Money Superstitions: Gambling in the Old West

Historical Romance, Western Romance, Wild Texas Nights, Texas Lover, Texas Wildcat

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, or something . . . )

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 one of those sneaky gadgets to cheat her way to infamy. Enjoy this excerpt from the bestselling, award-winning Historical Western Romance novel!

Poker Game Excerpt

from Texas Outlaw

Scene Set-up:  Deputy U.S. Marshal Cord Rawlins has tracked the lady train robber, Fancy Holleday, all the way from Carson City to Hell’s Half Acre (Fort Worth.) As she cheats and deals, she doesn’t realize a lawman’s standing behind her in the crowded saloon.

Award-winning Western Historical Romance novelFancy treated the drifter to a loins-stirring smile. “Your jacks bet again, Mr. Slade.”

Slade’s gunmetal-gray eyes looked like winter ice as he threw a double eagle onto the pile of gold pieces.

“You have quite a show of might there, with your three jacks and a king. I so adore a man of might,” Fancy crooned, lacing her fingers beneath her chin. “But luck is a lady, so they say. So I’ll see your twenty dollars, Mr. Slade, and raise you twenty.”

Cord arched a brow. She’d made a helluva bet, considering she only had two queens showing against Slade’s possible full house. Cord felt certain she knew Slade’s hidden card. But the question was, How? 

Slade fingered his coins. His eyes were so cold that Cord worried he might have a dead prisoner on his hands if he didn’t stop Fancy’s cheating.

“All right, woman, I call,” the drifter growled, tossing in his gold. “Whatcha got?”

With a deft flick of her wrist, Fancy turned over her hidden card. The queen of hearts fell into place by her sisters.

“My calling card,” she said sweetly, resuming her coquettish pose.

The glint of her ring attracted Cord’s eye once more, and he suddenly understood how she’d rigged the game.

“Hold on, Slade,” he called. “Don’t bother to show Miss Holleday your hand. She knows you don’t have that full house. Fact is”—with the speed of a gunfighter, he grabbed her wrist and turned the flat, polished surface of her ring to the lantern—”she used this little mirror, here, to see exactly what she did deal you.”

But Fancy was a brassy piece. She twisted to face him in her chair.  He almost admired the saucy way she raised her chin at him.

“Well, well, well.” Eyes as purple as a summer thundercloud raked him from hat to toe. “Marshal Rawlins, isn’t it? Why yes, I do believe it is. I don’t often forget a”—her dimples peeked—”pair of chaps.”

Whoops of laughter erupted around him. Cord carved his lips into a tight smile. She was brassy, all right.  Brassy and tarnished.

“The game’s over, darlin’. Give the nice gentlemen back their money, and we’ll be on our way.”

“Just what did you have in mind, handsome?”

“A date with a Nevada judge.”

“Do tell?” She fluttered her lashes. “And would this be a marrying judge?”

“Can’t say that he is.”

Slade struck a match. It hissed into life in the breathless silence.

“Is cheating a federal crime now, Rawlins?”

Cord glared at the drifter. In spite of the casual way Slade puffed his smoke, his demeanor was full of challenge.

“You know a lot about crime, mister?”

“Mebbe,” Slade drawled, his lips twisting in a thin smile.

“Mr. Slade’s a bounty hunter,” Fancy said, her voice dripping honey for her champion. “Sheriff Applegate sends him out after cutthroats and road agents. Isn’t that right, Wilton?”

Slade ignored her. Propping his heels up on the table, he leaned back in his chair. “Seems like a waste of time for a federal lawman to be chasing down a card sharp, don’t it? ‘Specially one wearing a skirt.”

“I got my reasons,” Cord said gruffly. He didn’t much like bounty hunters. Most of them were no better than paid assassins. Some were so greedy that they killed at random, bringing in any corpse that might fit the description on a wanted poster.

He kept a wary eye on the manhunter as he turned back to Fancy. “Well? You coming peaceably? ‘Cause it wouldn’t grieve me any to have to hog-tie you.”

“How manly of you.” Her smile looked strained in her come-hither facade. “Tell me, Marshal. Do you tie up all your women? Or just the ones who get away?”

Someone snickered. Cord ignored the man. Instead, he took a deliberate step closer to Fancy, leaning down and placing his hands on each arm of her chair.

“You know something?” he said quietly. “I thought you were smart. I thought you could spot an ace in the hole.”


“Meaning I just might be the only thing standing between you and a tomahawk on the trail.”

“Now that sounds too good to be true.”

He snorted. “Don’t go celebrating just yet, darlin’. You aren’t done wrangling with me.” He yanked her chair around, and was rewarded to hear her sharp intake of breath. “On your feet. I won’t be saying it again.”

He thought she’d turned a full shade paler. He’d been waiting a long time for her comeuppance, and he planned to enjoy every moment of it. He watched her eyes flicker left and then right, as if she were seeking a savior—or gauging her chance of escape. The odds were against her this time.

He straightened, folding his arms across his chest, and wondered smugly what she would do. Would she get weepy and beg for his mercy? Would she turn to sugar and start to apologize?

He should have known better, of course. She gazed past him toward the swinging doors, and a sudden smirk washed the uneasiness from her face.

“Er… Marshal, you didn’t happen to stop by Sheriff Applegate’s office on your way to harass me, did you?”

He eyed her suspiciously. “I don’t answer to Tarrant County.”

“Then mebbe it’s time you did, mister,” boomed a canyon-deep voice from behind him.

“Who the—”

The sound of a priming rifle jarred Cord’s spine. He froze in mid-turn. 

Fancy laughed, the sound warm and sweet with triumph. “Why, Sheriff Applegate. What took you so long?”


Historical Western Romance, Texas, Texas Rangers, Cowboys


Texas Outlaw

By Adrienne deWolfe

Book 1, Wild Texas Nights

Fancy Holleday has more nerve than the average cardsharp. No man can resist her smoky voice and violet eyes—and that includes the federal tin-star, Cord Rawlins. Cord may have tracked her all the way to Texas to recover the U.S. minting plates that she stole, but the Nevada penitentiary is a long ride north, giving her plenty of time to charm, seduce, or just plain outsmart the handsome Texas lawman.

Deputy U.S. Marshal Cord Rawlins is sworn to bring renegades to justice—including the brazen lady train robber who turned the tables on him near Carson City. Tracking Fancy down is Cord’s job, but resisting her persistent persuasions is a matter of personal honor. With Fancy’s life in his hands, Cord begins to wonder if his clever prisoner is really as shameless as she pretends. Could her wicked smile be hiding a desperate secret—one that can steal his heart?

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