The fact is superstition is an integral part of gambling. In fact it’s an integral part of human nature. One of the basic premises of evolution is man’s ability to learn from his mistakes and pick up behavioural patterns that aid his survival. Given that much of poker is seemingly out of a player’s control, then one way to try and take charge of this randomness is by taking steps that have been successful in the past. So if that means sitting in the same seat, wearing the wife’s panties or copping the waitress a feel because it worked last time then that’s what you’ll do.
A friend of mine used to insist on taking a photo of his girlfriend out whenever he played – which caused much hilarity among our poker night regulars, partly because it didn’t stop him handing all his chips to us, partly because she looked like a ladyboy and partly because it soon emerged someone else had been playing poke her while he was out with us.
Most successful poker pros will tell you that being superstitious is a one-way ticket to the poorhouse, because, though many elements of poker are random, the key factor determining whether a player wins or not is his or her own skill, judgement and mathematical ability. As Stevie Wonder said: “When you believe in things that you don’t understand, then you suffer; Superstition ain’t the way.”
Thing is, poker’s leading lights don’t necessarily practice what they, or Stevie, preach. The Godfather of Poker himself, Doyle Brunson, was once inseparable from a Ghostbusters trinket he called Casper. In fact, such was the perceived power of said rabbit’s foot that players were falling over themselves for a touch of the lucky charm. So Brunson started loaning it for 30-minute intervals at $200 a time at the 2005 World Series of Poker. “I rented him out for over $15,000 in a one year period,” said Texas Dolly, who ended up selling it for $3,500 to fellow pro Howard Lederer. “Not bad for a $5 piece of black rock.”
Johnny Chan’s successful poker career has not been voodoo-free either. The winner of 10 World Series Of Poker bracelets brings an orange to the table with him after winning the 1988 Main Event while sniffing one to clear his nostrils of smoke fumes. Sam Farha, on the other hand, is all for the cancer sticks, as he plays with an unlit cigarette dangling from his lips. “I don’t smoke, but I keep a lucky cigarette,” says Farha. “I lose a pot, I change the cigarette.”
Though they should know better, it seems that poker pros are the worst offenders in the superstition stakes. Praz Bansi, for example, is best avoided at the tables as he will keep wearing the same shirt if he’s on a good run. So is Joe Hachem, as he’ll keep splashing aftershave all over if he’s doing well. But if you’re at the upcoming WSOP, the best advice is to sit next to Vanessa Rousso. She says that if she’s not playing well, chances are she’ll take whatever she’s wearing off.
I’ll have a first-class ticket to Vegas, please.