Short-changers!

Jul 24, 2006 3:23 AM

Anecdotes are little stories that are supposed to help us better understand the bigger picture. Unfortunately, sometimes people try to use them to try to turn the exception into the rule.

As I write this column, the Kansas City Royals (the team with the worst record in baseball) just beat the Anaheim Angels (oops, I mean the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim), a solid team in close pursuit in the American League West.

Should we assume that this means that the Royals are really a better team than the Angels? Go check the odds at a Vegas sports book and you’ll find that the Royals may not even have a post season line attached to them being almost mathematically eliminated before August, while the Angels at least have a shot.

But, what if you didn’t know much about baseball, and all you were told was that the Royals beat the Angels by a convincing score of 8-3. Clearly, this shows the Royals are the better team. Any attempts to break the team down, player by player, are meaningless.

The fact that the Angels have won 15 more games than the Royals is meaningless. The fact that the Angels have a slightly better batting average is meaningless. The fact that the Angels have a much better ERA is meaningless. ALL that matters is that on Friday, July 21, 2006 the Royals beat the Angels and thus they are clearly the superior team. What happened yesterday is meaningless. What happens tomorrow is meaningless.

Is anyone buying any of this? Of course, you have to pay attention to each of the 162 games in a season. But, in the end, the goal is to win the season. Even that is not always enough. Many times, teams have risked the current season for the next five or 10 seasons.

A good team, not sure it can win the World Series this year, will not necessarily trade its best young prospect for a proven talent. It MIGHT win this year, but it knows it will be worse off for the next five or ten years.

So, if I tell you that I went to a casino last week, and I just felt like playing a short-pay jacks or better game (paying 6-5). After playing for an hour, I walked away up $100. Clearly, my strategy to play this short-pay game was a correct one. Who cares if there was a full-pay machine across the casino? All that matters is that I won on this particular night.

All that math that tells me to play the best paying machines is meaningless. How I’ve done on short-pay machines is meaningless. How I’ll do in the future on short-pay machines is meaningless. How I’ve done on full-pay machines is meaningless. Using proper strategy is meaningless.

Is anyone buying any of this? The stories are pretty much identical. Just because the Royals beat the Angels on this one particular night does not mean they are a better team. Just because I won on a particular night, does NOT mean that playing short-pay machines are better than playing full-pay machines.

The anecdotal story of someone winning on a short-pay machine is there to teach us that any casino game is still at least partially based in luck, especially in the short run. For someone to use such a story as proof that the math behind video poker is meaningless would be no different than a sports book trying to pay even money on whether or not the Royals will make the playoffs because they beat the Angels tonight.

The anecdotal story that the Royals beat the Angels tonight only teaches us that on any given day, any team can beat any other team. The teams that get to go to the playoffs are the ones that show they are good enough over the whole season.

You’ll note that I rarely talk about the specifics of what happened when I went to the casino. Once in a while, I will use a story or two when the anecdotal story proves useful either in explaining the principles behind the math or if what happened makes me wonder about the math behind what occurred.

I won’t bother telling you how much I won or lost in any particular session because in reality, what happened in one session is the information that is truly meaningless.

Incidentally, that part about me playing a 6-5 jacks or better machine was made up. I don’t play games that pay so poorly. Not even if someone tells me how much they won on one, once upon a time.