Seven Sayings That Originated in Gambling

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“Quit while you’re ahead.”

Quit while you're ahead, inspirational quote over an abstract watercolor textured background

You’ve probably used this saying more than once in your life. The meaning is obvious enough – quit gambling before you’ve lost too much. But, exactly where this phrase started is hard to say. There is an old Chinese gambler quote that gives us a clue, “If you must play, decide upon three things at the start: the rules of the game, the stakes, and the quitting time.” This is good advice that stands the test of time.

If you thought this catchy phrase was relatively new, think again. The Spanish Jesuit priest Baltasar Gracián y Morales who lived from 1601 through 1658, was quoted as saying: “Quit while you’re ahead. All the best gamblers do.” The priest was the author of a book called The Art of Worldly Wisdom and it seems even back then, he agreed that life reflects gambling, or is it the other way around?

“Put your cards on the table.”

When we’re told to put all our cards on the table, we’re really being asked to show our true intentions while holding nothing back. It’s commonly used in business or negotiations to infer transparency. Did you know that this gambling saying has been around since the early 1900s?

Seems it didn’t take long for this expression to find its way into everyday speech. The opposite of this saying is “playing your cards close to your chest”.

“The harder I work the luckier I get.”

The harder you work the luckier you get, a quote in a speech bubble 

If you thought this expression belonged to South African golf legend Gary Player, you wouldn’t be alone. However, you would be wrong. Seems the original quote came from our very own Thomas Jefferson who said, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

This may not be a gambler quote or saying in the strictest sense, but we do know that millions of books on gambling strategy sell every year. Many of us like to think it is possible to get the inside edge on our old favorites, or that new online casino game you’re starting to get the hang of. It does seem that the more you read about strategy and the harder you work at improving your gambling skills, the better chance you have, in theory, at earning some big wins. 

“A spin of the wheel”

Tupac Shakur said, “Life’s a wheel of fortune and it’s my chance to spin it.” But the wheel of fortune is found in the sayings of other famous people, too. Gautama Buddha said, “His success may be great, but be it ever so great the wheel of fortune may turn again and bring him down into the dust.” 

Confucius put it this way, “The wheel of fortune turns round incessantly, and who can say to himself, I shall today be uppermost?”

Ever had those days when you feel more “brought down into the dust” than “uppermost”? Let’s say, you’re playing casino games online and today they’re just not treating you right, or you’ve just won a bonus prize on a free spin. We bet that, at one time or another, you’ve shrugged and said, “it all comes down to a spin of the wheel anyway.”

Seems the idea of a wheel of fortune did not start with Pat Sajak and Vanna White in 1973. It goes all the way back to an ancient philosophy that used the Wheel of Fortune to represent the unpredictable nature of fate. As all gamblers know, the goddess Fortuna spins at random, changing the fortunes of those on the wheel. 

“He’s a card”

Collage of models in dresses and jewelry covering one eye by two playing cards, smiling and posing

There are plenty of ways you can use this saying. English author Charles Dickens used it in his novels. He wrote, “Mr. Thomas Potter whose great aim it was to be considered as a ‘knowing card'” and “Such an old card has this; so deep, so sly, and secret.” Most agree he had playing cards in mind when writing this. At the time, phrases like “sure card”, “a safe card”, and “a best card” were common ways of referring to different kinds of people.

Even in Victorian England, card games were as old as the Pharaohs. That’s why it isn’t surprising that these gambler quotes would have been understood by most people at the time. “He’s a right card” is still used today by older folk when talking about an unpredictable or eccentric joker.

We like this one for its endless possibilities. Just think, there are four suits in a deck of cards and 13 card types. Queen of Hearts is taken but you still have the others to help inspire your very own suit of gambling sayings.

“Don’t think you can palm off those old pretzels on me.”

Does this sound like something you’d hear on a Sunday morning in a sportsbook casino? There are plenty of old explanations for the expression “palm off”. It seems it first appeared in written English, in 1822, in reference to a magician’s trick. An audience is shown an object, usually a playing card or silver dollar. The magician then hides it in his palm as he produces another object, say a quarter or a different card of lesser value.

It seems the phrase came to be used as a general term for any bait-and-switch tactic where someone “palms off” an inferior item as a superior one. It’s not hard to see where (or who) this started with, the old card shark, hustle, ye old gambling cheat.

“You can’t read my poker face”

Man in tuxedo with cigar looking up from poker table in casino

This saying originated way before the 2008 release of Lady Gaga’s Poker Face. We have all worn a poker face at one time or another in various situations. Having a poker face is a crucial skill for poker players.

Expert advice for pulling off the perfect poker bluff is thinking about how your play will look to your opponent. What’s the fun part? You get to put on your acting hat by thinking about how you would play the hand if you really had the cards that would beat them. Then think it through start to finish so your actions are consistent and believable.

It’s always best to practice your poker face in a mirror before trying it out for real. If you’re new to the game, another way to practice your bluff is to play at an online casino. This way, your opponents can’t read your facial reactions.

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As the old gambling saying goes, “Life is like a poker game. You deal or are dealt to. Your success depends on skill, luck, and creativity. You bet, check, bluff, and raise. Your education comes from those you play with. Sometimes, you win with a pair or lose with a full house. But whatever happens, it pays to keep a sense of humor.”

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