"The Gambler" as written by and Robert/nehra Bradley....
On a warm summer's eve
On a train bound for nowhere
I met up with the gambler
We were both too tired to sleep
So we took turns a-starin'
Out the window at the darkness
The boredom overtook us,
And he began to speak

He said, "Son, I've made a life
Out of readin' people's faces
Knowin' what the cards were
By the way they held their eyes
So if you don't mind me sayin'
I can see you're out of aces
For a taste of your whiskey
I'll give you some advice"

So I handed him my bottle
And he drank down my last swallow
Then he bummed a cigarette
And asked me for a light
And the night got deathly quiet
And his faced lost all expression
He said, "If you're gonna play the game, boy
You gotta learn to play it right

You've got to know when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you're sittin' at the table
There'll be time enough for countin'
When the dealin's done

Every gambler knows
That the secret to survivin'
Is knowin' what to throw away
And knowin' what to keep
'Cause every hand's a winner
And every hand's a loser
And the best that you can hope for is to die
in your sleep

And when he finished speakin'
He turned back toward the window
Crushed out his cigarette
And faded off to sleep
And somewhere in the darkness
The gambler he broke even
But in his final words
I found an ace that I could keep

You've got to know when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you're sittin' at the table
There'll be time enough for countin'
When the dealin's done

You've got to know when to hold 'em (when to hold 'em)
Know when to fold 'em (when to fold 'em)
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you're sittin' at the table
There'll be time enough for countin'
When the dealin's done

You've got to know when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you're sittin' at the table
There'll be time enough for countin'
When the dealin's done


Lyrics submitted by fez

"The Gambler" as written by Don Schlitz

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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The Gambler song meanings
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37 Comments

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  • +4
    My InterpretationA man with something serious troubling him finds himself sharing a compartment on a late night train with a processional gambler. Whatever’s weighing on him must be big, or why else would he be draining a bottle of whiskey on a midnight train with destination unknown? (“A train bound for nowhere.”) Probably something about a woman, knowing these old country and western songs…

    They sit in silence for a long time, until the gambler breaks it, saying: “I’ve built a life on reading people’s faces, and I can tell looking at yours that you’re up against something that’s bigger than you can handle. If you’ll share that last swallow of whiskey and a smoke, I’ll give you some advice.”

    The nameless companion relents, and in the thick gambling metaphor of the chorus, the gambler tells him, basically this: That there are times you need to hang on, and times you need to let go; and also times when you need to swallow your pride, think about what you’re up against, and get the heck outta there as fast as your legs can carry you.

    He repeats more of the same metaphor in the second verse, and also reminds his companion that like gambling, life is a matter of chance or luck (“Cause every hand’s a winner, and every hand’s a loser”) and that the best you can expect in the long run is to break even, and die happy (“in your sleep”). Then the gambler, old enough to call his companion “son”, and hit by the effects of the whiskey shot, falls asleep in his seat.

    And as the nameless companion sits looking out the window in silence, the gambler’s advice repeats in his head (as the chorus repeats in the song) he reaches an epiphany; something about what the gambler said clicks in him, and he understands how he needs to deal with his problem. (“And in his final words I found an ace that I could keep” — the “ace” the gambler hinted the man was missing at the beginning of the song.)

    How did the gambler break even? That one’s a little bit more difficult because it’s outside of the flow of the song’s narrative about the nameless man travelling on the midnight train. But, it might have to do with the fact that as a professional gambler the man giving the advice has made a living by taking what’s valuable from other people. On the train, he is giving his nameless companion powerful, but cryptic advice that guides him to the answer to his troubles. He’s giving away something valuable rather than taking it; or at least selling it, if you consider the whiskey and the cigarette payment.
    tuxroseon June 01, 2009   Link
  • +3
    General Commentthe gambler dies. if you've ever played poker you know that the best you can expect is to break even. and the gambler says "the best you can hope for is to die in your sleep". so dying in your sleep is the same as breaking even. so if he breaks even he got the best he could hope for. (died in his sleep). confusin, eh?
    jaredj1992on September 09, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI have held many long, heated discussions with my mother as to whether The Gambler dies at the end of the song. I say he does, she says not. I think it just makes sense. What else would "broke even" and "final words" refer to? And he already said that "the best you can hope for is to die in your sleep."
    brilliantcareeron December 18, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General Commentanyone want to discuss whether or not they think the Gambler dies at the end of the song "And the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep...

    And somewhere in the darkness, the gambler he broke even.
    And in his final words I found an ace that I could keep. "
    kriszzon April 16, 2003   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI agree the gambler dies in his sleep at the end, you dont have to come out and say it. its obvious
    Billy Bedlamon December 28, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI would say that the gambler unquestionably dies at the end of the song. Earlier in the song, it states, "And the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep." The "ace" is found in the gambler's "final words" after he "broke even." I would say that there is virtually no question that he died. Please feel free to disagree if you feel otherwise.
    bibsonon February 01, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Commentthe old man dies at the end of the song in my opinion and i also agree that this song is about the life and how u deal with what comes to you, this is obviously being told by the older man. i also think that he dies happy in the knowledge that he has bestowed his wisdom to someone else for them to also pass on.
    "And in his final words I found an ace that I could keep."
    this seems like the old man's words have helped the singer and so he dies knowing he woz successful. great song.
    crazy smurfon April 10, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentIs it just me or does country music like this pack in a lot more meaning than those 7-11 songs? By 7-11 songs I mean those that have seven words repeated eleven times per chorus with an average of three choruses, wherein said chorus can be borrowed by verses.
    six_strung_outon December 04, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General Commenti'm sure he's used gambling as a metaphor for life here
    avd_1988on January 01, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentEvery hand (or situation in life) has the potential to be a winner and the potential to be a loser, it's what you do with that hand that decides the outcome.
    The_Rusty_Nailon May 05, 2008   Link

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