Lucky Charms

I was recently asked for my opinion on good luck charms. As I was about to say I did not have an opinion because I do not really believe in luck, I caught myself and decided to spend a little more time on the subject of good luck charms. If you like Lucky Charms, then by all means eat them for breakfast every day.
When I say, “I do not believe in luck,” I think I am most definitely misspeaking. I mean that I do not like to rely on luck. There are many events that are random and in gambling many times these random events are part of the gamble. Specifically in poker, when we have a hand and there are additional “unknown cards” yet to come, such as the turn and river in Texas Hold’em, there is an element of luck involved. When a card that comes that helps you, we say that you were lucky.
What I truly believe is that luck balances out over the long run. The more times you repeat a process the more likely it is to trend toward the statistically correct outcome. In the short term a person can be very unlucky or very lucky. These short term results are purely a matter of variance.
I play some video poker and I know that I should make a royal flush every 43,000 hands approximately. I know that it is possible to make a royal flush on back to back hands and it has happened before and we classify that person as very lucky due to the extreme variance of this small sample size. I also know that people have gone over 200,000 hands without hitting a royal flush and we say these people are unlucky. I assure you that players who play millions of hands of video poker every month tend to have results that closely approximate the predicted one royal flush every 43,000 hands.
Things become slightly more complex when we discuss poker and Texas Hold’em, because the game is not clearly reduced to simple probabilities. Player actions have a significant effect on the outcome of the game. In video poker, there is an exact way to play every single hand. The same is true of blackjack. Those two games are reduced to a simple statistical probability. Poker however is not able to be broken down to such a simple strategy. In poker, your opponent can choose to act in a manner that is less than optimal and your results are affected by your opponent’s actions. While the hard and fast statistics of blackjack and video poker dictate exactly the correct strategy, poker has many nuances and variations that lead to many reads and interpretations of other players actions based on incomplete or imperfect information. The optimum strategy is based upon both your actions and your opponents’ actions.
Sitting at a poker table you will see all kinds of good luck charms, trinkets and card covers. Do all these players believe that the presence of such an item will make them have good luck? The answer is probably not. If the players are not superstitious then why do they have all these amulets? The simple answer is that is what they want to have on the table.
Can a good luck charm help a player? I believe the answer is absolutely. If that charm influences the player to play better, say with more confidence, then it will absolutely improve the player’s results. If the charm somehow makes opponents fear them it could have a very positive effect on the players’ results. The good luck charm provides something that closely approximates a placebo effect. The player believes it is lucky and that leads them to win. When they forget the lucky charm they fret about it and determine in their own mind that they cannot win without the lucky charm and they play accordingly. They make sure that the lucky charm is lucky and the absence of the charm is unlucky.
Without going into a great deal of psychological analysis, which I am woefully under qualified to provide, I will not be able to show you how these lucky charms can actually produce results in a game like poker and yet be entirely worthless in games like the lottery, video poker, or blackjack. The simple answer is that some games are purely statistics and probability while others take on elements of psychological warfare. The psychology based strategy games lend themselves to lucky charms and the placebo effect. If you choose to read more on this, I would suggest you start with The Thomas Theorem, “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences”.
If Lucky Charms work for you then by all means eat them every day.

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