My grandfather once asked Dad whether he thought there was such thing as luck.
I was out trimming briars today and that question kept running through my head. I was thinking that MY answer is ‘no’, but why? That made me start thinking about a lot of things.
The conversation with my dad was started by the mention of poker in my last blog. My great-grandfather was a card-player of sorts, playing in high-stakes games. My grandfather would be sent down to the gambling hall to collect the household money. Eventually it got my great-grandfather into trouble. The story was caution for me on keeping my poker reasonable. I’m glad to say I think that’s a lesson I’ve already learned.
I have the fortune that I’m playing with other people’s money. I started out with $50 in November of 2004, and by the seat of my pants started winning with it. Started buying some books with the winnings, and got better. I still don’t think I’m a very good poker player (I used to think I was better, but since I’m out of practice now I don’t think I’m very good now), but I’m better than most others that I play against. So I’ve won quite a bit of money with it, and despite all the money I’ve taken out for various reasons… I’m still playing with other people’s money. And that’s the way I want it to stay.
I like playing poker with other people’s money, and with amounts that aren’t bankroll threatening. For instance, if I have $200 in my bankroll, I am not going to go out and pay $100 to join a tournament. Even if it were a ‘good bet’ I wouldn’t do it. To make it a good bet I’d have to compare the chance of winning, to the ratio of the purse to investment. For instance, if I figured I had a 1 in 10 chance of winning, and the purse was $2000 (20:1). That’s a pretty good bet. The $100 just costs too much of my bankroll to make it worth it for me, and would leave me in a tough position to rebuild.
I find a lot of metaphors in life in poker, and this is one of them. A while back when I had some money from stock options I made some decisions that failed to take losing the bet into consideration. I bought a great house, built a pool, bought a business… all with the best of intentions and after doing some forecasting… and then discounting the forecasting. Problem was I didn’t discount enough, and I didn’t consider the ramifications of ‘losing the bet’. I only considered the ramifications of not winning as much. For instance, coming in 2nd or 3rd place in the tournament instead of finishing out of the money entirely. And I was gambling with amounts that, when lost, are making it very difficult to rebuild.
Even if you have the chance to make a big hand, like a straight, you still have to consider the chances of someone else getting a better one, and work those into the odds. Probability can work in your favor, and yet you can still lose.
As I was typing that paragraph I had a poker hand where I was dealt a 62 (unsuited) in the big blind. Everyone limped in, so I got to see the flop for ‘free’. The flop came 629, with two of them being clubs. "Nice hand," I thought, but was weighing the 35% chance that someone with clubs in their hand could make a flush by the river. Since I figured on having the best hand, would win a majority of the time, and didn’t want them to get a free chance at their flush I bet, and 4 people stayed in. The turn was another 2. Nice. No more worrying about flushes. Only a bigger full-house or 4-of-a-kind could beat me. There was only about a 5% chance that that card would show up, but it did. How lucky! I bet, 2 people folded and 2 people called. The river was a 9. Suddenly my good luck didn’t look so good. With the board of 62929, and two people still in the pot I now had to weigh the chances that someone was calling my bets with a 9. Since it was the highest card on the table, the chance was not negligible. But I reasoned that someone with a 9 probably would have raised on the turn, and since nobody did my hand was probably still a winner. So I bet. The other two folded and I won the pot.
Where does this leave me on the discussion on why I don’t believe in luck? Because it is all probability, and sometimes the probability works in your favor, sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes it seems to but works better for someone else (earlier a K on a river gave someone else an improbable straight… but it gave me a fullhouse). Luck implies that even when the odds do not favor you, you still ‘win’ (for lack of a better term). Well, I guess that does happen. Quite frequently. But there’s more to it than that. What do you DO with the luck?
I guess I do believe in luck, but I don’t believe that some people are blessed with more of it than others. I think it’s all pretty much about probabilities. It isn’t about the luck, but the preparation. The next time I get ‘lucky’ I think I’m better prepared for it. My discipline with my money management in poker is going to be where I learned that you don’t make bets that leave you unable to make the next one. That way you get to keep on making bets, building as you go. It’s not about avoiding risk… it’s about being careful about what you risk and how much so that when you lose (and you will lose most of the time), you can stay in the game.