What is a Card Shark?

Card Shark Meaning

Definition: Someone who is good at card games or someone who cheats at card games.

This phrase always relates to cards, and it usually implies that the person is cheating at whatever game is being played. It can, however, simply mean the player is very skilled. One must use context to see which of the two meanings is being used.

Origin of Card Shark

This expression is popular in American English, while its synonym, card sharp, is more popular in British English. It is unclear if one of these terms derived from the other, or if the developed separately. However, both expressions originated in the 1800s.

Sharping and sharking were both synonyms for cheating in the past. This negative meaning of shark can still be seen in other expressions, such as loan shark. It is possible this negativity behind the meaning of shark is related to the animal, which also is usually portrayed in a negative manner.

Examples of Card Shark

card shark or card sharp In this dialogue, a brother and sister are discussing the poker game they are playing. In this example, card shark means cheater.

Maria: This is the fifth hand you’ve won with unusually good cards.

Franco: What are you trying to say? Are you accusing me or being some type of card shark?

Maria: Maybe. Why? Is that what you are?

Franco: Of course not! I’m your brother. Don’t you think you would have noticed if I knew how to cheat at cards!

card shark or sharp The second example shows two university students who are playing a game of cards. In this example, card shark merely means good card player.

Lorenzo: I can’t believe you won again! You’ve won all of the games so far!

Alba: Yeah, I know. I’ve always been good at cards.

Lorenzo: If I had known you were such a card shark, I would never have agreed to play for money!

Alba: Sorry!

More Examples

The excerpt below is about a man who profited off of home loans.

  • Daniel Sadek played Orange County’s subprime lending boom like a card shark dealt the ace and jack of spades. –OC Register

This excerpt is from a book review.

  • There, he encounters at least two things he doesn’t expect: a disturbing reflection of himself in Sonny, who informs him that Suzy has disappeared and muscles him into finding her, and Suzy’s spitting image, her estranged daughter Mai, a hard-edged card shark we’re told is the source of the “sadness (Suzy) carried around like something she needed.” –Chicago Tribune


The term card shark is a card player who is either very talented or who is cheating.