Card sharp

Card sharp

A card sharp (informally also cardsharp, card shark, cardshark) is a person who uses skill and deception to win at poker or other card games. Also known in card gaming jargon as a "mechanic", an older politically incorrect term is "greek".Fact|date=November 2007

The label is not always intended as pejorative, and is sometimes used to refer to practitioners of card tricks for entertainment purposes. In general usage, principally in American English and more commonly with the "shark" spelling, the term has also taken on the meaning of "expert card gambler who takes advantage of less-skilled players", without implication of actual cheating at cards (in much the same way that "Cuegloss|Shark|pool shark" or "pool hustler" can (especially when used by non-players) be intended to mean "skilled player" rather than "swindler").

A card sharp (by either of the gambling-related definitions) may be a "rounder" who travels, seeking out high-stakes games in which to gamble. The 1998 film "Rounders" dramatically illustrates this lifestyle.


Card shark who cheat or perform tricks use methods to keep control of the order of the cards or sometimes to control one specific card. Most, if not all, of these methods employ sleight of hand. Essential skills are "false shuffles" and "false cuts" that appear to mix the deck but actually leave the cards in the same order. More advanced techniques include "culling" (manipulating desired cards to the top or bottom of the deck), and "stacking" (putting desired cards in position to be dealt).Facts|date=November 2007

Dealing the cards can also be manipulated, by dealing either the bottom card from the deck or the second one from the top instead of the top card. These are called the "bottom deal" and the "second deal" respectively. Dealing may also be done from the middle of the deck, known as the "middle deal" or "center deal", but this is not as common.Cite book
first=John Nevil
title=Sharps and Flats
publisher=Casino Press

Entertainers' view

The use of these methods to actually cheat at cards is generally frowned upon by stage magicians, cardists and other card trick artists, as this associates practitioners as a class with swindling. In their card trick routines, however, they often use card sharping techniques that originated as cheating methods.

Etymology and usage

According to the prevailing etymological theory, the term "shark", originally meaning "parasite" or "one who preys upon others" "(cf. loan shark)", derives from German "Schorke"/"Schurke" ("rogue" or "rascal"), as did the English word "shirker". "Sharp" developed in the 17th century from this meaning of "shark" (as apparently did the use of "shark" as a name for the fish), but the phrase "card sharp" prefigures the variant "card shark".Cite web
title=Online Etymology Dictionary search results
pages=entries "shark" & "sharp"
– gives the negative meaning only, for both] Cite book
title=The Oxford Encyclopedic English Dictionary
first=Joyce M. (ed.)
coauthors=Allen, Robert (ed.)
publisher=Clarendon Press
edition=hardback ed.
location=New York
pages=p. 1334
– gives only the negative meaning for both; labels negative verb "to sharp" archaic.] Cite book
title=New Dictionary of American Slang
first=Robert L. (ed.)
publisher=Harper & Row
location=New York
pages=p. 380
– gives both positive and negative meanings for both "shark" and "sharp", labels them synonymous in this context, and indicates that positive sense of "shark" arose much later than the negative meaning, and later than it did for "sharp"] Cite book
title=Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English
author=Partridge, Eric|year=1983
Publisher=Greenwich House
location=New York
pages=p. 614
– gives only negative meaning for "shark", and gives "sharper" as synonymous, without addressing the shorter form "sharp"] Cite book
title=Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged
first=Jean L. (ed.)
publisher=Simon & Schuster
location=New York
pages=pp. 274, 1668
– gives both meanings for both terms and even for the obsolete "sharker", but provides only the swindler definition for "card sharp" and both definitions for the "card shark" version, thus contradicting itself at the "sharp" entry] The original connotation was negative, meaning "swindler" or "cheat", regardless of spelling, with the more positive connotations of "expert" or "skilled player" arising later, and not supplanting the negative ones.Cite book
title=The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology
first=C.T. (ed.)
publisher=Oxford at the Clarendon Press|edition=hardback ed.
location=New York
pages=p. 817
– gives only the negative meaning for both "shark" and "sharp"] Cite book
title=New Gem Dictionary of the English Language
first=Ernest (ed.)
coauthors=Scott, Anne (ed.)
– current around time that "shark" gained a positive sense, gives only negative meaning for both] "Card sharp" and "card shark" are synonymous,Cite book
title=Roget's 21st Century Thesaurus in Dictionary Form
edition=Second Ed. (paperback ver.)
first=Barabara Ann (ed.)
coauthors=Princeton Language Institute (eds.)
publisher=Dell Publishing
location=New York
pages=pp. 306, 786
– gives both meanings for both] Cite web search results
pages="sharp" dfn. 36 & 37, "shark" dfn. 2-1 & 2-2
accessdate=2007-07-08 Unabridged (v 1.1)
publisher=Lexico Publishing Group
– gives both meanings for both, with negative meaning being primary for both, positive meanings informal] although American English is somewhat, but informally, beginning to favor "shark" as a positive term versus "sharp" as a negative one.Cite book
title=Webster's II: New Riverside Dictionary
first=Anne H. (sr. ed.)
publisher=Riverside Pub. Co.
edition=hardback ed.
pages=p. 1072
– gives both for "shark", only negative for "sharp" and "sharper"] Cite book
title=Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language (Revised)
first=David B. (ed.)
publisher=Warner Books
location=New York
edition=Revised Ed. (paperback ver.)
pages=p. 547
– gives both for "shark", only negative for "sharp"] (However not even all American dictionaries agree with this, and some suggest the opposite.)Cite web
title=American Heritage Dictionary of the English language (online Fourth Ed.)
publisher=Houghton Mifflin
pages="sharp" dfn. noun 3 & "shark" dfn. noun 2
– gives both meanings for both, with positive being primary for "sharp" but negative for "shark"]

