March 16, 2001 (Ira Pilgrim)


The Ball no question makes of Ayes or Nos,

But Here or There as strikes the Player goes;

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam(Edward Fitzgerald)

In the musical Guys and Dolls, one of the characters, in a song called Luck be a Lady Tonight, implores luck to favor him: "Luck, if you've ever been a lady to begin with, luck be a lady tonight." A belief in luck is just about universal and is often an integral part of religions and cultures. Does luck really exist as something that can be influenced by a person, or prayers or whatever? I don't think so and believe that luck can only occur in the past. Only after the event has occurred would you know whether you were lucky or not. There is no way that you can influence it other than by stacking the deck or using loaded dice.

It would not be too difficult for a computer to be programmed to play poker. The programmer would designate 4 players named Al, Joe, Jim and Tom. To make things simple, the game would be "show down," where 5 cards are dealt to each player. The winner would be the player with the best hand. The computer would shuffle the deck and deal, just as if there were 4 players seated at a table. The winner would be declared and a win would be chalked up for one of the players. The computer would also keep track of the number of wins that each player has. It would also keep track of "winning streaks," where one player scored 10 or more wins in a row. The computer would play one game a minute. At the end of say 20 years we would look at the scores. We would find that each player won about the same number of games and each player had about the same number of winning streaks.

Now let's look at just a segment of 50 games, such as might be played in an evening of poker. It would not be unusual to find that one of the players had a winning streak. We could say the Joe was lucky that night. Can't you just hear Joe bragging about how he took the other guys for a bundle. But Joe won't do that because Joe doesn't exist. Joe is a figment of the programmer's imagination

With a group of about equally skilled human players who play together regularly for a long period of time, you would find that each player walked away from the game as a winner about the same number of times as his fellows. That is why they keep playing; each player has that lovely feeling of having won. A player who loses every time might find another form of amusement. However, even a complete idiot wins occasionally.

Yes, it feels good to win. That is why the occasional win of a sucker in a gambling casino keeps him playing. It is because that occasional win compensates for the many losses that he suffers. You can bet the farm on the fact that he loses more money than he wins. If he didn't, there wouldn't be a casino.

When a casino runs an ad that tells you how much so-and-so won, they don't tell you how much he/she lost. If they didn't lose a hellofalot more money than they won, the casino wouldn't have the money to run the ad, or to even exist.

It is a basic principle of psychology, that antedates Freud, that we remember the good things that happen to us and forget the bad. This is in regard to small events, not catastrophes. Consequently I remember my few spectacular poker wins and forget the many many more times that I lost.

It is possible to have a winning streak, but there is no way to predict when it might happen. The super skilled card handler can make it happen by stacking the deck. But he can only do it when he deals. If he is the dealer in a casino, he deals all of the time.

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