Luck Can Be Thy Doom

In the third and final part of our series looking at the role that luck plays in gambling, I discuss the effect that external pressures have on our decision making. 

Previously we talked about whether some punters were subject to mysterious forces that decided whether they were destined to be ‘lucky’ in gambling. But if there is indeed a higher power in play, it is unlikely to waste its energies on the trivial matter of the 2.25 at Huntingdon. It is very much more likely that events which we label as ‘unlucky’ are a result of factors which we either failed to consider properly or were completely unknown to us at the time of striking our bet. 

Nevertheless, at times it certainly feels that we are subject to the caprice of some divine entity who is determined to spoil our day. 

Earlier this week I was told to back a horse at Southwell. At the time, I was waiting for some money to drop and was therefore not able to have my normal sized bet. I have learned over the years never to swerve bets altogether due to lack of funds as this is the surest way to guarantee that the horse in question will saunter home. Instead, I struck a nominal wager and was consumed by the irrational (at least to non-gamblers) feeling of hoping that the horse would lose. People who don’t bet wouldn’t understand that the pain of betting an under staked winner is far greater than the pain of betting a loser to your normal stakes. The compensation of a few extra pounds profit does nothing to quell the rage of winning less than you would have done had fate not intervened. 

With grim predictably, 30 seconds after the race started, the long-awaited money landed. You can guess the rest. The horse duly bolted up and I was left in a state of impotent rage. Had that cash landed 5 minutes earlier, I would have been able to have a proper bet. 

Everyone knows that ‘cash outs’ massively favour bookmakers and must be avoided at all costs, but punters who should know better persist in using this facility because of the convenience factor. 

We are all reminded of the scenario where we have bet a horse on the exchanges in the morning only to see it drift like the Kon tiki. We conclude that the horse isn’t fancied so we foolishly decide to cut our losses and cash out. Within minutes of doing so, the price collapses, so we decide to repair the damage by having another larger bet. The horse then drifts again leaving us with a terrible bet and in the position of hoping that it loses. Invariably this scenario occurs when we are afraid of losing (scared money never wins) and is the clearest example of allowing external factors and self-doubt to cloud our judgment. 

It is a constant source of frustration that winners tend to occur in short clumps and losers in a relentless flow. We all hope that we can somehow buck the trend by having our winners occur in a nice regular pattern, thus ensuring that our bankroll grows in a steady and predictable upward line without any serious risk of us running out of funds. Consistently profitable punters, however, know that this is wishful thinking. If plotted on a graph, the ebb and flow of weekly results would resemble an aerial photo of the Mississippi. Whilst we should attribute this to simple statistical variance, it does not feel that way when we have just bet our 10th short head second in a row. The vagaries of gambling have the rare ability to get inside the heads of even the smartest and most resilient characters. Recreational punters tend to attribute their successes to good judgment and their failure to outside forces beyond their control. Smart punters know this to be nonsense and are therefore much more likely to scrutinise both winners and losers to find ways of increasing their edge.

Whilst I fervently believe that some people are ‘luckier’ in life than others, most of us aren’t as unlucky as we may think. Sure, there will be times when it seems that the cards are stacked against us and we doubt that we will ever bet another winner. But if we feel that we are genuinely cursed, then it would be madness on our part to continue with an endeavour that is destined to make us both unhappy and poor. Most of us don’t believe that our fate is preordained which accounts for why we continue betting. We live in eternal hope that we can someday become part of that elite group of punters who consistently make good profits from horse racing.

As they say, it is the hope that kills you in the end.

Part 1 Gambling! Why Do We Do It

Part 2 Does Luck Play a Roll in Our Success

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