Winners &Losers

Winner & Losers
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Spooking & blackjack

Oh Not The Ritz

One Dark Night>
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traced back< India
Poker Backgammon
1984 Aspinal
Gamester Extraordinary

View From The Downside

Gordon Moody
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Gamblers Hospital

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In The Casino

Take Risks
So Why Gamble
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Percentages and Chances

Percentages and Chances

      Action Man

Action Man
Las Vegas
Bucking The Odds
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 Mauvaise Epoque

Dynamic Management
Blanc Dies
The S.B.M
Eudaemons to Draw

Nevada & New Jersey

Mafia boss
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Jersey Casino
Technical Issues


The Game of Life
Real Until


Lesson 4

In physics nothing is real until it is observed – the atomic world does not exist in a definite state until an apparatus is set up to measure it; and in so doing the experimenter affects the behaviour of the phenomena observed.  When I first came across this weird postulation – which is the central mystery of quantum physics – it occurred to me that in gambling nothing is real until the bet is on.  In experiments to track electrons, as long as the observer is not actually looking at an electron, its behaviour is that of a wave of probability (like the numbers waiting to be spun on the wheel);

the moment the observer looks at an electron it becomes a particle (the number is called).  The Wheel goes round, the numbers come up one after the other – but unless you are actually betting on the result (measuring the electron), the sequence has no significance, you certainly don’t get an emotional  charge from what ’s happening.  (That is why it ’s not much fun watching other people, or standing around making ‘mental’ bets.)
            I’m not seeking to press the analogy, but it is no accident that the examples of cards or dice come up so often in illustrating the workings of probability.  How are we supposed to think about this atomic world of the quanta?  Physicist Heinz Pagels asked in his popularizing account of modern physics (The Cosmic Code, 1982).  He chose a pack of cards to illustrate the answer:

Imagine that an individual atom is a deck of cards and a specific energy level of that atom corresponds to a specific poker hand dealt from the deck.  Poker playing hands have probabilities that can be calculated - using the theory of card playing it is possible to determine precisely the possibility of a given hand’s being obtained from the dealer.  The theory does not predict the outcome of a particular deal.  Demanding this later kind of determinism requires looking into the deck – cheating … The theory does not say whether in a particular single measurement the atom will in fact be found in a specific energy level, just as the theory of card playing can’t predict the outcome of a specific deal …The new quantum theory denies that such individual events can be determined… it is only the probability distribution of events that is causally determined by quantum theory, not the outcome of specific events.

Probability, instead of being merely a way of calculating chances in gambling -  was the popular view of it, going back to Pascal’s original calculations about dicing- is at the very basic of physics.  In fact the study of probability, from its beginning as a science, was concerned with two separate things: on one side, for what it could reveal about games of chance, and on the other, with assessment of general propositions (like Pascal’s wager on the existence of God) in a non-statistical way.  In the early days, as The Emergence of Probability by Ian Hacking (1975) explains, the relation between the two was not perceived.  It still seems a little quaint, even to us, that such a great thinker as Pascal should be troubled by his friends with ‘low’ questions about dice; but these puzzles about odds are directly related to the ‘high’ side of the science.
It ’s an interesting linkage, which dignifies the whole process of gambling, doesn’t it?  I mean if this is how the world is made … nothing is determined, it ’s all probabilities.  The inclinations which our species has to take risks, in particular to gamble, can be seen as a human metaphor, in microcosm, for the chanciness of the created world itself.  ‘Life’ is a gamble’, as we all know, but in the sense that the very principles of nature operate through chance, life is a game in an infinitely profounder sences.
Life arose (according to the molecular biology theory  of evolution) by the inter-action of the elements on the earth – hydrogen, carbon dioxide, ammonia, methane (‘the primeval soup’), subjected to ultra-violate rays from the sun – reacting through an infinity of combinations and recombination’s, over hundreds of millions of years, to produce the earliest microscopic life in the form of organic molecules, which evolved, in more familiar terms, into the building blocks of life, DNA  and RNA.
This process in the evolution of living organisms can be likened to an endless game, in which chance was the determining factor, chance operating, that is, within chemical laws, by natural selection.  Not ‘blind’ chances, as Richard Dawkins explains in his racy defence of Darwinian evolution The Blind Watchmaker (1986 ), but cumulative chance, which means a long, long series of small chance events, over aeons of times.  The spontaneous arising of life was a long shot, admittedly – it might occur only once in a billion years.  But that is not such a long shot as we might suppose.
Our human perception of probability is itself a limited one, as it were commensurate with our physical size and longevity.  Dawkins makes the good point tat just as our range of vision is a narrow band in the middle of a much broader spectrum of electromagnetic frequencies, so our ability to cope with probability lies in a fairly narrow band at the bottom of the scale, from familiar chances, such as throwing a double six with two dice (1 in 36), up to say, getting a hole-in-one at golf, which is rare but not too improbable; but falls well  short of say, grasping the chance of getting four perfect hands dealt at bridge, which is 2,236, 197, 407,   406,895  ,   366,388 , 301, 559,   559,999,   to 1!’

