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Hit the Rail - On the Rail

by Jesse Knight
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Poker Rail
Rail – A barrier which separates the gaming area from the viewing area.


In order to prevent overcrowding of the gaming area or poker floor, most casinos have erected a metal railing which runs around the perimeter of the floor, and separates the gaming area from the viewing area. People who are not actively playing are asked to view the games from behind this railing. Both the main casino floor, as well as independent poker rooms, will typically be surrounded by a railing, or some similar barrier. During tournament play, especially at major tournaments, it is often mandatory that non-tournament players stay behind the rail at all times. This serves to protect the tournament area.

Whether they are playing cash games or tournaments, when players go broke, or do not have funds to play on, they tend to congregate at on the rail. For this reason, when you are broke, it is often referred to as being “on the rail.” This is a place where players can empathize with each other, relate bad beat stories, and socialize. It is a sort of community of bust outs. Players who are chronically on the rail are referred to as “railbirds,” because they tend to collect on the rail, like birds.

In a brick and mortar casino, there is a physical rail. In an internet based poker room, obviously, the rail is a virtual one. Online poker rooms allow people who are not in the game to view the action as it takes place. They are also able to communicate with the players in the game that they are watching by chatting with them through the observer chat box. This chat comes up a different color than player chat, so that it is easily differentiated. Since the chat box is the vehicle for communications between players and non-players, it too is called “the rail.” Observers who frequently chat with players through the chat box, but rarely play, are sometimes referred to as “railbirds.”

People who are not playing in a particular game may use the chat box for a number of reasons. Frequently it is a vehicle for players who are friends but who are not playing in the same game together to communicate. But the chat box is also used for more nefarious purposes. Many railbirds use it to beg, borrow, or scam money. This is frowned upon by the sites, and they often will block the ability of the railbird to chat if players complain about them hustling. Players also have the ability to block observer chat from appearing on their screen, at their discretion. Still, many players regard the hustling that goes on through the chat box as a problem. It can be obnoxious to have to interact with beggars while one is trying to play. Plus, when a railbird is able to hustle a loan, it is often from a friend or a newbie. This potentially takes these funds out of play from the lending player, and can prevent opposing players a chance at that money. Many players find this, in itself, objectionable.

People will sometimes watch from the rail because they have a vested interest in a particular player. This happens frequently in tournament play and in cash games as well. Many tournament players either have backers, or have side bets or deals with other players, based upon their tournament performances. Because they have a financial interest in the outcome of the tournament, they often stay to see how their business partners, or “horses,” perform, and root for them as if it were a sporting event. This is often referred to a “sweating” a horse.

Usage: On The Rail, Railbird, Sweating My Horse From The Rail

Previous Poker Term: Rags
Next Poker Term: Railbird

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