chips are down, the

when the chips are down

When a situation has become especially difficult, desperate, or hard to recover from. The expression alludes to having a low amount of poker chips, which means that one may soon lose. You can tell a lot about a person's character from how they act when the chips are down.
See also: chip, down
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

when the chips are down

Fig. at the final, critical moment; when things really get difficult. When the chips are down, I know that I can depend on Jean to help out. I knew you would come and help when the chips were down.
See also: chip, down
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

when the chips are down

When a situation is urgent or desperate, as in When the chips were down, all the children came home to help their mother. This expression comes from poker, where chips represent money being bet. When all the bets have been made, and the chips put down, the hand is over and the players turn up their cards to see who has won. [Late 1800s]
See also: chip, down
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

when the chips are down

COMMON If you talk about someone's behaviour when the chips are down, you mean how they behave in a difficult or dangerous situation. Note: In the following expressions `chips' are the coloured tokens or counters which are used to represent money in casinos. There will be no panic. We are at our best when the chips are down. When the chips are down, you do what you have to do. Note: You can also say the chips are down, meaning that a situation has just become difficult or dangerous. Manchester City face table-topping Newcastle today and the manager said: `The chips are down and it's time to show a bit of character.' Note: In a casino, the players lay their chips down on the table to make their bets.
See also: chip, down
Collins COBUILD Idioms Dictionary, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2012

when the chips are down

when you find yourself in a very serious and difficult situation. informal
Chips in this phrase, and in have had your chips above, are gambling chips.
See also: chip, down
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017

when the chips are ˈdown

(informal) when the situation is urgent and action must be taken: Nobody wanted a war but when the chips were down and the enemy was ready to attack, everyone volunteered to defend their homeland.
This idiom refers to the use of chips (= small flat pieces of plastic) to represent money when gambling.
See also: chip, down
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017

when the chips are down

At a critical or difficult time.
See also: chip, down
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

chips are down, the

The situation is urgent or desperate, or both. The term comes from poker, where the chips represent money being wagered. When all the bets are in, the hand is over and the cards must be turned faceup to determine who has the winning hand. From the same source come two other clichés, to cash in one’s chips, meaning to die, since turning in one’s chips for money signifies the end of the game; and in the chips, meaning to be rich, that is, having very many chips. All these expressions date from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
See also: chip
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer
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