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
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.