How's Your Luck? Why Even Care?

One word that all gamblers are familiar with is luck. A winner is lucky; a looser is unlucky. Luck is destiny or fate manifest at the gambling table; the will of the gods taking a hand in human affairs. For all the talk of luck in gambling, few people actually understand what it is.

Luck is probably the most misunderstood term in the entire gambling world. While you do need to get "lucky" at certain games to win, for example, games like roulette where the house has an edge, in other games, like blackjack and poker, the gambler has to actually think up ways to work around luck to win. As David Sklansky says, professional gamblers are at "war with luck".

What Is Luck?

The First thing to understand is that luck is simply a pattern of occurrences. In any multiple-trial event, things happen. Some things are more likely than others, but the longer the trial, the more likely that rarer events will be observed. The mathematical/statistical tool for measuring what we call luck is standard deviation.

Statistical Deviation is the mathematical explanation of why events occur in the patterns. Luck can be thought of as the fluctuations that will be seen in the trial.

The most simple and best-known example of standard deviation is the coin toss.

There are two sides (heads and tails) of a coin. Therefore, if you flip the coin it should land on heads 50% of the time and tails 50% of the time. Does this mean it will land on heads, then tails, then heads etc? Definitely not. Any pattern could emerge. It could be TTTHTTTHHHTHTHHTTHT or any other pattern. What will happen is that as the trial continues, the total result will increasingly approach the 50/50 mark. This is what we refer to when we refer to "the long run" or, in math terms, "the law of big numbers". This does not mean that the results ever have to get exactly 50/50, but the results will get closer to 50/50 as the number of flips increase.

Basically, this translates into gambling terms in the following ways. First, it explains why long shots do occasionally come in. It explains why things that "don't make sense" at the poker table do actually make sense. One outers can hit. A person can win for a few minutes, or even an hour, at roulette. A shooter can hit three points in a row...

These events are all part of the standard fluctuation of the eventual outcome. It.s just that some events are more likely than others. Finding out the probability of the event can help you determine if it is a good or bad bet.

Secondly, you must not fall into the trap of seeing patterns. Yes, in hindsight, it will seem like patterns do exist, but this itself is a type of illusion. It's not a pattern of hot or cold cards or dice; it.s just a movement of the graph. In other words, you can only "find" a pattern by interpreting past results. It's a heuristic event, not an actual event.

Third, hopefully understanding fluctuation will allow you to keep your cool at the table. No matter how infuriating a long shot beat may be, understanding that there is at least a statistical reason why it happened can bring some inner peace. At least it does to me.

When I've been the victim of incredibly bad luck, I like to remember Nietzsche.s idea of eternal recurrence, which basically boiled down to the thought that, given long enough, anything that has happened will happen again. So, I take heart that my 'good luck' will return again.