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What’s in a Name? Plenty When It Comes to Poker

| Staff Report |

Think about most areas of life and they all seem to have a sort of language of their own. A vocabulary and a set of phrases that seem almost designed to shut other people out of the conversation. Of course, it also serves another purpose which is to create a group who all share the same language and understand exactly what each other are talking about.

While this is a useful way to identify who’s in the know, it can be a little excluding for outsiders, and the more tight knit the community who are using this kind of language, the stronger the effect will be.

Anyone who knows anything about the game of poker will be able to confirm that players of every level do feel a certain kinship with each other and use the sorts of language and phrases that only fellow aficionados will understand.

Rivers, flops, and bad beats

Almost everything to do with poker and the language its players use when discussing or playing the game seems to be designed to confuse. That’s why, before taking on the “live” game, rookie players are best advised to try a little practice online. While it won’t give a total grounding in the vocabulary of the game, it will give a good introduction.

What’s more, most online poker sites also have a glossary or poker dictionary, and it can be a good idea to spend as much time as possible familiarising yourself with the language.

As to the derivation of lots of the terms, this can be very hard to determine – and often there are no real logical links. For example, why would the final card to be revealed be called “The River” or a bet be called “A Blind”? Even the origins of the word poker itself are open to debate.

A hand with hand names

As you might expect, another area in which poker has a language all of its own is in the funny poker names that players give to particular hands or combinations of cards. To the uninitiated, they may not mean very much, but at least there is a general logic to them, as these examples demonstrate.

Anna Kournikova

What, you might ask, does a Russian-American tennis player have to do with poker? The answer is that she shares her initials with the combination of an ace and a king in a hand. There is even the rather cruel, and ever so slightly sexist, saying that goes with this card combination: “looks good but hardly ever wins”.


One for music fans here, but also one of the most impenetrable names as well. Like a cryptic crossword clue, you would have to spend many head-scratching hours working out that this is a Jack-5 combination – from The Jackson Five, one of the label’s bestselling acts of all time.

American Airlines

At last, one that needs very little explanation. A pair of aces is something that every player would like to see in their hand – so the name of one of the most popular carriers in the US is a natural choice. For a king and an ace, the version of this nickname is Korean Airlines.


To get to the bottom of this one you have to visualize exactly what this pair of cards look like when you see them together. If you’re still puzzling it out, the answer is a pair of 8s – all they’re missing is the carrot for the nose. Incidentally, two 8s are also sometime referred to as Dale Jr. in homage to the NASCAR racer Dale Earnhardt Jr. whose car was always number 88.

Luke Skywalker

Star Wars has also proved to be a popular source of inspiration, especially when it comes to pairs of 4s when every player wishes that “may the fours be with you”.

Players, by another name

In a game so bound up in its own mythology, you would expect all of the big players to also go under a nickname. Here are a few of the very best.

Kid Poker

Even many people who know very little about poker will have heard of Daniel Negreanu. He earned this name, unsurprisingly, very early on in his career when he became the youngest ever winner of a prestigious WSOP bracelet at the age of 23. He may now be twice that age, but the nickname seems to have stuck.

The Magician

It’s not such a great leap for an expert at card tricks and other close-up magic to try their luck on the professional poker circuit – and that’s just what Antonio Esfandiari has done. But even though he’s now hung up his top hat and cape his still been known to perform a card trick or two during downtime at the table.

The Robin Hood of Poker

He might not exactly lead a band of merry men or live-in fear of the Sheriff of Nottingham, but Barry Greenstein has become almost as big a legend as Robin Hood for his belief in taking from the rich and giving to the poor. Over the years he has contributed a generous proportion of his winnings to charities and made many opponents considerably less rich in the process.

Texas Dolly

Doyle Brunson enjoys the rare honour of not having just one, but two different nicknames. The first consists of his place of birth and an affectionate re-working of his Christian name. The second “The Godfather of Poker” came about after he devised his now famous “super system” which has since helped countless players master the game.

Of course, the rise of online poker in which players can give themselves almost any name they want has led to a positive explosion in nicknames, many of which are too risqué to share here – so if you want to find out more, you’ll just have to look for yourself.

Hopefully, this has given you a good grounding in the language and vocabulary of the game. Now maybe it’s time to put some of it into practice.

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