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Playing Card Nicknames: 3s, 4s, 5s

by Michael Wiesenberg |  Published: Apr 03, 2013


Michael WiesenbergNicknames. Almost everything of value has them. That goes for playing cards. This series lists and explains many you have heard — and some you haven’t. Last time we looked at some basic deck terminology and the 2s. Now we continue with individual ranks.


A 3 is sometimes called a 3-spot. Of course everyone knows that a 3 is commonly called a trey. That’s sometimes spelled tres.

It’s also called a crab because a 3 looks like it has pincers. (Poker players have active imaginations.)

A 3 is also called a tree. That’s what it sounds like with a Brooklyn accent. (Some poker players do not have very active imaginations.) The proud holder of three (or four) 3s at showdown time sometimes announces the hand as a forest (a bunch of trees).

A 3 is sometimes called a valle card. (That’s pronounced as if it were spelled valley.) This comes from the game panguingue, which, as we saw last time, is pronounced PAN-GHEE-NEE, and is an old cardroom game that probably originated in the Philippines and was played mostly in western states until about the 1980s, sort of like gin rummy played among multiple players with eight decks of cards from which the 8s, 9s, and 10s have been removed. The 3s, 5s, and 7s, when part of a meld of three or more cards, had special value, receiving chip payments from the other participants in a hand. (The derivation of the term in pan is unclear, because valle means valley in Italian and Spanish. I speculate that valle sounds a bit like value.)


A 4 is sometimes called a 4-spot.

A 4 can be called a sailboat. (That’s what it looks like. Well, if you use your imagination.) That’s sometimes shortened to boat. Of course a player who says “I caught a boat” doesn’t mean that he just drew a 4; he made a full house (also known as a full boat). But a player might say that he has boats in the hole.

A 4 can be called a sharp top, for obvious reasons. An ace can also be called a sharp top. Some lexicographers use the term only for an ace.

A 4 is sometimes referred to as a sore spot, a supposedly humorous imitative rendering of four spot.

According to Wikipedia, a 4 can be called a one-legged ace. I guess that could be an A with one missing stem. Similarly, they also call a 4 a broken ace, perhaps with the same reasoning. I say “I guess” because I don’t put all my faith in Wikipedia, and I couldn’t find any other references to these terms in my research. I include the terms for completeness.

A Specific 4

Sometimes specific cards have special names. In the 4 rank, at least one card has its own name.

The 4♣ is known as the Devil’s bedposts. The name may come from Cartomancy (the reading of ordinary playing cards for fortune telling or psychic meanings instead of using Tarot cards), in which the 4 of clubs signifies misfortune, which could be represented metaphorically as the “devil’s bedpost.” The card warns of a major setback, an unexpected set of circumstances that must be prepared for. The name is sometimes rendered in the singular, Devil’s bedpost.


A 5 is sometimes called a 5-spot.

A 5 can be called a nickel, which is simple enough, since the coin consists of five pennies. The term nickel has other cardroom meanings. A nickel can be a $5 bill or chip, $50, $500, or $5,000, depending on context. ($500 or $5,000 is more commonly called a big nickel.) But if at the showdown someone says, “I have three nickels,” you can be pretty sure she means three 5s.

A 5 can be called a pedro because 5s are important in the game of pedro. Pedro is an American trick-taking card game of the All Fours family based on auction pitch, an ancestor of bridge. Although the game lost popularity with the rise of auction bridge, auction pitch is still played in the western US and southern states. Pedro is particularly popular in parts of Louisiana.

I couldn’t find individual 5s with special names. If you know of any, please drop me a line, giving the citation.

Michael Wiesenberg has been a columnist for Card Player since 1988. He has written or edited many books about poker, and has also written extensively about computers and computer languages. Michael constructs crossword puzzle collections for Puzzazz, a free interactive puzzle app for mobile devices. His puzzles appear in many national publications and collections. Send expressions of enchantment, epistolary enmity, and enquiries to