Player Superstitions

Superstition plays a role in all sports and gaming activities. Gamblers are notorious for unreasonable beliefs in actions that supposedly affect luck for better or worse. Craps players may be the most superstitious of all, but poker players are certainly right behind them. Just consider some of the myriad ways they interact with mysteries of Fate at the table.

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Aces & Eights – Known as the “Deadman’s Hand,” this two-pair combination was allegedly held by gun-slinging lawman Wild Bill Hickok when he was murdered in Deadwood, South Dakota at the Number Ten Saloon in 1876. Many players still believe this hand is a foreshadowing of “bad things to come.”

Three Sixes – In Christian literature, 6-6-6 is the sign of the antichrist. Some players will fold if they see this combination appear on the flop, unwilling to “participate in Satan’s work.” Those same faithful folks probably don’t play roulette much either, where the sum of the numbers 1 through 36 add up to—you guessed it—666.

Pocket Jacks – Many players believe J-J is the worst hand that can be dealt in the game of Texas Hold’em, and there’s actually a hint of truth to that; it just happens to be one of the hands in the game that’s most often misplayed.

Wearing Red – Especially among players with Asian roots, red is seen as a lucky color. This superstition is so prevalent that if you see a Chinese player at the table wearing no red at all, you might want to make a side wager on the color of his/her underwear.

Get Grimy – When dealing with a downswing, or any period of bad fortune, wearing dirty clothes will dispel your bad luck—or at least annoy a few sensitive noses at the table. Conversely, when on a hot streak, you should keep wearing the same “lucky” clothes, which will eventually have the same olfactory effect on opponents.

Chipping Away – The famous song “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers tells players, “You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.” Many players have interpreted that to mean counting chips brings bad luck, when actually the opposite is true. Knowing how many chips you have in your stack and whether you have opponents covered is a key part of the game.

Body Language – Sitting cross-legged will “cross out” bad luck; crossing your fingers will bring good luck; crossing your eyes will make it hard to see the cards.

Smokin’ by not Smoking – Nonsmoker Sam Fahra used to dangle an unlit cigarette from his lips; he swears it got him to the final table at 2003’s WSOP Main Event. After finishing second, Fahra told ESPN, “If I have a winning session, I’ll keep the same things on, the same moves, everything. I don’t smoke, but I keep a lucky cigarette. I lose a pot, I change the cigarette.”

Poker & Sex – Football coaches tell their players to refrain from sexual relations before a big game because “it takes the edge off.” However, more than a few poker players believe the exact opposite. They swear that their play improves if they have sex the night before a big tournament. They even have a name for it: “getting lucky.”

The Fruit of Success – Back in the days before poker rooms banned smoking, Johnny Chan used to bring an orange to the table to sniff when the cigarette smoke bothered him. In 1988, he won the WSOP Main Event, and an orange has been his constant companion ever since. You’ll often see photos of it atop his winnings or in front of his stacks.

Trust the Talisman – Almost every poker player brings a “charm” to the table, often a card protector like a lucky coin or a rabbit’s foot. One of the most famous is Doyle Brunson’s little $5 black rock; he calls it “Casper” because of its Ghostbusters logo. The trinket seemingly became so powerful that Texas Dolly could lease it out to other players at a rate of $200 for 30 minutes. He claims it has earned him over $15,000 in rental fees alone. One day, Howard Lederer offered $3,500 to buy Casper, and surprisingly Brunson agreed. But there was a caveat—the talisman would only become the Professor’s property upon the Texan’s death.