in the tank

The Grauniad’s coverage of the fascinating World Chess Championship has frequently used the idiom in the tank to express that one of the players is behind and is taking up a lot of time thinking about their terrible disadvantage. I am totally unfamiliar with that usage—to me, in the tank means that the player (or team) in question is deliberately losing.

I think I have seen the verb tank used both for intentional and unintentional losing (although not in a close loss), but in the tank to me is always an allegation of corruption.

The OED has both, but the corruption-related one is a sports-specific term, and the non-deliberate phrase applies to more general failure, f’r’ex stocks, industries or personal lives. They don’t say so, but the usage is similar to in the toilet, and may be related. It’s possible that the version that is not an accusation slipped in to chess description because chess is different enough from other sports (if it indeed is a sport, which it probably isn’t, but the Grauniad coverage is under the sport heading) that it didn’t immediately strike the commentators as inappropriate.

How does it sound to y’all? Does it matter if the phrase is broken up—saying a player is in to the tank or deeply in the tank or something like that?

Thanks,
-Ed.

4 Responses to “in the tank”

  1. Fred Bush

    I believe this usage has become popular from poker! It is very common in discussion of poker hands. I can’t tell you where it comes from before that, or what sort of tank is being referred to.

    This is often simplified into “to tank”, as in, “I made a big raise and he started to tank.”

    reply
    • -Ed.

      Interesting—that seems to go against my surmise, as I assume that people who discuss poker hands are familiar with both the concept and the terminology of the deliberate loss. Although in poker, a deliberate loss in a hand would be sandbagging rather than tanking, I suppose, as the purpose would be to mislead the opponent for later advantage. Is there much outside betting on the big poker tournaments? I’ve never looked. Given all the opportunities for match-fixing, I would be reluctant, but then I honestly feel the same way about the chess championship.

      Thanks,
      -E.

      reply
  2. Fred Bush

    Sorry, I wasn’t clear — I didn’t mean tanking in what I consider the tennis sense of deliberately losing a match, I meant the usage you mentioned seeing in chess. When someone goes into the tank in poker they are spending time making their decision, or appearing to do so. (I found one poker book claiming this is derived from “going into the think tank”).

    One might call the clock on someone who is tanking.

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    • -Ed.

      Yes—I think it was me that wasn’t clearly expressing my surprise that poker players would use the phrase (in what we might call the chess sense) when it seems so easily confused with the boxing or tennis sense, particularly when the accusation of gambling manipulation seems to me (as an outsider) to be cutting near the quick.

      But that’s exactly the usage the chess commentators have been using—except of course that one doesn’t have to call the clock in chess as the clock is right there.

      Thanks,
      -E.

      reply

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