Gambling Idioms

Nicole Smith
Posted by on 3/05/2019
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Gambling idioms

Having been around for centuries, it’s fair to say that gambling is almost an everyday part of our lives. We might not all visit casinos or play online, but we often make fun bets with each other over random outcomes, go double or nothing when the original bet doesn’t go our way, and we even talk about gambling too. Don’t believe us? Take a look at these idioms that have made their way into the English language, courtesy of gambling…

Above board
You might not think that this has anything to do with gambling, but in fact the expression ‘above board’ comes from a time when players used to prove their honesty by keeping their hands above the board (or table) to show that there were no cards being concealed. These days we use the phrase to mean something or someone who’s open and honest, so, same thing.

Ace in the hole
Probably more instantly recognizable as a saying taken from gambling, an ace in the hole refers to the game of Stud Poker, in which players are dealt several cards, with one face down, known as the hole card. If this turns out to be an ace, it’s a hidden advantage – which is exactly what the phrase still means today.

Ace up your sleeve
Pretty much the same thing as ace in the hole, to have an ace up your sleeve also means to have an advantage that others don’t know about. This might have more of a negative origin as hiding cards up your sleeve wasn’t really encouraged back in the day (and still isn’t, to be clear) but nevertheless, the expression is a positive one.

Ante up
Taken from the round at the beginning of a Poker game where everyone has to put money on the table in order to play, to ante up is to pay an amount of money towards something in order to take part. Time to put your money where your mouth is! (Ok, that’s a whole other expression, but you get the point…)

As cocky as the King of Spades
This wasn’t an expression we were familiar with, but apparently it’s a thing. To be as cocky as the King of Spades mean to be overly proud or boastful. And now that we take a second look at the King of Spades, he does seem like kind of an arrogant guy…

Call a spade a spade
Really now, what would you call a spade other than a spade? It seems obvious, and that’s exactly what the expression means – to speak plainly and honestly. So don’t go calling those spades diamonds now!

Call (someone’s) bluff
Taken from Poker, to call someone’s bluff means to call someone out on something – to make them prove that what they’ve said is true. It’s essentially playing a game of one-upmanship: I don’t think you’re telling the truth, so I’m going to force you to back up your statement whether you like it or not. Which is basically Poker in a nutshell.

Cash in one’s chips
Every game has to end sometimes, and when you cash in your chips, it’s not just a gambling game that’s ended, it’s the game of life as well. To cash in your chips is a metaphor for dying – so make sure you’re using it correctly in a sentence, or you might cause unnecessary alarm!

Come up trumps
Despite any kind of presidential joke you’re dying to make, to come up trumps is actually to do well at something – to perform better than expected. In gambling, trump cards are those that are ranked higher than other cards, so it’s good to have them in your hand. Who would have thought?

Deal someone in
If you’ve ever played in a card game, then you’ve been dealt in. To deal someone in is to include them, whether in an actual game of cards, in an opportunity, in an event – the list is endless, but it’s always a list you want to be dealt in on!

Deal (someone) a bad hand
Again from cards, to deal someone a bad hand is to put them at a disadvantage, either in the game or in life. Luckily though, in both gambling and life, it’s not about the cards you’ve been dealt, it’s about how you play them. So no matter what comes along, there’s always a way to turn a bad hand into a good one.

Follow suit
Yet another expression that comes to us from card games, to follow suit literally means to play a card of the same suit (e.g. to play a spade immediately after playing a spade). Figuratively it means to do the same as someone else, or to follow someone else’s example. Nothing to do with tuxedos. Sorry.

Go for broke
Whether you’re a fan of slots, Blackjack, Poker or progressives, you’ll know what it means to go for broke – to gamble everything you have for the chance to possibly win it all. It’s a huge risk, but sometimes you need to risk it all to win it all. At least, that’s what the Hollywood movies tell us…

Hedge your bets
Pretty much the opposite of going for broke, to hedge your bets means to place bets on a number of different things, rather than risking it all on just one. So to hedge your bets in life would be to send your CV out to a number of different companies, for example, rather than just banking on your one dream job. Not to be confused with hedge funds, which no one really understands anyway.

Hit the jackpot
We really hope that A) we don’t need to explain this, and B) that everyone experiences this at least once in their life! To hit the jackpot is to have a huge stroke of good luck, or to get exactly what you want, when you want it – and everyone deserves a piece of that.

Have the cards stacked against you
There’s no hitting jackpots here – that’s because to have the cards stacked against you means to be put at a disadvantage due to a number of factors out of your control. Because life’s just like that sometimes.

