A Glossary of Terms for Old West Stories
All gambling terminology in this glossary was provided by Mr. Williamson from his book “Frontier Gambling” and is recreated here with his kind permission. Entries provided by Ron are shown with (GRM) before each entry. You will notice there are 195 entries with the (GRM) acknowledgement, thank on for such a significant contibution to the Old West Stories web site.
His book is a fine historical work, an invaluable reference resource and written in a wonderful narrative style that will draw you into the man stories within its pages. Check out a full review of his book at www.oldweststories.net/reviews/book-reviews/frontier-gambling and learn where to enhance your enjoyment and understanding of Old West History.
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(GRM)Ace-high (poker) – A hand with an ace but no pair or better.
(GRM)Ace in the hole – A hideout weapon or a shoulder holster.
(GRM)Ace kicker (draw poker) – An ace held with a pair in a two-card draw.
(GRM)Aces up (poker) – A hand of two pairs including a pair of aces.
(GRM)Ada from Decatur (dice) – Eight as a point.
(GRM)Ada Ross, the stable hoss (dice) – Eight as a point.
(GRM)American wheel – A roulette wheel with 38 slots numbered 1 to 36 plus two zeros, 0 and 00
(GRM)Ante (poker) – A bet or contribution to a pot before a deal.
(GRM)Beat the board (stud poker) – To have a higher combination than the exposed cards of any of the other players.
(GRM)Behind the six (Faro) – The money drawer, often located behind the six card on the faro layout.
(GRM)Big cat (poker) – A hand with a king high, an eight low, and no pair.
(GRM)Big dick (dice) – Ten as a point; to throw a ten.
(GRM)Big digger (poker) – The ace of spades.
(GRM)Big dog (poker) – A hand with an ace-high, a nine low, and no pair.
(GRM)Big Joe from Boston (dice) Ten as a point.
(GRM)Big natural (dice) – A throw of seven.
(GRM)Big tiger (poker) – A hand in which the king is the highest card, the eight is the lowest, and there is no pair.
(GRM)Bird cage (chuck-a-luck) – Metal cage used to hold dice, which is shaped like an hourglass and turns on an axle.
(GRM)Blackleg – A professional gambler. Also known as a Greek.
(GRM)Blind opening (draw poker) – The compulsory opening of the pot with a blind bet.
(GRM)Bluff (poker) – A bet on a hand that a player does not think is the best but made in such a way that the other players will think he has a strong hand and fold.
(GRM)Bobtail flush (five-card poker) – A worthless three-card flush.
(GRM)Bobtail straight (five-card poker) – A worthless three-card straight.
(GRM)Bones (dice) – A pair of dice.
(GRM)Booster – A person posing a decoy in gambling.
Boot Hill – A graveyard recorded in Old West History because many of the men buried there had died violently at the end of a gun with their boots still on. This became known as Gun Law.
(GRM)Both end against the middle (faro) – Describes a method of trimming cards for use in a crooked game.
(GRM)Bottom dealer – A card cheat who deals from the bottom of the deck while pretending to deal from the top.
(GRM)Bottom layout (monte) – The dealers practice of holding the deck face down and then drawing off two bottom cards and placing them on the table face up.
(GRM)Boxcars (dice) – The roll of twelve, made up by two sixes.
(GRM)Brace box (faro) – A crooked dealing box, used to cheat.
(GRM)Braced – Crooked gambling game or gambling hall, usually referring to faro.
(GRM)Break off (faro) – A card that fails to win after winning two or more times.
(GRM)Broad (three-card monte) – A playing card.
(GRM)Broad pitcher (three-card monte) – A dealer who throws the broads (cards)
(GRM)Bucking the tiger (faro) – To play the game, bet on the cards turned by the dealer.
(GRM)Bug – A device used by crooked gamblers to hold cards under the table.
(GRM)Bullet – An ace card.
(GRM)Burn a card – To expose and bury a card or place it on the bottom of a deck.
(GRM)Calamity Jane – The queen of spades.
(GRM)California prayer book – A gambling term for a deck of cards.
(GRM)Call (poker) – To ask for a show of hands after putting into the pot a sum equal to largest bet made by the preceding player.
(GRM)Calling the turn (faro) – Betting on correctly guessing the order in which the last three cards come out of the dealer’s box.
