On Randomness

Recently a friend who plays online sent a rant in to a poker chat room I frequent. It was a spasm of paranoia about the random number generators (RNGs) used to "deal" cards online.

He is convinced that something is amiss; that someone, somewhere has it in for him - not to mention all the other innocent souls like him who, he suspects, are not on the "inside" of the site and not reaping the monetary rewards of rigged RNGs.

Because PokerListings is a major hub through which most of the world's major Jerry Yang: The exception to the externalizer rule.

To understand what's going on here, let's continue a discussion begun in a huge pots, when screamingly improbably outcomes win, they fertilize the more suspicious parts of your mind. Paranoia enters, stage left.

It may be tough to grasp, but when randomness is doing its thing, wacko stuff happens. It has to happen and it will keep happening. There are so many wildly improbably things that can happen in poker that some of them are bound to happen.

Sweet Mullet!
Almost everything that happens in poker is unlikely.

Almost everything that happens in poker and the rest of life is unlikely. You flop a set three times in an hour. Unlikely but cool. You win money and forget about it. Three opponents hit sets against you and you chew on the felt for hours, days.

But, of course, there are eight or nine bozos out there, so the likelihood of this happening to you is a lot higher than that of it happening for you. Capice?

One more tidbit to chew on here. Some years ago the Rand Corporation (I've always liked the implied pun in this story) compiled a list of random numbers. This was before the development of RNGs, so they used a series of other methods.

After they had 1 million digits, they analyzed the list for "randomness." It wasn't really random. There were all kinds of odd features to it.

But they could not find any biases in it - in the sense that they could not predict which number would come up next by analyzing the sequence of previous digits.

In short, it was "random." If your brain doesn't hurt now, it will in a few minutes.

Take-home message: Don't sweat the wacko features of those SNGs. Be more "internal" and work on your game.

Author Bio:

Arthur Reber has been a poker player and serious handicapper of thoroughbred horses for four decades. He is the author of The New Gambler's Bible and coauthor of Gambling for Dummies. Formerly a regular columnist for Poker Pro Magazine and Fun 'N' Games magazine, he has also contributed to Card Player (with Lou Krieger), Poker Digest, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Titan Poker. He outlined a new framework for evaluating the ethical and moral issues that emerge in gambling for an invited address to the International Conference of Gaming and Risk Taking.

Until recently he was the Broeklundian Professor of Psychology at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. Among his various visiting professorships was a Fulbright fellowship at the University of Innsbruck, Austria. Now semi-retired, Reber is a visiting scholar at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

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