Leaving aside the commercialization of poker, many idioms in the English language have roots in the game we love. They have become such a seamless part of colloquial English, and many people use them without even realizing that they have anything to do with poker. Here are the Top 5 most commonly used poker idioms.
The poker connections in these expressions are obvious to enthusiasts, and as with many idioms, the meanings are very similar in the new context to what they were in the original.
5. Raise the Stakes (two-way tie)
Common meaning: To increase in importance or danger.
Poker meaning: To increase the amount of money each player is buying in with, or putting at risk.
Usage: "We can raise the stakes by adding fiery explosions to the stunt."
5. Up the Ante (two-way tie)
Common meaning: To increase in importance or risk.
Poker meaning: To increase the amount of money each player is forced to bet each hand. Upping the ante in turn always ups the stakes and vice versa.
Usage: "If you want to up the ante, the best bet is to file a lawsuit."
Both of these are used so often that I figured they should both make the cut.
4. Holding All the Cards
Common meaning: To be in a strong position when you are competing with someone else, because you have all the advantages.
Poker meaning: You have the winning hand, with no chance of your opponent winning.
Usage: "It's really hard to take control of a relationship if your lover's holding all the cards!"
3. (If You) Play Your Cards Right
Common meaning: Advice implying that if someone behaves in the right way, they will succeed at something.
Poker meaning: Any hand can win if you play it correctly.
Usage: "If you play your cards right, you might even get to take her on a second date."
2. Wild Card
Common meaning: Someone or something that you do not know much about and whose behavior in the future you cannot be certain of.
Poker meaning: A specific card that can substitute for any other card in the deck.
Usage: "In the upcoming election, California is a real wild card."
1. (To Have an) Ace Up Your Sleeve
Common Meaning: To have some hidden knowledge or plan that could be the deciding factor in your success.
Poker Meaning: Cheating in poker by holding on to aces until an opportune time to play them.
Usage: "We lost the first race, but with the new engine almost ready we still have an ace up our sleeve."
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