Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Do you like to play card games? Playing card games is a common activity in different cultures.

It is a fun way to enjoy the company of friends and family.

It’s also a great way to work on your English conversation skills if you challenge a native speaker to a card game.

In today’s discussion, Lindsay and Michelle share with you five card games idioms that are fun and sound interesting in everyday English conversation.

You can use them and practice to get better at communicating in English like a native speaker.

Do You Know How to Play Card Games?

Lindsay and Michelle talk about the several expressions that are derived from card games.

In Episode 1673, Four Games to Learn Business English Lindsay and Michelle discussed how playing games can help you practice and build skills that are useful for Business English English.

Card playing is big in cultures in certain places. Lindsay remembers that when she went to tennis camp, people would play cards during lunch.

The most common game is Poker.

Lindsay doesn’t really know how to play Poker, but she’s familiar with it.

She also shares that it is often that she sees men play cards than women.

Michelle on the other hand plays Poker really well.

Growing up she usually played it with friends. They held Poker nights.

They didn’t play for money and really just enjoyed having fun together.

Idioms Derived from Card Games

There are several idioms that come from playing cards.

These are common expressions that you can easily use in everyday English conversations and sound like a native speaker in English.

These expressions use the mechanics and attitudes of players in the card games that relate to common life experiences.

  • Expression #1: To put your cards on the table

To lay your cards on the table means that you are being open.

You don’t keep secrets and say what is really going on.

This is common in romantic relationships where you have to be transparent and honest.

Example: “He laid all his cards on the table when he told her about his feelings. It was a huge risk but she feels the same way.”

When you use this expression, you are revealing yourself and being authentic.

  • Expression #2: Keep your cards close to your chest

This is the opposite of the first expression shared above.

Keeping your cards close to your chest means concealing your plans, ideas or thoughts from other people.

Lindsay shares that this expression is better used in negotiations in business.

When you want to have an agreement and reach a middle ground, initially you will keep your cards close to your chest.

You won’t reveal the final amount until both parties work out consent to a final price.

Example: “To win in Poker and in business, you must keep your cards close to your chest.”

  • Expression #3: Poker face

Maintaining a Poker face means keeping an impassive expression that hides one’s thoughts or feelings.

In a Poker game, it is necessary to keep a straight face.

This is so you do not reveal the type of hand you’re holding.

The other players won’t expect what you are going to do.

It’s somehow faking an emotion so you get to have other people react in a certain way.

Lindsay shares she has a terrible Poker face.

Applying it in her everyday life, she struggles to hide her true feelings.

You can instantly know what she is feeling with her facial expressions.

She is trying her best to be less expressive because she wants to keep the mystery about herself and not expose everything out there all the time.

  • Expression #4: All bets are off

All bets are off means that something has changed and the outcome will be unpredictable.

This is often used to describe a situation where it is impossible to tell what will happen next. Lindsay uses this expression a lot.

She recently used this when bidding for her new house.

She can’t stay in the game of betting for prices. It can be stressful because you can’t count on any details provided to be true.

Example: “Now remember, I will help you as long as you show that you’ve done your homework. If not, all bets are off.”

  • Expression #5: I see your (something) and I raise you (something).

This is an expression that Michelle often uses.

In a Poker game, it’s seeing another player’s bet and raising it.

In regular everyday conversation, this expression is used to start a comparison of something of their own that is either better or worse than the former mentioned.

It’s a way of upping someone.

Michelle gave an example where her neighbour told her that she is frustrated because her lock got broken.

When Michelle came home, she found out that her washing machine was broken too.

She talked to her neighbour and said: “I see your broken lock and I raise you a broken washing machine.”

In this scenario, it is a way to tease someone and bring humour into the conversation.

It also shows empathy.

You are sharing that you are experiencing the same thing with someone else and making a connection that you can both talk about.


All of these idioms are derived from playing cards but they are common in American English conversations.

Cards and betting are huge in American culture which is why these expressions can be used occasionally.

There are so many idioms from games, like card games, that help you describe better what you are feeling or experiencing.

If you want to practice and learn to speak confidently like a native English speaker, you can use these in your daily conversations with friends and family.

It is a fun way to keep your discussions in English from becoming monotonous.

What card games do you enjoy playing in your country?

We’d love to hear them in the comments below and learn how to play them.

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