Richard Kaufman wrote:Or perhaps more than a coincidence. Bill, how often do you find that the phrase "expert at the card table" in print at that time?
I wouldn't consider the phrase to be common, but neither is it unknown before Erdnase's book.
_The Publishers' Circular_ 12/6/1879 p 1193
"Here we have another form of "sport" discussed by as accomplished an expert at the card-table as the previous author is with a rifle." [a UK publication, from Google Books. A book review reprinted from _The Globe_]
_Galveston Daily News_ 4/6/1882 p 2
"In fact gambling is, if not so respectable, less demoralizing, and causes less suffering to the innocent, because these speculations in futures, when applied to the necessities of life, frequently distress the poorer class who take no part in the speculation, but suffer the consequences, while only the dupe and those dependent on him suffer from the expert at the card table." [reprinted from the _Victoria Advocate_]
_Trenton [NJ] Evening Times_ 7/27/1890 p 4
"Miss Louise Decker, of Trenton, is very expert at the card table. At a progressive euchre party given by a leading hotel, she capture a fine cracker jug, as third prize."
_Ft. Worth Daily Gazette_ 12/21/1890 p 16
"Gambling, in other forms than betting on the race track, is greatly on the increase in London. In all the clubs frequented by the golden youth, cards are played for money, and some men of high aristocratic pretensions are known to act as cappers or ropers in for gentlemanly experts at the card table."
Given that only a fraction of 19th century literature is digitized and searchable, and given that much of what has been scanned is poorly OCR'ed, I'd bet that the phrase exists dozens of times in print before 1902.