Poker terms and slang are often as complicated as the hands they describe. Pros tossing around terms like “gutshot straight,” “micro limit” and “rainbow” can leave many of us scratching our heads. Until now.
This a simple glossary of poker terms will help cut the confusion — consider it your reference point.
A small portion of a bet contributed by each player to seed the pot at the beginning of a poker hand. Most hold’em games do not have an ante; they use “blinds” to get initial money into the pot.
To run out of chips while betting or calling. In table stakes games, a player may not go into his pocket for more money during a hand. If he runs out, a side pot is created in which he has no interest. However, he can still win the pot for which he had the chips. Example: “Poor Bob. He made quads against the big full house, but he was all-in on the second bet.”
Catching both the turn and river card to make a drawing hand. For instance, suppose you have As-7s. The flop comes Ad-6c-4s. You bet and are called. The turn is the Ts, which everybody checks, and then the river is the Js. You’ve made a “backdoor” nut flush. See also “runner.”
To have a hand that is a large underdog beat a heavily favored hand. It is generally used to imply that the winner of the pot had no business being in the pot at all, and it was the wildest of luck that he managed to catch the one card in the deck that would win the pot. We won’t give any examples; you will hear plenty of them during your poker career.
The larger of the two blinds typically used in a hold’em game. The big blind is a full first round bet. See also “blind” and “small blind.”
A nickname for AK (suited or not). Its origins are unknown (to me, anyway).
A board card that doesn’t seem to affect the standings in the hand. If the flop is As-Jd-Ts, then a turn card of 2h would be considered a blank. On the other hand, the 2s would not be.
A forced bet (or partial bet) put in by one or more players before any cards are dealt. Typically, blinds are put in by players immediately to the left of the button. See also “live blind.”
All the community cards in a hold’em game — the flop, turn, and river cards together. Example: “There wasn’t a single heart on the board.”
Short for “robot”. In a poker context, a program that plays poker online with no (or minimal) human intervention.
A pair with the lowest card on the flop. If you have As-6s, and the flop comes Kd-Th-6c, you have flopped bottom pair.
Brick & Mortar
A “real” casino or cardroom with a building, tables, dealers, etc. This is in contrast to an online poker site.
The point at which only one player must bust out before all others win some money. (2) The person who was unfortunate enough to finish in that position.
To discard the top card from the deck, face down. This is done between each betting round before putting out the next community card(s). It is security against any player recognizing or glimpsing the next card to be used on the board.
A white acrylic disk that indicates the (nominal) dealer. Also used to refer to the player on the button. Example: “Oh, the button raised.”
As in “buy the pot.” To bluff, hoping to “buy” the pot without being called. (2) As in “buy the button.” To bet or raise, hoping to make players between you and the button fold, thus allowing you to act last on subsequent betting rounds.
An amount of money you pay to enter a tournament. Often expressed as two numbers, such as $100+9, meaning that it costs $109 to enter the tournament; $100 goes into the prize fund and $9 goes to the house.
To put into the pot an amount of money equal to the most recent bet or raise. The term “see” (as in “I’ll see that bet”) is considered colloquial.
A weak-passive player who calls a lot, but doesn’t raise or fold much. This is the kind of player you like to have in your game.
To put in the last raise permitted on a betting round. This is typically the third or fourth raise. Dealers in California are fond of saying “Capitola” or “Cappuccino.”
The last card of a certain rank in the deck. Example: “The flop came J-8-3; I’ve got pocket jacks, he’s got pocket 8’s, and then the case eight falls on the river, and he beats my full house.”
The first pot created during a poker hand, as opposed to one or more “side” pots created if one or more players goes all-in. Also “main pot.”
Typed conversation that you can have with other players at an online poker site (or any online gathering, for that matter).
To not bet, with the option to call or raise later in the betting round. Equivalent to betting zero dollars.
To check and then raise when a player behind you bets. Occasionally you will hear people say this is not fair or ethical poker. Piffle. Almost all casinos permit check-raising, and it is an important poker tactic. It is particularly useful in low-limit hold’em where you need extra strength to narrow the field if you have the best hand.
An agreement between the two players with blinds to simply take their blinds back rather than playing out the hand if nobody calls or raises in front of them.
A card that would almost certainly make your hand best. If you are drawing at a straight, but there is a flush draw possible, then the cards that make your straight but also the flush are not clean outs.
