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To Force One's Hand

Posted by Masakim on March 04, 2003

In Reply to: To Force One's Hand posted by R. Berg on March 04, 2003

: : : Does any one know the origin of the term "to force one's hand"? Might it have some thing to do with card games? Thanks in advance for any assistance.

: : It might well. One of the meanings given in the American Heritage Dictioary for the verb "to force" is this:-

: : 8. Games. To cause an opponent to play (a particular card).

: : You will occasionally hear bridge players say something like "He ran his last two trumps and forced my king of diamonds."

: : This doesn't definitively state that "to force someone's hand" is an idiom from the world of card-playing, but it tends to support that theory.

: The Oxford Engl. Dict. has this as sense 3 of "force" as a verb: "To constrain by force (whether physical or moral); to compel; to overcome the resistance of. 'To force (one's) hand': to compel one to act prematurely or to adopt a policy he dislikes. Cf. Fr. 'forcer la main a quelqu'un.'" Sense 3c of "force" is a collection of three meanings limited to "Card playing, esp. in Whist." So there's no suggestion in these definitions that "to force one's hand"originated with cards.

force someone's hand Compel someone to act or speak prematurely or against his or her will. For example, "He didn't want to decide just then, but the board forced his hand." This expression probably alludes to the "hand" (the cards) held in a game such as whist or poker, in which a player is compelled to play some card from his hand or to reveal his hand. [Mid-1800s]
From _The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms_ by Christine Ammer

Force someone's hand, To. To make a person reveal his or her plans earlier than intended, as in card playing.
From Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 16th Edition_ by Adrian Room

force (v) raise.
raise 1. (v) Increase the bet. In a limit game, this means add a bet equal to the betting limit; in a no-limit game, this means increase by anything equal to or greater than the previous bet or raise.
hand (n) 1. Five cards in the possession of a player. 2. One deal. "Who won the last hand?"
From _Wiesenberg's Official Dictionary of Poker_