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Words, Words, Lots of Poker Words

by Max Shapiro |  Published: Mar 19, 2014

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Max ShapiroI don’t think poker gets the recognition it deserves as the most written-about subject on the planet.

For comparison, let’s look at the bible and Shakespeare. The Old Testament contains 593,493 words and the New Testament 181,253 for a total of 774,746 words. Shakespeare In his lifetime composed 43 works totaling a respectable 884,421 words to be exact. (No, I didn’t count them all, I just looked them up.) There’s no accurate compilation of how many words have been written about poker, but there certainly have been many, many more.

Card Player, for example, might have average of, say, 20 poker articles an issue averaging 1,000 words each, or about a half million in a year and maybe 15 or so million since it started publishing nearly 30 years ago. Multiply that by all the other poker publications that have come and gone and the shelf after shelf of poker books — Doyle Brunson’s first Super System book (originally titled How I made Over $1,000,000 Playing Poker) alone has more than 600 pages — and the number of words becomes astronomical. Almost as many, in fact, as Raymond Davis posts on Facebook every week.

It’s true that the Encyclopedia Brittanica in 2009 consisted of 32 volumes totaling some 44 million words. It took 100 editors and 4,000 contributors to put all that together. But the Brittanica covers many thousands of different subject matters as opposed to just one for poker.

Getting back to Shakespeare, let’s give him credit for an astounding number of words and phrases he dreamed up that are now part of the household English language. These include “eyeball” (A Midsummer’s Night Dream), “puking” (As You Like It), “skim milk” (Henry IV), “obscene” (Love’s Labours Lost), “hot-blooded” (King Lear), “the game is lost” (Henry IV), “epilectic” (King Lear), “wormhole” (The Rape of Lucrece), and “alligator” (Romeo and Juliet). And speaking of household words, he even dreamed up “household words” (King Henry V).

But, as impressive as that list might be, it can’t hold a candle to (no, Shakespeare didn’t invent that phrase) poker. Just think of all of the colorful words and phrases that have sprouted from poker or been shaped by it. These would include such gems as runner-runner, four-flusher, slow play, slow roll, bluff, belly buster and double belly buster, bad beat, gutshot, full house and full boat, quads, flop, turn, river, big blind, bullets, all-in, big slick, drawing dead, limp, muck, rainbow, scoop, donk, maniac, chasing, big slick, nuts, wheel, under the gun, play the board, hand for hand, on the bubble, check-raise, cold call, pot, pot-limit, pocket rockets, family pot, pot odds, kicker, cap it, ship it, scare card, rock, emergency low, drawing dead, string bet, backdoor, calling station, rags, bricks, outs…and on and on and on.

And think of all the poker terms that have entered our everyday language. These would include playing your cards close to the vest, calling a bluff, laying your cards on the table, ace in the hole, having a card up his sleeve, when the chips are down, raising the stakes and — of course — poker face.

And consider all the words written for poker movies such as Rounders, The Sting, A Big Hand for the Little Lady, Maverick, Casino Royale, The Cincinnati Kid, The Gambler, California Split, Runner Runner, and many more.

We have cash-game poker, tournament poker, and online poker along with a whole list of different games and variations. Such games as chess and gin rummy have only one format, whereas in poker we have hold’em, stud, Omaha, razz, draw, badugi, mixed games such as H.O.R.S.E., Chinese poker, Mexican poker and even Jewish poker — better known as pan. (Of course, draw is only played in old-age homes now, and stud is becoming so rare that players like hall-of-famer Eric Drache hang out in L.A. casinos because they can’t find stud in Vegas any more.) Then, along with high, low, high-low, and kill-pot games, you have limit, no-limit and pot limit, with limit games ranging from $2-$4 to thousands.
And tournament write-ups keep getting longer as the tournaments become increasingly complicated, with buy-ins, rebuys, add-ons, reentries, days one, two, three, four, and more, various times for rounds and blind increases, not to even mention the endless debates over whether to pay the bubble.

And the topics discussed in poker strategy articles are endless. They range from table image to tipping, position, tight versus aggressive play, best starting hands, odds, floating (whatever that means), continuation bets, reads, tells, and on and on. Tells alone include endless considerations — a player’s smile, where he’s looking, what he’s saying, how he handles his chips, whether his fly is zipped up, ad infinitum.

Just as poker writing is endless, I could also go on endlessly with this column, but instead I’ll end it abruptly. You see, my main concern is the environment. Because of all the zillions of words written about poker, whole forests have been cut down to manufacture the needed paper, and this has been the main reason for climate change, melting of icebergs and the danger that all of us will be drowned soon. So, in the interest of saving the planet, I will put a halt to this barrage of poker strategy articles by summing up playing style advice in just three simple words:
Play big cards. ♠

Max Shapiro, a lifelong poker player and former newspaper reporter with several writing awards to his credit, has been writing a humor column for Card Player ever since it was launched more than 20 years ago. His early columns were collected in his book, Read ’em and Laugh.