To call more than one bet in a single action. For instance, suppose the first player to act after the big blind raises. Now any player acting after that must call two bets “cold.” This is different from calling a single bet and then calling a subsequent raise.
A drawing hand (from the craps term).
A hand that is defined by all five cards — a straight, flush, full house, four of a kind, or straight flush.
A hold’em starting hand in which the two cards are one apart in rank. Examples: KQs, 76.
To make your hand less valuable because of board cards that duplicate it. Example: you have 87 and the flop comes 9-T-J, so you have a straight. Now an 8 comes on the turn. This has counterfeited your hand and made it almost worthless.
To beat a hand — typically a big hand. You hear this most often applied to pocket aces: “Third time tonight I’ve had pocket aces cracked.”
As in “to cripple the deck.” Meaning that you have most or all of the cards that somebody would want to have with the current board. If you have pocket kings, and the other two kings flop, you have crippled the deck.
A call that you make expecting to lose, but feel that you must make anyway because of the pot odds.
The position (or player) who acts one before the button.
Money contributed to a pot by a player no longer in the pot.
Shortened form of “underdog.”
A hand that will almost always lose to a better hand that people usually play. For instance, K3 is “dominated” by KQ. With the exception of strange flops (e.g., 3-3-X, K-3-X), it will always lose to KQ.
To play a hand that is not yet good, but could become so if the right cards come. Example: “I’m not there yet — I’m drawing.” Also used as a noun. Example: “I have to call because I have a good draw.”
Trying to make a hand that, even if made, will not win the pot. If you’re drawing to make a flush, and your opponent already has a full house, you are “drawing dead.” Of course, this is a bad condition to be in.
Your “rightful” share of a pot. If the pot contains $80, and you have a 50% chance of winning it, you have $40 equity in the pot. This term is somewhat fanciful since you will either win $80 or $0, but it gives you an idea of how much you can “expect” to win.
A blind put in by a player just entering the game, returning to the game, or otherwise changing his position at the table. See also “blind” and “post.”
A pot in which all of the players call before the flop.
To play a hand aggressively, betting and raising as much as possible. Example: “When you flop a set but there’s a flush draw possible, you have to play it fast.”
A poor player — one who gives his money away. It’s a well-known (though not well-followed) rule among good players to not upset the bad players, because they’ll stop having fun and perhaps leave. Thus the phrase, “Don’t tap on the aquarium.”
The first three community cards, put out face up, all together.
The extra value you get from a hand when you force an opponent to fold. That is, if you don’t have to see a showdown, your hand has more value than if you do.
A hand that may not be played for one reason or another. A player with a foul hand may not make any claim on any portion of the pot. Example: “He ended up with three cards after the flop, so the dealer declared his hand foul.”
A turn or river card on which you don’t have to call a bet because of play earlier in the hand (or because of your reputation with your opponents). For instance, if you are on the button and raise when you flop a flush draw, your opponents may check to you on the turn. If you make your flush on the turn, you can bet. If you don’t get it on the turn, you can check as well, seeing the river card for “free.”
One player has a shot at winning an entire pot when he is currently tied with another player. For instance, suppose you have Ac-Qc and your opponent has Ad-Qh. The flop is Qs-5c-Tc. You are tied with your opponent right now, but are free rolling, because you can win the whole pot and your opponent can’t. If no club comes, you split the pot with him; if it does come, you win the whole thing.
A starting hand with cards more than one rank apart. For instance, T9 is a one-gap hand. 86 is a two-gap hand.
A poker pro who earns his or her living with small but consistent winnings, often playing mid or low stakes games.
A straight filled “inside.” If you have 9s-8s, the flop comes 7c-5h-2d, and the turn is the 6c, you’ve made your gutshot straight.
A pot that is being contested by only two players. Example: “It was heads-up by the turn.”
As in “the flop hit me,” meaning the flop contains cards that help your hand. If you have AK, and the flop comes K-7-2, it hit you.
The establishment running the game. Example: “The $2 you put on the button goes to the house.”
Pot odds that do not exist at the moment, but may be included in your calculations because of bets you expect to win if you hit your hand. For instance, you might call with a flush draw on the turn even though the pot isn’t offering you quite 4:1 odds (your chance of making the flush) because you’re sure you can win a bet from your opponent on the river if you make your flush.
A special bonus paid to the loser of a hand if he gets a very good hand beaten. In hold’em, the “loser” must typically get aces full or better beaten. In some of the large southern California card clubs, jackpots have gotten over $50,000. Of course, the jackpot is funded with money removed from the game as part of the rake.
