Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. This entry was part of the book Caro on Gambling, first published in 1984. Mike Caro has made exclusive modifications, enhancements, and edits to some of these Poker1 entries, while leaving the book’s original content mostly intact.
Caro on Gambling
Chapter 2: The God of Irony doesn’t gamble
Chapter index (pending)
The weirdest things happen to gamblers.
Last Tuesday I journeyed to Los Alamitos to watch the quarter-horse races. Although I’m not a regular horse player, I sometimes follow the advice of handicappers I respect.
Martin — brilliant, young Martin — is the sort of guy who is wholly devoted to horse racing. He studies the Form ritually from 7 a.m. till noon each day. For the past two years, he’s earned a small profit, although you wonder if it’s worth the effort. He certainly isn’t getting rich, but at least he can truthfully say he’s winning.
Martin’s wife Laura — young, sexy Laura — shows no apparent fascination with his tireless evaluation of racing data. You get the idea she’d just as soon he cleared the kitchen table of all the Forms, calculators, pencils and scratch pads.
Never been to the track
Nonetheless, she offered a smile when she opened the door to greet me. “Martin’s almost ready. I’m going with you. I’ve never been to the track before.”
“Really,” I said.
“You guys and your systems! Well, I’ve got my own method,” she explained. “I close my eyes and the winning horse comes to me. I know you think it’s silly, but it works. At least it works on paper.”
I couldn’t tell whether she was serious, half-serious, or joking. So I selected a tactical reply. “Sounds interesting.”
Her six-year-old son Jasper — spoiled, noisy Jasper — ran up and glared at me defiantly. “I don’t get to go to the races,” he complained as if it were my fault. “I gotta stay here with the dumb babysitter. I hate horses.”
When we arrived at the track, Martin decided that although he’d been flirting with a first-race bet it was better just to sit out this maiden event.
Laura, though, had her own ideas. She closed her eyes tight and rubbed them with her fingertips. She had just read the daily program and apparently the names of horses were racing through her nimble brain.
Finally she came up with one. It was, “Pass Em Twice. I really feel good about that horse.”
“Don’t forget your five-dollar limit,” Martin reminded as his wife dashed merrily toward the ticket window.
Turning to me, he said, “I made her promise not to bet over five bucks a race. Good thing, too. I do my handicapping in reverse order, crossing off horses that don’t stand a chance first. Pass Em Twice was the first one I eliminated. But let her have her fun.”
Laura had fun. The horse paid $47.20!
“Was that a good horse or was I just lucky?” Laura asked her husband impetuously.
“Good horse,” he snarled — lovingly.
Martin had a key pick going in the second. It was Go Oh Tory.
“Mine starts with an ‘F’,” said Laura, once again pressing her eyes and trying to visualize the name. It’s either Front Page Star or Famous Sir. Famous Sir, that’s the one.”
It paid $10.40. Go Oh Tory ran third.
I know what you’re thinking. This is beginning to sound like one of those silly movies where the woman always wins at the expense of the male ego. But I’m keeping as close to the truth as I know how.
Already Martin was suffering some minor humiliation.
The winners of the next three races were Limited Policy (paying $10.80), Splash A Rocket ($22.40) and Sir Dancelot ($8.60). Laura picked them all. She was having fun, all right! Following Martin’s learned advice, we bet three horses that finished out of the money. In fairness, I’ll point out that he almost chose Sir Dancelot in the fifth, but opted instead for Plenty of Nothing.
“How can you bet a horse called Plenty of Nothing,” Laura chided prior to the race. “It gives me shivers just thinking about it.”
By this time, Laura (who had bet exactly $5 each race) was winning over $200. Martin and I sported a combined loss of nearly $2000, the bulk of it his.
Next he picked Asyouare. When Laura finally opened her eyes after minutes of meditation, she announced her choice, “Asyouare.” Martin and I laughed. “This has got to be a good omen,” he decided. We emptied out on the sixth race, betting everything left in our pockets, including $5 for Laura. Asyouare didn’t win.
As we were leaving the parking lot, Laura kissed her husband tenderly on the cheek. “I’m sorry you had such a bad time, honey. But don’t you think I did pretty good, winning five out of six races?”
“You know, I had a feeling that was going to happen,” Martin confided later. “It was a strong premonition. I just said to myself, ‘Here I’ve been trying to impress Laura how important it is to gamble scientifically. What’s the worst thing that could happen?’ I tell you, Mike, it’s like I dreamed up the whole nightmare and then made it happen.”
A couple of years ago I would have dismissed Martin’s complaint as purely ludicrous. Of late I’m beginning to wonder . . .
Last year I was playing in a $40-limit game with a friend, Ernie Wilson. We were both losing, so we decided to “low spade” for $100 a hand. The rules of that game were simple: every time a poker hand is dealt, whichever of us held the lowest spade won $100. No skill involved. For convenience, I kept score on paper with the understanding that payment would be made whenever one of us quit.
I’d been running particularly bad on this gamble for years, so I teased, “You shouldn’t have any problem with me, Ernie. I haven’t studied this game.”
I got off immediately to a 7-1 lead, meaning Ernie was stuck $600. “I think I’m mastering the strategy,” I gloated, knowing well that this was merely a 50-50 proposition.
By the time we reached the 69th decision, I had a 47-22 lead! Now I was apologizing sincerely, because it just didn’t seem fair. If you have even a vague mathematical intuition, you realize how remarkable this kind of lopsided result is.
“I can’t understand it,” I said, “I never beat anyone at this game. Hang in there, Ernie. Things tend to even out.”
I really didn’t mean it, of course. Secretly, I was happy about this $2500 windfall which was getting me close to even for the night. But then, as I said the words, “Things will even out,” I had this dark premonition– about all the luck flowing back to Ernie.
