Poker Terminology for Beginners

Man Looking Confused at a Chalk Board With the Word Ante Written on It

As you walk up to the poker table with your hat and sunglasses firmly in place, you may start to hear Stevie Ray Vaughan in your head singing “Texas Flood.”

Yes, it can be very intimidating when you’re approaching a group of poker professionals with a wad of pro cash in your amateur boots without the proper jargon to understand what on earth these folks are talking about.

It’s a dog eat dog world, and now’s the time to learn to bark at these cats so they don’t get the impression that you’re an easy target.

In the following guide, you’ll learn some essential poker terms to assist you in bolstering your confidence while hopefully showing a few of the cool kids that you can hang with the rest of them.

Some Poker Basics

For starters, let’s nail a few terms that will help you get the most out of your dollar as you start to learn the game.

Action can refer to one’s turn to act during a hand, an initial bet or raise, or a term used to describe a game in which there’s a lot of betting and raising. The more action in a hand, the more interesting it will inevitably be.

The ante is a small bet all players are required to make before a hand is dealt. Not all games require an ante, but this gives the pot (or the amount which will be won by the victor) value right off the bat.

Playing Cards on a Wooden Table

The ante is similar to a blind (an amount put in the pot by two players to the left of the dealer commonly utilized in Texas Hold‘em), with the chief difference being that a blind is played by only two players while an ante is ponied up by all players at the table.

Small blind is usually played by the first player to the left of the dealer, and big blind is equal to double the value of the small blind played by the player to the left of the contributor of the small blind.

When someone talks of a tournament, this is a poker event involving one or more tables of players who each begin with a fixed amount of tournament chips. The bubble is the top finisher of the tournament who doesn’t get any winnings.

As an example, in a tournament of 500 people where the top 50 get paid, the bubble would be the player finishing in 51st place.

Betting Basics

A call is when a player contributes the minimum amount to the pot which is required to continue playing their hand. To check means that you’re not betting for that round.

You can only check if no bets have been placed for that round. If they have, you’re forced to call, raise (contribute the minimum amount plus wagering more, which forces other players who wish to continue playing to contribute more money to the pot), or fold (give up by placing your cards down on the table, losing all you have bet so far on that hand).

Only fold if you believe your hand is too weak to compete with other players.

A check-raise is made when a player checks on the first opportunity to bet and later raises any subsequent bet in the same round of betting.

All-in is a bet that places all of a player’s chips into the pot. This is pretty risky, but can keep you in a game if your chips are low. Some players only go all-in if they’re certain they can win, while others will do it as a bluff (betting on a weak hand to intimidate other players into folding).

Dealing

Each hand has a different dealer. Even if the same person is actually dealing the cards, the button is the position of the dealer, often marked with a plastic disk. It rotates clockwise each time a new hand is dealt and determines which players are to play the blinds.

A burn card is discarding the top card before each betting round. This is done to ensure the next card played is concealed to keep unfair information from being conveyed.

Pocket cards are the cards specific to each player. In Hold’em, they’re your two down cards, also known as hole cards.

Community cards are the cards dealt face up on the table that all players use in making a hand, also known as the board.

The flop is the first three community cards dealt after the first round of betting is complete. The turn is the fourth community card dealt face-up, by itself, also known as fourth street. The river is the final of the five community cards.

Hand Possibilities

Now, we’re going to go into the possible hands you’ll be dealt. We’ll begin with the lowest possible hand, working our way up to the best hand you can get in a hand of poker.

A high-card winner indicates that nobody got a substantial hand and the pot goes to the person who had the highest card value in their hand, such as an ace high.

Next, we have the pair. Any two matching cards make up a pair, such as a pair of twos (deuces) or a pair of aces.

Moving along, we come to two pair, the best of which are pair of kings and pair of aces. After two pair, we arrive at three of a kind or trips.

Closeup of a King and Ace Playing Card

Following trips, we come to a straight, examples include ace, 2, 3, 4, 5 as well as 10, jack, queen, king, ace. Slightly better than that is what’s known as a flush. A flush is any five cards of the same suit but not in a sequence.

Now, we’re getting to the better hands which you’ll want to keep an eye out for and bet accordingly. A full house is when you have three of a kind of one card and a pair of another, such as trip aces and a pair of threes.

Four of a kind is when you’re dealt all four cards of the same rank, like four jacks, also known as quads.

As we get to the best hands you can receive, we are now at the straight flush, which is five sequenced cards of the same suit, such as 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 of clubs. If you’re ever lucky enough to get this hand, I would recommend going all-in.

The only hand better is still technically a straight flush, but this is a special type of straight flush known as a royal flush. This hand makes me salivate and is the 10, jack, queen, king, and ace of the same suit. I’ve never been dealt a royal flush, which isn’t surprising since the odds against getting that hand are 649,740 to 1.

Behaviors

Players will notice your behaviors in order to guess what your strategy and tells—or interpretation of a physical action or betting pattern that seemingly reveals how strong or weak your hand is—may be.

Many players believe that your eyes are major tells, which is why a lot of players like to wear sunglasses.

We covered bluffs earlier, but when you hear of a semi-bluff, this is a bluff that has the potential to improve should the bluff be ineffective.

A rock is a player who is considered “tight.” This player won’t bluff and folds hand after hand without playing for a pot. When the rock enters a bet, you know he’s got a good hand.

A slow play is when, in an attempt to entice other players to stick around and possibly call bets, you play your hand less aggressively than necessary. For example if you get a full house on the flop, it’s unlikely any player is going to beat you.

In order to allow your opponents to build what they perceive as a winning hand, you may not bet until the turn or even the river to give them a false sense of security. I have used this strategy often and it can prove quite fruitful.

Time may be requested to allow a player more opportunity to think. This is called to avoid a dealer killing a hand due to inactivity. On the other hand, a player taking excessive time to make a decision may have a clock called on them by other players seeking to keep the game flowing.

A bad beat is when a player who initially had a statistical advantage loses the hand to an opponent after a lucky flop, turn, or river.

Conclusion

Poker is a fun game that is made less intimidating by learning a few basic terms. Learning these basics will signal to the other players at the table that you’re not a newbie to the game, and to take precautions when dealing with you as a force to be reckoned with.

As you learn more about the game, you’ll build your vocabulary.

Are there any terms I left out that you think are important? Let me know in the comments!