To move all-in in a no-limit (or pot-limit) game.
An unpaired card used to determine the better of two near-equivalent hands. For instance, suppose you have AK and your opponent has AQ. If the flop has an ace in it, you both have a pair of aces, but you have a king kicker. Kickers can be vitally important in hold’em.
A weakness in your game that causes you to win less money than you would otherwise. Example: “She takes her pocket pairs too far; it’s a leak in her game.”
To call. Generally the term refers to pre-flop action. For instance: “He limped in early position with 77.”
A forced bet put in by one or more players before any cards are dealt. The “live” means those players still have the option of raising when the action gets back around to them.
Cards that are not duplicated in an opponent’s stronger hand. For example, if you have A9 and your opponent has AJ, then your ace is not “live” because making a pair of aces won’t do you any good. The nine, however, is live; making a pair of nines gives you the better hand.
A player who does a lot of hyper-aggressive raising, betting, and bluffing. A true maniac is not a good player, but is simply doing a lot of gambling. However, a player who occasionally acts like a maniac and confuses his opponents is quite dangerous.
A hand to which you’re drawing, or one good enough that it doesn’t need to improve.
Games so small that they couldn’t be profitably dealt in a real cardroom. They exist only at online poker sites. You might arbitrarily call games $.25-.50 and smaller “micro-limit.”
The pile of folded and burned cards in front of the dealer. Example: “His hand hit the muck so the dealer ruled it folded even though the guy wanted to get his cards back.” Also used as a verb. Example: “He didn’t have any outs so he mucked his hand.”
A version of poker in which a player may bet any amount of chips (up to the number in front of him) whenever it is his turn to act. It is a very different game from limit poker.
The best possible hand given the board. If the board is Ks-Jd-Ts-4s-2h, then As-Xs is the nuts. You will occasionally hear the term applied to the best possible hand of a certain category, even though it isn’t the overall nuts. For the above example, somebody with Ah-Qc might say they had the “nut straight.”
A hold’em starting hand with two cards of different suits.
A hold’em starting hand with two cards two apart in rank. Examples: J9s, 64.
A card that will make your hand win. Normally heard in the plural. Example: “Any spade will make my flush, so I have nine outs.”
To beat. Example: “Susie outran my set when her flush card hit on the river.”
To call a bet after one or more others players have already called.
A card higher than any card on the board. For instance, if you h
ave AQ and the flop comes J-7-3, you don’t have a pair, but you have two overcards.
A pocket pair higher than any card on the flop. If you have QQ and the flop comes J-8-3, you have an overpair.
A hand that you make on the flop. For instance, if you have two spades in your hand and the flop has three spades, then you’ve flopped a pat spade flush.
To call a bet when the person betting is representing a hand that you can’t beat, but the pot is sufficiently large to justify a call anyway. Example: “He played it exactly like he made the flush, but I had top set so I paid him off.”
Play the Board
To show down a hand in hold’em when your cards don’t make a hand any better than is shown on the board. For instance, if you have 22, and the board is 4-4-9-9-A (no flush possible), then you must “play the board”: the best possible hand you can make doesn’t use any of your cards. Note that if you play the board, the best you can do is split the pot with all remaining players.
Your unique cards that only you can see. For instance, “He had pocket sixes” (a pair of sixes), or “I had ace-king in the pocket.”
A hold’em starting hand with two cards of the same rank, making a pair. Example: “I had big pocket pairs seven times in the first hour. What else can you ask for?”
To put in a blind bet, generally required when you first sit down in a cardroom game. You may also be required to post a blind if you change seats at the table in a way that moves you away from the blinds. Example: a player leaves one seat at a table and takes another in such a way that he moves farther from the blinds. He is required to post an extra blind to receive a hand. See also “extra blind.”
A state where you are essentially forced to call the rest of your stack because of the size of the pot and your remaining chips.
A version of poker in which a player may bet up to the amount of money in the pot whenever it is his turn to act. Like no-limit, this is a very different game from limit poker.
The amount of money in the pot compared to the amount you must put in the pot to continue playing. For example, suppose there is $60 in the pot. Somebody bets $6, so the pot now contains $66. It costs you $6 to call, so your pot odds are 11:1. If your chance of having the best hand is at least 1 out of 12, you should call. Pot odds also apply to draws. For instance, suppose you have a draw to the nut flush with one card left to come. In this case, you are about a 4:1 underdog to make your flush. If it costs you $8 to call the bet, then there must be about $32 in the pot (including the most recent bet) to make your call correct.
