tournament poker terms and phrases

15 Helpful Poker Terms and Phrases You Need to Know

If you’re going to play in poker tournaments, there are some poker terms and phrases you will need to know. I have listed 15 of these poker terms and phrases below.

By studying and understanding these poker terms and phrases prior to playing in poker tournaments, you will avoid being embarrassed. More importantly, you will understand what people are talking about and what’s going on. One of those poker tips to remember: It’s always better to feel one step ahead than one step behind.

This is a different type of poker strategy article because it focuses on poker terms and phrases for Texas Hold’em poker tournaments, but don’t undervalue the article for that reason. Despite the article not focusing on direct poker strategy, it will impact your mindset, and poker mindset is the #1 factor. On the good side, patience and well-timed aggression begin with mindset. On the other side, staving off Ego and Greed also begin with mindset.

What the Hell is Bagging Chips?

Look at it like this. If you’re sitting in a poker tournament, running up your stack, and then someone mentions bagging when you had never heard of bagging before, how would you react? You would likely panic, but even if you didn’t panic, you would still be flustered. Feeling flustered can easily lead to tilt, and tilt leads to Ego, Greed, Impatience, and eventually losses. Avoid tilt is imperative when it comes to our poker rules for winning.

If you know all the poker terms and phrases you need to know prior to playing in Texas Hold’em poker tournaments, then you’re not just going to avoid tilt, you’re going to feel one step ahead of the game. Of course, many poker players in that poker tournament will already know these poker terms and phrases, but you’re not playing against them. You’re playing against yourself more than anyone else. This is the case for poker tournaments and traditional poker games.

15 Tournament Poker Terms and Phrases You Need to Know


The Buy-In is the money you pay prior to the tournament in order to enter the tournament. The Buy-In includes money that goes to the prize pool as well as the Entry Fee/Rake.

In order to Buy-In to a poker tournament, you will first wait on a line for a cashier. When you reach the cashier, you will put the money owed for the tournament on the counter. You can’t hand the money straight to the cashier because the cameras are watching and they don’t want any funny business.

If you hand the money to the cashier, it’s no big deal. She will politely tell you to place the money on the counter. Once again, this is so the camera sees a clear exchange. You also need to provide your license/ID and players card.

The cashier will take your money, license/ID and players card. After taking the money and running your license/ID, she will return your license/ID and players card and a ticket with a table number and seat number. These numbers will be in bold. You won’t be able to miss them. If the ticket reads Table 7 Seat 9 and you don’t know where Table 7 is located, don’t be afraid to ask. I sometimes ask even if I have been to that poker room many times in the past.

When you get to your table, you will give the dealer your ticket and your license/ID. The dealer will look at both, confirm your identity by looking at you, and slide a chip stack in your direction. Now you’re ready to play.

Entry Fee/Rake/Take-Out

The Entry Fee/Rake/Take-Out is the amount of your Buy-In that’s going to the house. In the early- to mid-2000s, the standard rake for poker tournaments was 10%. As time went on, Greed took over. This, unfortunately, led to fewer people playing poker. They couldn’t beat the game, which had a lot to do with the Rake.

For Daily and Nightly poker tournaments, you will find the Rake to be incredibly high. It often ranges between 20% and 40%. It’s usually somewhere between 25% and 30%. Believe it or not, these games are beatable, but only if you know what you’re doing.

When I play in these tournaments, I’m going from tough competition to soft competition, so it gives me an advantage. If you would like to have a similar advantage, then I recommend going through all the articles I have written on this site and reviewing my poker tips and poker rules for winning.


The bigger the Buy-In, the smaller the Rake. However, in these situations, you have to deal with much tougher competition. The tougher competition knows all about the Rake, which means they know that the best value is actually in the bigger Buy-In poker tournaments, not in the Daily and Nightly poker tournaments. This is true to an extent, but only if you’re looking at it from a technical standpoint, as so many people do.


Would you rather play 1-on-1 basketball against an 8th grader and give up 15 points in a game to 21 OR would you rather play 1-on-1 against a D1 player and get 15 points in a game to 21?

I’m going to say you have a better chance in the former situation. I think you know where I’m coming from. That said, if you happen to get yourself open, drain a few threes (actually worth two points in 1-on-1 basketball), and win vs. the D1 player, the payday is going to be much greater.

If that’s what you’re seeking, then you might want to consider playing in Daily and Nightly poker tournaments for a while so you can build your bankroll while also gaining experience. Just keep in mind that it’s a different kind of experience. When you move way up like that, you’re going to notice that what worked against the softer competition will often be met with resistance against the tougher competition.

By the way, there are a few low Buy-In poker tournaments with a low rake out there today. I recommend beginning your search at Wynn Poker Room in Las Vegas.

Starting Chip Stack

When you Buy-In to a poker tournament, you receive a specific amount of chips. Everyone begins with the same amount. So, let’s say you begin with 20,000 chips. If you lose those chips, it means you busted, which means you didn’t make money.

