This article first appeared in Card Player magazine.
In a few minutes, I’m going to present a short version of one of my all-time favorite columns, one that I wrote over 15 years ago. It appeared in the October, 1981 issue of Gambling Times Magazine. In the last issue, we talked about how poker players – and gamblers in general – can fall into feeling self-pity when their luck is bad. They often end up believing that fate is secretly against them and that no one else can understand the world-record bad run of cards they’re experiencing.
Of course, we must approach gambling as if events are randomly controlled, as if there is nothing mysterious interfering with our fate. Otherwise we go crazy. You need to believe in the law of probabilities and act as if it rules. Even if your luck really is worse than anyone else’s, you must strive to do the best you can possibly do under those circumstances.
Still, there are those nagging doubts most gamblers have about what’s really controlling their bankrolls. In response, I isolated and defined the God of Irony. Maybe the following is just for fun, or maybe it’s monumentally important. You decide. Anyway, here it is (we pick up about halfway through the column)..
One of Mike’s personal favorites.
"See!" he shouted at his failed lowball hand, "That’s a real seven that just got cracked!" Next, 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! 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, MJC, 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 column.
Everyone I’ve talked to in depth about gambling confesses the same secret feelings. This even includes mathematicians who, at weak moments, 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.
About the God of Irony.
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-to-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!"
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.
A Merry Mental Attitude.
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 that 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!