top of page
The Gambler
Song

The Gambler

Kenny Rogers
Album:
The Gambler

Song Meaning and Background of The Gambler by Kenny Rogers


Written by Don Schlitz, "The Gambler" has been covered by a number of musicians, most notably by American country music star Kenny Rogers.


When he was 23 years old in August 1976, Schlitz wrote the song. Bobby Bare was persuaded to record the song by Shel Silverstein after two years of bouncing it around Nashville. Schlitz recorded it himself when Bare's version failed to take off and was never made available as a single; however, his version only managed to reach No. 65 on the charts. In 1978, other musicians began to take note of the song and began recording it, including Johnny Cash, who included it on his album Gone Girl.


However, Rogers was responsible for the song's success in the general public. At a time when country songs hardly ever made it to the pop charts, his rendition was a No. 1 country smash.


In the lyrics, the narrator meets a gambler one night while aimlessly riding a train. The gambler offers the narrator advice in exchange for a whisky in order to gauge his financial situation by the expression on his face. The gambler uses poker metaphors to illustrate his outlook on life after the narrator gives him the alcohol and a cigarette as requested.


Schlitz said of "The Gambler": "Something more than me wrote that song. I'm convinced of that. I really had no idea where the song was coming from. There was something going through my head, which was my father. It was just a song, and it somehow filtered through me. Six weeks later I received the final verse. Months later it came to me that it was inspired by, and possibly a gift from, my father." Schlitz's father had died two years previously.


Lyrics of The Gambler by Kenny Rogers


On a warm summer's evening

On a train bound for nowhere

I met up with a 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

And knowin' what the cards were

By the way they held their eyes.

So if you don't mind my 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 face lost all expression

Said, "If you're gonna play the game, boy,

You gotta learn to play it right.

 

You 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 dealing'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

And in his final words

I found an ace that I could keep

 

You 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 dealing'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 dealing's done

 

You 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 dealing's done

Release Date

1978

Songwriter/s

Don Schlitz

Producer/s

Larry Butler

Label/s

United Artists

Other Songs

bottom of page