Being around poker players, whether online or live, you’ll be exposed to certain phrases and poker sayings that only make sense within this particular sub-culture.
These are things you won’t hear when you’re out and about, and if you use them in your everyday communication, most people likely won’t have any idea what you’re talking about.
But, if you frequently visit the NVG poker forum or want to be a part of the community, you need to be aware of the poker slang as this comes with the territory.
In this article, I’ll cover some of the lesser-known phrases and poker sayings that are still used quite frequently. Knowing these will definitely help on your poker journey in many ways, so let’s dig in.
The term “Alligator blood” comes from the cult poker movie Rounders. It’s an expression used by Teddy KGB to describe Mike and his calm and composed presence at the table, i.e., “the kid’s got alligator blood.”
For a poker player, this is definitely a compliment.
If you’re someone who has alligator blood, it means that you don’t get upset easily, are not likely to be slow rolling you, and are difficult to read.
These are very useful traits to have, probably just as useful as being good at poker math. So, the next time you hear this reference, you’ll know what it’s all about. Also, watch Rounders.
Action Card / Action Board
In poker, especially in community card games like Hold’em or Omaha, things can change significantly with every new card that hits the board.
If a card on the turn or the river is likely to complete some evident draws, it is dubbed an action card – i.e., a card that’s likely to create some action.
Sometimes, all cards on the board cooperate in such a way that there are numerous different combinations of strong hands and draws possible at the same time. In that case, you’ll hear players talking about an action board.
Big Blind Special
The big blind is one of the worst positions you can be in at a table as you have to put money into the pot without looking at your cards.
At the same time, however, you’ll often see the flop for “free” or at a discount, which means you’ll be able to play some hands that you’d never consider playing from other positions.
When the board runs 3 3 9 5 7 and the player holding a straight losses to big blind’s flopped full house with 9-3, that’s what’s known as the big blind special.
It’s the kind of hand you’d never really expect to be in your opponent’s range, and it’s virtually impossible to guess.
How much did you lose?
Images from Pixabay.com
One of the most frustrating questions that poker players get asked repeatedly by those who don’t know how poker works is: “but how much did you lose?”
This question usually follows after the player reports on their winning session at cash game tables or a deep run in a tournament.
The reason to ask this question is simply a complete lack of understanding of the game. The person asking this doesn’t understand that you buy into a tournament, and then you win whatever you win.
The way they see it, you’ve probably had many monetary losses during that tournament leading up to your win. When someone asks this, I suggest you don’t try to explain, but it’s up to you.
Poker players love coming up with nicknames for different starting Texas Holdem poker hands combos. You know about big slick, American Airlines, and probably even Dolly Patton (9-5). But I must admit it was well into my poker career that I heard of Cambodia for the first time.
This is the nickname given to 7-4 off-suit, and it originated from New York City cardrooms.
It is supposed to have something to do with the American invasion of Cambodia in 1974, but that even actually took place in 1970, so who knows how this name came to be.
Whatever the reason, when you hear someone talking about having Cambodia or Cambodian Slick, that’s the hand they’re referring to.
The expression “clicking buttons” is actually a relatively fresh addition to the poker slang as it has its origins in online poker.
When you play on the internet, you have to click different buttons to perform different actions. Sometimes, you know exactly what your plan is, but sometimes you’re just clicking buttons and hoping for the best.
The expression found its way into the live environment as well, and it is frequently used to describe actions that make no sense.
For example, someone raises, three players call, and then the small blind makes the minimum 3-bet, reopening the action and pumping up the pot without any clear goal. You could say they’re just clicking buttons, even if you play in a live game.
The poker term coffee housing is not that well-known, so I’ve decided to include it here just in case you come across it somewhere.
It is basically another name for “speech play,” i.e., talking during a hand to try and extract information from your opponents. Coffee housing can have different forms, from a seemingly friendly chatter, over banter, to needling.
Having one million dollars in front of you is always cool, so this expression seems a bit out of place.
But it was popularized by Brad Booth, a high stakes pro, who appeared on High Stakes Poker several times.
Once, Booth decided to buy in for what he called “a cool million,” and the expression just stuck.
Sometimes, you find yourself in a situation where there is just no way to find a fold or get away. While being able to read your opponents and put them on correct ranges is a huge part of the game, sometimes your hand is simply too strong to do fold. And yet, they have you beat.
This is what’s known as a cooler in poker slang.
Flopping set over set, for example, is one of the biggest coolers you can experience in Hold’em. It’s hard enough to flop a set as it is, but to flop it in the same hand where someone else flops it as well is just bad luck.
Coolers are a part of the game, and you shouldn’t worry too much about them, but they can be quite painful nonetheless.
When you’re drawing to a hand, there is a certain number of cards that can help you – these are known as outs.
However, not all of your outs are as good as the rest of them as some could also help your opponent. These are what’s known as “dirty outs.”
Say you’re drawing to an open-ended straight draw, but there are two spades on the board already. If you have eight outs in total, but two of them are spades, these could be considered dirty outs as they could potentially give your opponent a flush when you make a straight.
This is another poker saying that found its way into the poker slang in more recent times, and it comes from video games.
In many computer games, there is a way for the player to turn on the special “god mode,” which makes them immortal or gives them access to all the best gear and skills, or something along those lines.
In poker, this term is used to describe a player who’s simply running hot and can’t seem to lose a hand. Even if they make a mistake, they get saved by the river somehow and end up winning the pot just the same.
In live poker cash games, you aren’t supposed to remove any chips from the table until you’re done playing. All the money you win must remain in your stack and in play for as long as you decide to stay.
Sometimes, however, a player will want to limit their exposure by secretly removing some chips (usually the big denomination ones). This is what poker slang “going south” means.
