Can superstition improve your chances of winning?

Superstitions have long been a part of our lives. There are many things that superstition people will avoid, like the number 13, black cats, breaking mirrors, walking under ladders, and many culturally specific superstitions, such as handshakes, the use of the left hand to give anyone anything, walking through spiderwebs and herbal cures for ailments. For centuries, humans have used different methods of attracting good luck, from sacrifices to the gods, putting out milk and cookies for Santa and hanging up horseshoes and rabbits’ feet.


There is a strong connection between superstition and gambling: betting is predominantly a game of luck. Winning or losing is not based on skill or knowledge for the majority of casino games, but on the luck of the draw (or spin!), and players will often do whatever they think will improve their chances of winning. This can include reading dedicated websites and blogs to get tips on how to win, performing certain rituals before or during the game, or taking good luck charms to the table. Even in games more based on skill, like poker, players are still known to engage in superstition to bring additional luck.


Good luck charms are becoming more prevalent in poker games, and how to go about getting, or even making, your own. Chip protectors and card guards have become a way for players to express their individuality at the poker table, as well as summoning good luck from the poker gods. Fashioned in as many ways as there are people, these objects, often perceived as lucky by their owners, are used to showcase a favourite TV character or colour, and to express their unique personality.


A quick rub of the top of the card protector may bring the extra luck needed for the right combination of cards to come out, so the superstition goes, and a rhythmic tap of the chip protector may provide some inspiration to the player. Beyond that, these lucky charms serve a practical purpose as well. It is a way of players protecting their own hand, so that they may set it down without the worry the dealer may think they have folded and gives players something to fidget with during the game.


There are many different types of chip and card protectors, including coins, medallions, small stuffed toys, figurines of all shapes and (most) sizes, pieces of jewellery, odd shaped rocks, fossils, and so on…essentially a protector can be whatever the player wants it to be, as long as it holds some sort of meaning or relevance to them. Most places will allow players to use whatever they want to, within reason, drawing the line at anything too big, illegal, or alive. Alongside the traditional lucky charms, there are other things that players do and use that they believe will bring luck:


Some players will perform set rituals before a game, or a card draw. For example, they may knock a specific rhythm out on wood, cross their fingers, blow on dice, sing a song in their head, or even run around the table, whatever they feel may help them win.


Friends as lucky charms

Some players will only play a game if their lucky friend will accompany them to the casino. These friends will often perform rituals with them, such as breathing exercises, specific handshakes, or even just being there may also be enough for the gambler.


Leaving the table

From one extreme to the other, some gamblers believe that leaving the table during a game diminishes their odds of winning, whereas others believe that they must leave the table at certain points to increase their odds of winning.


Lucky clothes

Many gamblers will have a lucky item of clothing; for example, a pair of socks that they won once in and now associate with luck at the table, or a lucky hat. Some will go as far as having complete lucky outfits.


Lucky numbers and colours

There are specific numbers associated with luck; these can be ones like 7 which is widely associated with chance, or numbers more specific to the individual, like age when something good happened, or their date of birth, or the ages of their children, an anniversary…the possibilities are endless. Colours also play a significant part, and can influence choice of clothes, charms, rituals, and even clothes their lucky partner may be required to wear!


But do these things actually work? Are players luckier because of these superstitions? Scientifically and empirically speaking, no, there is no evidence to suggest that knocking three time on a piece of wood, or rubbing a coin clockwise and then anti-clockwise, impacts the draw of the cards. In fact, some critics of this behaviour think engaging in ritualistic superstitions can have a detrimental effect on the game and chance of success in poker, becoming yet another thing for players to have to manage. The use of card and chip protectors is yet another physical attribute that players need to be aware of; how they interact with their lucky charms can become a tell, informing competitors of the strength of their hand. Psychologically speaking, however, there is a wealth of information that supports the belief that engaging in these superstitions and rituals when playing competitively can help increase a player’s confidence, allowing them to take more risks, bet bigger and be rewarded as such. Studies have shown that carrying a lucky charm is a low-cost belief (i.e. there is no harm in having one) and can increase confidence and performance. So, whilst the actual act of bringing a ‘lucky’ friend along may not have an impact scientifically speaking, it can make the player believe they are lucky, and people who feel lucky and act lucky, are often…lucky.