What Does Up the Ante Mean?

Up the Ante Meaning

Definition: To raise the price; to increase the stakes.

Origin of Up the Ante

This idiom originated sometime in the late 1800s and comes from gambling.

An ante is commonly required when playing poker. Before any player is allowed to partake in a deal (when the cards are passed out to each player), he or she must put some amount of money into the pot (the communal area for all the money, where the money stays until someone wins it). This amount is arbitrary and the person running the game can choose how much the ante will be.

The verb form of ante is ante up, which means to pay one’s ante. In the idiom to up the ante, up acts as a verb meaning to increase.

In poker, if a player ups the ante, it means the price to partake in the game has just increased. This can show that the player only wants people betting serious money to play the game. This is because it increases the incentive to play a hand (to continue to bet) rather than fold (to give up).

Outside of poker, upping the ante can mean to increase the cost or risk of something. It has been used figuratively for some time.

Examples of Up the Ante

upped the anteThis example dialogue involves a husband and wife who are making a bet while watching a movie.

Jennie: Hey! Wasn’t that the actor from your favorite movie?

Bobby: No way. He looks totally different.

Jennie: No, you’re wrong. I’m sure he’s the same person.

Bobby: Oh, yeah? Want to bet?

Jennie: Sure. The loser will do all the laundry for the week.

Bobby: Make it two weeks and you’ve got a deal.

Jennie: You can’t scare me off by upping the ante. Deal!

Bobby: I’ll look it up and see which one of us is right.

up the ante definitionTwo friends are discussing a family dispute that one of them is dealing with.

Andrew: I see you finally bought a new car.

Aaron: Yeah, but it’s been so stressful. My mom is terrified of cars and doesn’t want me to drive one. She threatened not to give me any Christmas presents this year unless I returned the car. When that didn’t work, she upped the ante. Now she is saying she’ll cut me out of her will if I don’t return the car.

More Examples

This excerpt is from an article about a hotel company expanding to cruise ships.

  • Boutique cruises are nothing new. Small-scale, curated “yacht cruises” have been offered for years. But the glamour of the Ritz-Carlton badge, combined with three new ships, would seem to up the ante in the industry’s battle for high-paying guests. –LA Times

The second excerpt is about tensions between the United States and North Korea.

  • Though no details on why Kim was detained have been released, the detention comes at a time of unusually heightened tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. Both countries have recently been trading threats of war and having another American in jail will likely up the ante even further. –OC Register

Summary

The phrase up the ante means to increase the risks in order for a bigger reward.

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