Famous card-based sayings and idioms 

Popular Sayings That Come From Card Games 

There are dozens of sayings and idioms we use everyday that first originated from card games. “Ace in the hole,” “Trump Card,” “Follow Suit,” all sayings that were first used over a game of poker or blackjack. 

This post will go through some facts about the origins of the most popular card game-based sayings and maybe even show you a few that you never knew about. 

Ace in the Hole 

In poker, having an ace in the hole means the card dealt face down before the showdown is an ace, and if you are already holding an ace, you have a clear advantage. This saying is a variation on “ace up your sleeve.”

We use it as a way to convey an unseen advantage. This could mean bringing on a player in a sports game that is known to be able to turn the tide and help you win, or you have something in reserve that can help you succeed if need be. 

Follow Suit 

This saying is derived from a trick called Whist, where the trickster would deal a card that is the same suit as the one dealt before, thus stating the trick. Nowadays, it simply means to do what everyone else is doing. 


When we use the term “aboveboard,” we use it to show that everything done is legal and fair. If there are no tricks or deception involved in making a deal or signing a contract, it is said to be aboveboard.

The term comes from poker, where it was seen as cheating, or at least suspicious, to keep your hands hidden underneath the table. Even today, if you watch a professional poker game, you will almost always see every player’s hands. 

Left in the Lurch 

Being left in the lurch means being left in a situation where you are weak and vulnerable. It comes from the game Cribbage, where “lurch” means to defeat an opponent by double their score. 

If your opponent has 31 pegs and you have 61, you have left them in the lurch. The word lourche is a French word used in backgammon to describe the same kind of one-sided defeat. 

Trump Card 

No, this saying doesn’t come from that president, but does originate from poker when you are dealt a card that is the best on the table. If the river card is an ace that completes your flush, the ace is the trump card. 

We use “trump card” to describe anything that is the best in a situation. Whatever that thing may be, if it gives you a decisive and unmatchable advantage over your opponent, then it is your trump card. 

In Spades 

To have something “in spades” means to have a vast amount of it. A World Cup-winning football team can be described as having talent “in spades.” It is simply a term to describe large quantities of anything. 

The term comes from Bridge, where Spades is the suit with the highest value, much like most card games, and having many cards in the Spades suit is a huge advantage. 

When the Chips are Down 

“When the chips are down” is a way to describe a lousy situation or a situation where you are at a disadvantage. While the saying originates from casino games in general, it is closely related to poker. 

Placing your bet involves putting your chips down on the table, a move that is seen as irreversible. So when you say the chips are down, it now means you don’t have control over the situation, and fate will decide the outcome. 

Put Your Cards on the Table 

This saying is far more literal and easy to understand. In everyday use, “put your cards on the table” means not hiding anything and being completely honest. If you have been covering up a secret about yourself, being honest and telling someone would be putting your cards on the table. 

In poker, putting your cards on the table is to show what you have. It was first coined in the 1800s and was used to describe what winning players had to do, which was to show their hands to prove they had the winning combination. 

Stack the Deck 

To “stack the deck” means to do something that puts the odds in your favor. If someone has been ousted from a position of power, they will do everything they can to regain control; if they do this through nefarious means, they would be “stacking the deck.”

In card games, to stack a deck means to arrange the deck in a particular order so that you could deal yourself game-winning hands or to avoid suspicion, deal those hands to someone playing the game with you.  

Hold All the Aces 

The ace is the strongest card in poker, and being dealt two in a game of Texas Hold ‘Em gives you a substantial advantage over your opponents. If you are dealt all four aces in a game of Five Card Draw, your hand is almost unbeatable. 

Therefore if you “hold all the aces,” you are in a position where you have all the power and the means to win. Nothing anyone else does will be enough to beat you. 

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