Games & Cards Idioms

In the early days of this country, plantation owners in the southern colonies brought with them from England the English leisure class love of games. They played cards, bet on their horses and indulged in cockfighting competitions, as well as other gambling activities. Although, restrictions were placed on games during and after the War of Independence they did not disappear and reemerged as new immigrants arrived and the frontier expanded westward beyond the original colonies. Games and the gambling, as well as the ability to work hard, went with the settlers.

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Bets were placed on horse and foot races, on shooting contests, wrestling matches and log-rolling, as well as on other competitions. As new settlers moved further west towards and beyond the Rocky Mountains, the games and the gambling went with them. Every western town had its saloon. Here the miners and cowboys played cards, gambled and drank alcoholic beverages after hard weeks or months in the mines and on the range. Today there are numerous casinos for gambling, state organized lotteries and church bingo games, as well as private and individual games.

As a result of this American indulgence in betting and card playing, American English is permeated with idioms derived from these activities:

“You bet I will.” and “You can count on it.” Mean I will definitely do the job, that you can bet money on it and not lose your money. That’s a  “good deal” means not only that I got a good hand in cards, but a good transaction in a personal or business matter. If something bad happens, it’s a “bad deal.” Many of the terms have entered the conduct of international relations, so that a Russian government official, the head of a Mediterranean nation, a Far Eastern nation will each use the term “lay your  “cards on the table” when talking about negotiating terms.

Shrink

IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to hold all your cards above the table; to not control a gambling game with anything hidden.
Sentence 1
The dealer said, "All cards above board, please."
Meaning 2
to be honest, forthright, tell the truth
Sentence 2
We want everything above board in this discussion.

Derivation

Gambling devices were sometimes controlled under the table giving the game owner an advantage.

IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
racing bets where one bets that the same competitor will place in first, second and third
Sentence 1
Let's bet across the board on American Pharoah.
Meaning 2
equally for everyone, everyone gets the same
Sentence 2
The new president will ask for resignations across the board.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to call a card of the spade suit a spade
Sentence 1
This idiom, derived from cards, is not used in card playing.
Meaning 2
to speak directly and frankly about something or someone
Sentence 2
Let's call a spade a spade and stop avoiding the issue. We don't have the money in the budget to buy that new car.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
the king in chess cannot move or he is captured and the game is won
Sentence 1
She won the game after checkmating her opponent's king.
Meaning 2
To put someone is a position where they must lose
Sentence 2
Kuwait was in a checkmate position when Iraq massed troops on her border.

Derivation

This term, used in the ancient game of chess, derives from the Arabic, "Shah mat!" ( The king is dead), then Spanish, "xaque mate", then French, "eschec mat", then early English, "chek mate".

IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to bet by putting more chips into the "pot" or the betting pool
Sentence 1
She had a straight flush, so she chipped in twenty more dollars.
Meaning 2
to contribute some money to a cause or a business
Sentence 2
If we are going to expand this business, we need more capital. See if you can get another firm to chip in ten million.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
a hand in card playing; one round of playing in the card game
Sentence 1
Please finish the deal.
Meaning 2
a business transaction which is being negotiated or is finished; a bargain.
Sentence 2
Let's work together on that financial deal. It's a deal.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to distribute the cards; the dealer hands out the cards to the players
Sentence 1
Please deal the cards.
Meaning 2
to have, to do, to have business relations; to behave
Sentence 2
He deals justly with his business clients. President Bush dealt the United Nations into his invasion.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to be at a disadvantage in playing the game as above
Sentence 1
I got the short end of the stick.
Meaning 2
to get (have) less than one thinks one should have; to feel cheated
Sentence 2
I always get the short end of the stick.

Derivation

This dates back to the medieval gambling practice of throwing a stick to your opponent who would catch and hold it. Players would alternate hands around the stick until one won by having "the upper hand" on the stick, no room being left for another hand.

IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to shake the dice without cheating
Sentence 1
I hope the dealer will shake the dice fairly.
Meaning 2
to treat someone evenly, to be fair
Sentence 2
Do the poor in this country get a fair shake?
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
follow the rules of the game
Sentence 1
Please go by the board. You advanced too far.
Meaning 2
bending the rules
Sentence 2
Did Enron go by the board? They bent the financial disclosure rules.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
One's opponent has an illegal hand.
Sentence 1
I have the cards stacked against me. You've been cheating.
Meaning 2
to have a disadvantage
Sentence 2
The homeless have the cards stacked against them.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
An ace is the highest card in each suit. To hold all the aces gives one a distinct advantage.
Sentence 1
They scored a grand slam in bridge last night. Her partner held all the aces.
Meaning 2
to have an advantage
Sentence 2
After the Second World War the United States held all the aces in developing a space program and advanced nuclear technology.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to mark the exact place before shooting the marble or ball by putting one's knuckles at this spot.
Sentence 1
Please knuckle down before you shoot that marble.
Meaning 2
to work hard
Sentence 2
Knuckle down to work. You're talking too much.

