Folding like all the things

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This quote made me do a double take: "Trump's attorney Michael Cohen will 'fold like a cheap deck of cards,' Stormy Daniels' lawyer says".

And I wasn't the only one — Peter Norvig asked on Facebook

Hey David Regal, as a professional magician, can you tell us exactly how a cheap deck of cards folds? How is that different from an expensive deck of cards? Asking for a friend.

Tim Finin responded that

His brain must have been driven by words embeddings, mashing up house of cards, deck of cards, fold a hand of cards and throwing in cheap as a freebie

And Michael Hawley, linking to a 2009 Arnold Zwicky post "fold like a cheap X", noted that

Lots of cheap things fold badly. Fold like a cheap suit. Like a cheap lawn chair. Like a cheap tent. Like a cheap accordion….

I think Tim was right that Avenatti was blending poker-hand folding with cheap suits, tents, and lawn chairs. (Though how suit ever got itself established in that company is pretty opaque…)



  1. SXS said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 10:01 am

    Maybe I've always misunderstood this, but I thought "fold like a cheap suit" means to fold (in poker) quickly and with no delay (right after the hand is dealt) and might be better thought of as "wrinkle like a cheap suit" since cheap suits are made of poor materials and wrinkle (or get folds) right after you put them on (even when they were just pressed).

  2. Brian said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 10:20 am

    Would "clubs" be a cheap suit in this context?

  3. Scott P. said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 10:50 am

    Here is a discussion of the phrase "fold like a cheap X":

  4. cervantes said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 11:47 am

    No, suits don't matter in poker.

  5. matt regan said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 1:12 pm

    Except in flushes, which brings up the old "four-flusher/floor flusher" thing.

  6. cervantes said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 1:30 pm

    Yes, flushes matter, but spades don't beat clubs.

  7. J.W. Brewer said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 2:32 pm

    I think myl may be burying the lede here. I was likewise taken aback by the phrase because "deck of cards" seemed like a really weird X for the "fold like a cheap X" construction. But when I googled yesterday to doublecheck my intuition that it was an innovation, I found the very same 2009 Arnold Zwicky blogpost linked in this post, which specifically lists "deck of cards" among the X's that had already been attested as of that date. So Mr. Avanetti is not the innovator here although I suppose he may have recoined it independently rather than previously heard it from someone else.

  8. J.W. Brewer said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 2:45 pm

    BTW, the core notion here seems to be more or less that folding immediately under the slightest pressure is worse (weaker, less honorable, what have you) than grudgingly folding later on, after putting up significant resistance. However plausible that may be in other fields of human endeavor, it really makes a poker-based metaphor implausible because in a poker context folding a given hand earlier is almost always better (at least in hindsight) than folding the same hand later, because the later you fold the more chips you will have irrevocably put into the pot before deciding to cut your losses on that hand.

  9. Chris C. said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 3:21 pm

    As it happens, casino playing cards are made of plastic and can take considerably more abuse than the card stock variety we generally use at home. Notably, they're resistant to creasing, and can put up with a hold 'em player's "squeeze" without visible damage.

  10. Chris C. said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 3:48 pm

    @J.W. Brewer — The style of poker you're suggesting here as optimal is actually very exploitable. I'd love to be sitting with such a weak player.

  11. PVanderwaart said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 4:49 pm

    Don Imus always said "Folds up like a cheap suitcase."

  12. seriously said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 5:12 pm

    Has no one else ever heard "fold up like a card table" or "collapse like a card table" or some variation? I immediately thought of that when I saw Avenatti's comment.

  13. chris said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 9:07 pm

    @Chris C.: Isn't any consistent style inherently exploitable by an opponent who understands it sufficiently well?

    The desirability of cutting losses quickly depends greatly on what type of poker is being played. Multiple rounds of betting with hands changing between them is more common than not, and some hands may be worth keeping long enough to see if they turn into something good, and possibly then trying to convince opponents that they *did* turn into something good, but only if it's not too expensive to stay in that long… point is, poker is complicated. You do still need to know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em, but "if the hand is weak, fold it" is too simplistic to get very far.

    As for cheap suits, my impression is that they are often made of *thinner* fabric, so folding them reveals their lack of substance. But that's also consistent with less force being required to make them fold, which ties into SXS's comment.

  14. Chris C. said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 11:12 pm

    @chris — Actually, no. Explaining what they call "game theory optimal" play would take too long and would be significantly off-topic for this blog (even if I understood it well enough to lecture on it) but the idea is to avoid playing in a way that's exploitable no matter how well your opponent understands it. GTO is consistent in a statistical sense, but you vary your ranges in particular spots at the correct frequency to be profitable overall.

    As you say, poker is complicated, but I don't know if you're aware just how complicated it has become for the top players.

  15. Ben Zimmer said,

    April 12, 2018 @ 2:08 am

    Along with "lawn chair," Arnold Zwicky mentions "deck chair" as a possible filler for "fold like a cheap X." I can see "deck chair" influencing the "deck of cards" variant.

  16. matt regan said,

    April 12, 2018 @ 8:36 am

    And deck chairs are, of course, subject to frequent clichéd rearrangement on the Titanic.

  17. J.W. Brewer said,

    April 12, 2018 @ 12:14 pm

    Being unduly difficult to fold when you want to fold it is not a desirable quality in a deck chair or lawn chair, and thus you would think ease of folding would generally be a mark of a higher-quality version of such item rather than a cheap one. Unless the notion is the sort of cheaply-made chair that starts to fold up on its own when you were just trying to sit on it and wanted it to remain in its fully-unfoled mode. But it may be that there isn't a version of "folds like a cheap X" that makes good literal sense for any of the commonly-used X's. Perhaps it just somehow became an idiom (with non-compositional meaning) without some reconstructable early stage where a coherent and contextually-sensible compositional meaning existed?

  18. Jim said,

    April 12, 2018 @ 12:31 pm

    A cheap deck of cards is made of low quality stiff paper, often not coated. As a result, the cards may fold when given the pressure of shuffling (and thus get ruined), or even more likely, they end up with folded corners and other dings, which effectively make them into a marked deck (and thus no longer usable). I had a couple decks of cards like this over the years, and they were basically useless for anything but solitaire.

  19. Stern Freedman said,

    April 12, 2018 @ 5:07 pm

    While Avenatti gets lots of press and has done a good job of getting lots of publicity which is damaging to Trump, like Trump he's generally stupid. He mixes his metaphors and is getting trounced in the pleadings contest. He filed a SLAPP against Cohen — his defamation case — and except for the fact that the defendants (not their counsel necessarily) are dumber than he is, he'd ordinarily be licking his wounds by now, out lawyered and out of court.

  20. Chris said,

    April 15, 2018 @ 6:02 am

    I would assume this phrase refers to the "bridge" stage of shuffling cards. If your cards are old or cheap, they may crease or fold at this stage rather than resisting the tension of the bridge.

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