(GRM)Capper – A confederate of decoy for a gambler or a gambling hall. He is allowed to win from the dealer to lure others into playing – and losing.
(GRM)Card mechanic – A chard cheat who is adept in manipulating cards.
(GRM)Carolina Niner (dice) – A throw of nine.
(GRM)Case card” (faro) – The fourth or last card of any one denomination drawn from the dealer’s box. If three kings have been played, the remaining king is a case card.
(GRM)Case keeper (faro) – A device used for keeping a record of the cards as they are drawn so that all players can see which cards remain in the dealer’s box.
(GRM)Cat (faro) – Two cards of the same denomination in the last turn.
(GRM)Cheaters – Marked playing cards.
(GRM)Checks (faro, monte) – Round tokens bought from the dealer to be used in playing the game. In other games the tokens are called chips.
(GRM)Checking (poker) – Waiving the right to initiate the betting.
(GRM)Check-racked – A winner is refused his winnings in a gambling hall – either because the player has broken the playing bank or he is suspected of cheating.
(GRM)Chiseler – A gambler who tried to pick up another player’s bet in a banking game. Also refers to a gambler who borrows money to play in a private game and does not repay the loan.
(GRM)Chops (faro) – A system of progressive betting in which a player adds a check when he wins and removes one when he loses. The system was not allowed by some gambling banks.
(GRM)Chuck-a-luck – A dice game played with three dice tumbled in a bottle-shaped wire cage and a board with squares numbered from one to six.
(GRM)Clip – A cheating device used to hold cards up a sleeve.
(GRM)Close to the blanket – A player who is almost broke or having lost nearly all of one’s money and valuables.
(GRM)Cold deck – A stacked (also called stocked) deck of cards introduced into play to allow a dealer to deal winning hands to several players but not quite good enough to beat a confederate’s hand.
(GRM)Colors (faro) – A system of betting by which the player bets all black cards to win and all red cards to lose, or vice versa, the player either following one color combination throughout the entire deal or reversing one or more times.
(GRM)Cooler – A holder for a prepared deck of cards for a crooked game.
(GRM)Copper (faro) – A small copper disk placed on a stack of faro checks to bet them to lose.
(GRM)Copper the odds – To bet all odd cards to lose.
(GRM)Court cards – The face cards of all suits.
(GRM)Cross colors (faro) – A variation of the color system in which the player reverses his color system at will throughout the deal.
(GRM)Daub – A color compound used to mark cards while playing.
(GRM)Dead card (faro) – A card when none of its denomination remains in the dealer’s box
(GRM)Dead man’s hand – A hand comprised of aces and eighths – the legendary hand held by Will Bill Hickok at the time of his killing in Deadwood.
(GRM)Deal card (faro) – Any card on the layout which no longer has action – the dealer has already drawn the four cards in the various suits or because it happens to be the first or last card drawn.
(GRM)Dealer’s choice (poker) – Privilege given to the dealer to determine which poker game will be played (draw, stud or other variations) and which cards are wild.
(GRM)Dealing brace – The use of rigged faro boxes or manipulating cards so that the dealer controls who wins, either the dealer or a confederate.
(GRM)Devil’s bedposts – Four of clubs.
(GRM)Dildock – A gambler who uses marked cards or a stacked deck of cards.
(GRM)Dispatchers – Loaded dice.
(GRM)Doped cards – Marked cards
(GRM)Double odd (faro) – A method of cheating for the house in which the dealer slips in two extra cards which he can control.
(GRM)Drive the hearse (faro) – A record of the cards played, by means of a case.
(GRM)Edge work – Cheating by use of markings on the edges of cards.
(GRM)Eighter from Decatur (dice) – Eight as a point.
(GRM)Elk River (poker) – A hand with three tens.
(GRM)European wheel – A roulette wheel with 37 slots numbered 1 to 36 plus one zero, 0
(GRM)Face cards – Any king, queen or jack in a deck of cards.
(GRM)Fade (dice) – To cover part of or all of the shooter’s center bet.
(GRM)Fairbank – A cheating method used by crooked gamblers which lets a player win or favors him initially to entice him to increase the size of his bet or continue to play.
(GRM)False cut – A crooked cut of the cards in which the deck remains in its original position.
(GRM)Faro bank (faro) – A gambling hall in which a faro game is set up and played. The money put up by the dealer that he is willing to lose. Also refers to the game itself.
