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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Does Violating Basic Strategy Cause Global Warming?

2 September 2003

Gamblers' superstitions are mainly malarkey. They're born when coincidences are enhanced by selective memory or repetitive recitation. They grow when players have little or no grasp of the math, or are flat-out wrong about what it says or how it applies. And they reach fruition when solid citizens succumb to desire for fantasy to be fact and convince themselves they can explain random events using the reason and logic of ordered systems.

Mainly malarkey. But not entirely. Superstition, in casinos and the real world, is a presumed link between proximate incidents when cause-and-effect is unproved. So, circumstances may exist in which posited interactions exist but are not yet discovered or understood, or when correlations are probabilistic but data are insufficient to conclude that they're statistically significant. History is replete with laws of science that started this way.

Gambling smart alecs mock machine mavens who think slots run in predetermined cycles and seek series of hits suggesting the onset of a hot phase. Or, they deride dice devotees who call Place bets "off" if the hexahedrons go off the table, believing this somehow signals increased odds of a seven on the next toss. They likewise belittle blackjack buffs who breach Basic Strategy, convinced that a Bezonian who flouts the "book" changes the sequence of the cards and ruins the table for everyone else. And, the ridicule is warranted in these cases because causality is known to be absent.

Yet, many of the same experts turn out to harbor superstitions of their own. They presume causal relationships based on ad hoc experience rather than repeatable experimental proof, deduction from "first principles," or analytical substantiation at a high degree of confidence. Some try to rationalize the underlying phenomena as a way of validating their theories. But most such explanations admit of elements that are not well understood. Not yet, anyway. Some may ultimately be shown valid, others will not.

One example would involve setting the dice and executing a controlled throw at craps. Some gaming gurus claim this is nonsense. Most casino bigwigs dismiss it as well, and could take countermeasures if they considered it a threat. Yet more than a few esteemed authorities are convinced that orienting the dice in certain ways before rolling them, throwing so they tumble end over end as if rotating on an axle rather than twisting, and hitting the "right" spots on the table or wall to minimize spurious motions can reduce the likelihood of the faces set on the ends finishing on top. You can conceptualize or work out how the probabilities would change, for instance, if both dice had the one and six on the ends and only two through five could finish on top, each with a probability of one out of four.

Another illustration involves blackjack. Basic Strategy depends on cards being drawn at random. But, how well does a shuffle randomize the cards? Shoes always meet criteria for probabilistic randomness, in that six decks start with 312 cards of which 24 are aces and so forth. But what of statistical randomness in the succession of the cards? What statistical properties might make a game far better or worse than Basic Strategy suggests? More importantly, does something anticipate or cause either situation? The results of the previous shoe? The coarseness or fineness of the interleaving when the dealer shuffles? Some trustworthy blackjack experts seek combinations of these factors, believing they affect or anticipate the favorability of the game because of a presently inexplicable impact on the statistical randomness.

And, it's more than just in the casino. Numerous respected scientists believe that the carbon dioxide generated by burning fossil fuels creates a "greenhouse" syndrome and leads to global warming. About as many assert that the small average temperature rises noted during the past few decades could have occurred by chance, given the variance in the data, or could result from natural but presently obscure influences such as those that gave rise to the ice age and the subsequent warming when the glaciers receded. Either way, lacking proof, it's superstition. Or, as the old wives' Wordsworth, Sumner A Ingmark, rhymingly remarked:

Anything conceivable,
Some will find believable.

Alan Krigman

Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.
Alan Krigman
Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.