People don’t like to blame themselves for their own failures. It’s easier to blame someone else or an act of God than it is to accept responsibility for your own bad decision-making. From politicians losing elections to drivers claiming they did nothing wrong, humans often make excuses in bad situations.
Gamblers do this all the time. Someone else is draining the slot machine of all its wins. Or another player has brought bad mojo to the table.
Gamblers have a strong tendency to be superstitious. They often adopt little rituals without realizing it. Somewhere deep inside your head a little voice says, “If you do this one silly thing, your chances will improve.”
And the same is true after you don’t win. Okay, I’m not saying I hear voices in my head when I gamble, but there’s always a figurative “voice” urging me to think about bad luck. I resist the temptation to blame my losses on other players but the distraction of thinking about other players’ wins may make me lose…
…And that must mean there is a little truth to the rumor, right?
Here’s what I know about how other players might affect your gambling success.
In real money blackjack, the probability that the next card drawn will be an ace or a deuce changes after each card is dealt. This is the fundamental principle underlying card counting.
Where players go wrong with this idea, and I admit I once strongly felt this way too, is they assume that other players’ decisions are changing the distribution of the deck.
That distribution is fixed once the deck is shuffled and until the next time the deck is shuffled or replaced. The percentages should be calculated as a sequence of events. A friend had to explain this to me more than once before I finally got it.
It doesn’t matter how many players are sitting at the table. And what’s more, it doesn’t matter how many cards they do or don’t ask for.
It feels logical to say, “Yes, but if Bob here gets an ace, then I have less chance of being dealt an ace I need.” There is some truth in that but it’s not the whole truth.
Part of the game is random chance and you’re not guaranteed success for any reason. Good blackjack players make decisions on the basis of two factors:
Nothing else affects the game. You either draw one card too many or one card too few. Your game is decided once you stand or bust.
The dealer’s game is decided by the house rules. You’re not playing against the dealer’s judgment. You’re playing against random chance and how the house handles it.
If Bob over there drew an ace maybe that helped you beat the dealer. Maybe there are three aces sitting in a row and Bob went first but stood. That leaves two aces for you.
What decision will you make when you see that first ace?
The slot machine isn’t alive. It isn’t smart. It has no idea about anything.
The slot machine runs through its programming every time the “Spin” button is pressed. That random number generator is cycling through its values at heart-wrenching speed.
Someone else’s success or failure doesn’t matter. They can win a jackpot and someone can come along right behind them and win another jackpot.
In theory, the smaller the jackpot is on a slot machine, the more often it should pay that prize. In reality, it all comes down to what the random number generator is doing when the button is pushed.
The other players sitting around the table may try to intimidate you. By the same token, you can try to intimidate them.
Who is in or out only affects the game as slightly as in blackjack as far as the cards are concerned. Once the deck is shuffled, the cards’ distribution doesn’t change. The probability that the next card to be dealt is based on what’s in the deck, not what you need.
In blackjack, players get all their cards in one turn. Poker is a multi-round game. Thus, unlike in blackjack, other player decisions can deprive you of opportunities for future good cards, or create them.
But it still comes down to what you decide to do when it’s your turn to play.
Craps is all about betting on the dice and the dice are thrown by the players. The pass/don’t pass and come/don’t come bets are the bets for or against players.
These bets don’t affect how the dice are rolled but how the dice are rolled affects these bets.
So, in craps, it’s correct to say that other players affect the outcome of your wagers. But only one player at a time has that power over your game. It doesn’t matter how many other players are at the table.
Unlike all the games I’ve mentioned so far, roulette, keno, baccarat, and most (if not all) other casino games aren’t affected by player decisions. Their chances of winning are decided by their own choices and random chance.
The mere act of thinking about how other players affect your luck draws them into your luck. This isn’t a karma thing. It’s basic psychology.
You can pay attention to your own decisions or worry about what other people are doing. Envy often affects our choices in what games to play, how much to bet, how to play our cards, and so forth.
Letting worry make your decisions for you may not always hurt your chances of winning, especially in random games like slots. But it spoils your mood and ruins your fun.
It’s even less fair to allow yourself to fall prey to these suspicions. Worrying doesn’t help you make better decisions. It may not affect your judgment, but if it does, then it’s more likely to be for worse than for better.
Gamblers will always believe in luck. In a way, science confirms that luck exists if you define luck as random chance. Randomness is the cornerstone of gambling games.
But gamblers aren’t doing themselves any favors by assuming that other players are sucking all the wins out of a game with their decisions. There may be better card players than you, but they have no more honest control over the cards than you do.
The result of every game is literally out of your hands, even after you’ve thrown the dice.
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