Card Sharp

Meanings of “Card Sharp”

The phrase “card sharp” means a person who is an expert in playing, manipulating, and cheating at card games such as poker. They cheat so that they can win the money as if his or her livelihood depends on it. Such a person is called a card sharp as well as a card shark. This person makes his living by cheating his way out of playing cards.

Origin of “Card Sharp”

The phrase “card sharp” is believed to have emerged in the 19th century. “Card Sharp” is also mistaken for “card shark” sometimes. The term “card shark” is commonly used outside the UK. The terms “sharping” or “sharking” mean swindling or cheating.

However, it is also stated that Michelangelo Merisi had used this word in 1594 with some ambiguity about its exact origin. It is  clear that The Daily Northwestern, a newspaper of Wisconsin, the United States, has used this phrase in its publication of October 1893 thus: “Then Petrie got angry and swore out warrants for all the other keepers until every card shark in the city was taken in.”

Examples in Literature

Example #1

Card Shark by Bob Dylan, Taylor Zachary Goldsmith

There are many kinds of fish that swim in the sea
There’s others that swim in the dark
And of those troupers and trouts and dolphins and whales
The one you must watch is the shark

Card shark (Yes, ma’am)
Get ‘em in the nose
That ol’ card shark

These lines use the phrase as a metaphor for cheaters or and clever people. The poets imply that the world is like a great sea full of different types of fishes where sharks set out to search for their prey. A card sharp or ‘card shark’ is a skilled person who manages to manipulate cards to defeat his opponents.

Example #2

From The Magician and the Cardsharp: The Search for America’s Greatest Sleight-of-Hand Artist by Karl Johnson

This book comprises a true story of a popular magician of that time, Dai Vernon, who is out to find out the greatest card sharp of the times when the Great Depression was ruling the roost in the United States. He meets the card sharp when he was out in the Midwest after a long journey. It is him who tells him the greatest secret of his notorious art.

Example #3

From Blood on the Stage, 1950-1975: Milestone Plays of Crime, Mystery, and Detection by Amnon Kabatchnik

In a prison’s death-row cell, three men are seated at a table playing poker. Two of them, Bill and Bert, are wardens, while the third, Harry Gosling, is a young man about twenty years old, due to be hanged this very night. Gosling is a card sharp. He shows the card players some tricks, dealing to the elder warden a full house, to the young one a flush, and to himself four aces. “I learned all that from my brother, when I was a kid,” he relates.

This paragraph shows three men in the poker game where a young card sharp, Gosling, who is going to meet his fate the next day, is teaching them the secret of his art, manipulating with cards. The phrase has been used in the third line where it shows its true meaning.


From Phantoms of the Card Table: Confessions of a Card Sharp by David Britland, Gazzo

Gazzo, himself a magician of the United Kingdom, has tried to track the life of Irving Scott, who deceived various card sharps of his time during the 30s of the previous century in New York. He coined various card manipulation tricks and made a name at that time. That is why the book has the phrase, card sharp, showing how Gazzo tries to unearth the greatest tricks of that card sharp. The meanings are denotative rather than connotative.

Example in Sentences

Example #1: “John was always cunning and is a great card sharp.”

Example #2: “Leslie is a very clever person when manipulating cards for his team. However, he has never come across a card sharp until yesterday. It means that he only does these tricks for his team.”

Example #3: “It’s better to be plan honest game instead of being a card sharp.”

Example #4: “To be the best card sharp, one must learn all the tricks of poker. You don’t lose all your earnings.”

Example #5: “You can be smart but it takes a lot of guts to be a card sharp.”