Card Sharp Vs. Shark: Where Did The Terms Originate And What’s The Difference?

Written By Cole Rush on June 15, 2023
poker player versus shark holding cards

Play at any New Jersey online casinos or poker rooms for long enough, and you’re bound to encounter the term “card sharp” or its related phrase “card shark.”

The terms are often used interchangeably, and their meaning is simple: a proficient card game player.

You might call a savvy poker player a card sharp, or a card-counting blackjack player a card shark.

But ever wonder how these terms came to be?

Card sharp and card shark origins

According to Grammarist, the terms first came into use in the 19th century. Beyond that, the timeline is somewhat hazy.

The German word “schärfen” gives the term its root word, which means “sharpen” in English. Schärfen was used to mean “swindler” in its original use. Grammarist credits one of the earliest uses of the term to George Augustus Sala in 1859.

You’ll notice that “card sharp” was the earliest usage. “Card shark” came later.

Britain was fertile ground for the growing use of “sharp” especially as gambling grew in popularity throughout the years. When the US started to boom, the marine predators overtook the term.

Grammarist credits The Daily Northwestern, a Wisconsin newspaper, with an early use of the newly-evolved phrase.

Card sharp vs. card shark: What’s the difference?

Both terms are used to mean the exact same thing for the most part. However, the jury’s out on occasional differences.

Some sources claim a geographical separation, with card sharp more commonly used in Europe and card shark labeled a decidedly American term. Other interpretations give each term a slightly different definition.

Some say a card shark is a player using skill and strategy to win while “sharp” can be conflated with “cheater.”

A bit of anecdotal evidence confirms the geographic difference. I contacted two American colleagues asking what they’d call a particularly good poker player. “Card shark” was the unanimous response. Two British colleagues said “sharp,” but both acknowledged that they’d also heard “shark” as a bastardization of the original term.

“Card sharks” gains the spotlight

Long after the term itself was popularized, “card sharks” garnered more popularity thanks to a 1970s game show. Card Sharks originally aired on NBC and returned in various iterations on CBS and ABC with different hosts.

Most recently, Card Sharks was revived by ABC with Joel McHale at the helm. The game had two contestants compete to predict answers to survey questions in order to gain control of a group of cards. Players who had control had to guess whether the next card to flip over would be higher or lower than the previous one.

It’s not exactly mathematically complex like poker or blackjack. The TV show likely didn’t play a role in popularizing the term more than it was already used. “Card shark” emerged decades prior to the game show’s launch. Still, a TV show using the term in its name could’ve helped validate the term that originally came from the “technically correct” card sharp.

Where to become a card sharp/shark at NJ online casinos, poker apps

New Jersey is home to more than 30 online casinos, most of which feature poke in some form. Ultimate Texas Hold’em is a popular option for online players. Video poker is also on offer. Some sites have live dealer Hold’em, too.

New Jersey is also home to six dedicated online NJ poker apps:

  • PokerStars
  • Party Poker
  • Borgata Online Poker
  • 888 Poker
  • Pala Poker

New Jersey is part of the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement, which allows players in the state to compete against players from Nevada, Delaware and Michigan. This means NJ card sharks will have no trouble finding populated tables when they sign on to an online poker site. Pennsylvania and Ontario could eventually join the agreement as well.

Of course, brick-and-mortar casinos offer plenty of tables for all your card sharking needs. Atlantic City has nine casinos, all of which offer many variations on poker and other card games. Give them a visit to test your skills and see if you’re a true sharp/shark.

Photo by PlayNJ
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Cole Rush

Cole Rush writes words. A lot of them. Most of those words can be found in gambling publications such as PlayNJ, PlayIllinois, Gaming Today, and Cole also covers pop culture and books for and Cole has more than eight years of experience writing about gambling and entertainment.

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