THE VERY SPECIAL ... NOT THEORY OF RELATIVITY
By Frank Kneeland
Frank Kneeland was the manager of the largest progressive video poker team in Las Vegas, and has authored a book about his adventures entitled, "The Secret World of Video Poker Progressives". You can get the book as well as some extra info about Kneeland on his websitewww.progressivevp.com. Also, there you'll find a show archive from his radio show on pro-gambling that he co-hosted with Bob Dancer for six months.
Note: I've decided to postpone the second part of my article on "Doubt," because while trying to explain the math required to assuage doubt about the fairness of video poker machines, I realized that implementing it would be beyond the ability of most readers. That article "Doubt Hunting" will therefore appear next month in the BJI along with a simple spreadsheet utility that reduces the equations needed to simple record keeping. Here's a stand-alone alternate article to hold you.
I wouldn't have seen it, if I didn't believe it. ~Michael Shermer
We are surrounded by a universe where the ticks of a clock seem as constant as death and taxes, and time seems immortal, immutable, and inviolate. With our own eyes, we see objects speed up and slow down, traveling the full range between full stop (at rest) and god speed (really really fast). Surely, time must be a constant and speed a variable. Well no, not really. Our eyes, mind, and other senses deceive us. Time had a beginning, it will end, and in-between it varies in speed proportionate to the relative velocity of objects moving through it, and gravitational fields. Within the event horizon of a black hole, time dies.
When Einstein looked at things in a really different light, he discovered that, for light, things are really different.
As it turns out, the speed of light is a constant, and time, the variable. For us, time and speed are variable, and our only constant is our perception of how fast light travels. Yeah, it's weird...it's hard to understand...and it's been confirmed by every scientific test done on the subject in the last hundred years. Even more important to understand is that no amount of observation with our five senses would ever have led to this understanding. Seek and ye shall find (everything but the truth!). Too bad old Albert didn't extend his Theory of Relativity and his Theory of Special Relativity to include gambling systems. If he had, he would have found some amazing correlations.
In gambling, even as our results remain a constant, we can alter our perception of them and the time it takes us to achieve them. Again, time is the variable. Einstein claims to have had his epiphany about relativity while conducting a thought experiment on a train. He imagined the train traveling at the speed of light and tried to visualize how the world would look to an observer. I believe we can reach similar understandings about gambling with a slightly different thought experiment.
Dodging the Norns (The three Norse Goddesses of Fate)
Imagine for a moment that your fate was personally sealed by Urd, Verdandi, and Skuld. In your next four hours of play on a video poker machine, the hands you are to be dealt are predestined and cast in stone. You could, however, choose to play them anywhere at any time. In the absence of rules, you would simply walk into the casino of your choice, pick a machine, and play for four hours and be done with it. On the other hand, you could set daily loss limits, win goals, change machines if one was paying poorly, and split up your play in any manner you wished, etc... What you could not do is alter what hands you were to receive or their order.
If you set an hour to be your smallest increment of reckoning, you could play four hours in one day, two hours on two days; one day of three hours, and one day of one hour. Lastly, you could play one hour a day for four days. By splitting up your play differently, you could change your ratio of wins to losses. You might even end up with a list of hot and cold machines and casinos. If, for example, you decided to move machines after a downswing, it would appear to you that moving changed your fate. Naturally, had you stayed put, your results would have been identical since this was all one continuous string of predestined results.
Try imagining how different things would look and feel based on the rules you set, whether or not you had moved etc…and how, in retrospect, identical results would appear altered. Same destination, very different journey, or would it be?
Now let's take a less abstract example of three different gamblers with very different rules, again playing with identical results, and see how things change while leaving their net unaltered. You can run from the fates, but you can't hide forever!
