Why Poker Superstitions Still Rule at Today's Games

Posted by Davida Mintz, May 5, 2014

Can a number be lucky? What about an article of clothing, a charm, or a card protector? And, can something lucky influence a poker game, which is a game of skill?

Despite a reliance on using skill and reason at the table, many poker players throw logic out the window when it comes to the bizarre rituals they believe bring them luck. Even some of the most well-known, successful players are known to believe in poker superstitions, as is apparent from their game play at the felt. What is superstition?  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as:

Superstition: A belief or a way of behaving that is based on fear of the unknown and faith in magic or luck: a belief that certain events or things will bring good or bad luck.

superstitions and taboos


How many people believe in superstitions?

A 1996 Gallup poll found that 25 percent of Americans are superstitious. While 35 percent of respondents under the age of 30 claimed to be very or somewhat superstitious, older participants were more skeptical. Only 17 percent of those surveyed over 65 said they were superstitious.

Superstitious beliefs are apparently more prevalent in the UK, according to a superstitions study conducted by the University of Hertfordshire's psychology department. Forty-two percent of people surveyed said they were very, or somewhat superstitious. More than 25 percent said they knock on wood when they speak about their good fortune. The most widely held superstition in each of the studies, knocking on wood is supposed to avoid 'tempting fate.' The following chart illustrates the huge disparity in superstitious beliefs between residents of the US and the UK.

Knocking on wood

Even people who are not superstitious at all still may find themselves performing certain rituals. In her writing on the origins of popular superstitions, online blogger Sanguinarius says, "Many educated, intelligent people still hold on to a variety of superstitions, almost as though they are cherished traditions of a sort. If you ask them, when it gets right down to the nitty-gritty, they don't actually believe in something, yet they still act upon the belief." According to the blogger's research, some of these beliefs date back to the ancient Egyptians.


Superstitions in the casino and at the poker table

True believers spend their lives avoiding evils and bad omens. Gamblers typically don't become superstitious until they hit the casino. Kenny Rogers etched the first one into gambling history. Before you were old enough to enter a casino, odds are you were singing or humming along with Kenny's timeless words in the song "The Gambler":  "You never count your money when you're sitting at the table. There'll be time enough for counting, when the dealings done."

Here's an interesting list of gambling-related superstitions:

  • It's unlucky to enter a casino through the main entrance.
  • It's unlucky to sing or whistle while gambling.
  • It's unlucky to sit with your legs crossed while gambling.
  • It's bad luck to drop a card on the floor while gambling.
  • Many gamblers believe $50 bills are unlucky and will not accept them from the casino.

Not all superstitions are associated with negative events. Some superstitions are those connected to lucky charms:

  • A horseshoe is a good way to scare off witches.
  • Four-leaf clovers are lucky charms.
  • The number 7 is lucky. Sometimes gamblers wear one as a pin or a necklace.
  • The color red is lucky. It's supposed to signal prosperity.
  • Charm bracelets are a way to wear a multitude of lucky charms and amulets.

When lucky charms fail to work, a gambler has to have the discipline to walk away. Professional poker player and sports better Dealer Dan witnessed one superstitious player spin out of control at the blackjack table. He recounted the incident on "It was seriously crazy and every time she would double her hand or split her hand, certain charms would get rubbed. She had all sorts of things from wooden mice, to lucky gems and Vegas trinkets. Needless to say, she was clueless and left the table carrying only her pieces of junk, not chips."

don't let superstitions control your game


Poker superstitions:

poker superstitions

Source: 13 Poker Superstitions That You Ought to Know


Give to the poor, win at poker

WSOP bracelet winner Robert Turner parlayed his lucky superstitious beliefs into charitable acts. Turner, who won the World Series of Poker bracelet in 1993 in the $1,500 seven-card stud event, and who is also credited for popularizing the game of Omaha Poker, says giving to the less fortunate improves his chances of winning at poker.  "I will always give them something. I'm afraid if I don't, I will lose."

Robert Turner poker superstition

Turner has been giving to the less fortunate since 1980 when he stood outside a Las Vegas homeless shelter waiting for a cab. "As I looked at the people standing in line for food," Turner remembers, "I said a silent prayer that if I win the tournament in Lake Tahoe, I'd come back and give them money." Turner got into the cab and looked out the window, reflecting on what he had just witnessed. So, how could the cab driver know what was going through his mind? Maybe he didn't, but he said something that has stuck with Turner to this day.

