English Idioms from Poker

[RR] “Just saw the tweet of the year this weekend, comparing the end of the Vikings-Ravens football game to a Texas Hold ‘Em hand. Stan, you’d really get along well with the guy, Bill Bowen!”

[SS] “I’m sure I would”, Stan the Stat agreed. “I didn’t see the game, but I caught the highlights, and they were ridiculous! 36 points in two and half minutes!?”1

[RR] “The craziness began with the Vikings up 12-7, but with 1:27 to go in the game, the Vikings led 19-15 and had a win probability2 of 88.8%, which is like holding A♥A♦ all-in preflop against 7♥K♠ (87.7% for the Aces). When Jacoby Jones returned the ensuing kickoff 77 yards for a touchdown with 1:16 left, the odds swung to 84.0% in Baltimore’s favor, which would be like a flop of K♦K♥3♠ for a set of Kings (91.4% for the King-Seven). When Matt Cassel hit Cordarrelle Patterson for a 79-yard touchdown with 45 seconds to go, the odds swung back to 96.4% for the Vikings, which is close to the odds after an Ace (A♠) on the turn for a better set (97.7% for the Aces). Finally, the last Ravens drive resulted in a 9-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to Marlon Brown with four seconds on the game clock (win probability 98.4%, but the ensuing kickoff killed the final seconds of the game uneventfully), like spiking the case King (K♣) on the river for winning quads.”

[SS] “Who says poker isn’t as exciting as football ;-)?”

[RR] “Poker lingo has seeped into our everyday English lexicon for a long time now, but that was a magnificent modern metaphor.”

[SS] “Speaking of which, here’s my list of poker terms that are now commonly used outside the game.”

Cards/Hands

  • above board: on the level (from keeping your cards above the table in poker so opponents can see that you’re not cheating)
  • ace in the hole: a resource unknown to your opponent (from stud poker, where you have cards that your opponents can’t see)
  • ace up your sleeve: your hidden, possibly unfair, advantage (also “card” instead of “ace”)
  • four-flusher: cheater (from players trying to represent a flush despite having only four instead of five of one suit)
  • have something down pat: well-practiced or memorized (from being dealt a made hand in draw poker, which allows you stand pat and not draw any cards)
  • hold all the cards: control the situation (also, “aces” instead of “cards”)
  • hold your cards close to your vest: keep your thoughts and plans secret (in casinos, this is no longer an acceptable way of hiding your cards’ identities; also “chest” instead of “vest”)
  • lay all your cards on the table: tell the complete truth (from the end of a poker hand when everyone shows their cards)
  • the nuts: the best of something (from Hold ‘Em and other stud games)
  • play the hand you’re dealt: don’t worry about what you can’t change (or “can’t tell what kind of hand you’re playing”)
  • play your cards right: use your resources effectively (the obvious poker advice)
  • showdown: final confrontation (from when players reveal their cards at the end of a poker hand)
  • tip your hand: reveal your intended action (from accidentally revealing your hidden cards to your opponents)
  • wasn’t in the cards: inevitable, possibly because of luck (from the obvious)
  • wild card: unknown variable in a situation (from draw poker and other games with wild cards that can represent any other card)

Chips

  • blue-chip: valuable (from the most valuable poker chips such as when white, red, and blue chips are used; e.g., “blue-chip stock”)
  • cash in your chips: dying; taking a profit (from converting your chips back into legal tender)
  • chip in: contribute (especially from the ante at the beginning of a hand, where each player puts in the same amount of chips)
  • in the chips: rich, or at least currently winning (from the obvious possession of lots of chips)
  • jackpot: a large prize (from jacks-or-better draw poker, where the pot would be “jacked-up” due to the opening qualifier [via slot machines in 1932])
  • stack up against something: compare two items or ideas (from comparing chip stacks physically instead of having to count all the chips)
  • when the chips are down: in a difficult situation (from the obvious lack of poker chips)

