Just when you thought you had a decent grasp of the poker basics, Texas Hold’em came along with its intimidating terminology, multi-million-dollar tournaments, and poker rock stars. Forget about the odds of getting a royal flush and learn the main jargon and poker slang being slung.
Added bonus: learning poker slang is a great way to learn the game as well.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of every wacky word on the lips of the latest litter of poker cowpokes on the circuit. But as a good starting point for the Texas Hold’em beginner, consider this your poker primer.
Essential Hold’em Terms
Texas Hold’em has a stable full of wild and wooly terms, but before we take the bull by the horns, let’s start with the essential poker terms you need to know to navigate the Hold’em table, whether you’re playing in a land-based casino or at an online casino poker tournament. Ante up!
When you bet all your remaining chips on a single hand of cards. You either have some really unbeatable cards (like four aces or a straight flush) or you’re just trying to scare the other players into folding.
In Texas Hold’em, the ante consists of two blinds, the big blind and the small blind. These rotating antes will hit everyone eventually. The small blind is the first player to the left of the dealer, and the big blind is the next seat farther left. The big blind is double the amount of the small blind.
Probably the most exciting aspect of poker: the bluff. Very skilled poker players can hide their TELL, put on their best poker face, and drop a huge raise with a crap hand (i.e. a pair of 2s). If everyone folds, the bluff has succeeded. But be careful: someone may call your bluff. Use with caution.
Texas Hold’em is a community poker game, where players make their poker hands from 2 private cards (hole cards) and five community cards which are shared by all players. Community cards are dealt face up in turns: the flop, the turn, and the river, with rounds of betting before and after each turn. Players must make the best possible 5-card poker hand from the seven total cards.
The plastic disc used to indicate the dealer. The button is passed clockwise after every hand of Hold’em, which also advances the blinds. The dealer rotation maintains fairness at the table, as certain player positions have advantages over others. Players in a ‘late position’ have more information to make better decisions than players in an ‘early position.’ Player position runs clockwise from the dealer.
The initial 3 cards dealt face up in the community card area (table center) in a game of Hold’em after the 1st round of betting (pre-flop bets). The flop is followed by another round of betting and 2 more single-card deals (the TURN and the RIVER).
The 2 private cards dealt face down to each player, which are combined with the community cards to make a poker hand. Players place their first bets based on these 2 cards. The hole is also called the pocket.
The river is the 5th card dealt in the community cards row in a Texas Hold’em match. It is the final card dealt in the round, and players win or lose after the final bets are in.
After the final round of betting ends, players turn their cards face up to determine the winner. A showdown occurs if two or more players have called or gone all-in during the final betting round.
A physical ‘tick’ or other sign communicated in ‘body English’ that signals how strong or weak a player’s poker hand is. Pro players hide their own tells, while they can often read the tells of weaker players. A good example of a poker tell is the character Teddy ‘KGB’ in the poker-related film ‘Rounders.’ Whenever KGB (John Malkovich) splits an Oreo cookie and listens to it, he is bluffing; if he eats the cookie, he is about to wipe the table with you.
The 4th community card dealt face-up in a game of Hold’em. It follows the initial 3-card deal (the flop), and signals a new round of bets.
Hold’em Slang for the Seasoned Player
If you’ve just scored a pair of fish hooks and are about to knock a fish back into the muck, you’re probably sitting at a table at the WSOP with some seasoned Hold’em players. Hold onto your hats, cowboys, we’re about to leave the dusty trail behind and dive deep into the territory of fish, sharks, and whales.
Poker slang for pocket Kings, the 2nd best starting hand in Hold’em.
DEAD MAN’S HAND
Some poker hands are legendary. They bear the name of the player who made them famous, and thus became forever etched in the poker lexicon. When Wild West legend and pro poker player Wild Bill Hickok was shot dead while playing a hand of poker, the cards found in the dead man’s hand consisted of two pairs: 8s and aces.
DOYLE BRUNSON HAND
The ‘Doyle Brunson’ is a starting hand of 10 and 2, made famous by the man himself. Against impossible odds, Brunson won the WSOP main event in 1976 with this seemingly weak hand, simply by a twist of fate (he got a full house from the turn and the river). In 1977, he won the main event again—with the exact same starting hand. Since then, the 10-2 hand is known as the Doyle Brunson.
A newbie or a weaker player at the poker table. But if you’re new to the game, don’t worry about the card sharks, they’re probably looking for bigger fish to fry (see WHALE).
A nickname for 2 pocket jacks, one of the strongest starting hands in Hold’em.
Another term for an inside straight, which can only be completed by a single card in the middle of a series. If your hole cards were a 7 and 8, and the flop shows a 10 and a jack, only a 9 would complete your straight. You are half as likely to hit a gutshot as an outside straight, which completes your straight from either end (i.e. you had 7-8 and the flop shows 9-10; you then need a 6 or a jack instead of a 9).
The stack of discarded cards in a round of poker. A player tosses his cards ‘into the muck’ when he folds.
The best possible hand a player can have at any given moment. If you have 2 jacks in the hole, and the flop shows jack-8-3, your trip jacks would make the best possible hand. Congratulations, you have the “nuts!” However, if the turn and the river add 2 aces to the mix, anyone with an ace in the hole would beat your trip jacks with trip aces, giving them the nuts.
A pair of aces in the hole (pocket), and the best possible starting hand in Hold’em.
A ‘tight’ player who sits round after round without betting for the pot. When the rock suddenly enters with a big bet for the pot, they probably have a really good hand.
Like a fish – only with a much bigger wallet. A player whose bankroll is much larger than their knowledge of the game of Hold’em. Card sharks love to swarm on whales and reduce them to bones.
The World Series of Poker is the biggest poker tournament in the world and the poker mecca for professional and amateur poker players alike. The main event of the WSOP is a final round of no limit Texas Hold’em, with blinds of $100,000/$200,000 or more, and millions in prize money. In addition to fat wads of cash, winners go home with some serious poker bling: the coveted WSOP gold bracelet. 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the WSOP in its Las Vegas home.
So now you have a pretty good starting point to help you navigate the poker tables without a translator. Texas Hold’em may have started in the dusty back rooms of small Texas towns in the 1930s, but it has come a long way. From the early days of the first Hold’em matches held in Vegas at Binion’s Horseshoe to the main event of the WSOP (started by Mr. Binion himself), the rich vernacular of the poker player continues to grow.
Just how many of these poker terms originated with the original Texas Road Gamblers (Doyle Brunson, Sailor Roberts, and Amarillo Slim) and how many were added later, we may never know.
But now you talk the talk. Do you walk the walk?