Is It Card Sharp or Card Shark? A Definitive Analysis [June 2024]

Arsenii Anderson
Card sharp or card shark?

We often see the terms card sharp and card shark thrown around in various settings, from online poker chat rooms in MI legal online casinos to our favorite movies on the big screen. Do they have different meanings or can they be used interchangeably? The answer is a bit of a gray area, but there are some situations where one may be better suited over the other. So, is it card shark or card sharp? Let’s explore.

πŸ€” What is the Difference Between a Sharp and a Shark?

These two phrases, which look very similar and are often tossed around synonymously, have a couple of similarities in meaning but are generally used differently today. Both terms describe a card player, often a professional or skilled player. That’s where the similarities pretty much end.

When it comes down to it, here are the starkest differences between the two phrases:

What is a card sharp according to the Oxford English Dictionary:


A person, esp. a professional gambler, who makes money by cheating at cards

Oxford English Dictionary

A card sharp is someone who cheats at cards through sleight of hand, false shuffles, and dealing from the bottom of the deck. Card sharps use manipulation and deceit as their primary unfair advantage.

What is a card shark according to the Oxford English Dictionary:


1. A person who is skilled at card games

2. A person who cheats at cards

Oxford English Dictionary

A card shark is an expert card player who takes advantage of less skilled players but typically does not cheat. Sharks may prey on less skilled players or use their expert knowledge of the game to give them an upper hand.

πŸ“ˆ Contemporary Usage of the Terms

Today, in both and the US and Britain, card shark is the more commonly used term, perhaps due to the phrase having more immediate sense to those who may not be up with the latest gambling jargon; everyone knows sharks are predatory, skilled hunters.

It may also be more popular today as gambling is much more structured and card games are typically much more difficult to cheat at. Calling someone a card sharp gives the implication that the player is a swindler or a cheat, whereas a card shark is much more common for someone who is simply good at the game.

Google Trends results show that card shark is about five times more common in usage on average, with every country represented in the data favoring it over card sharp.

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Another factor likely spreading the usage of the term card shark was the popular US TV show Card Sharks, a four-season long TV show around a card game that began airing in 1978. In other popular culture, found five references to card sharks in movies dating from 1996 to 2020, while the term card sharp appeared just twice in 2002 and 2006.

πŸ“œ Historical Origins and Etymology

According to Phrasefinder, the term card sharp first began circulating in both the US and Britain in 1859, while the term card shark seems to have come about in the US a few decades later in 1893. In their early usage, card sharp was more popular in Britain and card shark was more popular in the United States.

Interestingly enough, the word shark was first applied to various predatory or villainous activities carried out by humans, such as loan sharks or rogues, with the origin of the word likely coming from either Middle High German or Mayan. It was then applied to the fish with its first known usage in 1569, due to the predatory and terrifying nature of the animal.

Similarly, before the term card sharp arose, a sharper was also known in British English as a conman, fraud, or trickster, while the US variant of the word leaned more towards describing dishonest gamblers, especially professionals.

πŸƒ Conclusion: Card Shark vs Card Sharp?

Isn’t it interesting how a single letter can tell such a different story? As these terms began rolling off of tongues around the whisky-stained playing tables of the late 19th century, they have adapted to essentially have their own, individual meanings in a modern context.

πŸ“Œ If you want to imply someone is a bit of a cheat, a card sharp might be your go-to phrase.

πŸ“Œ If you are simply wishing to convey that someone is a good player or perhaps a bit of a hustler, you might be better off calling them a card shark.

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