when the chips are down

Idioms & Phrases

when the chips are down

When a situation is urgent or desperate, as in When the chips were down, all the children came home to help their mother. This expression comes from poker, where chips represent money being bet. When all the bets have been made, and the chips put down, the hand is over and the players turn up their cards to see who has won. [Late 1800s]

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