In popular culture


Card sharps are common characters in caper films, since the questionable legality and morality of their hobby also plays well with that of their occupation. Notable examples of such films are:
* "The Sting" (1973)
* "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" (1998)
* "Rounders" (1998)
* "Shade" (2003)
* "21" (2008)


*"Sanford and Son" featured an episode where card sharps defeated Lamont at poker; while he went to get drinks, Fred was able (through a specially marked deck and one of his many pairs of reading glasses) to defeat the card sharps and win Lamont's money back.
*Stage magician and actor Harry Anderson (of "Night Court" fame) made several appearances on "Cheers" as card sharp "Harry the Hat".
*On "Prison Break", the character Theodore "T-Bag" Bagwell is an expert card sharp, to the point where "there are maybe five people in this country who can do what I do with a deck of cards"; while this may have been an exaggeration, T-Bag uses this skill successfully in the episode "Bluff".
*On an episode of "Friends", Ross was debating with his doppleganger Russ about the correctness of the term "card shark" vs. "card sharp".

ee also

*Card marking


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • card-sharp — cardˈ sharp or cardˈ sharper noun A person who cheats at cards • • • Main Entry: ↑card …   Useful english dictionary

  • card sharp — card ,sharp noun count a CARD SHARK …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • card sharp — (also card sharper) ► NOUN ▪ a person who cheats at cards …   English terms dictionary

  • card|sharp|er — «KAHRD SHAHR puhr», noun. = cardsharp. (Cf. ↑cardsharp) …   Useful english dictionary

  • card|sharp — «KAHRD SHAHRP», noun. a person who makes a trade of cheating at cards: »Then he might be…cheated in a poker game by a cardsharp who used a marked deck of cards (Charlton Laird) …   Useful english dictionary

  • card sharp — noun a professional card player who makes a living by cheating at card games • Syn: ↑cardsharp, ↑cardsharper, ↑card sharper, ↑sharper, ↑sharpie, ↑sharpy, ↑card shark • Hypernyms …   Useful english dictionary

  • card sharp — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms card sharp : singular card sharp plural card sharps a professional card player who cheats in order to win money …   English dictionary

  • card|sharp|ing — «KAHRD SHAHR pihng», noun. the practice of cheating at cards as a trade …   Useful english dictionary

  • card·sharp — /ˈkɑɚdˌʃɑɚp/ noun, pl sharps [count] : someone who makes money by cheating at card games called also card shark …   Useful english dictionary

  • card sharp — (also card sharper) noun a person who cheats at cards …   English new terms dictionary

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