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Slang Is Money

by John Vorhaus |  Published: Jan 07, 2015


John VorhausI’m a word junkie, so hopelessly addicted to the things that I make up my own all the time. Many of these new words and phrases are poker-related. Some are pure self-indulgence, but others are pure money. Let me explain.

In linguistic philosophy we learn that language informs belief; manipulate language and you manipulate belief. By inventing new slang expressions for the persons, places, and things of the poker world, I manipulate language; I change the way I think about things. I think this is a good thing. Poker, as we know, is about concentration. The better you concentrate, the better you play. Poker slang can be a means of focusing concentration. By naming things, and by referring to these things by name, you quickly move to a deeper level of understanding; you “know” these things better than you otherwise would.

Example: My slang take on a bunch of tight players at a card table is “rock garden.” Fun phrase, and it pleases me mightily to have coined it. But look: If this phrase is in your head, it gives you new strength. You go into a card club, watch a game for a while, recognize it as a rock garden, call it by that name, and suddenly you have a higher awareness of that game – its strengths, weaknesses, pitfalls and possibilities. It’s shorthand, sure, and not a foolproof one, but it gives you a point of reference. By titling the elements of the game, you know them better than you otherwise would.

Take Adam and Eve. God gave them the job of naming all the plants and animals and the worms in the dirt and the fishies in the sea. Then God gave them dominion over these things. Ownership. Name a thing and you own it too.

How is this useful in poker? Hey, how is it not? You’re sitting in a game with unfamiliar opponents, and you notice that one of the players tends to over-value the strength of his hand, and therefore gets out ahead of it. You assign that player a name, call him a “rabbit,” because that’s what they call a marathon runner who jumps out to an early lead and gives the other runners a pace to match. Generally, the rabbit burns out and finishes well back in the pack. Once you name this poker rabbit, he’s yours. You know that his bets mean more than they should, and this gives you an edge you can exploit.

So, that’s big idea of this column: Inventing and using new poker slang will actually make you a better player. If you make it your business to name things in your game, you can’t help but focus on the game you’re in. Focus equals concentration, and concentration equals profit in poker. So make up new words. Do it all the time.

Some people have challenged me on this. “JV,” they’ve said, calling me by my own slang name for myself, “where the hell do you get off making up new words for things? What gives you the right to reinvent language to suit your whim?” Good question, one I contemplated for many long days and nights before dismissing altogether, as should you. If you take it into your head to call a full house a “bulging condo,” for example, no force on Earth can stop you. You might get some strange looks, but don’t let that bother you. I get them all the time.

Last night I played in a poker game where everyone called a pair of sevens a “cloister.” No one had any idea why. No one could recall the origin of the word, but there it was, alive and walking around, part of the game, part of the planet, part of these people’s lives. It gave me a thrill (as such small things will) to realize that this piece of poker language had become an artifact of the game. In a sense, it defined the game: In this particular microculture, a pair of sevens is called a cloister. Don’t ask why. Adapt or die.

Especially when you’re entering a new game. If the players have their own special language, it follows that they have their own patterns of behavior too. These patterns may be known to one another, but entirely unknown to you. Does Frank check-raise his pat hands? Will Phyllis call everyone, “just to keep them honest?” No wonder they call her Deputy Dan – and no wonder you don’t bluff into her. If Ricky has earned the nickname “Velcro Boy,” you can be pretty sure that Ricky has trouble getting away from a hand. Is this info useful? You be the judge.

Poker takes place on so many levels, but right down there at the bedrock, it’s all about information. And information is power in poker. Well, language, too, is about information. When we want to share a thought, we encode it into language, then speak it or write it, so that others can decode the language back into thought. That’s what you’re doing now (Hurrah! You broke my code!). When you are attentive to the language of poker, you have a special secret decoder device that gives you more information about how your opponents play. Have I already mentioned that information is power in poker? I thought I had.

I make myself attentive to language by being actively engaged in its construction. When I think of or hear a poker term that interests me, I write it down and save it, but also I catalog the circumstance that inspired the word or phrase. I now have extra information that I can use. Maybe it doesn’t make much difference, except in the long run. But the long run is exactly that…long. Little things make a big difference over time. That’s why I make up words. That’s why you should too. Because I’m a (self-proclaimed) boss of the language, and, if you jump aboard the slang train with me, then you can be a boss of the language too. ♠

John Vorhaus is author of the Killer Poker series and co-author of Decide to Play Great Poker, plus many mystery novels including World Series of Murder, available exclusively on Kindle. He tweets for no apparent reason @TrueFactBarFact and secretly controls the world from