According to Turner, the taxi driver told him, "It's no accident you're in my cab. God is with you." Whether it was Turners' good intentions, the cab driver's premonition, skill, luck or a combination of forces working in his favor, Turner won the tournament and returned to the shelter with a donation.  

Turner's superstitious nature is common among poker players.


Lucky clothes worn by players at the tables

It's hard to imagine 2011 World Series of Poker Main Event champ Pius Heinz in anything but the white Hugo Boss hoodie he wore during the entire week-long event.It came as no surprise to see Heinz arrive at the final table in the hoodie that had brought him luck up to that point. Even his supporters wore white hoodies to keep the magic alive. Heinz took control of the final table with his aggressive style, and won the championship worth $8,715,638.

Pius Heinz poker superstitions

Fast forward to the WSOP final table in 2012, where Greg Merson wore a different jersey every day of the Main Event. Merson, who's from a Baltimore suburb, represented his home city at the final table by wearing  a Baltimore Orioles Adam Jones jersey to claim first prize and $8,531,853.

Greg Mersion poker superstitions

In 2013, WSOP winner Ryan Riess liked the look of Merson winning the title a year before in a jersey. Reiss hoped a similar look would bring him luck and knew exactly whose jersey he'd wear to the final table. The East Lansing native was a lifelong Detroit Lions fan. Riess took first place and $8,361,670, wearing a Calvin Johnson #81 Detroit Lions autographed jersey.


Poker superstitions of the champions

Sammy Farha is easy to spot at a poker table, wearing designer clothes and gold chains. It's the unlit cigarette always present in his mouth for which the multi-millionaire is famous. It's an unusual ritual for a man who's never been a smoker, but Sammy's 'lucky' cigarette never leaves his lips at the poker table. He swears it got him to the final table at the 2003 WSOP Main Event. Apparently a very superstitious person, Farha will immediately switch to another cigarette if he loses a hand.

Johnny Chan is famous for bringing an orange to the poker table for good luck. The ritual began when casinos still allowed smoking. Chan would sniff an orange to mask the odor. The citrus cleared out his nostrils. The orange took on new meaning in 1988, the year Chan won the WSOP Main Event. For Chan, the orange became a symbol of good luck that would play a permanent role in his poker game.

Johnny Chan poker superstitions


Legendary poker pro Doyle Brunson's card protector Casper is decorated with a picture of the friendly ghost. Not the superstitious type, Brunson wrote on his former website, Doyle's Room: "I used it to protect my cards and as a joke I started talking to Casper and asking him to bring me good luck. Strangely, it seemed as though the things I asked for happened a lot."

Doyle BrunsonPlayers began to notice and wanted some of Casper's magic for themselves. Brunson saw an opportunity, and put his 'lucky' card protector up for rent. The cost: $500 for 30 minutes. It turned out to be a profitable business venture. "I figure I rented him out for over $15,000 in a one year period," Brunson wrote on Doyle's Room. "Not bad for a $5 piece of black rock."

Casper poker superstitionBrunson sold Casper to poker pro Howard Lederer for $3,500, but Brunson won't have to part with his lucky card protector in his lifetime. The terms of the sale provide that Casper will be left to Lederer in Brunson's will.


lucky card holders


Poker superstitions reign supreme at the tables

Gamblers are notoriously superstitious, but what about poker players? Even in a game where skill determines winners, many of the most well-known players carry lucky charms or engage in table actions proving their belief in poker superstitions. In many cases, a player may give meaning to a lucky object because it has worked for him/her in the past. This happens because players tend to have selective memories. They remember their winning games and forget all but their biggest losses. This selective memory creates a very real connection between their lucky objects and their winning games.

So, do players' superstitions really bring them poker success? Are lucky charms really lucky, or simply wishful thinking compacted into table-top icons? Perhaps there is a grain of truth in the power of superstitious beliefs. After all, some of these beliefs originated 5,000 years ago and if they are still around today, it must be for good reason.


Davida MintzDavida Mintz is a poker player and contributor to Titan Poker. A former television news reporter, Davida’s interviewed presidential candidates and celebrities, even one serial killer. As a poker writer, she’s thrilled to add a World Series of Poker Main Event champion to that list.


Do you have a lucky charm?

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lucky charm to tweet

Further Reading:  

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Texas Hold'em Poker Guide

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