Victoria Coren Mitchell, the European Poker Tour’s first two-time champion, once wrote: “It is odd that poker players are quite so superstitious as they are. They spend half their lives patiently explaining that poker is not ‘gambling’ like roulette or the Lottery: it is a game of skill, judgement, perspicacity, and wisdom. They spend the other half carefully balancing a lucky rabbit’s foot on top of their chips.”
While today’s modern crusher will claim they’re not superstitious in the slightest, dig a little deeper and you might see some peculiar behaviour, even as we head into 2020.
Here are six poker superstitions still present at the tables.
Winning the first hand
If you’re dealt pocket aces on the very first hand of a cash game or tournament, your reaction might go one of two ways. Most of us will have a feeling of elation; a ‘start as you mean to go on’ positive attitude. But there’s a minority who will feel a sense of dread. They might even fold the hand pre-flop.
‘It’s unlucky to win the first hand’ is a superstition you’ll still hear muttered in most card rooms around the world. But while some swear by it, we would never advise folding pocket aces preflop in the first hand.
Switching seats (in cash games)
If your luck is still bad a few hours into a session, a change of scenery might do you some good. Many players decide it’s their seat which is luring the run bad, so when you see a player hit and run after a lucky pot, jump into their seat and watch the suck outs start to go your way.
If things still go badly, it’s probably just not your night.
Wearing the same clothes
We’ve seen some famous examples of this over the years. John Hesp wearing his now-famous (and quite ridiculous) suit en route to a fourth-place finish at the 2017 World Series of Poker Main Event for example*. Or Sebastian Sorensson picking up the nickname ‘scarf guy’ after wearing a Miami Dolphins neckpiece throughout his 2017 PokerStars Championship Barcelona Main Event (which he took down for €987K).
Do us all a favour though, yeah? If your lucky t-shirt stinks, use your hotel room sink.
*John Hesp is also remembered for another wild superstition. Having travelled to the Rio via Uber on his WSOP Main Event Day 1, Hesp proclaimed the driver to be his ‘lucky driver’ and insisted on having the same guy take him to the Rio each day from there on out. Complications arose when it emerged that Hesp had allegedly asked the Uber driver to be his agent/manager prior to his final table finish.
From Humberto Brenes’ sharks to Greg Raymer’s fossil, poker players have been using card protectors to both prevent their hands from being flipped and to warn off bad luck since the game was first invented.
Everyone remembers Johnny Chan’s orange when he won the World Series of Poker Main Event. Turns out that lucky charm was nothing to do with Chan’s superstitious beliefs though; he just used it to cover up the smell of cigarette smoke in casinos.
Despite this, poker players ever since have brought their own lucky items to the poker tables, with everything from jewellery to cuddly toys believed to bring good fortune.
Baby run good
This one might be a fairly recent discovery, but “baby run good” is emerging as a major force in the poker world of late. First Mike Leah won a huge spin for $79K in the Deal Jackpot just weeks after having a child, then long-time beast Stephen Chidwick won his first WSOP bracelet this summer shortly after welcoming his first child into the world.
Chidwick has gone on to cash for more than $13 million in 2019 (including a €725K victory in Prague last week) and while we assume he would have anyway, it’s nice to think that becoming a dad for the first time had something to do with it.