Equivalent on my scale

Equivalent on my scale

August 22, 2017 3:00 AM


A mathematical term “equivalent” has been thrown around in the news a lot this week. My take has been that many who have used it don’t really know what it means.

My comments and this column, to be clear, are not political. This is strictly about how certain terms can begin to take on meanings when used too commonly. As a math geek, I’m here to set the record straight.

The meaning of equivalent is quite interesting. Technically, it means equal. But, it isn’t generally used to refer to things that are completely equal. 

It is not likely to hear someone say 3 plus 2 is equivalent to 5, although this is technically correct. Equals 5 is the common phrase.

Equivalent is generally used to refer to things that are the same, yet not quite that. For example, the term High School Equivalency Diploma. Well, it’s not actually a high school diploma, but it represents the same thing. The KGB would be equivalent to our CIA. You would not say they are equal. But, are they literally the same thing?

These are cases where extremely similar items are considered to be equivalent. But, sometimes, people have a tendency to consider things to be equivalent because they can be described similarly in broad strokes.

Two baseball players hit ground ball outs on the infield, so these must be equivalent. But, if one of them hit a ball to the right side with a runner on second to move him to third while the other hit to the shortstop and didn’t move the runner over are they still equivalent? 

You’ll frequently hear the analyst refer to one of these as a productive out. But, an out is an out, isn’t it?

The biggest abuse of this type of thinking comes from the people who determine that if you can’t play 100% computer perfect there is no point in trying.

 What they are sort of saying is, if you’re going to make mistakes then it doesn’t matter how many or how big. But this is no different than the baseball example.

Have I ever made a mistake while playing video poker? Absolutely. I wouldn’t say it is on purpose, but I have missed Low Pairs once in a while. I don’t purposefully do this, but sometimes when playing fast, tired or for a long time, I might simply miss a Pair of 5’s and hold a suited JQ instead. 

This has nothing to do with a hunch (which I never play). This is simply a human being a human.

Many years ago, I remember another author who used to write about how it is impossible for a human to play every hand perfectly and thus this debunked the myth of Expert Strategy. 

This is using a false equivalency to draw this conclusion. One error is the same as another is the same as making as many as you want – baloney!

As a very ballpark calculation, if I were to misplay one out of every 500 Low Pairs that have a High Card in it (yet alone two suited High Cards), it would mean that in 3 hours I would miss about one of these hands. The Low Pair has an expected value of 0.82. 

The High Card has an expected value of 0.47. I’m costing myself 35 cents out of every dollar wagered once every 500 hands! So, in that 3-hour session, on average, I will come up 35 cents shy vs. playing the Low Pair every time.

This is nowhere near the same as the person who plays a 4-Card Straight over a Low Pair every time because they simply don’t know the strategy. 

This will leave the player playing more like 50 hands wrong in that same period of time. The impact is only 14 cents per incidence, but with it happening 50 times as often, we are talking about coming up $7 light in your bankroll.

And, if you don’t know to play the Low Pair over the 4-Card Straight there is probably a host of other situations you are not playing correctly. Mistakes are not created equal. They are not all equivalent just because they all fit under the category of strategy error. Making an occasional error is human, not knowing the strategy is not equivalent to this.