The pot odds you are getting for a draw or call. Example: “The pot was laying me a high enough price, so I stayed in with my gutshot straight draw.”
(1) To keep your hand or a chip on your cards. This prevents them from being fouled by a discarded hand, or accidentally mucked by the dealer. (2) To invest more money in a pot so blind money that you’ve already put in isn’t “wasted.” Example: “He’ll always protect his blinds, no matter how bad his cards are.”
To mentally assign a hand to a player for the purposes of playing out your hand. Example: “He raised on the flop, but I put him on a draw, so I re-raised and then bet the turn.”
Four of a kind.
A flop that doesn’t appear to help anybody very much. A flop that came down Jd-6h-2c would look ragged.
A flop that contains three different suits, thus no flush can be made on the turn. Can also mean a complete five card board that has no more than two of any suit, thus no flush is possible.
An amount of money taken out of every pot by the dealer. This is the cardroom’s income.
The numerical value of a card (as opposed to its suit). Example: “jack,” “seven.”
An option to buy back into a tournament after you’ve lost all your chips. Tournaments may offer one or more rebuys or (often) none at all.
To play as if you hold a certain hand. For instance, if you raised before the flop, and then raised again when the flop came ace high, you would be representing at least an ace with a good kicker.
A regular poker game as opposed to a tournament. Also referred to as a “live” game since actual money is in play instead of tournament chips.
The fifth and final community card, put out face up, by itself. Also known as “fifth street.” Metaphors involving the river are some of poker’s most treasured cliches, e.g., “He drowned in the river.”
A player who plays very tight, not very creatively. He raises only with the best hands. A real rock is fairly predictable: if he raises you on the river, you can throw away just about anything but the nuts.
See “Grinder“. A player who earns mostly through small but consistent winnings. Also a legendary movie about poker featuring a late 90’s Matt Damon.
Typically said “runner-runner” to describe a hand that was made only by catching the correct cards on both the turn and the river. Example: “He made a runner-runner flush to beat my trips.” See also “backdoor.”
A tournament that does not award cash to its winners, but a seat (or seats) in a subsequent tournament.
A card that may well turn the best hand into trash. If you have Tc-8c and the flop comes Qd-Jd-9s, you almost assuredly have the best hand. However, a turn card of Td would be very scary because it would almost guarantee that you are now beaten.
A pair with the second highest card on the flop. If you have As-Ts, and the flop comes Kd-Th-6c, you have flopped second pair. See “top pair.”
As in “sell a hand.” In a spread-limit game, this means betting less than the maximum when you have a very strong hand, hoping players will call whereas they would not have called a maximum bet.
A powerful concept first discussed by David Sklansky. It is a bet or raise that you hope will not be called, but you have some outs if it is. A semi-bluff may be correct when betting for value is not correct, a pure bluff is not correct, but the combination of the two may be a positive expectation play. Example: you have Ks-Qs, and the flop is Th-5s-Jc. If you bet now, it’s a semi-bluff. You probably don’t have the best hand, and you’d like to see your opponents fold immediately. Nevertheless, if you do get callers, you could still improve to the best hand.
Three of a kind when you have two of the rank in your hand, and there is one on the board.
A number of chips that is not very many compared to the other players at the table. If you have $10 in front of you, and everybody else at the table has over $100, you are playing on a short stack.
The point at which all players remaining in the hand turn their cards over and determine who has the best hand — i.e., after the fourth round of betting is completed. Of course, if a final bet or raise is not called, there is no showdown.
A pot created in which a player has no interest because he has run out of chips. Example: Al bets $6, Beth calls the $6, and Carl calls, but he has only $2 left. An $8 side pot is created that either Al or Beth can win, but not Carl. Carl, however, can still win all the money in the original or “center” pot.
To play a strong hand weakly so more players will stay in the pot.
The smaller of two blind bets typically used in a hold’em game. Normally, the small blind is one-third to two-thirds of a first round bet. See also “big blind” and “blind.”
To call. Smooth call often implies slow playing a strong hand. Example: “I flopped the nut flush but just smooth called when the guy in front of me bet — I didn’t want to scare anybody out.”
