My view of feeling lucky

My view of feeling lucky

April 17, 2018 3:00 AM


“Are you feeling lucky?” That’s the headline of an Op-Ed piece written by Meghan Daum, a highly regarded columnist for the L.A. Times. It was published back in May, 2016 – about two years ago. At the time, I decided to set it aside for reference in an appropriate poker column I thought I might write someday. That day has come.

People have different perspectives when it comes to success and prosperity. There are some who ascribe their success to plain old luck: “We’ve been very fortunate.” Remember the old saying about being “in the right place at the right time.”

Others would deny their good luck, attributing their success solely to their fortitude and brute strength. When Barack Obama was our president, he was quoted: “Pet peeve of mine: people who have been successful and don’t realize they’re lucky.”

With that as a lead-in, I’d like to offer my own viewpoint – especially as it applies to the game of poker. (See if you agree.) When playing poker, I look at “luck” as a partner to “chance.” And chance is the probability of occurrence. If what happens is to your benefit, then it’s good luck; you are successful. Otherwise, it’s bad luck; unfortunately, you have failed.

Everyone – young or old, amateur, recreational player or poker pro, no matter how experienced – regards luck as a key factor when playing poker (just as it is in our daily lives). How can you best deal with luck? Is there anyway you can get luck on your side? Can you enjoy more than your fair share?

No one can control luck; it’s just a matter of chance. You can hope, even pray for good luck; but that won’t help. But, it is possible to influence luck to help you succeed. That takes expertise – real skill.

For example, playing Texas hold ’em, you have a draw to an inside straight. In this case, the odds are heavily against you. With just four outs, the odds of filling your straight after the Turn are over 10-to-1 against you. If the pot does not contain more than 10 times the size of your call bet, it would be a mistake to invest any more chips in that hand. In the long run, that would cost you lots of chips. You were lucky to fold and save your valued chips for a better opportunity.

Being skilled made the difference.

Here’s another good example: In a middle position, you are dealt pocket Aces – the best possible starting hand. Some players would slow-play, just limping along before and on the flop, planning to build the pot by check-raising or raising on the turn when the bets are much bigger. They expect to win.

In that case, the laws of probability (luck) could well work against your best interests. If there are many opponents staying in the hand, your A-A is an underdog. In the long run, your pocket Aces will be beat if you play against four or more opponents. So, the smart poker player usually will raise to thin the field.

Optimum would be to play against two or three opponents. Lo and behold, as luck – good luck for you – would have it, one of the players who folded his small pair after you raised the betting, would have caught a set, overwhelming your beautiful pocket Aces. By forcing that player to muck his hand, you influenced luck in your favor.

Bottom line: At the end of her column, Daum comments on a statement by Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas: “There’s no such thing as success without a little luck.”

I am inclined to agree, but would take it one step further. Luck is a random event. You cannot control it – just as you cannot control the cards the dealer places on the board. But you can make key decisions that will influence luck in your best interests. Call it skill if you like.

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