The element of chance in the creation of life, which seems to so extraordinary to us, might not so to a creature from another planet, which had a lifetime of a million centuries, because its planet, which had a lifetime of a million centuries, because its sense of probability would be very different from ours.  In its poker experience of life, many long shots would happen as a matter of course. To it, even a perfect deal at bridge might seem quite plausible.
Chance and rules, if you think about it, are the basic elements of all games.  Whether you are involved in organized  sport on green fields or play two-handed on green baize, there is a set of rules within which chance – the unpredictable performance of the players, the run of the ball, the turn of the cards- decides the outcome. That is the whole interest of the play: without the unknown and unpredictable element of chance (poker with all the cards open) all such games would be utterly boring.  Obviously the degree to which chance affects different games may be more or less, but it is always there (in chess it is provided by the incalculable immensity of moves possible).  Chance and rules, likewise, are the basic elements of nature: within physical laws, the behaviour of the atoms and molecules is random. That is why biologists can claim: ‘Everything that happens in the world resembles a vast game in which nothing is determined in advance but the rules.’  The ‘play’ is what matters.
Chance usually gets a bad press.  The sheer uncontrollableness of chance runs against human desire for certainty, for being sure of what we are doing.  (‘Security, ’ warned the witches in Macbeth.  ‘is mortal’s cheifest enemy .’) Moreover, the prevalence of chance undercuts the feeling, shared by almost all peoples since mankind first evolved, that there must be a purpose to life, that our existence is in some way determined.  Maybe it is so, maybe not.  In either case chance is at the very core of things, both in the operation of physical laws in matter and in the formation of protein molecules in the creation of life.

The instinct of play – by which I mean here the pleasurable challenge of exploiting chance in games - was for generations past underrated or neglected and even today tends to be looked down on as a secondary matter.  ‘It ’s only a game’ is a way of saying something is relatively unimportant.  But it is very important!
All our capabilities arise form play.  First there is the play of  limbs and muscles.  The aimless grasping and kicking of an infant develop into carefully coordinated movements.  Then there is the play of our senses.  Playful curiosity sends us in search of profound knowledge.  From play with colours, shapes and sounds emerge immortal works of art.

  The first expressions of love take the form of play: the secret exchange of glances, dancing, the interplay of thoughts and emotions, the yielding of partners to each other.  In Sanskrit, the union of lovers is called kirdaratnam, ‘the jewel of games’.
Thus Eigen and Winkler in Laws of the Game (1975), a study of the interplay between chance and natural law, who go so far (following Hermann Hesse) as to devise bead games, played with dice, which simulate the basic statistical processes of life itself – games which symbolize population growth, natural selection, life and death.  The point which such bead games illustrate is how the random throw of the dice – within the rules of the game – determines the pattern of beads on the board, just as chance – operating within natural law (God playing dice) – determines evolutionary processes.
As I said at the start of this book I am not a gambler, in any serious way, and that is true, but I sometimes feel that I could be to throw money, caution, sense, to the wind and let go! I gratify my gambling instincts in a weekly poker game: this particular game is a game of high skill, but with a large gambling element in it.  no doubt that is its attraction for all the players in the school, week in week out.  During an extended period when I could not play in the game, I found it necessary to assuage my gambling instincts directly, by casino gaming.  Because I happen to be very disciplined in my approach to gambling (a habit instilled from poker) I never got over my head, or anywhere near it, and could more or less regulate this gambling outlet like an emotional tap.  Quite convenient, and not unduly costly.  Sometimes I got lucky, sometimes not: luck is a neutral concept, on which every online poker player imposes his individual valuation.
I think this sort of need to find an outlet in taking risks – in my own case in playing high stakes poker – goes deep in everyone, goes right back down the DNA chain, spanning thousands of millions of years, to the origins of life itself.

End of Lesson....

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