This practice is frowned upon, and if you get caught doing it, you’ll have to place chips back. If someone does this all the time, they can even get banned from the room.
Going south isn’t fair to other players in the game, as it limits their ability to recoup their losses while it makes things easier for the player who removes the chips.
Hand for Hand
The term “hand for hand” is used in tournament poker. As the bubble phase approaches and players are about to get in the money, the tournament will often go in a “hand for hand” phase.
This means that the play is synchronized across all tables, and the next hand won’t begin until the current one is finished on all tables.
This is done to prevent players from stalling and waiting for someone to bust on other tables.
In the online poker lingo, the term hero is used to refer to the player who’s being discussed. The poker software also uses the term “hero” to mark the player whose hands are being viewed.
I guess the expression makes some sense as every hand is a small story, and the player in focus is the main protagonist of that story.
This is another nickname for a poker hand, namely a King and Jack, i.e., Kojack. The name is also a reference to the popular police TV show from the 1970s.
Locking the Hand
As you could probably guess, to lock a hand means to get an unbeatable combination. For example, if your opponent has a flush, but you turn a full house, you have a lock on the hand.
No matter what he does, poker strategy or his moves will not help him take down the pot. There is no card that can come to help, so the only question is how much you are going to win.
You’re probably familiar with the idea of poker staking, i.e., someone paying for a part or the full buy-in for a tournament in exchange for a share of the winnings.
Another poker saying closely connected to staking is makeup, and it has nothing to do with making players look pretty before they sit down to play.
In long-term staking arrangements, the player will usually bust out from a few tournaments before they make a profit. The amount that the backer pays for these buy-ins is calculated as makeup, i.e., the amount that the player has to pay when they eventually make a profit.
The makeup is paid first, and then any remaining profit is split according to the terms of the particular staking arrangement.
Another piece of poker slang that came from the online world is “misclick.” Anyone who’s ever played online and especially those used to playing several tables at the same time, knows how easy it is to click the wrong button at the wrong moment.
You want to fold but end up calling an all-in and busting out. As the entire table is wondering how the hell you called with 9-high, you sheepishly type “misclick” into the chatbox before closing the table.
But the term is now frequently used in live games as well, especially with the younger crowd used to online games. When they accidentally make an action they didn’t want to make, using a single chip to raise without announcing their intention, for example, they’ll often call it a mis-click.
Although no one could tell you the names of these mysterious deities, commentators often like to mention poker gods.
It is pretty much just another, more creative way of saying that someone is getting lucky or unlucky. It does sound pretty cool when you say that a certain player seems to be the favorite of poker gods today, doesn’t it?
The term railing is used in live and online poker alike to describe people gathering on the rail, i.e., around the playing area to observe the action. Usually, the area will be separated by a rail of some sort, hence the name.
When it comes to online poker, there is obviously no physical rail as you can simply fire up the table(s) you want to watch and sometimes even chat along. However, the term railing transferred to the online environment as well.
In poker slang, the term rounder is used to describe a person who plays the game full-time and makes a living out of it.
They make their rounds around tables and poker rooms, looking for good cash games and tournaments, hence the name.
Back in the old days, though, professional players often had to travel a long way to get to the nearest poker room and were forced to go where the best action was.
The terms “shill” isn’t exclusive to poker slang, so you might have come across it in other contexts as well. It is used to describe a person who’s putting in the effort to make a particular company or a product look good, often by spreading lies and half-truths and arguing with those who don’t agree with their views.
Poker shills are quite common on forums and social media networks, and they’re generally quite unpopular. Good companies and poker rooms don’t need shills as their actions speak for themselves, so these people usually act as agents for shady and less-than-stellar operations.
Stop-loss is a poker saying used by professionals to define the number of buy-ins they’re willing to put on the line during a particular session.
For example, a player can have a stop loss of five buy-ins, and if they happen to lose this amount (due to bad luck, mistakes, or whatever else), they’ll get up and take a longer break, often even quitting for the day.
I highly recommend you reading this article if you want to learn what is a string bet and how to avoid costly mistakes in live games.
But if you want a short answer, this poker saying refers to a situation where you fail to add all of the chips you intended to bet at one hand movement and then are forced to change your bet.
For example, if you wanted to bet $200 but firstly slide a stack of $100 and then wanted to add another $100, this will mean you made a string bet, and only the first $100 will count as your bet.
Tapping the Glass
“Please, don’t tap the glass!” This is a poker expression you may have heard on TV, but it’s also common in local games.
What it means is that you shouldn’t be upsetting or trying to educate bad players. Since bad players are usually referred to as fish, you aren’t supposed to tap their water tank glass and scare them away.
Tapping the glass is something that many less experienced players are prone to. They’ll see someone playing way too many hands, for example, or calling huge preflop raises with trash and proceed to try and explain how they shouldn’t do it.
Usually, this advice won’t make any difference anyway as the fish will continue to play the way they want to play, but why tap the glass in the first place? You’re there to make money, not provide unpaid coaching.
Vegas and fuckin’ Mirage
I’ll wrap this article with another phrase from Rounders that you’ll certainly hear on TV and will often see it referenced on poker forums.
This particular quote is from the scene at the start of the movie where Mike thinks he has the best hand and he is trying to hide his excitement, but all he’s really thinking about is “Vegas and fuckin’ Mirage” – the place where he wants to go once he builds his bankroll.
So, it’s a cool pun that some players will use to describe scenarios where someone is holding the nuts, and the other party is trying to pull off a desperate bluff that’s never going to work in a million years.
And if you aren’t aware of this scene and have no idea what I’m talking about, you should really take the time to watch Rounders. It’s a great movie, and you won’t regret it, promise!