Gamblers might be the most superstitious bunch on the face of the earth. Casino games are steeped in folk stories, hoodoos and myths, many of which are still widely believed to this day. But is there more to it than just a collection of old wives’ tales?
Psychologists are fascinated by the correlation between gambling and superstition, with numerous studies devoted to the subject. Consider the obvious contradiction in a typical veteran gambler: he takes a deliberate, scientific approach to his play, and yet may put his success (or lack thereof) down to some trinket or external event. Some attribute this phenomenon to a kind of ‘selective amnesia’, where players forget all about the times a lucky charm failed and remember only the wins. Gambling superstitions manifest themselves in many forms – from attachment to physical objects, to routines and actions, to deeply ingrained social stigmas surrounding certain numbers, colours, or events. Some of these can be applied all across the casino floor, while others are specific to particular games.
The game of 21 comes with a unique doctrine of myths and beliefs. Land-based blackjack tables are renowned for their febrile atmosphere, and players have developed a host of excuses that allow them to blame their bad fortune (or poor decision-making) on others. Here are a few common occurrences you might encounter.
There remains a strong belief in the blackjack community that the order of the cards should not be altered under any circumstance. Thus, it is often regarded as poor etiquette to join a table mid-shoe (i.e. between shuffles) and so interrupt the ‘sacred flow’. Many real-world casinos actually prevent players from joining a game until the next shuffle, although this is more to curb the advantage of card counters.
This is the mother of all myths in 21, and an utter nonsense. Yes, if you join a table mid-shoe, it will affect the order of the cards – but will it make the table unlucky, or affect anyone else’s ideal strategy? Of course not. The sacred flow is a concept designed by, and for, disgruntled players who need someone to pay out on because they are losing.
Bad Player Curse
Many blackjack veterans maintain novice players can upset the sacred flow by making unorthodox plays or downright mistakes. For example: it is not at all unusual for a regular to berate a fellow player for splitting a pair of Fives, as this goes against the most optimal blackjack play, and changes the order of the cards. The truth is, there is nothing any one gambler can do that will affect another player’s chances – no matter how strange or ill-advised the move may be. It’s all about you and the dealer, so there is no point losing your lid over someone deciding to hit on 19.
A lot of 21 players hold the dealer as a key element in the fortunes of any given table. Many believe that a new dealer will result in a reversal of luck – so if the players are on a hot streak and the dealer is replaced, the house will suddenly start winning. It is also said that cursing the dealer will bring bad luck to the table. Our opinion is that if you abuse the poor lad or lass who doles out the cards, you probably deserve whatever misfortune may follow.
More Gambling Myths and Beliefs
Beyond the game of blackjack, more general superstitions exist which many people adhere to, some even consciously choosing to steer clear of those who don’t hold the same beliefs about such superstitions.
The number 13 has always been regarded as an ill omen in Western culture, although nobody quite knows why. From the 13 people depicted in Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper (Jesus Christ and his 12 apostles, one of which was Judas Iscariot), to the difficulties encountered by calendar-making monks when a year included 13 full moons – there are many theories, but no consensus.
Triskaidekaphobia, as this is fear is called, is ever-present in the gambling world, so much so that many casino hotels do not have a 13th floor. However, in China and other parts of Asia, the number 13 is considered to be a symbol of extreme good fortune.
Where 13 brings doom and gloom to most punters, seven is a beacon of joy and prosperity. Scholars often attribute the number’s modern-day popularity to its widespread use in old-world rhetoric and storytelling – the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Seven Seas, the Seven Heavens, the Seven Deadly Sins, and the Seven Ages of Man, for instance.
In the last century, the number seven has become a mainstay in advertising and branding (take 7-Eleven, for example). It is also heavily featured in movie titles: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Magnificent Seven, The Seven Year Itch, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Seven Pounds, and Seven Samurai, to name but a few. Oh, and there is that well-known British agent who goes by the name ‘007’, of course.
The number seven has special significance in gambling, particularly in slot games and certain versions of blackjack. In Australian pontoon and Spanish 21, for example, a hand of three suited Sevens wins a ‘super bonus’ payout (usually $1000, for bets of less than $25, and $5000, for bets of more than $25). Sevens don’t get much luckier than that.