Hold all the aces
There’s having the cards stacked against you, and then there’s having all the aces. With the ace being the most valuable card in every deck, that’s a position you want to be in, and one you’ll want to use to your best advantage.
Hold all the cards
Pretty much the same as holding all the aces, holding all the cards means to have an advantage, or to be in a strong position over something or someone. However you use it in a sentence, it’s a good place to be, let’s leave it at that.

House of cards
Not to be confused with the Netflix series of the same name, a house of cards is a metaphor used to describe something that can be easily destroyed – a plan that has been poorly conceived and can be ruined instantly. Unlike the series, that managed to bravely soldier on despite having the cards stacked against it (see what we did there?).

In the cards
Whether you say in the cards or in the stars, it’s the same thing. It means that something’s about to take place, whether good or bad, and nothing can stop the inevitable from occurring. What’s in your cards today?

In spades
Let’s talk bridge – more specifically, spades in bridge. As it turns out, spades are the highest ranking cards in the game, which is where this expression comes from. To have something in spades means to have it in abundance, in overflow, more than you could ever want. Combine this with hitting the jackpot, and you’ll be in the money!

Let the chips fall where they may
It’s destiny, it’s written in the stars, so let the chips fall where they may. Don’t try to control events because there’s a greater force at power. Just sit back and watch life unfold. Preferably with snacks.

Luck of the draw
If you’re an online casino player then you’ll know all about the luck of the draw – being a winner entirely by chance. Thanks to the Random Number Generators employed by casinos, all online outcomes are strictly random and fair, with no human error or faulty equipment providing any advantages. It’s all about whether fortune smiles on you – and how big that smile is!

Make bets in a burning house
This was another new one for us, but an interesting one too. If you’re making bets in a burning house, you’re worried about insignificant details, while the big picture is getting worse. Like the guy in Titanic who was more worried about a necklace than he was about the ship sinking. Really?

No dice
It’s unconfirmed but it’s more than likely that this expression originated from Craps, one of the world’s most popular dice games. If someone tells you “No dice”, then that’s a hard no. No way, no how, you are not getting what you asked for. Sorry for you.

Not miss a trick
If you’re someone who doesn’t miss a trick, then you’re the type of person who sees everything as an opportunity and takes advantage of it accordingly. We definitely need more people like you in the world!

Play your cards close to your chest
Another gambling idiom that comes to us from the world of card games, to play your cards close to your chest is to be secretive or cautious. If you want to win in gambling, you don’t let other people see your cards before they need to. If you want to win in life, you don’t give other people opportunities to take advantage of you. Instead, you keep your head down and show your hand at the most opportune moment. Boom!

Play your last card
You know when you make one final, last-ditch attempt to do something? As in, you’ve tried everything you can up until that point, and this is the absolute last thing you’ll do? If you’re ever in that position, then you’re playing your last card – taking one final crack at it before giving up. Because you’re not going to give up without a fight.

Poker face
No, it’s not the song by Lady Gaga (although we should definitely write an article about that one day). Instead it’s the look people have when they’re playing Poker, or when they don’t want people to guess their motives. That completely blank, expressionless look that shows no emotion and gives nothing away. That’s a Poker face, and it can be daunting to go up against. Practice yours in the mirror today – you never know when it could come in handy.

Put your cards on the table
Want to be completely open and honest with someone? Then you’ll need to put your cards on the table and let them see that you’ve got nothing to hide.

Roll the dice
Weirdly enough, this can mean to both literally roll the dice, and to figuratively roll the dice and take a chance on something. Make sure you know which is which before using it, or confusion could reign.

Raise the ante
You can ante up (as we mentioned previously) and you can raise the ante as well – increase the stakes, either in monetary terms, or in terms of a subject under discussion. The same as upping the ante, raising the ante is usually what you do when in a conflict or in a position of bargaining – and if you know what you’re doing, you can reap the benefits.

To be one card short of a full deck
A few crayons short of a box, a few sandwiches short of a picnic basket – no matter what way you say it, if you’re a few cards short of a full deck then you’re just crazy. There’s no two ways about it.

Wild card
Last but not least, there’s the wild card – the person or thing that’s completely unpredictable. No one really knows how they’ll act or what influence they have, but one thing’s for sure, it’ll be interesting finding out. Being a wild card is always a fun place to be, because who knows what could happen? A sentiment that’s as true for gambling as it is for life.

Happy Spinning 🙂

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