Dealing

  • big deal: important (from a hand with a large pot)
  • deal me in: let me participate (from the start of a poker hand)
  • deal off the bottom: cheat (from one way to cheat at cards)
  • dealt a bad hand: unlucky (from the obvious)
  • double dealing: cheating (from dealing a cheating confederate an extra card)
  • lost in the shuffle: easily overlooked amid confusion (from the intentional randomness created when shuffling playing cards)
  • luck of the draw: a result beyond your control (from draw poker, where you discard from your hand and get new cards from the deck)
  • pass the buck: foist responsibility onto another person (from the dealer button, which at times in the 19th century was a buck’s horn-handled hunting knife [via Buckhorn Poker or Buck Poker]3; similarly, “the buck stops here”
  • square deal: honest transaction (from the squaring up of the playing card deck to prevent cheating)
  • stack the deck: arrange things unfairly (from one way of cheating at poker; also “cards” instead of “deck”)

Betting/Folding

  • ante up: contribute (from the start of a hand in some poker games)
  • all-in: committed to an action (from the act of betting all of your chips)
  • bet the farm: stake everything on an action (possibly from before table stakes were common, so you could literally bet any of your possessions in a poker game; or “ranch” instead of “farm”)
  • bet your bottom dollar: all-in (from the bottom dollar representing your whole stack of money or chips)
  • bluff: represent something that isn’t true (from the Dutch bluffen “to brag, boast” or verbluffen “to baffle, mislead”4)
  • fold: quit (from the obvious)
  • know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em: able to tell when to compete and when to give up (from the obvious poker advice and made famous by Kenny Rogers)
  • overplay your hand: pretend to be stronger than you are (from bad poker playing)
  • penny ante: small stakes (from the smallest poker stakes)
  • raise the ante: increase the stakes (from cash games; in most tournaments, you raise the blinds instead; also “stakes” instead of “ante”)
  • sandbag: intentionally play a strong hand weakly (a.k.a. slowplaying in poker)
  • stand pat: take no action (from draw poker, where a pat hand is a straight or better)
  • sweeten the pot: increase the wager (from a bet which is intended to increase the pot size rather than cause anyone to fold)
  • you bet!: agreed (from the obvious)

Other

  • freeroll: a chance at winning something for no cost (from freeroll tournaments which have prizes but no entry fee)
  • on the bubble: on the fence (from the point in a poker tournament where everyone remaining will win money after one more player busts out)
  • poker face: emotionless (from the act of not letting your expression reveal how strong your hand is)
  • tell: mannerism that indicates your position (from any emotion, mannerism, gesture, or oral indication that reveals how strong your hand is)

Footnotes:

  1. Also, a record five touchdowns in 2:01, well under half the four decade-old previous record of 5:40 (Bengals-Oilers in 1972).
  2. You can calculate the win probability given the score, down, field position, and time left in any NFL game (except kickoffs, apparently). {December 24, 2015 update: alas, the real-time calculator no longer seems to be available.}
  3. When silver dollars were used as buttons, they became known as bucks.
  4. Source: bluff entry in the Online Etymology Dictionary.

Flash replayer version of the “hand”

Full Tilt Poker formatted version, suitable for inputting into various poker analysis tools

Full Tilt Poker Game #0000001410: Table M&T Bank Stadium - 50,000/100,000 - No Limit Hold'em - 15:43:21 EDT - 2013/12/08
Seat 1: Minnesota (500,000)
Seat 2: Baltimore (500,000)
Minnesota posts the big blind of 100,000
Baltimore posts the small blind of 50,000
The button is in seat #2
*** HOLE CARDS ***
Baltimore raises to 500,000, and is all in
Minnesota calls 400,000, and is all in
*** FLOP *** [Kd Kh 3s]
*** TURN *** [Kd Kh 3s] [As]
*** RIVER *** [Kd Kh 3s As] [Kc]
*** SHOW DOWN ***
Minnesota shows [Ah Ad] full house, Kings over Aces
Baltimore shows [7h Ks] four Kings
Baltimore wins the pot (1,000,000) with four Kings
*** SUMMARY ***
Total pot 1,000,000 | Rake 0
Board: [Kd Kh 3s As Kc]
Seat 1: Minnesota (button) showed [Ah Ad] and lost with full house, Kings over Aces
Seat 2: Baltimore (big blind) showed [7h Ks] and won (1,000,000) with four Kings
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