Derivation

From the game of marbles: a player had to "knuckle down"by another player if he moved his marble before shooting it. The following are some interesting idioms which are probably related to cards and gambling, but it is difficult to be sure of the derivation.

IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to not get a good roll of dice after shaking them
Sentence 1
You didn't get any great shake with that roll.
Meaning 2
not really important
Sentence 2
I like John, but he really isn't any great shakes.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to succumb or fall into a planned trap
Sentence 1
When the arrogant gambler put all his money on the line holding a flush, he played into the opponent’s hand who held a royal flush.
Meaning 2
to give someone an advantage
Sentence 2
If you reveal the missile sites, you’ll play into the enemy’s hands.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to play a card in the trump or most powerful suit
Sentence 1
My trump card will take your ace.
Meaning 2
to try to win by using something powerful
Sentence 2
Play your trump card. Tell them we can get financing in two weeks.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to place a card or cards on the table from one's hand of cards so the game can continue
Sentence 1
Please play your card. I'm tired of waiting.
Meaning 2
to perform or play skillfully
Sentence 2
If you play your cards right, Rebecca, you'll get the job.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to hold your cards close to your chest, so no one can see them
Sentence 1
He didn't want the others to see his cards, so he played them close to his chest.
Meaning 2
to not reveal your strategy
Sentence 2
Let's play it close to the chest. Don't show the murder weapon to the jury until later.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
This is usually a gambling term. Opponents can roll dice to win a place on a board game, such as Monopoly or Parchessi, or to win chips and/or money in, for instance, a game of craps.
Sentence 1
I rolled the dice and came up with a lucky seven.
Meaning 2
to take a chance
Sentence 2
I rolled the dice when I moved to Hollywood hoping to get into the movies.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to buy a ticket or "chance" on a prize
Sentence 1
I'll take a chance on winning that stuffed bear at the carnival.
Meaning 2
to try something that is not certain or sure
Sentence 2
I'll take a chance on buying that stock. The earnings appear good.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
The lower side or portion of something
Sentence 1
The coin flipped and landed on the downside revealing the heads side of the coin.
Meaning 2
the bad things about something
Sentence 2
The downside is the amount of money we'll need to loan.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
The upper side or portion of something
Sentence 1
People had a hard time climbing up the hill because the upside of the hill was very steep.
Meaning 2
the good things about something
Sentence 2
The upside about the joint venture is the talent we'll gain.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to continue to gamble after losing
Sentence 1
You are going to throw good money after bad if you continue to play the lottery.
Meaning 2
to continue to waste money , to continue to do something when it hasn't worked
Sentence 2
Why don't you buy a new car? You are throwing good money after bad when you spend money for repairs for that old car.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to take one's gambling chips to the teller for money
Sentence 1
I want to cash in my chips now, before I lose any more money.
Meaning 2
to sell something for a profit
Sentence 2
The stock market is too high. Let's sell our stocks and cash in our chips.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to win or begin a sport by having the last hand hold on a stick or a bat
Sentence 1
Johnny got the upper hand and said he wanted to bat.
Meaning 2
to have an advantage
Sentence 2
The development of the nuclear bomb gave the United States the upper hand in the Second World War.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to show your hand
Sentence 1
In poker when the bets are final, the remaining players show their cards.
Meaning 2
to not hide anything
Sentence 2
We're putting our cards on the table for you to see; we'll pay $250,000 for the building.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
Trump is the most powerful suit in a card game.
Sentence 1
My jack of spades trumped your king of hearts.
Meaning 2
Trump conveys power and importance.
Sentence 2
"Experience trumps brain power."
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to keep illegal cards or dice under the table in order to cheat at cards
Sentence 1
The dealer was dishonest. He kept extra loaded dice under the table.
Meaning 2
to hide something, usually illegally; to cheat
Sentence 2
In order to avoid taxes, they transferred the deed under the table.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
Increase your bet
Sentence 1
Steve had 4 queens in a poker game so he upped the ante.
Meaning 2
take a calculated risk
Sentence 2
Lets invest in that small company Tiger Software instead of Apple, that will up the ante.