To go easy on another player at the table (e.g., not betting or raising against him). Suppose you and your brother are the last two people left in a hand. On the river, you have the nuts, but he bets. If you don’t raise, you are “soft-playing” him. Please note that soft-playing is prohibited in tournaments and can result in penalties, up to and including forfeiture of winnings.
Splash the Pot
To toss chips directly into the pot rather than put them in a stack in front of you. Don’t do it.
A pot that is shared by two or more players because they have equivalent hands.
Split Two Pair
A two pair hand in which one of each of your cards’ ranks appears on the board as well. Example: you have T9, the flop is T-9-5, you have a split two pair. This is in comparison to two pair where there is a pair on the board. Example: you have T9, the flop is 9-5-5.
A betting structure in which a player may bet any amount in a range on every betting round. A typical spread-limit structure is $2-$6, where a player may bet as little as $2 or as much as $6 on every betting round.
A play where you call (rather than re-raising) a raise, but then come out betting on the next card.
An optional extra blind bet, typically made by the player one to the left of the big blind, equal to twice the big blind. This is effectively a raise, and forces any player who wants to play to pay two bets. Furthermore, the straddler acts last before the flop, and may “re-raise.”
A bet (more typically a raise) in which a player doesn’t get all the chips required for the raise into the pot in one motion. Unless he verbally declared the raise, he can be forced to withdraw it and just call. This prevents the unethical play of putting out enough chips to call, seeing what effect that had, and then possibly raising.
Used to apply to a certain betting structure in poker games. The typical definition of a structured hold’em game is a fixed amount for bets and raises before the flop and on the flop, and then twice that amount on the turn and river. Example: a $2-$4 structured hold’em game: bets and raises of $2 before the flop and on the flop; $4 bets and raises on the turn and river.
A hold’em starting hand in which the two cards are the same suit. Example: “I had to play J-3 — it was suited.”
A rule in a poker game meaning that a player may not go into his pocket for money during a hand. He may only invest the amount of money in front of him into the current pot. If he runs out of chips during the hand, a side pot is created in which he has no interest. All casino poker is played table stakes. The definition sometimes also includes the rule that a player may not remove chips from the table during a game. While this rule might not be referred to as “table stakes,” it is enforced almost universally in public poker games.
A clue or hint that a player unknowingly gives about the strength of his hand, his next action, etc. May originally be from “telegraph” or the obvious use that he “tells” you what he’s going to do before he does it.
As in “drawing thin.” To be drawing to a very few outs, perhaps only one or two.
To play wildly or recklessly. A player is said to be “on tilt” if he is not playing his best, playing too many hands, trying wild bluffs, raising with bad hands, etc.
(1) A request by a player to suspend play while he decides what he’s going to do. Simply, “Time, please!” If a player doesn’t request time and there is a substantial amount of action behind him, the dealer may rule that the player has folded. (2) An amount of money collected either on the button or every half hour by the cardroom. This is another way for the house to make its money (see “rake”).
The amount a player must call if he wishes to continue playing. Example: “The big blind was $20. Sarah raised $40 more, making it $60 to go.”
A small amount of money (typically $.50 or $1.00) given to the dealer by the winner of a pot. Quite often, tokes represent the great majority of a dealer’s income.
A pair with the highest card on the flop. If you have As-Qs, and the flop comes Qd-Th-6c, you have flopped top pair. See “second pair.”
The highest possible trips. Example: you have Tc-Ts, and the flop comes Td-8c-9h. You have flopped top set.
Two pair, with your two hole cards pairing the two highest cards on the board.
Top and Bottom
Two pair, with your two hole cards pairing the highest and lowest cards on the board.
Three of a kind.
The fourth community card. Put out face up, by itself. Also known as “fourth street.”
Under the Gun
The position of the player who acts first on a betting round. For instance, if you are one to the left of the big blind, you are under the gun before the flop.
A person or hand not mathematically favored to win a pot. For instance, if you flop four cards to your flush, you are not quite a 2:1 underdog to make your flush by the river (that is, you will make your flush about one in three times). See also “dog.”
As in “bet for value.” This means that you would actually like your opponents to call your bet (as opposed to a bluff). Generally it’s because you have the best hand. However, it can also be a draw that, given enough callers, has a positive expectation.
A measure of the up and down swings your bankroll goes through. Variance is not necessarily a measure of how well you play. However, the higher your variance, the wider swings you’ll see in your bankroll.
A straight from ace through five.
Find anything that can be improved? Let us know.