when the chips are down


when the chips are down


  • when a situation is urgent or desperate.
  • when in trouble.
  • in a difficult situation.
  • in a dangerous state.
  • at your worst moment.
  • when things are tough or bad.
  • at a critical time.

Example Sentences

  1. When the chips are down, you know who your real friends are.
  2. When the chips are down, the criminals will surrender to the police.
  3. My mother comforts me when the chips are down.
  4. Even the people you trust most abandon you when the chips are down.
  5. She will realize how important her mother’s advice is when the chips are down.
  6. He has promised to help me when the chips are down.
  7. She’s the person you would like to have around when the chips are down.


This idiom originated from gambling games like pocket and roulette. Chips are the casino currencies used in gambling, and the game begins once everyone participating has placed them down. Once you put your chips down, the bet must start, and nothing can stop that from happening. This is, therefore, a critical moment for gamers. If you lose bets, your chips will continue reducing or going down. This is where the idiom “when the chips are down” comes in. However, it has been used widely since early 1900 in different instances. Frank Yerby says this in his book, Floodtide:

“When the chips are down, she freezes up quicker in a wink.”

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