(GRM)Fee-bee (dice) – Five as a point.
(GRM)Fimps (dice) – A pair of fives.
(GRM)Fishbacks – A marked deck of cards.
(GRM)Fishhook card (faro) – The seven in the faro layout.
(GRM)Flush (poker) – A hand composed of cards all the same suit.
(GRM)Four flush (stud poker) – Four cards of the same suit. Also name for a bluffer.
(GRM)Freeze-out – A game of poker in which each player drops out of the game when his money is gone and all the stakes go to the last player left.
(GRM)From soda to hock (faro) – Expression, meaning the entire thing from beginning to end. Taken from the faro terms of soda, meaning the first card exposed face up before betting begins, and hock, the last card in the faro box.
(GRM)Full house (poker) – A hand containing three of a kind and a pair.
(GRM)Gaper – A cheating device. A small mirror held in the palm of the hand, used for cheating in card games.
(GRM)Gate (monte) – The top card when play starts.
(GRM)Glass work – Cheating with the use of a mirror.
(GRM)Gun turn (faro) – Two fives drawn from the dealer’s box in a single turn.
(GRM)Gut puller (faro) – A faro dealer, referring to the similarity of the way cards were pulled from the dealer’s box and the method of gutting a crayfish.
(GRM)Gut shot – A draw to an inside straight, as in 2-3-4-6.
Hanging Judge – The term has been used and was used, to describe any Court Judge that was seen to have a prejudice to hang alleged offenders brought before him. Old West History records that in 1875 Judge Isaac Charles Parker at Fort Smith, Arkansas, was the man who this term really applied to, having sentence 88 men to death and seeing each sentence carried out.
(GRM)Hangman’s turn (faro) – A jack and a king showing in one turn.
(GRM)Hearse driver (faro) – Name given to the case keeper.
(GRM)Heel a string (faro) – Placing a copper on the bottom of a stack of checks when a string bet is made – playing the first card to lose and the last card to win in the string bet.
(GRM)Heel bet (faro) – A type of string bet where the player bets one card to win and one card to lose.
(GRM)Hell – A common term for a gambling hall, usually meaning an especially rough operation.
(GRM)High-belly strippers – A crooked deck of cards that all cards with high values can be manipulated.
(GRM)Hock card (faro) – The last card in the dealer’s box.
(GRM)Holdout – An extra card held out of play until needed by the cheater.
(GRM)Hole card (stud poker) – The first card dealt to a player, which is dealt face down.
(GRM)Inside corner (faro) – A bet covering three cards. The check is placed on the “inside corner” of any card which indicates the other two cards in the layout are included in the wager.
(GRM)Inside straight – Four cards to a straight, where only one rank will complete the hand. E.g., 4-5-6-8 is an inside straight since only a 7 will fill (i.e., complete) the hand
(GRM)Jack stripper – A crooked deck of cards with the jacks trimmed by a device to make them known to the dealer.
(GRM)Johnny Hicks (dice) – To throw a six.
(GRM)Jump the cut – To manipulate the cut of a deck of cards to the advantage of the dealer.
(GRM)Kangaroo card (faro) – A system of betting the first card. The player bets his money on the card which added to the soda card will total eleven. Example: the soda card is a deuce and to bet the kangaroo card and win the following card turned must be a nine.
(GRM)Keno goose (keno) – The large globe holding the keno balls.
(GRM)Kicker In hands containing pairs and trips, the highest card not matched. In draw games, sometimes a card kept for deception purposes.
(GRM)Last turn (faro) – The last three cards in the dealer’s box. Players can bet on the sequence of the cards turned with a four to one payoff.
(GRM)Layout (faro) – A board, cloth, or tabletop with painted images of thirteen cards – all of the same suite, usually spades.
(GRM)Little cat (poker) – A hand with an eight high, a three low and no pair.
(GRM)Little dog (poker) – A hand with a seven high, a deuce low, and no pair.
(GRM)Little Joe (dice) – Four as a point.
(GRM)Little Phoebe (dice) – Five as a point.
(GRM)Load the doctor (dice) – To load a pair of dice for cheating.
(GRM)Lookout – A dealer’s assistant that watches the play for cheating and see to it that the dealer does not overlook any bets placed.
(GRM)Looloo – A winning hand, particularly one claimed to be unbeatable in a particular section of the country. Usually designed to trim unwary strangers.