About an hour later we were tied 56-56, and we called off the gamble. He had outscored me 34-9 during that run! Some of you probability purists may recognize just how bizarre this is.
Sometimes we wonder
Sure, it could have been just a freak natural occurrence, but so many things like this happen in the lives of gamblers that sometimes we wonder. Don’t we?
I made Ernie sign a statement that this had actually transpired, in the presence of Richard Richards, another top-calibre draw player. We’ll call that statement Exhibit A.
Exhibit B is an event about eight months old.
A middle-aged man was sitting at a lowball game right across the table from me. He was losing roughly $500 and seemed irritated. Then his wife approached from a small-limit game and demanded $20.
“Did you lose your fifty bucks already?” the man hissed.
“I just got three pat sevens in a row and they all lost. What am I supposed to do,” she fired back.
He handed her the $20 in chips angrily waving her away. “You never even got three pat sevens in a row in your life!” he snarled. “Nobody ever lost on three pat sevens in a row! Don’t make things sound worse than they are!”
The woman walked away swearing to herself, severely embarrassed.
Of course, the man was right in speculating his wife was lying. Using the 53-card joker-added deck, standard in California, the odds against even being dealt three pat sevens on three specified hands are 2,751,140-1. When you consider that in a typical game these will stand up 75% of the time, the odds against what the woman claimed are 176,073,014-1. Of course, everyone gets a pat seven beat now and then, so if you use that as your starting point, the odds against getting two more mutilated aren’t nearly as great.
But, anyway, here’s the good part. The man, still irritated because of his wife’s intrusion, got in a raising war with me. I had a pat six. His was a pat 7-6-4-3-2.
Leaving his cards face-up on the table, he stood up angrily and bellowed to his wife. She hurried back to the table.
“See!” he shouted, “That’s a real seven that just got cracked!”
The next hand he had a pat 7-5-4-3-A which lost to a two-card bicycle!
Everyone else at the table had to be thinking the same thing I was: Wouldn’t it be ironic if it happened for the third time in a row!
Well, it did! This time he was dealt 7-6-5-2-joker. He collided with a one-card 7-4-3-2-A!
Taking his few remaining chips with him, he stormed from the club, his wife chasing behind him.
I’ve seen a lot of dramatic coincidences happen to gamblers. Without specifying, we’ll call them Exhibits C through Y.
Now we come to Exhibit Z, the straw that scratched the camel’s back (or however the saying goes).
Last night I was playing draw poker and a player rushed to the table from nowhere. “Hey, M.J.C., what are the odds against getting a pat bicycle?”
I told him they were 1,245-1. Then I promptly picked up my hand. You guessed it, 5-4-3-2-A. The odd thing about it was that after looking at only the ace I felt it coming. Now Exhibit Z really isn’t remarkable in itself, but it was the catalyst for this chapter.
Everyone I’ve talked to in depth about gambling confesses the same secret feelings. This even includes mathematicians who think something strange might be happening in the universe.
Well. I know what it is!
Yep, after years and years of pondering the inexplicable, I’ve stumbled upon an answer. There’s a reason why gamblers always complain of witnessing the “most incredible thing” or events that are simply “unbelievable.”
I have isolated and identified the God of Irony! He alone is responsible for all those “impossible” bad beats. It’s his only job and he does it tirelessly. Worst of all he doesn’t gamble.
Let me tell you something about the God of Irony so you know what you’re up against. This is the guy who waits for you to begin a thought with the words “Wouldn’t it be terrible if . . . ” or “Can you imagine how bad I’d feel after winning all this money if . . . “
You think those thoughts and you’re apt to gain the attention of the God of Irony. The most dangerous thoughts are ones like, “The only way I could possibly lose this game is if we fumble the ball and the other guys get off a 90-yard touchdown drive in 54 seconds.”
You think that and you’re in trouble! I mean, am I right or am I right? You’ve had things like that happen to you a hundred times, haven’t you?
Let’s say the odds are 200-1 in your favor. Then a dark, desperate idea crosses your mind. You find yourself envisioning a way to lose. The minute the idea strikes you, you’re only a 5-1 favorite. That’s because there’s a good chance the God of Irony will have intercepted your idea and decided to use it.
It can happen on the golf course when you’re gambling for big bucks. You’re leading by a stroke on the 18th and your opponent has just chipped a shot that’s going to roll 50 feet past the hole.
You’re practically spending your money, but then this thought hits you. “I’ve lost six weeks in a row to this bastard. Everything’s gone wrong. Wouldn’t it be ironic if that ball hit the pin and dropped in for a birdie!”
The God of Irony
Enter the God of Irony. Ping! Plunk! You lose.
Hey, you gamblers know what I’m talking about, don’t you? The craziest things happen to us all the time.
Truth is, the God of Irony is a pretty dull fellow. He never has a creative thought of his own. We keep putting stuff in his head. The little • sucker knows a good idea when he hears it.
Now, maybe you think I’m being facetious. Is this just mental medicine to help you ease the pain of losing?
Many gamblers think they’ve been singled out by fate as a target for cruel jokes. They feel they alone in all the universe are being tortured, experimented upon by some unknown force. They scream and cry deep within themselves. The hurt goes on.
I think it’s better to believe in the God of Irony. At least you know who the enemy is — a pathetic little being with too much power and not a single worthwhile idea of his own.
So, let’s stop feeling miserable when things go bad and start exchanging God of Irony stories.
But if you refuse to believe that there is such a beast, go on thinking those strange thoughts. And when you finally get that pat full house you’ve been waiting for all week and your mind blurts, “Wouldn’t it be terrible if this lost!” Don’t say I didn’t warn you! — MC
Next chapter in Caro on Gambling (pending)