is decidedly contrary to proper poker etiquette.


Splashing the Pot

 

Professional poker room tables usually have a bet line. Place all you bets or raises in front of you and inside that line. If there is no line, place them out about a foot in front of you. Never toss chips directly into the pot ("splashing" the pot). At the end of each betting round the dealer will collect all the bets and move them into the pot.


Table Talk

 

You will probably notice that there is a lot less social conversation in a casino, especially during the play of a hand. The usual avoidance of bragging, whinning, gloating or insulting remarks is quite important. Never exhibit a reaction, either verbally or physically, to the cards or play. Do not ask another player what his cards were in an uncalled hand. If a disagreement develops stay out of it unless you are involved in the hand or you are asked for information. Let the dealer or floor personnel handle it.


Sorry?

 

Occasionally you will hear a player say "sorry" to another after beating him out of a pot. You should usually not apologize for winning. Isn't winning the objective? Some people may consider your "sorry" to be an insult, since it is insincere. You know you're not really sorry, the player you beat knows it and so does everyone else at the table. In your friendly home game the others will likely let your comment slide. In a serious game you are likely to get an annoyed or even angry response. Keep quiet, or, if you wish, acknowledge that you were fortunate to win, but don't apologize.

Likewise, in tournament play, do not apologize for eliminating another player from the tournament. Usually refrain from making the initial offer to shake hands with the eliminated player. Some players may be upset about losing and not wish to engage in a show of sportsmanship. Leave it to them. Shake their hand if they offer it, otherwise don't concern yourself about it.

The proper place for "sorry" at the poker table is the same as in any other social encounter: when you've done or said something that you should apologize or excuse yourself for.


Changing Seats or Tables

 

Sometimes you might want to change your seat at the table or move to another table altogether. If you want to stay at your table, but move to another seat just ask the dealer. You need not wait until another seat becomes vacant to ask. In fact, it is best ask and "reserve" a seat change as soon as you decide that is what you want to do. Depending upon what position you moved from and to, you may have to post an additional blind. If you want to move to another table, ask the floor person.


Taking a Break

 

Once at a table, if you want to take a break, there may be some rules that come into play, so it is best to check with the dealer to find out. If you want to take a lengthy break, for example for a meal, there will probably be a limit (usually 1 hour) on the time you can be away from the table. Stay away for longer than that and you may lose your seat. When you take a lengthy break, it is a good idea to leave a duplicate of your comp card with your chips. Take note of your table number and seat position as well. If you stay away too long and your chips are removed they will be identified. Just make sure you have an ID that matches your card to prove they belong to you. When another player or 2 are already away from the table, there may be additional restrictions on how long a break you can then take. For example, there might be something like a "ten minute" rule or "third person out" rule where the 3rd person to leave the table for a break must be back in just 10 minutes. Any time you leave for a break but are intending to return, you must leave your chips at the table. Whenever you take your chips with you, you are giving up your seat.


Who Enforces the Rules?

 

The answer to this is not always clear. The table dealer is in charge of assuring that the game is played according to the procedural rules. For example, the dealer will make sure players act in proper order or determine the winning hand. These are rules that apply to the entire game. But, remember, poker is played between the players at the table. It is the players' money at stake, not the casino's. Therefore, there may be other rules which involve actions between players that the dealer will not enforce unless a player points it out. This most commonly involves string betting/raising or adding money during a hand. Even if the dealer observes it, unless another player objects, the rule might not be enforced by the dealer. But, remember this other very important point of poker etiquette: if you are not an active participant in the hand keep quiet. It is not your place to point it out.

While dealers generally do an excellent job, they are human and they can make mistakes. It is ultimately your responsibility to protect your own interests, so be observant and speak up immediately if you think something is not right. This is especially the case if you think you have won or split a pot and the chips are being pushed toward another player. If a dealer makes a ruling against you, you should expect an explanation of what the rule is and how it has been applied. If you are not satisfied, it is your right to ask to have it decided by one of the floor personnel. They will have the final say.


Chopping the Pot

 

In a cash game when everyone folds pre-flop up to the small blind it is often customary to "chop the pot". Each of the blinds takes back their chips and a new hand is dealt. If the hand goes to a flop, the house will take a rake from the pot. So, while this is totally voluntary between the two remaining players, it is usually to your advantage to chop. I suggest you ask the other player if they wish to do this or agree to it if they ask you. A situation in which you may wish to decline a chop is when you have a pocket pair and a high hand bonus is offered for four of a kind. In the same circumstances, when the other blind refuses to chop, put them as most likely holding a pocket pair.

Chopping a single pot in a tournament is never allowed. Tournament hands must always be played out. However, what is likely to arise late in a tournament involves the remaining players reaching an agreement to split prize money. The point of etiquette in that situation is that the terms of any arrangement or deal is subject to negotiation and it must be agreed to by all the remaining players. You are under no obligation to accept a deal if you don't want to. Nor should you attempt to bully another player into making a deal if they do not want to or try to get them to agree to a decidedly unfair arrangement. See our Tournament page for more thoughts on tournament deal making.


Tipping Etiquette

 

Tipping or "toking" the dealer is going to be expected of you when you win a decent sized pot in a cash game. You need not go overboard with this, however. Watch the game and see what seems to be the customary tip and use that as your guide. Don't feel obligated to tip at all if the pot is meager, if the dealer has been sloppy, seems rude or unappreciative or made a mistake that cost you money. Don't be overly impressed by a player who seems especially generous. They might be an off-duty dealer themselves.

Should you make a payout in tournament play a tip is also customary. It can vary widely depending upon how much you won, but somewhere between 2-5% is usually sufficient, while 10% would be the maximum. In some tournaments part of the entry fee may be designated for tips to the employees, so it is a good idea to ask about that when registering. If that is the case a tip becomes more optional. You can still give one if you wish, but a lesser amount.

Another situation that traditionally calls for a tip is if you are fortunate enough to win a bad beat jackpot or a high hand bonus jackpot. Any tip should take into consideration the size of your winnings. For a small or modest win, 5% is often sufficient up to an absolute maximum of 10%. But, for a huge (5 or 6 figures) win there is no reason to go tipping crazy. Keep in mind that you are going to lose a significant chunk of your prize to taxes and your tip doesn't qualify as a tax deduction. Even 1 or 2 percent would be plenty. Typically, this would go to the dealer, but if one of the floor personnel is involved in a significant way (more involved than just filling out the tax form), some portion of the tip could go to them.