Los Diablos Tejanos – A Mexican term to describe the Texas Rangers. In English, “The Devil Texans” was a term used to describe the Texas Rangers in their early days. The term arose again during the Civil War when they were described as men who could “Trail like an Indian, Ride like a Mexican, Shoot like a Tennessean and fight like the very devil”.
Lost Colony – The colony of Roanoke was the firt English settlement in America in 1585. It has disappeared by the end of 1587 and become know as “The Lost Colony”.
(GRM)Lotto cards – Playing cards sold in keno.
(GRM)Low-belly strippers – High cards of a deck which have been shaved along the belly, enabling the card sharp to cut to a high or low card at will.
(GRM)Make a pass – A cheating method where a deck of cards is cut in such a way as to put the two parts of the deck as they were before the cut.
(GRM)Mechanic (faro) – A crooked dealer that can operate the dealing box in such a way as to control which cards are turned.
(GRM)Medicine turn (faro) – A turn where the queen falls first followed by a nine. Derived from a play on words – quinine (a common drug on the frontier)
(GRM)Monte bank (monte) – A place where the game is played. Also refers to the table on which it is played and the game itself.
(GRM)Nina from Carolina (dice) – Nine as a point.
(GRM)One on the layout and three in the hand (faro) – The three-seven system used by cheap gamblers.
(GRM)One side or the other (faro) – A system in which the player bets the ace, deuce, trey, four, five , and six to lose and the king, queen, jack, ten, nine, and eight to win. The seven is left out of the betting.
(GRM)One-Eyed. – The jack of hearts, jack of spades or king of diamonds. So named because the characters are drawn in profile, thus showing only one eye.
(GRM)Open a snap – To set up a crooked gambling layout.
(GRM)Open bet (faro) – A bet to win on a given card to be turned.
(GRM)Opener (poker) – One who begins the betting, usually requiring a pair of jacks or better.
(GRM)Pack the deal – To deal cards dishonestly.
(GRM)Paroli (faro) – A bet made up of the original stake plus the accumulated winnings.
(GRM)Pat hand (draw poker) – A hand that is played without drawing additional cards – either a flush, a full house, a straight, or four of a kind.
(GRM)Pigeon – The victim of a sharp or professional gambler. A sucker.
(GRM)Piker (faro) – A person who makes small bets, not willing to risk much at a time.
(GRM)Piking (faro) – Making small bets all over the layout.
Pinkertons – Private law officers working for the Pinkerton Agency. Famous for never closing a file it is less well known that they were the first US organisation to keep professional files on outlaws. These files now form one of the most reliable sources of information of the outlaws of Old West History.
(GRM)Pin work – A method of marking cards by the use of a thin needle to prick the card surface in various locations.
(GRM)Playing on velvet – Someone placing bets with money won from the house.
(GRM)Play the evens (faro) – A system by which a player bets the even cards to win.
(GRM)Poker chip – A round token bought from the dealer to play the game. This token is called a check in faro and monte.
(GRM)Readers – Marked cards.
(GRM)Reflectors – Marked cards used in cheating. Usually by removing some of the glaze coat on the back of a card.
(GRM)Ring in – Cheating by substituting cards into the deck.
(GRM)Ring in a cold deck – To secretly replace a deck of cards with a deck that has been prepared for cheating.
(GRM)Rolling faro – A variation of faro played with the same layout but with a spinning wheel on which a suit of cards had been painted. Most wheels were rigged for cheating the players.
(GRM)Roping in – Players enticed to play a crooked dealer, sometimes through the use of a confederate or decoy.
(GRM)Rounder (faro) – A gambler who frequently plays with money loaned to him by others.
(GRM)Royal flush (poker) – An ace-high straight flush, the highest possible hand.
(GRM)Sand tell box (faro) – A crooked dealer’s box used to manipulate cards that have had their backs sanded.
(GRM)Second – The second card from the top of a deck of cards.
(GRM)Second button (faro) – A system where the player bets the case cards to fall as the second card fell.
(GRM)Second dealer – A crooked dealer who cheats by dealing the second card from the deck instead of the top card.
(GRM)Shade work – Marking cards for use in cheating.
(GRM)Short faro – A simplified form of faro, played much faster that the straight game – usually with a much higher percentage for the bank.
