In Texas Hold ‘Em, each player is dealt two “hole cards” face-down, cards that only he or she can see and use. Over the years, card combinations have earned an array of nicknames, particularly pocket pairs (hands where one’s hole cards form a pair): commonly, a pair of aces is “pocket rockets” and a pair of kings is “pocket cowboys.” History often plays a role as well: 10-2, for example, is known as the Doyle Brunson, reflecting the poker legend’s back-to-back World Series of Poker wins with the hand (go figure). Each individual player of course comes to develop his or her own unique scheme, built around both convention and imagination. The players I’ve known over the years are no different, and collected here are a few of the nomenclatures that have stuck with me.

The Hieroglyphic Method, used widely by both my brother Alex and my college roommate Tom: names reflect visual associations evoked by the cards. For example: pocket sailboats for 4s, hooks for jacks, and tee-pees for aces.

The Abbreviation Method, often used by me: names reflect phrases the cards could be abbreviating. For example, Anna Kournikova for ace-king, Justin Timberlake for jack-ten, and American Airlines for aces. Innovating this final nickname, a Korean friend Enoch refers to king-ace as “Korean Airlines”; Alex at some point also introduced the curious “United Airlines” (theories are welcome–could be a tell).

The Alphabet Method, commonly used by my current roommate Josh: the ostensibly straightforward scheme of referring to cards by their letters. It began simply as pocket A’s for aces, pocket K’s for kings, and pocket J’s for jacks, but quickly evolved into the rhyme-adhering “pocket quays” for queens and “pocket tays” for tens. The ever-mysterious “pocket lays” were also introduced at some point–the coiner in fact continues to claim it’s his favorite hand.

The Spanish Method, used on occasion by many a player, often with a snowballing effect at a given table: substituting Spanish words for card names, often with questionable and/or inebriated sense. For example, with relatively kosher beginnings at pocket cuatro’s, cinco’s, bandito’s for kings and chica’s for queens, then developing into everything from noche’s for nines to tacos for tens to Antonio Banderas for any hand containing a black card.

Unlike relatively static table activities like chip-shuffling and hole-card peeking, hand nicknames really do remain pleasantly diverse across the poker universe; further evidence is welcome.

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