Poker terms

Poker Terms -
Poker writer Geoff Fisk profile photo
Geoff Fisk
Posted on: March 21, 2021 06:17 PDT

Why is it important to know the main poker terminology?

Poker is full of common terms known only to those familiar with the game. Sitting in a live poker game for the first time, for example, will expose you to terms like the following:

  • Three-bet
  • Big Blind
  • Continuation Bet
  • Straddle
  • Set

Understanding what each of these terms (and nicknames) means is crucial to a winning poker strategy. The poker terms primer focuses on some of the most common terms used in poker, whether you're playing in a high-stakes poker tournament with a sizable prize pool or enjoying a friendly game for little-to-no amount of money.

Useful poker terms: What beginner’s need to know

ABC Poker – ABC Poker refers to playing a sound, basic strategy. An ABC Poker strategy focuses on tight, aggressive play and solid preflop hand selection. Out-of-line bluffs and hero calls don’t fit into this approach. An ABC Poker strategy will usually win in low-stakes games.

Ace-High – Ace-high hands are the best non-made hand you can make in a game of poker. These hands don’t contain a pair or anything higher in the poker hand rankings but do include an ace. Examples of ace-high hands could include holdings like A❤️J♣7❤️6♠2♦️ and A♠9❤️5♦️4♣3❤️.

Add-On – An add-on is used in rebuy tournaments as a way to give players more chips when registration closes. Every player has the option to spend a certain amount of money (usually a set fraction of the buy-in) in order to get more chips to add to their stacks. The add-on is optional and never required, but often recommended.

All-In – Going all-in on a hand means putting all of your chips into the pot. In No-Limit Hold’em, you can go all-in at any time. 

Angle Shooting – Certain actions at the poker table are either flat out against the rules or ethically frowned upon by poker players. These kinds of actions fall under the category of angle shooting. For example, pushing a bet toward the pot, then pulling it back, is considered angle shooting.

Ante – Antes are forced bets that every player must pay before any cards are dealt.

Backdoor Draw – When the flop gives you three cards to a straight or flush, you hold a backdoor draw. Backdoor draws require both the turn and river to complete the draw.

Bad Beat – One of the most frequently used terms in the game; a bad beat happens when a hand that’s a big mathematical favorite ends up losing.

Bankroll– Bankroll is the amount of money a player has in their “bank” that they can spend specifically on poker. It’s essentially the amount of money that a player has set aside to use for buy-ins, either for tournaments or for cash games. Proper bankroll management is essential for players, especially starting out.

Belly Buster – A belly buster, or double gunshot, is a straight draw that doesn't include consecutive cards and can be completed by two different rank cards. 

Big Blind – The big blind is a mandatory bet that rotates around the table after each hand. The amount of the big blind determines the stakes of a game, as well as the minimum-allowed bet.

Blind – Blinds are forced bets that increase over time. They drive the action in poker tournaments and force players to get involved. There’s a small blind and a big blind (usually double the small), and those bets rotate around the table after each hand so everyone has to take part.

Bluff – Betting with a hand that’s likely not going to win unless you get your opponent to fold. Bluffs should be played the same way you would play a strong hand.

Bluff Catcher – A bluff catcher is a hand that’s played as a call, in an effort to catch your opponent bluffing.

Board Cards – Board cards are the opposite of hole cards. They are the community cards in games like Omaha and Texas Hold 'em, that are shared cards. They are the flop, the turn, and the river. 

Button – Also known as the “dealer button” or “dealer,”, the button is a position at the poker table that always acts last in every postflop betting round. When you’re on the button, you’re said to be “in-position” on all other players.

Buy-In - The cost of entering a poker game.

Call – A call matches the amount of the previous highest bet.

Calling Station – A poker term used to describe a player who consistently calls bets but rarely raises, regardless of the strength of their hand.

Check – If there’s not a bet to call, you can check, passing the action to the next player without putting money in the pot.

Check-Raise – A check-raise is a deceptive poker strategy in which a player checks early in a betting round. The hope is to allow another player to open before further raising the bet in the same round. 

Community Cards - Community cards are cards that are available for every player, or face up cards, in the pot to use as part of their poker hand. Community cards are mostly used in hold'em games.

Connectors – Connectors are cards that you can use together in order to make a straight. For example, 7-6 of hearts would be called a “suited connector”, because you’re more likely to make both a straight and a flush with that type of hand. Connectors are a popular hand for many to play.

Continuation Bet (aka c-bet) – When the player who made the last raise preflop also makes the first bet after the flop, that bet is known as a continuation bet or c-bet.

Dead Man’s Hand– Dead Man’s Hand is the nickname used to describe a specific combination of two pairs: aces and eights. It’s called that because it was supposedly the hand held by Wild Western gunfighter Wild Bill Hickock when he was shot dead at the table.

Deuce – Deuce is a popular slang word to describe a “2” card in poker, like the two of spades or clubs. This term is used most commonly in poker alternates where cards that are twos (also known as deuces) are wild, and therefore can be played as any card.

