"The Gambler" is a song written by Don Schlitz and recorded by American country music artist Kenny Rogers. It was released in November 1978 as the title track from his album The Gambler which won him the Grammy award for best male country vocal performance in 1980.[1] Bobby Bare had recorded the song earlier that same year in his album BARE CBS KC35314 (1978). The song was written by Schlitz who had recorded it previously, and had charted at #65 on the country charts with it. It was one of five consecutive songs by Rogers to hit #1 on the Billboard country music charts. On the pop chart, the song made #16 in early 1979. It's become one of Rogers's most enduring hits and a signature song. As of November 13, 2013, the digital sales of the single currently stands at 798,000 copies.[2] The song was also recorded by Johnny Cash for his 1978 album Gone Girl.


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The song itself tells the story of a late-night meeting on a train "bound for nowhere" between the narrator and an unnamed man who is the gambler. The gambler tells the narrator that he can tell he is down on his luck ("out of aces") by the look in his eyes and offers him advice in exchange for his last swallow of whisky. After the gambler takes the drink (and a cigarette), he gives the following advice:

You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em,

Know when to walk away, 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.

The gambler then mentions that the "secret to survivin' is knowing what to throw away, and knowing what to keep" and that "the best you can hope for is to die in your sleep". At this point, the gambler puts out the cigarette and goes to sleep.

At the end of the song we are told that "somewhere in the darkness, the gambler, he broke even", and that the narrator finds "an ace that I could keep", in his final words. Rogers' rendition in an appearance on TV's The Muppet Showindicates the gambler actually dies in his sleep when he "broke even".

Chart performance[edit]Edit

Chart (1978-1979) Peak


Canada Adult Contemporary Tracks (RPM) 6
Canada Country Tracks (RPM) 2
Canada Top Singles (RPM) 8
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[3] 29
Spain (AFYVE)[4] 12
UK Singles (The Official Charts Company)[5] 22
U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles 1
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 16
U.S. Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks 3

In popular culture[edit]Edit

  • In 1979, when Rogers guest-starred in a season 4 episode of The Muppet Show, he performed this song with a Muppet character. Rogers is shown seated on a train with three muppets, one of them The Gambler (portrayed by Jerry Nelson) Nelson sings most of "The Gambler's" dialog, then falls asleep just as Rogers starts singing. After he dies, The Gambler's spirit rises from his Muppet body, singing backup and dances to the song's last two choruses, and lets a deck of cards fly from his hand before fading away.
  • It is the theme song used for Rogers' long running (1980-1994) TV movie serial of the same name, in which he stars as a fictional professional poker player called Brady Hawkes.
  • Alvin and the Chipmunks covered this song with minor lyric changes for their 1981 album Urban Chipmunk.
  • Portions of this song were frequently sung by Hank Hill on the 1997-2010 animated series King of the Hill.
  • The song was alluded to in the 1999 film Muppets From Space, when Kermit, Rizzo, Clifford, and Pepe were playing a game of poker.
  • Wyclef Jean's 2000 album, The Ecleftic: 2 Sides II a Book featured Rogers' modified performance of The Gambler's chorus on the track Kenny Rogers - Pharoahe Monch Dub Plate.
  • Episode 2 of the 2004 BBC miniseries Blackpool featured the recording, accompanied on screen by the singing and dancing of the characters, as part of the story.
  • The song was featured in 2007 in the "Beach Games" episode of the third season of The Office.
  • In the TNT 2008-2012 series Leverage, character Sophie Devereaux claims she is living according to the rules of The Gambler.
  • On July 21, 2009, the song was released for the music game Rock Band as a playable track as part of the "Rock Band Country Track Pack" compilation disc. It was then made available via digital download on Dec 29, 2009.
  • The song was used in 2010 in season 6, episode 4, of the series Supernatural.
  • Vermont jam band Phish performed the song on at the 2012 Bonnaroo Music Festival, featuring Rogers on vocals.
  • The song has been cited as a source of inherent wisdom.[6]
  • In the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets program, it serves as the official anthem of the Gunnery Trade and is sung during moments of great happiness and during chaining ceremonies.
  • This song is revealed to be Hank Hill's favorite song in the television program King of the Hill.
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