Never Cross Your Legs
At one point or another in our lives, we have all crossed our fingers for good luck (or to free ourselves from a promise we never intended to keep). When it comes to card games, it is said crossing your legs while at the table will cancel out any and all good luck that might have otherwise come your way.
Don’t Count Your Money at the Table
If you have never heard Kenny Rogers’ 1970s hit, ‘The Gambler’, then you have probably never listened to the radio. In any case, the Texan warns in his country-pop classic that one must “never count your money, while you’re sitting at the table”. Such conduct is a commonly followed among card players, to the point where many consider it common courtesy and correct etiquette, but that is merely an opinion, and one which certainly does not need to be strictly adhered to, if you do not wish.
Avoid the Casino’s Main Entrance
Even some of the more level-headed gamblers out there like to take the back door when entering land-based casino. It is supposed that this practice originated with blackjack players, specifically card counters, who wished to slip in and out without attracting the operators’ attention.
Superstitious gamblers are doubly wary of the old gateway at the famed MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the design of which depicted the jaws of a roaring lion. When you consider that there are punters out there who shove four-leaf clovers in their socks, you can understand how walking into the mouth of the beast (which was also the front entrance) would seem like something that ought to be avoided.
No Dogs at the Table
Back in the days when card games were played in the back of the bar, rather than the glitzy, glamorous surrounds of the casino floor, it was considered extremely unlucky to let a canine companion anywhere near the table. This could be related to the old ‘Black Dog’ myth, a haunting spectre linked with death, depression, and all-round misery. You’d think anyone who buys into this superstition would run away screaming whenever they see one of C.M. Coolidge’s famous series of oil paintings, Dogs Playing Poker – think of all the money being lost at that table!
Always Bet on Red
The colour red’s association with good fortune and prosperity goes back to ancient China, but it has positive connotations in most cultures across the world – be it strength, courage, vitality, happiness, or love. The Communist dictatorships of China and Russia may have given red a bad vibe in recent decades, but in gambling it remains the luckiest colour of all. Why else would so many gaming websites use red in their names and/or advertising?
This is one superstition we do not have any real issue with, at least when it comes to casino games. Wearing crimson undies should not affect your betting strategy (if it does, you are doing something horribly wrong to begin with). And considering that the choice to bet on red generally only comes up in 50/50 situations – such as an outside bet in roulette, or the ‘gamble’ option in a pokies game – what’s the harm in going with the lucky colour? The odds are 1:1 either way, so you might as well try to coax a few favourable results out of the gambling gods.
The idea that an amulet or token can affect the holder’s fortunes, one way or another, has deep origins in many parts of the world. Much of the popular folklore around lucky charms comes from American slaves in the 19th century, whose traditional African and Caribbean customs were the foundation for voodoo and hoodoo.
It is no surprise that this concept found its way into the gaming world. Some of these charms would make an environmentalist faint – be it a rabbit’s foot, a badger’s tooth, or even a raccoon’s penis bone (seriously). More nature-friendly trinkets include the four-leaf clover, alfalfa, and nutmeg, while the horseshoe is perhaps the best-known gambler’s charm.
There is nothing wrong with carrying around a lucky token or two, just as it is completely normal to pick your favourite number in a lotto draw. It might have some personal significance, you might just like the way it looks on your key-ring – or whatever, we are not here to judge. Just don’t be that guy at the blackjack table who looks like he has just robbed a Skill Tester machine.
Avoid the Nutters, Play Online
Have you reached that point where you cannot stand the thought of the live blackjack table, just on the off chance there is some lunatic who tries to convince you that a bag of rodent testicles will guarantee better results than basic strategy?
Well, no longer must you suffer the indignity of sharing your 21 experience with the dregs and drifters. Online blackjack is faster, offers more game options than brick-and-mortar casinos, and eliminates the chance of getting abused by some hack who thinks you stole their card. Forget the sacred flow and the dealer’s mojo – try out one of our recommended blackjack sites and enjoy the benefits of playing for real money payouts via the Internet. Note that Austrlians are no longer legally allowed to play blackjack online, our recommended blackjack sites are for international readers only.