Donk Bet – When a player other than the preflop aggressor makes the first bet postflop, that bet is known as a donk bet.

Down Cards – The down cards are another way to describe the main board of cards used by all in poker: the flop, the turn, and the river. There are five in total, and a player can use them in any combination to make the best five card hand.

Drawing Hand – A drawing hand is one that is not currently made, but can improve on future community cards like the turn and river. This term is most often used to describe a hand that’s looking for a flush or a straight, as those are the two most common draws in poker. 

Effective Stack – When two players are in a pot, the smaller stack represents the maximum amount either player can win. This amount is called the effective stack.

Equity – Equity refers to the mathematical chance a player has to win a pot. For example, in a preflop all-in battle between pocket aces and pocket kings, the aces have 81.9% equity.

Expected Value - In its most basic usage, EV is the value of your decision in a poker hand or situation over time.

Fifth Street – Fifth street is also known as the river. It’s the final of five community cards placed down by the dealer. It marks the completion of the dealing because it’s the last card that can be played. After fifth street is played, whoever has the best five card hand wins. 

Fish – A fish, aka recreational player, is a less-experienced, weaker player when compared to someone who regularly plays poker.

Flush Draw – A flush draw is when you have four cards of the same suit and only need one more card to complete the flush, which is five cards of the same suit. 

Fold – When you surrender your hand and exit a pot, that action is known as folding. It is done when a player feels that there is no chance of bluffing or getting a better hand.

Forced Bet – A forced bet is a mandatory wager in the first round of betting. It occurs in different forms in poker variants, such as ante, blind, or bring-in.

Four-of-a-kind – A 4-of-a-kind is a poker hand consisting of 4 of the same ranking cards.

Fourth Street – Fourth street is the fourth community card that the dealer puts up on the felt. It’s also called the turn card, and it’s the card placed after the flop and right before dealing the river.

Full House – In poker, if you have three-of-a-kind and another pair, that means you have a full house.

GG – Commonly used in online poker games, GG means “good game.”

GTO Poker – GTO stands for “Game Theory Optimal,” a theoretically mathematically perfect way to play poker. 

Gutshot – A gutshot refers to a straight draw with four outs, which needs one of the middle cards of the straight to come in. For example, 6♠5❤️3♣2❤️represents a gutshot straight draw, needing a four to come in to complete the straight.

Heads-up – Refers to a pot or game involving only two players. 

Hole Cards – Cards that are dealt face-down and only seen by the player to which they’re dealt are known as hole cards. In Texas Hold’em, each player is dealt two hole cards.

Inside Straight – An inside straight is a type of hand in poker when the player has four of the five cards needed for a straight but is missing the one in the middle.

Kicker – A kicker, also referred to as a side card, is a card that does not take part in determining the rank of the hand. However, a kicker may be used to break ties between equally ranking hands. In this scenario, it would be the next highest card.

Limping – When a player opens the preflop betting round by calling, instead of raising, that player is said to be limping, or limping in.

Muck – Surrendering your hand at any time is known as mucking. Muck and “fold” can be used interchangeably, but you can also muck at showdown. 

No-Limit – Games that allow players to bet their entire stack at any time are played with a No-Limit betting structure.

Nuts – The nuts is a popular term used to describe the best possible hand once all the cards are dealt. This can be anything from the top set possible to a royal flush. The nuts is a hand that can’t be beat. It’s against the rules to check back on the river when you have the nuts.

Open – An open, aka open raise, refers to when a player raises a pot after no other player has previously called or raised. An open is also sometimes known as “raise first in.”

Open-Ended Straight Draw – A straight draw with eight outs, needing a card to complete one end or the other, is known as an open-ended straight draw. For instance, 6♠5❤️4♣3❤️represents an open-ended straight draw, needing a seven or a two to make the straight.

Outs – An out is a card that turns your holding into the winning hand. For example, if you hold A♠K❤️, your opponent holds Q♠Q❤️, and the board reads J♠9❤️6♣3❤️, the aces and kings remaining in the deck are your outs.

Over Card – An over card is any card that you can pair that’s higher than a card on board. So for example, if you have King-Queen on a flop that’s ten high, you have two over cards, as either card would give you the top pair on board if hit.

Pocket Pair – A pocket pair is when you are dealt two cards of the same ranking in your starting hand, such as 6-62 or Jack-Jack. They make a good starting point for a hand. 

Poker Rooms – Poker rooms are the locations in casinos where they spread poker for the public. It’s a specific section of tables that run poker cash games or tournaments. The term can technically apply to online websites as well, but it most often describes physical rooms, like these 10 best poker rooms in Las Vegas.

Pot-Limit – Pot-limit (PL) is a betting structure that allows a poker player to bet or raise any amount between a set minimum bet and the current pot size. 

Pot Odds – Pot odds are the ratio between the total pot size and the size of the bet.

