[EM] another reason to avoid strategic motivations

Abd ul-Rahman Lomax abd at lomaxdesign.com
Tue Dec 2 18:49:06 PST 2008

At 08:47 PM 12/1/2008, Jonathan Lundell wrote:
>On the strategy question, if you have any doubts, I recommend that 
>you spend a couple of hours at a blackjack table, and watch your 
>fellow players. Most of them have a "system", and while there are 
>rational blackjack strategies that will minimize your expected 
>losses, you'll find very little evidence of rationality at the 
>tables. And those gamblers would presumably prefer to win; they're 
>not throwing away their money just to entertain the observer.

Actually, there are card-counting procedures, I understand, that do 
allow you to beat the house, long-term. They don't just minimize 
losses. Blackjack is unusual that way, and casinos watch for signs 
that players are using one of these systems and eject them. The house 
is not there to lose.

But the comment is true about every casino game other than blackjack, 
to my knowledge.

One of my sons once came to me with a plan. I forget what game it 
was, but his plan was the old one to double his bet every time. 
Eventually, he argued, he had to win, so how could he lose? I set up 
a simulation to show him. Sure, he usually won. Small amounts. He 
might win a small amount for a thousand sessions. And then, amazing, 
he runs out of money, he has to cover a big bet, a lot of money, to 
keep up the strategy, and he can't borrow it. Or he does and loses, 
and now he has to borrow twice as much. What he did was invent a way 
of playing the game that usually wins a little. And only rarely loses 
a lot. And even at best, he'd be spending a huge amount of time just 
to win small amounts ...

He is now, effectively, a professional poker player. Apparently, he's 
good at it. It's not gambling, it is very much a game of skill and 
psychology, with only an element of chance, and I asked him the other 
day about that old conversation. Yes, he explained it to me. He 
actually had listened and understood. I wasn't sure at the time....

Gamblers, though, aren't there to win. They aren't stupid. They are 
addicted to the adrenaline. The belief in winning may be partly 
"gambler's fallacy," but may also be just a rationalization. They do 
this because of the excitement of winning and the expectation of 
winning and, even, the perverse excitement of losing, the drama. 
Beats sitting at home with the boring wife, the boring job, the 
boring responsibilities.

It can be deadly.

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