Money Superstitions: Gambling in the Old West

So you want to play poker, eh?  Well, you’d best check your pocket watch, pard.  Playing cards on a Friday night, before 6 pm, is bad luck in these parts!

‘Course, if you encounter a hunchback on the way to the casino, Lady Luck might overlook your faux pas – unless the hunchback is female.  Crossing paths with a woman on the way to a game is akin to poker suicide.

Yep, these were some of the gambling superstitions, running rampant through the sporting houses of the Old West.  High-stakes card games figure prominently in two of my novels (Texas Outlaw and Devil in Texas) so I had a ball researching poker traditions. 

Some of these superstitions make a modicum of sense.  For instance, “Cards should never be played on a polished surface – or in the company of a dog.”  (Like I said, a modicum of sense.)

But for the most part, gambling superstitions are just as crazy as you might expect. 

Here are some of my favorites:

1. Be sure to play with a spider in your pocket. That way, you’ll rake in big wins. 

2. If a black card falls on the floor, you’re doomed to a run of black spades. (Note: That doesn’t sound so bad...)

3. Dealt the Four of Clubs?  Say your prayers, pard. That card symbolizes Old Scratch (the Devil) and his four-poster bed.  (Okay. Maybe black cards are bad!)

4. If you draw Jacks Full on Red Sevens, you won’t leave the game alive.

5. And everyone knows about Aces and Eights, the Dead Man’s Hand, right? (Wild Bill Hickok held this hand when he was shot in the back.)

6. If you’re planning to be a thief, never steal a deck of cards, or else, you’ll get caught.  (I guess they squeal like pigs, maybe?)

7. Throwing away a deck of pasteboards will incur the wrath of the Poker Gods.  The only safe way to  destroy playing cards is by fire (assuming you’ve already purchased the replacement deck, of course.)  Be sure to wave the new deck three times in the smoke of the old, burning cards. 

8.  Never scatter your chips; whistle;  sing; or cross your legs while you play.  And while we’re on the subject of NEVERS:

~ Never pick up your cards before the dealer finishes shuffling

~ Never grab your cards with your left hand (the Devil’s hand! )

~ Never let anyone look over your shoulder. (That actually makes sense.)

~ Never tell anyone’s fortune with your poker cards.

~ Never loan money to a rival. (Borrowed money can’t lose!)

~ Never let a woman touch your shoulder before you play.  (You know what my heroines, Fancy and Sadie, say to that?  “Bwa-ha-ha!”)

9.  Best way to scare off a rival?  Squint or cross your eyes.  Superstitious tinhorns will run for the hills.

10.  Want a sure-fire way to improve your luck?  Walk around your chair three times before you play.  And wear polka dots.

Sadly, Lady Luck is a fickle dame.  That’s why cardsharps developed all kinds of sneaky gadgets to improve their odds of winning. In Texas Outlaw, Fancy uses a ring shiner (a ring with a tiny mirror) to cheat her way to infamy. (The hero was such a spoil-sport. He ratted her out!)

Then again, Cord was a Deputy U.S. Marshal. He felt obligated to keep Fancy on the straight and narrow, since his kid brothers were learning how to scam decent folks, by watching her deal cards. 🙂