ace in the hole

Idioms & Phrases

ace in the hole

A hidden advantage or resource kept in reserve until needed, as in The prosecutor had an ace in the hole: an eyewitness. The term comes from stud poker, where each player is dealt one card face downthe so-called hole cardand the rest face up. Should the hole card be an ace, the player has a hidden advantage. Hole here simply means "a hiding place." In the 19th-century American West, the expression was used to refer to a hidden weapon, such as a gun concealed in a shoulder holster. By the 1920s it had become a metaphor for any surprise advantage or leverage.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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