The Three Little Gamblers
For ease of discussion, we are going to set some parameters, merely for convenience, though actual results would not be so consistent, the basic principles are identical. First, we are going to assume a win/loss rate of $50 an hour. Second, we are going to subdivide everything into hours. For purposes of argument in this example, if the person has a winning hour, they will have won $50, and if they lose, they would lose a like amount. I'm removing breaking even in a given hour, since it would not add anything to the example or alter the results.
The Norns have decreed that in the next twenty hours of play a person will have the following results:
Now imagine that three different people, each with different goals, experience these results in this order. They will all incur the same results as mentioned above; the only difference will be in how they record it and over what time span they occur.
Person 1: For person 1 all they care about is getting in 10 hours of play in each day. They go to the casino and win, lose, or draw play their 10 hours and leave. Their results look as follows:
Person 2:For this individual they are most concerned about losing, so they take only $50 with them into the casino, and they always leave if they go through this loss limit. If they are winning, they stay until they win $250, since this never happens during these results that part of their "system" never comes into play. On the last day, they leave because they have to be somewhere.
Person 3:This person cares far less about losses, what they like is to go home a winner, or at least break-even. Their loss limit is $1,000 and that’s never reached here. They keep playing if they are down, and they leave if they win $50, or if they get back to even from a loss, they leave as well. The goal is to win $50 or get back to even with a maximum loss of $1,000. Again, we'll assume they leave after the 20 hours (because they left the oven on) to keep things simple.
The first thing that should be obvious to you is regardless of their goals/rules their end results remained the same: -$100. What their goals did change is how much time it took them to get through the twenty hours and how they ended up recording their results. Here's a breakdown:
If you were looking for positive spin, you need look no further than subject 3 who scored 4 wins/break-even to only 1 loss. Subject 2 clearly had the worst of it, losing 3 times as often as he won. Subject 1 seems to lose about as often as he wins, might as well flip a coin ... he's boring. Of course, all these people had identical results in identical order, so why do they look so different???
Perception, perception, perception...nothing more, nothing less. They are the same results!
Rules of this type have no effect on net; they only succeed in forestalling the inevitable and subdividing results so they appear different. They would, however, also feel different. Perhaps, for some, this would be a good thing. I hate this idea, because by changing the feeling, we whitewash the reality. Bad things should feel bad, and good things should feel good. If you want to change something, change your reality; our society in general has enough whitewashing to last us ten lifetimes, no need to add to it.
We see such altered hindsight in real life in the distinction between professional and recreational gamblers. Pros typically play for set periods of time, or to reach point goals, which causes their ups and downs to be included within a period of time that has nothing to do with results. Non-Pros stay or leave based on how they are doing, which creates an artifice of truncated or extended results that differentiate themselves only in how they are recorded, and how long it takes to achieve them. Thinking loss limits and win goals do anything other than delay the inevitable is dangerous indeed. Taken to the extreme, some people manage to convince themselves that they can reverse the house’s edge using such tactics. Unfortunately, outcome bias, hindsight bias, informational bias, selective recruitment, and other psychological factors serve to reinforce the illusion rather than dispel it.
With our oversimplified examples above, it should also be obvious to you that person 2 could end up playing a really long shift if he was unlucky enough to hover just between down $50 and even for a while. Person 3 could go through his loss limit of $1,000 easily, if he was stuck and never made it back to even. Of course, person 1 is immune to these sorts of random swings and at least knows when he’s getting home for dinner (late).
I’d recommend playing less than 10 hours a day if you care about your health. Personally, I like to set four hours as a reasonable time limit these days. For everyone, what his or her bodies can endure without damage is different. Set your own goals, but know they are only changing your perceptions and your health.
The primary, if not the only effect of casino goals is to delay the inevitable. Just as with Einstein’s discovery of relativity, time is the variable. If you aren't playing with an edge, delay away. Goals are fine as long as you correctly categorize them under "stalling tactics" in your brain.
Sometimes I ask to sneak a closer look, skip to the final chapter of the book
~Indigo Girls, The Wood Song
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