(GRM)Showdown (poker) – The point in the play where a bet is called and the hands of the players are shown.
(GRM)Single out (faro) – A system whereby the gambler plays a card to fall en exactly the reverse of the order in which it previously appeared.
(GRM)Sixie from Dixie (dice) – Six as a point.
(GRM)Skin faro – A crooked game of faro.
(GRM)Skin game – Any dishonest game in which the player has little chance of winning.
(GRM)Skin the deck – To cheat by palming cards from a deck.
(GRM)Snake-eyes (dice) – A throw that rolls up two one-spots.
(GRM)Snake tell-box (faro) – A crooked dealer’s box.
(GRM)Snaking a game (faro) – Setting up a dishonest game to skin suckers.
(GRM)Snap (faro) – A game quickly set up in a temporary location, usually with a small amount of capital in the dealer’s bank.
(GRM)Soda card (faro) – The first card that is seen face up in the dealer’s box at the start of a turn.
(GRM)Spot card – Refers to any card having a number on it – as opposed to the face cards.
(GRM)Square decker (faro) – A crooked dealer who stacks the deck to beat the systems he sees being used by the players.
(GRM)Stacked deck – A deck of cards that have been arraigned to cheat the suckers at the table. Also called stocked deck or cold deck.
(GRM)Stake money – Funds borrowed by a gambler so he can continue to play, usually by onlookers who think he can win. It was the custom that any profits would be shared with the contributors.
(GRM)Stand off (faro) – To gamble by letting all one’s bets ride until a bet has action and reversing all remaining bets.
(GRM)Steal a pot (poker) – To win a pot by bluffing.
(GRM)String bet (faro) – A type of bet in which the checks are “strung” along from one card to several others, usually consecutively.
(GRM)Stringing along – Betting all odd or even numbered cards to play one way.
(GRM)Strippers – Marked cards that have been trimmed for dishonest dealing.
(GRM)Stuck (faro) – A gambler who lost all in calling the turn.
(GRM)Sure-thing bet – A type of bet that the player (sucker) thinks cannot lose – but miraculously does. Often this is applied to calling the last turn in faro.
(GRM)Table stakes – The limit placed on betting before play begins.
(GRM)Tell box (faro) – A type of crooked dealer’s box that enabled the dealer to “tell” the location of certain cards and deal in such a manner to cause players to lose.
The Hanging Judge – See “Hanging Judge”.
The Walk Down – See “The Walk Down”.
(GRM)There is a one-eyed man in the game – A not so subtle warning that someone was cheating in the game.
(GRM)Thimblerig – A con-game posing as a game of chance. The operator placed a dried pea (later a piece of cork or a small rubber ball) under one of three small metal bowls shaped like a walnut shells. He then moved the shells around several times and asked for suckers to bet on which held the pea. Through slight of hand manipulations the thimblerigger could always show the sucker an empty shell when he turned over their choice. The charade usually required a confederate who would find the pea and win.
(GRM)Three-card monte – A con-game played with three cards. Suckers were induced to bet on the location of one of the cards, usually a king, after the cards were shuffled and thrown face down on a table. The sharp was a master card manipulator and the king was never the card picked by the bettor. The thrower usually worked with a capper who would set up the suckers by bending the corner of the winning card, thus making the bet “a sure thing bet”.
(GRM)Three-one (faro) A system by which the player bets a given card to win after it has lost three time during the deal.
(GRM)Tinhorn Flashy gamblers that were usually crooked Chuck-a-luck operators that rolled dice out of a metal cup. Later as a generic derogatory term for gamblers.
Tin Star Holder – A western lawman such as the City Marshall, the County Sheriff, Texas Rangers and sometimes used to refer to Pinkerton agents.
(GRM)Top layout (monte) The two cards drawn from the top of the deck.
(GRM)Trey-deucer (faro) A combination of a trey and a deuce drawn in a single turn.
Trot Line – The Lawmen of Old West Stories often had very poor equipment and would often simply chain men to a tree when arrested. When several were secured to a long chain hanging of the tree, this was the Trot Line.
Walk Down, The – Name given to the stereo-typical two man shoot out with two people approaching each other down the main street of an Old West town. Old West History records this was not a common thing in reality but popular media has made it an icon of the period.
(GRM)Wild card A joker or other card that can be used as any other card to complete your hand.