If you’ve been following poker since the beginning of the Moneymaker Era, you’ve probably noticed a change in the media coverage. There’s been a shift in tone away from the sport’s pioneer days. It’s simple demographics. The more we see mathematics being used to achieve success at poker, the fewer ten-gallon hats we see at the tables. The culture has changed, as culture must.
We’ve lost a lot of what made poker so enjoyable along the way. Which is fine; I mean, it’s a lot more important to learn how to 5-bet bluff than it is to carry forward ancient poker rituals. Then again, what’s the point of doing something if you’re not having fun? Just because poker’s become much more competitive doesn’t mean we can’t keep the good times rolling.
The Talking Magpies
Nicknames used to be commonplace in sports – colorful ones, too, and not just changing someone’s name from John Rodgers to J-Rod. Poker is no exception. Every possible preflop hand in Texas Hold ’em has a nickname, but we rarely use them, and we don’t even know where they came from.
Again, that’s fine. If someone shows Jack-Deuce after he gets a walk in the big blind, and you say “Heckle and Jeckle,” you’re probably just going to get some confused looks and maybe an eye-roll. But some poker nicknames are just too good to let die. What would Texas Hold ’em be without Big Slick, for example? It’s not just a nickname, it’s also a way of thinking about how to play Ace-King.
Poker wizard Mike Caro has credited Mike Wisenberg for giving us the skinny on Big Slick. In his book Poker Talk: The Language of Poker (Card Player, 1996), Wisenberg lists Big Slick and Santa Barbara as nicknames for Ace-King. The Santa Barbara Channel was the site of a massive oil spill in 1969. We’ve forgotten that nickname, but Big Slick has stuck around to remind us that Ace-King is a drawing hand, and needs to be handled with care.
Other nicknames deserve a much wider audience than they’ve been getting. If Ace-King is tricky to play, then King-Jack is even more infamous; if you happen to be in the right card room in the United States, you might hear King-Jack referred to as the Tucson Monster or the Seabrook Nuts. These regionalisms are far too good to go unnoticed. And of course, you need a Hall of Fame for hands like Ten-Deuce (aka Doyle Brunson) and Jack-Nine (TJ Cloutier).
If you want to leave your mark in poker history, and help keep our sport colorful, try adopting a hand that needs a proper nickname and making it your own. Think about Nine-Four, stuck with ill-fitting references to Joe Montana or the canceled 1994 World Series. Won’t you give this poor hand a name? Operators are standing by.