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Best of Alan Krigman
Make Believe It's Real Money8 February 2000
In olden days, gurus were expected to give long complicated answers to any questions worth asking. For instance, people wondered why they could never remember the names of certain acquaintances. Sigmund Freud responded, writing a ponderous tome on the topic. Nobody would have put stock in his doctrines had Freud tossed them off in sound bites. Likewise, when disciples asked Probius why VII always came up in casting lots when the pebbles bounced off someone's sandal, he replied by spending three years exploring the principles of chance. In detail.
It's the opposite today. Questions are still thorny. But if answers aren't forthcoming in a few short phrases, comprising no words over two syllables, folks either leave before the reply is finished, or get glassy-eyed thinking about something else. You may lament this dumbing-down of civilization as a step on the banana peel of barbarianism. But it's a fact of life. So practicality dictates learning to understand and use it.
Take the impeachment. When the subject comes up in the line at your supermarket, other shoppers don't want arcane constitutional mumbo-jumbo. Just your stand on one of two simple themes. "He fibbed about sex because he was ashamed. Who wouldn't? Let it go." Or "He lied and got others to lie in a civil suit and to a grand jury. Those are crimes. He should enforce the law, not break it." You've said as much as they care to hear. Maybe more.
On even weightier issues, like casino gambling, solid citizens demand even easier solutions. Forget that pundits have pondered some of the points since the sun rotated around the earth.
Consider, for example, the ancient mystery: how do you get the best chance? Before I appreciated the value of sound bites, I would have started by clarifying the nuances of the question, then launched into dissertations on the theories of probability and utility, and concluded by examining expectation, volatility, and skewness. Last time this happened, the hapless supplicant bolted when I reached for a napkin to write out the exponential equation giving risk of depleting a bankroll before reaching a stated profit, saying "Hey, I hate to interrupt, but my bus is leaving. Anyway, I get your drift. 'Money management.' Right?"
Never let it be said I've lost total touch with modern times. I went out and scoured the bush for a succinct secret of success the casino bosses don't want us to know. And when I found it, I realized the casino bosses probably don't know it themselves.
Here it is. In a nutshell. At the casino, no matter what the question, the answer is "make believe it's real money."
I'll jump-start you with a few ways to exploit this pithy plinth of perspicacity. Its elegance derives from the facility with which you can apply it to your own particular situations.
Say you want to know how to pick a good slot machine. A certain 25-cent model seems to beckon. The jackpot is 5,000 coins. Make believe it's real money. You realize this is a paltry $1,250. If it hits, you'll still be behind for the year. If it doesn't hit, you know you'll keep trying until you tap out. The "real money" approach sends you on, to a machine where you can justify losing because the prize is worth winning. True, the second machine is less apt to hit than the first. But it's a longshot either way.
Alternately, pretend you played craps in the afternoon. You won $250 and got a comp for the all-you-can-eat buffet. After dinner, your spouse wants to watch a lounge act before heading home. You wonder whether to go, too, or return to the craps pit. Make believe the $250 is real money. You instantly realize keeping it beats risking giving it back, or going into the hole, trying to earn another hundred or so. Not that $350 isn't nicer than $250. But, at the moment, the $250 is real money. The $350 is reverie.
The versifier, Sumner A Ingmark, who makes believe his rhymes are real poetry, thought of it like this:
They're numbers and chips, when you're out on the floor,
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