Gambling and Superstition

Like myself, you've probably been somewhat intrigued by the concept of gambling since you were fairly young. By the time that I got my second bicycle I started getting interested in the probability of making money if I took a set of calculated risks.

We humans are naturally highly competitive, and suddenly we discover that people will hand money over to us if we can beat them at a game or predict the outcome of a situation more often or more accurately than them. Gambling usually involves a competition between yourself and others. The level of skill required varies from highly relevant in areas such as stock markets, card games, sports betting and horseracing, to almost irrelevent in games such as lotteries, slots and bingo.

The outcome of games and tournaments however, no matter what degree of skill is learned and applied, is strongly affected by what we refer to as "luck".

To many people, luck seems to be something that is totally random. One week or one year, everything seems to go well for you, the cards, numbers, "even-chances" and outcomes tend to fall your way or the way you predicted. You can hardly do a thing wrong, and your bank balance proves that you are not imagining it. But at other times in your life, you can stand on your head, nothing seems to work for you. Your strategies fail, your education fails, unusual arrangements pop up and cause you to lose. Your banker horse did not run as it normally should have. You forgot to take your favorite numbers the week you would have won. You draw excellent cards but others just seem to draw even better cards, and it so happens at the time when you've got your maximum stake on the table. Even the mostly proven method of positive thinking seems to stop working for you. You find yourself saying, "What have I done to deserve this bad luck?"

At this stage, many of us start "losing our heads". Our logic starts to get distorted, we lose our sense of rationality. We start looking for physical reasons as to why our "luck" seems to have changed. We start associating wins and losses with physical objects or events. We start associating a pen, shirt, hat or other object with bringing us luck when we use or wear them. We start repeating this behaviour, which is obsessive in essence. But usually in fairly short space of time, we find that even using or wearing these items fails. Then we sit there, once more stung by the feeling of loss, of being a sub-average competitor on that occasion, and glumly try to refocus ourselves and re-align our thinking to the mental state we were in at those times when we felt we were operating effectively and reaping the benefits.

For many years, like most people, I was somewhat superstitious when it came to gambling. There were two things that seemed to occur to me repeatedly on those days that I lost. The first was if I saw a coin lying on the sidewalk near the betting establishment. The second was if a beggar so happened to ask me for money in the few hours prior to my placing the bet. That became such a sure-fire indicator of losing. I sometimes just gave the beggar some money and did not bet at all. When I lost later (which I usually did), it simply affirmed my belief that the "sign" had indeed been an indicator of things that would come to pass. Another unfair superstition that crept in later was the belief that being in the company of certain people brought me luck, and others, bad luck.

When I reached this stage, I decided to take stock of the situation objectively. I tested it. I made a special point of noting when these circumstances occurred, forced myself to ignore them, and noting whether they affected the outcome at all. I must admit on some occasions I bet slightly more conservatively, but I did not refrain from betting as I had done a number of times before. I did this for a few years until I became convinced of what I now believe to be the truth.

It doesn't matter what you use, wear or with whom you associate.
Save yourself the time, anxiety and mental energy.

If you do what you can to keep your mind clear (i.e. get enough rest and do not drink excessively), if you stay humble, alert and focused, that is the most you can physically do to give yourself the best chance of winning.

You may have wondered why I used the word "humble". Although I cannot say whether you will win more whether you are humble or outspoken on a certain day, I can say that you will always remember those days most when you confidently or even arrogantly predicted an outcome and ended up with egg on your face. Other people will remember you for that as well, so as a rule, try and be humble yet alert, understated yet expectant. Try and be neutral. If not, then at least be mindful of those days when you were cut down to size.

Gambling is a university where you pay for your own education. It took me about 15 years of study and practice until I felt I was a competent gambler. Then I found out something much better.