I am translating a Chinese short film. In a dialogue, a soldier suggests to the king that they should activate a sacred time-travel item. The king knows full well that the time-travel item as their last resort. But he does not want to use it until he absolutely has to. So when he hears the soldier says, "we still have a trick up our sleeves -- Actus (the name of the item) ", the king is enraged and offended.

  • Well, "I have a trick up my sleeve" does not mean this is the last resort, but only that the action to be proposed is non-obvious and perhaps a little "off the wall".
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 4, 2016 at 20:03
  • 2
    You might try "another card to play".
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 4, 2016 at 20:04
  • Likely it's too culture specific to use in your context, but a Hail Mary is like a trick up your sleeve that you use when really desperate. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hail_Mary_pass#In_other_fields "generalized to refer to any last-ditch effort with little chance of success" Apr 5, 2016 at 0:50
  • The "get out of jail free card" is another expression, though it may be too culture-specific.
    – Tony Ennis
    Apr 10, 2016 at 4:19

4 Answers 4


A related idiom that implies something important being held in reserve to be used only in the right moment is "Ace in the hole."

The term originates from poker, where players are dealt some cards face-up for all players to see, while others are face-down and only that player can view them- these are the "hole" cards. Since an Ace is a high card in poker, having a Ace in the hole is often an advantage. The hole cards are only turned over when all players have finished placing bets, thus waiting until the last possible moment to reveal the hidden advantage.


A secret weapon can convey the meaning you are suggesting:

  • something or someone that no one ​knows about and that will give you an ​advantage over ​your ​competitors or ​enemies: Johann was the ​bank ​robbers' ​secret ​weapon - he ​knew how the ​security ​system ​worked.

(Cambridge Dictionary)


You might consider trump card as in, I have my trump card yet to play.

Trump card - A trump card is a resource or strategy that is held back for use at a crucial time when it will beat rivals or opponents.

Fine Dictionary


I'd forward fail-safe. It is a way to defuse a bad situation.

A fail-safe or fail-secure device is one that, in the event of a specific type of failure, responds in a way that will cause no harm, or at least a minimum of harm, to other devices or to personnel.



  • guaranteed to work; totally reliable.
  • a fail-safe mechanism, system, or the like.
  • unlikely to fail; foolproof

(The Free Dictionary)

Of course, the use of this is less literal than the military definition.

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