Aces Full of It: Luck Be A LadyApril 22nd, 2016 by Justin Buchanan
And a treacherous dame she is. Though I and many others believe the skill component of poker is more than sufficient for the game to be unclassifiable as a game of chance, the still significant role luck plays in the game is undeniable to the point of ubiquity. Some of my thoughts on luck you might find unusual, and that’s okay. I’ve never claimed not to be an oddball anyway.
The “long run”–an In-Depth Perspective
I’ve spoken of my disdain for the “long run” concept before, so some of this will be reiteration. The long run is something of a holy grail among pure probability players, and as far as I can tell the principle is sound in terms of poker cash games. But to get to a point where the long run applies to a person in any meaningful way, they would have to play thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of hands of poker, or of blackjack, or throws of the dice in craps, or spins of a roulette wheel or slot machine, or instances of a video poker game, or flips of a coin, or…
You get the idea. More playing of a particular game of chance–or playing of poker–that most people bother with in their entire lives. This is, I believe, particularly true in the case of people who perceive their own luck, justifiable by results thus far or not, to be of the bad variety. If you feel like you’re losing in general, you’re not going to want to keep it up very badly unless you have a legitimate addiction, in which case you should of course, seek professional help. But the long run is taken to be such a truism in games of chance that no one bothers to experiment for the purpose of testing the principle. It’s treated as the probabilistic equivalent to the bloody laws of thermodynamics!
Here’s Where I Get Crazy
Ironically enough in my case, it’s the very laws of physics that cast doubt in my mind on the long run. As a kid, I remember being fascinated by a documentary series on gambling cheats, I believe it was called “Beating Vegas.” The show covered all kinds of dirty tricks and the tricksters who used them to nullify the famous house edge of casinos.
Every so often, though, they’d cover a concept that wasn’t technically cheating. At one point, there was an episode on a craps player who used, possibly invented, I’m not sure, the method of “dice control”–the throwing of craps dice in such a way as to control how they landed. According to the documentary at least, this man got results on a scale that a person can’t dismiss as mere luck, that his method worked. And the best part was that though they could ban him, the casinos couldn’t actually press charges for cheating because he didn’t actually alter the game such as by loading dice.
If it’s possible to use physics to one’s advantage in such situations as how dice are thrown or how cards are shuffled, it’s even more possible to inadvertently have those same physics subtly alter your chances against your favor in ways most people can’t possibly understand. Sometimes this skewing of the odds will be minor, other times it may be extreme.
But the point I’m trying to make is that even when playing enough instances of a game for the long run principle to be in effect, no game of chance or game of poker takes place in a probabilistic vacuum, and that means that it is at least possible for some unusual factor to affect outcomes in ways that are impossible, or at least incredibly impractical to discern or predict.
Wait, it IS rigged?
What of online games, and electronic games? I have as much skepticism for the idea that online poker clients are being skewed by those who run them to favor those who make deposits or whatever as anyone. However, that isn’t to say that I also necessarily believe the adage that online card shuffling is more random and thus more fair, than real world physical card shuffling. Because of the subtle effect of the laws of physics, nothing that happens in the universe is truly random.
This extends to games of chance, and it darn well extends to online games of chance. No matter how a client is programmed, there’s always going to be some algorithm, some process, some method to the madness of how a “randomly” generated outcome is produced. And with the level of complexity of computer programs in this day and age, the idea that a poker client can be totally free of bugs or quirks is every bit as outlandish as the idea that the clients are rigged on purpose.