The Gambler

Album: The Gambler (1978)
Charted: 22 16
  • 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 Writer/s: Don Schlitz
    Publisher: Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
    Lyrics licensed and provided by LyricFind

Comments: 23

  • John Molineaux from FloridaSounds like a lot of good advice, doesn’t it? Well, it’s a scam: I see only one small piece of advice in the entire song. What does he advise us about walking away? Nothing, just that you ought to know when. About holding or folding? Nothing, just that you ought to know when. When is when?

    The only advice he offers is that if somebody’s trying to get your stuff from you, you ought not to tell him how much stuff you got. Not much return on the investment of a swallow and a smoke. And the evidence of his wisdom is that he doesn’t even have a cigarette to his name nor a match to light it with.

    Maybe the message here is that you ought to choose your advisers with care.
  • Marilu G.montalvo from Lake Jackson. TexasMet Ken when filming THE GAMBLER, along wth. Old Cowboys, R.I.P. KENNY RODGERS.
  • Ricky from CaliforniaInvesting is like gambling and you have to "know when to walk away". I walked away from my 60/40 investment portfolio to 100% treasuries in 2019 just before the 2020 crash. Thank you Kenny and you probably broke even and died in your sleep.
  • MiskicI love the part about not counting your money at the table. Its like the gambler told him to focus on the present moment and not to rush things, as many of us do in situations both good and bad.
    Later he tells why - cause every hand's a winner, and every hand's a loser, so its up to you to play them the best you can, no matter which cards you got.
    One of the best songs that tell about the focus on the now moment.
    At least how I see it.
  • OmikronJpgfile: that's a pretty funny comment.
    Though, if you want to look at it seriously, I guess the gambler explained that it's good to KNOW when to hold or fold, learning the when's is up to oneself I suppose.
    I'm guessing plenty of people have a 'playing' style that focusses either on going all in all the time, or fold as soon as they can. Being reminded of the alternative can be very insightful. all metafors for whatever you need it to be applicable to, naturally.
    Not counting your 'money' at the table, always kinda resonates with me like "don't worry too much about what you can lose."
    "When the dealin's done" can obviously be seen as a metafor for the gambler dying: worry about the sum of your life afterwards, not so much during it. If you know when to "hold" and when to "fold", everything will work out in the end.
    Again, figuring out the specifics is down to the individual and what they want to accomplish.
    I'm not quite sure if I agree with all of it, but it's a nice enough sentiment for a country song.
  • Jeff from WalkerJeff from St.Louis,MO.
    As a child from the 70's & 80's this song brings back memories of trips to see my grandparents. They lived in a double wide in Salem, MO. it would be so hot inside that trailer and wasps flying all over the place. Grandpa would say "don't show them that your scared son." Wasp don't care if your scared when you sit in a chair with a nest under it.
    And it was always a blast to ride in Grandpa's Diplomat Wagon, he drove like he was running late. FAST. We didn't wear seat belts so me and my cousins would get tossed all over those vinyl seats.
  • Seventhmist from 7th HeavenJpgfile: Yeah, what's the "ace that he could keep?" He told him what to know, but gave him no help in learning it.
  • Jpgfile from Galloping Hard On The PlainsEver notice how the old gambler never actually gives him any advice?
    "What can you tell me, friend?"
    "You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em…"
    "Yeah yeah, I know that. But WHEN should I hold or fold?"
    "…know when to walk away, know when to run…"
    "When I'm several hands up? Or just a gut feeling?"
    "You never count your money…"
    "Oh, I'll know how much money I have. But when should I fold?"
    "…'til the dealin's done"
    "Look, mister, this is like Tommy Lasorda telling me I gotta know when to pitch to the batter and when to walk 'im. WHEN??"
    "You gotta know when to hold 'em…"
    "You mooched a cigarette, a lighter, and my last drop of liquor, and that's all you can tell me?"
