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Why Gamblers Believe in Trends, Streaks and Weird Stuff14 April 2005
Math, probability theory, and casino profits at all games have shown us clearly that in random events wild streaks happen but that these streaks can't be predicted, nor can they be relied on to continue into the foreseeable or unforeseeable future. Yet many gamblers play as if the combined weight of all this evidence is only so much silliness.
Gamblers believe in the predictability of streaks or trends. If it happened in the immediate past, it will continue to happen in the immediate future. Believing such things is not too dangerous, if the gambler was going to bet anyway and if his betting levels are under control. If you think a bunch of nines are about to show because a bunch of nines just showed, betting nine at craps would be no worse (or better) than betting the five - the house edge is the same on both place bets.
So why do gamblers and even non-gamblers like my friend Barry believe in streaks or, as Barry calls them, "signs"?
It's because of the girl who works at my local bagel store!
Here's the whole truth and nothing but the truth when it comes to this harridan. Just about every morning I go for a three to six mile walk. On many mornings I stop in at the bagel shop, which is about a mile and a half into my walk, to pick up a bagel to bring home for breakfast.
Now, this bagel store is always crowded. There's a senior citizen contingent - WWII and Korean War veterans - who have their own breakfast nook; there are the commuters getting a quick bite and/or some coffee before the train arrives; there are school kids tanking up on carbs before crashing in 4th period math.
The bagel store has six employees behind the counter, five of them good, and one just awful. The one who is awful - a dark haired, flat and flaccid-faced, wide-bodied dull-eyed 30ish something - is my personal nemesis. From the moment I saw her on her first or second day, I didn't like her. Call it chemistry. Call it destiny. From the moment she saw me, she got my order wrong.
And she always gets my order wrong - or almost always. I order a sesame bagel, she puts a salt bagel in the bag. I order salt; she puts in onion. I order plain - a plain damn bagel! - and she puts in an "everything" bagel, which has so much junk on it you can't even see the bagel.
Okay, fine, you would figure that with six people behind the counter and with dozens of customers at any given time, I would probably get caught in the incompetent counterwoman's snare 17 percent of the time, since one out of six is approximately 17 percent.
But that isn't how it has happened. I get the counterwoman-from-hell at least 77 percent of the time! I know this because I have kept track of it. For a whole year now, 70 visits, I have been saddled with her 54 times! I've tried to avoid her, too. I tried to judge when she would be free of the previous customer and available for me - and I've attempted to time my entrance to the store to coincide with one of the other five counter people being free and her being busy.
Just today, I was just about to get the pleasant, blonde-haired counter lady, because my bad-luck charm was busy screwing up someone else's order. I had timed it perfectly. I saw that the blonde was just about to finish with her customer and that my nemesis was just starting with hers. Great! I zipped into the store to present myself to the blonde whose customer was taking out his money and then…
"Oh, yeah," said the blonde's customer, "I just forgot! Ha! Ha! I need - wait a minute I have it written down somewhere." And he reached into his pocket. I looked over at flat-face and she was packaging her customer's order. Hurry, hurry mister, I screamed in my mind, please hurry! "Geeze, what did I do with it?" He checked his pants pocket. "I must have forgotten it." Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!
"Can I help you?" It was HER. SHE had finished with her customer and was standing there looking at me.
"Ah, here it is!" said the man who ruined my life. "What do you know? I already got everything on the order! Here I'll pay for this."
"I said can I help you?"
I looked at my nemesis, and decided to trick the fates. She just about always screwed up my order. I wanted a sesame bagel. So I said, "I'll have a salt bagel."
Then I noticed that she was somewhat puffy-eyed and was sniveling. God, she has a cold! Even though she was wearing those latex gloves, her nose was dripping.
I was screaming to the gods of chance in my mind, Can't I get a break? Can't you give me one break here, God? Huh? Am I that much of a sinner?
I'm home now, writing this. My rage is ended. I've learned a valuable lesson. I know why gamblers believe in streaks now because I am on an awful losing streak with my bagel bimbo. I'm thinking of giving up bagels if this goes for another ten visits to the store.
Oh, yeah, by the way, my salt bagel was delicious. She must have been reading my mind, right? She must have known that I wanted sesame and so when I ordered salt she gave me salt.
And rubbed that salt in my wounds.
Streaks? Oh, certainly, they are real. I just wish I could figure a way around the one I'm currently on.
This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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