Quads – Quads is another way of saying four of a kind in a poker game. If there are two queens on the board, and you have the other two queens in your hand, you have quad queens — one of the strongest possible hands. Only a straight flush and royal flush can beat quads.

Rake – The house cut of any cash game pot or tournament entry fee is known as the rake.

Rebuy – A rebuy is when a player busts out of a tournament but they want to buy in again for the same amount as the original buy-in. Players will receive a fresh stack of chips, and usually keep their seats. This is different from a re-entry event, where a player gets a brand-new seat. 

Ring Game – A ring game is another term for a poker cash game. The key is that it’s not related to a tournament in any way. Ring games often come with looser rules, with no set time or number of hands to finish, and can apply to any poker game.

River–The river is another name for the fifth and final community card placed faced up on the table. After the river is dealt, there’s one final round of betting before cards are tabled. The river is often the card of nightmares for hands that are ahead and looking to avoid a bad beat.

Royal Flush – A royal flush is one of the best possible hands in poker. It is a set of cards that are all of the same suit while also being the most valuable cards (ace, king, queen, jack, and ten). 

Satellite – Satellite tournaments award entry to larger buy-in tournaments as prizes, rather than cash.

Semi-Bluff – A semi-bluff is a bet made when a player doesn't have a high-value poker hand, but can still win the pot by getting their opponents to fold to their bet.

Short Handed – Short handed describes any poker table that isn’t fully seated with nine players. Short handed is most often seen in six-max tournaments or cash games, and is usually more popular in online formats. It can also describe a tournament table that has seen multiple knockouts.

Side Pot – The side pot is separate from the main pot. Only actively betting players can play for it, while any remaining players that have gone all-in can only win the main pot. 

Small Blind – The small blind is a bet placed by the player to the left of the dealer button. The big blind (referenced above) is then posted by the next player to the left. In general, the big blind equals the minimum bet and the small blind is typically half the amount of the big blind. 

Split Pot – A split pot is when the pot is evenly divided among the winners. 

Squeeze – Raising against a previous raiser and at least one caller is known as squeezing.

Straddle – Some cash games allow players to post a blind bet, at least double the big blind amount, before the cards are dealt. This action is known as a straddle.

Straight – A straight is a poker hand that contains five cards of sequential rank, but of different suits.

Straight Flush – A straight flush is when a player has a hand consisting of all five cards of the same suit. 

Three-bet – The first re-raise in a pot is known as a three-bet. Raising against a three-bet is known as a four-bet, raising a four-bet is called a five-bet, and so on.

Three-of-a-kind – A 3-of-a-kind is a poker hand consisting of 3 of the same ranking cards.

Top Pair – Top pair is the best possible pair on the board. It’s not often the winning hand, but is usually a strong hand to have after the flop comes down. If you pair the top card on board but then a higher card comes, you no longer have the top pair available. 

Under the Gun – Being "under the gun" (UTG) is a reference to the position immediately left of the big blind. It occurs in flop games like Texas Hold'em and Omaha poker. This means that the under the gun player is the first to act before the flop. The term acknowledges the pressure that goes along with acting before anyone else.

Value Bet – A value bet aims to prompt another player to call. You should only make value bets when you think you have the best hand.

VPIP – VPIP is a popular term in poker analytics and it stands for Voluntarily Put in Pot. A player with a high VPIP is very active preflop and is more likely to put chips into the pot outside of the forced blinds. Meanwhile, a player with a low VPIP is often seen as tight and plays only premium cards.

Poker terms FAQs

What is slang for losing 'unluckily' in poker?

One of the most common slang poker terms for losing in what you consider to be an unlucky way is “bad beat.” It means that you have lost a poker hand primarily as a result of misfortune, as opposed to your performance. That being said, there are lots of different ways of describing a losing hand and bad beat is just one of them.

What are the stages of poker called?  

There are four stages in a poker game that you need to be aware of. The pre-flop is where everyone is dealt two cards. This is followed by the flop, where the dealer adds three community cards face up in the middle of the table. Next is the turn, where a fourth card is added face up to the middle of the table. Finally, the river is the addition of the fifth card face up in the centre of the table.

What is slang for pocket aces?  

Pocket aces are also known as pocket rockets, a common poker term that is used colloquially in different parts of the world. Another common slang term for pocket aces is bullets, which you often hear during American card games. Of course, pocket aces itself is a slang term, describing the fact that you have a pair of aces at the poker table.

What is a poker bet called?  

In poker, placing a bet is known as calling or raising (or re-raising). In other words, you’re willing to match the amount of money that has been staked by another player in order for the game to continue or increase the bet.

What is the dead man’s hand in poker?  

The dead man’s hand in poker is a hand in which you land two black aces and two black eights. It is named after legendary lawman Wild Bill Hickock who was murdered in cold blood during a poker game while holding this very hand. Of course, if you win with the dead man’s hand, it ceases to be unlucky, but due to its infamy, it’s often regarded as the unluckiest hand in poker.

Featured image source: Flickr/Raffaele Sergi