“The Gambler song is interesting because it’s not just about playing cards but about life and death; about the drama of winning and losing; about how to face good luck and bad luck and no luck at all; about judgment and character and self-control, understanding people, and the nature of things: every hand’s a loser and every hand’s a winner; you’ve got to know what to throw away, what to keep; know when to hold ’em, when to fold ’em, when to walk away, and when to run.”


Most of us understand the language of poker, even if we’ve never played. We know what a “poker face” is, what it means to be “all in” or to “have an ace up your sleeve.” Since Kenny Rogers’s 1978 hit song “The Gambler,” millions of Americans have been singing about poker. It is very much a game of the American West. It has the frontier spirit in it, and it is somehow about life and death and everything in between.