Monday, August 10, 2009

Black Jack or Roulette? You Choose.

I’m not a gambler. I don’t really enjoy it much and I’m not all that good at it, especially in games that involve bluffing (just ask my wife how good I am at hiding what I am really feeling). Part of my aversion to gambling is that I lost 20 bucks once playing poker with friends in 8th grade. Twenty bucks was a whole lot of money when I was in 8th grade. That’s a lot of pizzas or burgers. I was traumatized and decided not to play poker anymore with the guys. I didn’t give up my friends, I just gave up doing that with my friends.

Why am I writing about gambling? Simple. It’s a great metaphor for how people approach dating and mating.

I know people who like gambling from time-to-time. (I don’t know anyone who has anything like a gambling addiction—at least in so far as I am aware.) I am told by people who study these things that that the games you can play at a casino vary a great deal in terms of chance and skill. At the two ends of the spectrum are the roulette wheel and black jack. People who are skilled gamblers prefer a game like black jack to roulette because there is some skill involved with black jack. In fact, black jack is a game where your odds relative to the house’s odds are best. It’s not that they are ever as good as the house, mind you, which is why casinos make a great deal of money. Perhaps I should say “take” a great deal of money rather than make it. Roulette is pure chance. You put down a bet (of various kinds, like betting on black or red or a specific number). You drop the ball (or someone does) and round and round it goes, finally dropping down into a slot. You bet on red, and it drops in a red slot, and you win. It drops into black or green and you lose. (By the way, while most slots are red or black, there are a number of green slots which just goes to demonstrate to you that your odds don’t even get to the level of 50-50, which is what the red and black bets lull you into believing. The house is not stupid.)

With roulette, you drop the ball and the ball is out of your hands. There is nothing you can adjust once you have placed your bet. You can’t up it, lower it, or get it back. You win or you lose. That’s what you can do. In contrast, black jack takes some skill. There are fairly well understood relative odds that change based on what cards you already have and what cards the dealer is showing. Disciplined black jack players know when the odds have moved against them (and do not bet more) and when the cards they can see suggest they should up their bet and either hold with the cards they have or take more. Good black jack players don’t go by feel, they understand the relative odds and where they have become most favorable, and they act on this.

How is this like relationships? People who are in the relationship market tend to be either playing black jack or roulette. People would be smarter to be playing black jack than roulette. Roulette people are letting things happen to them; they are sliding into relationships or situations and not making decisions. They are letting life happen to them rather than making the best decisions they can with the cards they have been dealt.

What’s the deal? Well, the deal is important. There is no illusion here (or in a casino) that everyone has equal odds of doing well. Some people have been dealt a worse hand than others. We can wish this were not true but, as they say, wishing does not make anything so. I would not go so far in calling this the luck of the draw, but that’s because I believe there is more meaning and purpose and order in our lives than it sometimes looks. But there are good hands and bad hands and in between hands. It’s worth thinking about what is in your hand. I’ll write more about this next time.

While some people do not have ideal options, I believe that everyone has choices. It may be most important of all for those with tougher hands to play as well as they can. Everyone can make decisions within the range of things that they control, and, within that range, the odds of doing well in life and love go up. That beats dumb luck. Dumb luck tends to be hard luck.

It’s your life. Give yourself a hand and don’t drop the ball.