For some, luck is not immutable or unpredictable. It is both predictable and “influenceable.” These superstitious souls believe not just that they can recognize lucky trends but that they can attract more good luck for themselves and repel bad luck by adhering to certain superstitious behavior.
I am a firm believer in rational thought. The notion that something may supernaturally influence the cards I’m going to be dealt is, to my mind, absurd. Even so, I’m observant enough to notice that others may be superstitious at the poker table. To the extent that I can understand their superstitions, and somehow divine whether my opponent is feeling especially lucky or unlucky, I can exploit them.
Many players have a lucky talisman or charm. Some have a Buddha figurine, pyramid, coin, or other “lucky” card protector. For most, they are nothing but keepsakes that they like having around. But for others they appear to the owner to be possessed with special powers. To see how superstitious they are, offer to buy it from them and see how they react.
You may know that seat and table selection are an important part of profitable play—helping you better exploit certain types of players. But for many, the seat itself is imbued with special powers to attract or repel good luck. A seat vacated by a large winner might be sought by these superstitious sorts. When you eye a strategic seat change, you may want to inquire about the fate of the last occupant to throw off any suspicion that you are a skillful player.
Some believe that a random event is less likely to happen once it has already happened. You see these folks at the baccarat table keeping track of how many times the deck has favored Player or Banker. At the poker table they tend to be less likely to believe that a player who just showed down aces truly has the aces he is representing just a few hands later—believing irrationally that he isn’t “due” yet. Reinforce these irrational beliefs by agreeing with them heartily.
Some players consider it unlucky to sell chips to another player at the table—preferring, irrationally, to have them buy their chips from the dealer. Others think it lucky to buy chips from a player as he is leaving the table—hoping that the chips come with the good luck that won them. Green and black chips are sometimes considered unlucky to have in a red chip game. I’ve noticed many players who try to sell me their $25 chip when I’m playing $10-$20 stud. Frankly, I try to accumulate as many green and black chips as I can in any game—but that’s just me.
I’ve noticed superstitious behavior when it comes to picking up cards. Some players say that it is unlucky to pick up or even touch the cards when they’re dealt. Some think it’s lucky to do so. Others think it unlucky to touch another’s cards when they’re being dealt—refusing to shove an errantly dealt card to the proper player. I don’t know how I might take advantage of these superstitions—but I’m trying to figure out a way.
My experience with superstitious players is that they tend to be more likely to gamble and less likely to be highly skilled. That being said, some of the best players I know have one sort of a superstition or another. So don’t assume that just because someone brings a lucky orange to the table that he’s going to be a fish!
After a long spell of getting no playable hands I’ve found it useful sometimes to project the image of a wildly superstitious player. I clap my hands really loudly and then make large sweeping motions with my arms. I then look around and say that I’m trying to dismiss the bad luck that was hovering around me. I’ll then fiercely rub the felt in front of me, “trying to activate the luck magnet.” No, it may not convince my opponents that I’m irrational or superstitious, but at the very least it tends to lighten up the mood of the table with a laugh.
Ashley Adams is the author of Winning 7-Card Stud and Winning No Limit Low Limit Hold’em. He hosts the radio show House of Cards, broadcast Mondays at 5 – 6 p.m. in Boston, MA, on 1510 AM, and on the Internet at www.houseofcardsradio.com. Contact Ashley at firstname.lastname@example.org.