Posted by Ekim on November 28, 2003
In Reply to: Ace up your sleeve posted by Sax on November 28, 2003
: This sounds like a card player's phrase, but what does it mean, please? And when did they start using it? Thanks very much - Sax
No idea when it became popularized.
It is a card players phrase. Deceitful gamblers with a poor hand of cards would remove the best card (usually an ace) and slide it out of sight up their sleeve. They would then throw in their other 4 cards into the pool in the center of the table and fold. At a later time when they desperately needed an Ace to complete their current hand they would deceitfully exchange a useless card in their current hand with the Ace they had hidden in their sleeve thereby giving them an improved (and possibly winning hand).
"ace up his sleeve" has come to mean having an item of strength of which your opponent is not aware and you can play it on your opponent at a moment of your greatest need.