15 Poker Terms You Must Understand Before Playing Any Poker Game


There’s a common misconception that there is only one form of poker. After all, few reality TV shows or Hollywood movies care to explain what kind of poker is being depicted, and to the unassuming eye, it might all look the same.

However, the truth is that there are actually many different forms of poker, both in terms of the game itself as well the format of the game. Aside from live poker, you can play online poker. For example, my friend at BTF reviews Americas Cardroom well, which goes to show that there are quite a number of people playing online too. If you’re a beginner or want to start playing poker, it can be overwhelming to suddenly be hit with lots of different terms to describe the gameplay. Well, not to worry, as here’s a guide on what common terms that are used in most forms of poker:

1. Buy-In

As a poker player, this is one of the most important things to know about before playing a game. The “buy-in” is the payment required upfront to enter any game, and depending on the game, usually hovers around $200 but can go much higher than that for high stakes games. Historically, the highest buy-in ever was in the World Series Poker 2012 at $1 million.

2. Rake

You can think of “rake” as a commission fee for the house that runs and organises the game. After all, unlike other games such as roulette or blackjack, poker pits two players against each other, not against the house. As such, charging a rake, or fee enables the house to keep running the game.

3. Pot

If you can’t remember what “pot” refers to, it helps to remember “jackpot”, or “pot of gold”. Essentially, this refers to how much a player wagers, or bets on his chances of winning. At the end of the game, the player who wins gets the pot. In some variations, the pot can be shared among players as well.

4. Cash Games

As the name suggests, cash games are simply games where the players bet real money by exchanging money for chips. There is a limit to how much cash can be exchanged or used in a game depending on the table rules, but typically there will be a minimum and maximum amount that is predetermined. In tournaments, players are paid based on their final standing in the game.

5. Sit-And-Go Tournament (SNG) Poker

SNG poker is a kind of single-table game, with no specific start times. Players come as they want until the table is full. Once it is full, the game commences immediately. In tournaments, the winners are usually determined through single-elimination or knockout tournaments, meaning that the losing player is eliminated each round until only one player is left. These are great for players who are just starting out or who do not want to commit too much time to a game. 

15 Poker Terms You Must Understand Before Playing Any Poker Game

6. Shootouts

In “shootouts”, a player must win his or her table in order to move onto the next round or final table, compared to other formats where tables are shuffled with each round. While this might seem lengthy, gameplay time in shootouts actually tends to be shorter and more rapid in nature, making for an exciting game overall.

7.  Position

In essence, “position” is the order in which the players have their turn. It refers to the position of the player on the table. While seemingly trivial, the order in which players have their turn can make or break the game! Players who are in an “early position” will employ different strategies from those who are in a “late position”.

8. Tell

We’re sure you’ve seen this in the movies — and a “tell” is something that tips your opponent off that you’re bluffing. That said, don’t feel bad if you have a noticeable tell, such as fidgeting hands, beaded sweat or shifty eyes. Tells are often involuntary, and many of the pros spend years trying to perfect their poker face. Plus, with online poker, tells can easily go unnoticed these days.

9. Check

If no one has started to bet in a game, “check” refers to a pass. This is often used by players who still wish to remain in the game, but who do not want to open a bet. If you’re in a casino, you can indicate a check move by tapping the table with your index finger or with a fist.

10. Check-raise

A raise refers to when a player increases the amount in the bet in the same round, so a “check-raise” is a strategy used where the player checks in the first round, but then raises in his or her next turn. Some refer to this as a “trapping move”, in which players either try to get more money in the pot or to get their opponent to discard a good hand.

11. Satellite Tournaments

The equivalent of a “satellite tournament” in sports is a qualifying round. If you want to get access to larger tournaments, or even more prestigious ones, you’ll have to emerge strongly from these qualifying rounds first and win the buy-in needed for the bigger tournaments. It’s not a bad thing, though, as it makes sure you won’t be uncomfortably out of your league. Note that most satellite tournaments in poker happen online!

12. Multi-Table Tournament (MTT)

In multi-table tournaments, multiple tables of players will fight and play down to just one final table. The winner from this final table, who has all the chips, in the end, will then win the very lucrative prize pool, which can go into the millions in big tournaments like the World Series Poker.

13. Rebuys

Having enough poker chips is essential to every player in a tournament, as you’re eliminated once you run out. Some tournaments offer “rebuys”, which is an option to top-up your stash of tournament chips in exchange for real money. There are limits to this provision, such as the maximum number of chips you can have or the timing in which you can buy more chips.

14. Whales

If you hear about a “whale” at a table, it means that there is a high-roller or someone rich who bets a lot of money but is a generally weak player. This is often seen as a prime opportunity for good players to earn fast!

15. Independent Chip Model (ICM)

For those who follow poker, this is the mathematical model used to calculate the equity of players in a tournament. Each player’s probability to be in a certain position is calculated using stack sizes, which then tells players the estimated value of their stack.

15 Poker Terms You Must Understand Before Playing Any Poker Game


Poker is not an easy game to learn, but with these basic terms covered, you’re all set to start your first game. It’s almost impossible to get everything right and perfect the gameplay on your first try, so do give yourself some time to get familiar with it. Remember, practice makes perfect!

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