If you hold on to those chips until you’re In The Money, you made a profit (assuming you only fired one bullet). If you end up with all the chips in the room, you’re a beast because you won the whole darn thing.


Add-Ons are more often used in smaller Buy-In poker tournaments. You have to buy the Add-On to stay competitive with the field. Always look at the structure sheet prior to playing. I failed to do this on my first night in Bossier City, and that was a costly mistake.

In short, an Add-On is when you pay for extra chips. It’s always optional. For example, if you begin a poker tournament with 20,000 chips, you might have the option to add 5,000 chips by paying $35. Those are random numbers. It’s just an example.


A Re-Buy is different from a Re-Entry because you can buy back into the tournament from the same seat. Rarely seen this until playing at The Lodge Poker Club in Texas. I then saw it in Bossier City, Louisiana, which is an area that has a large Texas influence.

poker terms and phrases - re-buy/re-entry

I think it’s more popular in that area of the country. In most Mid-Major poker tournaments, you have to be eliminated and re-enter the tournament as if you’re a completely new participant.

Poker Levels/Rounds

This refers to Blind Levels. Let’s say you’re playing 14 Levels on Day 1 of a 2-day tournament. Now let’s say the Levels are 30 minutes each. That means you’re playing seven hours of poker that day. The tournament will last longer than that because there will be breaks, including a dinner break, which is usually one hour.

Each Level has different blinds, and those blinds go up each time the Level changes. The early Levels are dangerous. As the saying goes, “You can lose a race in the first lap, but you can’t win it.”

I will only play the first few Levels of a poker tournament if required due to a deal or if I’m really bored. Otherwise, I recommend buying-in late. Don’t worry about your chip stack. You won’t be far below the average stack, and you will have saved a ton of time. Also, with the blinds higher, you can make up ground faster.

Blind Structure

This refers to what the blinds will be at each Level and how long each Level will take. The general rule is to play more poker hands in a Turbo structure and fewer poker hands in a Deepstack structure, but your playing style as well as taking what the game gives you should be factors.

Big Blind Ante

When the antes come into play, the Big Blind will post the ante for everyone once per orbit. This comes out to the same thing as everyone posting their own ante and it saves time.

poker blinds


Hand-for-hand takes place on the bubble. The tournament staff wants to make sure that one table doesn’t move faster than another. For instance, if you don’t want to bubble, you can tank for one minute every hand while the hands at the next table are flying. That wouldn’t be fair. By playing hand-for-hand, each table moves at the same pace.


The Bubble is the last person to bust a tournament that doesn’t get paid. You can do a Bubble Save in smaller tournaments.

In The Money

This means you finished in the top 10%, 12%, or 15%, depending on the tournament structure. If you finish that high up, you will be making money. This is also known as ITM (In The Money).


Heads-up means you’re down to two players: you and someone else. You want to be aggressive yet tricky in these situations. If you’re straight-up aggressive, you will fall into a pattern, which your opponent will read. If you’re passive, your opponent will steamroll you. Balance is key.

Heads Up poker

Bagging Chips

If the tournament is more than one day, you will bag chips at the end of the night. You will place all your chips in a bag. You will fill out a form with three layers. On that form, you will write your name, hometown, and chip count. You don’t need to write anything else. One copy goes in the bag, one copy goes to the dealer, and you keep the third copy. You then seal the bag and proudly answer, “Yes” when people asked if you bagged.

poker terms and phrases - bagging chips


When you chop at the end of a poker tournament, it can be an Even Chop or an ICM Chop. With an Even Chop, you split the remaining prize pool evenly. With an ICM Chop, you split the remaining prize pool based on your chip counts. There are ICM Calculators online to figure out who should get what.

Flights ABC

These are only for multi-day tournaments with a large field expected. If a poker tournament has three flights, they will be Flight A, Flight B, and Flight C. If you bag in one of these flights, you make Day 2. When you don’t bag in Flight A, you can fire again in Flight B. If you don’t bag in Flight B, you can fire again in Flight C.

Final Thoughts

Studying and understanding the poker terms and phrases above will help you feel more comfortable when you’re playing in poker tournaments. It will also make you feel more comfortable in traditional poker games because these terms and phrases often come up.

♠ pokerjournal.org / Tyler Nals


Q: What is a satellite in poker?

A: A satellite is a small low-cost tournament where a percentage of the field gets into a larger more expensive tournament. A lot of people use satellites to lower their risk.

Q: What is a Bounty poker tournament?

A: A bounty tournament is when you receive money for knocking someone out of the tournament. These are fun poker tournaments and you can sometimes win you buy-in back even if you don’t cash.

Q: Do add-ons in poker tournaments go toward the prize pool?

A: The moneys accumulated from Add-Ons will usually go straight to the prize pool, but this isn’t always the case. Be sure to read the structure sheet or ask the Tournament Director if you can’t find what you need.

Q: How do I choose what flight to play in multi-day poker tournaments?

A: It depends on your budget and habits. If you want to fire several times, play the first flight. If not, play the last flight. Also play day/night depending on when you’re more comfortable.

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