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn October 29th 1978, "The Gambler" by Kenny Rogers entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #84; and seventeen weeks later on February 25th, 1979 it peaked at #16 {for 1 week} and spent 22 weeks on the Top 100...
    And on December 10th, 1978 it reached #1 {for 3 weeks} on Billboard's Hot Country Singles chart; it was his third #1 record of the year, the other two were "Love or Something Like It" for 1 week and "Every Time Two Fools Collide", a duet with Dottie West, for 2 weeks...
    The song's composer, Don Schlitz, released his own version earlier in 1978; it peaked at #65 on the Hot Country Singles chart.
  • Scott from Bothell, WaAm I the only listener who ever wondered if the narrator murdered the gambler? ;-)
  • Luke from Manchester, United Kingdom- Dean, it's a JUKE Box as in "from a Juke Joint"
  • Shaun from Warrington, United KingdomA grand song and one that has got me through 32 years in an aggressive workplace, by knowing when to duck.
  • Jim from West Palm Beach, FlAn old simple CW tune that speaks to many people.
  • Hank Dahling from Fort Wayne , InThis song is played/ sung on the Hit TV show King of The Hill not once but twice!
  • Pep from Mexico, MexicoJust great one regardless of its meaning as of poker or life. cuts both ways.
  • Shawn from Green Bay, WiI know this is a poker anthem, but this song is not about poker; it is about life. The bridge is the thematic part of the song. It is saying none of us were dealt winner of loser lives. Our lives are what we make of them. You have to know what and who to throw away and what and who to keep. You have to know when to go for it, when to fold, when to walk away, and when to run. Classic song with a great message.
  • Jennifer Harris from Grand Blanc, MiI didn't know The Gambler died in his sleep.that's the way to go in your sleep.One of my favorite songs! It was used in the Muppet show,I want all seasons of The Muppet show,Kenny Rogers,Star Wars,Lynda Carter,Cheryl Ladd,and Christopher Reeve.
  • Dean from Sydney,What a great song to put on the duke box in the pub. A real drinking ditty. P.S. Guy, they don't 'hurry' the last bar, it's a syncopation which I don't think works as well recorded as it would in a live performance.
  • Scott from Boston, MaOne of my dad's friends sings this everytime there's karaoke at a cookout or party and it got me addicted to this song. I'm not a big country fan or a big Kenny Rogers fan, but I love this song. I'm 18 and I sing it every time I play poker w/ my friends and they just stare at me.
  • Jeff from Austin, TxThis song is the reason I started playing poker about 25 years ago. I was a very impressionable 6 yr old
  • Josh from TorontoOnly compared to a few songs in my walk down Memory my Grampa's car which I was in near every day, he would play that too often, and whenever we played cards together. The metaphors in this mean nothing to me-just the beat, the sound and the good memories. Every time I hear this song I just stop what I'm doing and listen.
  • Guy from Woodinville, WaWeird how they hurry the dialog on the very last phrase.
  • Guy from Woodinville, WaFun story song. Replete with evey poker metaphor on earth. Still, kind fun & catchy.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Donald Fagen

Donald FagenSongwriter Interviews

Fagen talks about how the Steely Dan songwriting strategy has changed over the years, and explains why you don't hear many covers of their songs.

Peter Lord

Peter LordSongwriter Interviews

You may not recognize his name, but you will certainly recognize Peter Lord's songs. He wrote the bevy of hits from Paula Abdul's second album, Spellbound.

The Girl in That Song

The Girl in That SongFact or Fiction

Billie Jean, Delilah, Sara, Laura and Sharona - do you know who the girls in the songs really are?

Michael W. Smith

Michael W. SmithSongwriter Interviews

Smith breaks down some of his worship tracks as well as his mainstream hits, including "I Will Be Here For You" and "A Place In This World."

Lou Gramm - "Waiting For A Girl Like You"

Lou Gramm - "Waiting For A Girl Like You"They're Playing My Song

Gramm co-wrote this gorgeous ballad and delivered an inspired vocal, but the song was the beginning of the end of his time with Foreigner.

Tim Butler of The Psychedelic Furs

Tim Butler of The Psychedelic FursSongwriter Interviews

Tim and his brother Richard are the Furs' foundation; Tim explains how they write and tells the story of "Pretty In Pink."