“Is this a game of chance?”
“Not the way I play it, no.”
[WCFields, My Little Chickadee (1940)]
My Dad had the popular belief in the ‘law of averages’. Not for nothing is the idea that a number must come up if it hasn’t for a while known as the gambler’s fallacy. It may have had something to do with his lack of success on the football pools, identifying and putting exes in the rows least favoured in past weeks. Sadly it may also have exacerbated his addiction to fruit machines that cost him his job in the 60s. Fair play to him for overcoming that problem by sheer willpower and rebuilding a moderately successful career thereafter.
I learned early not to follow that path, though one of the first programs I ever wrote was to fill in a pools coupon on that basis. In the second week, as it had little data and thus generated largely random choices, I didn’t bother to enter — annoyingly, because those random choices would have netted me the jackpot, something it never came close to doing again.
Sad and lonely though it makes me in general life, there is at least that one advantage to a love of probabilities and stats. I never fully assimilated the maths, but the concepts fascinate me. Ever since that first lecture when were shown that a room of 35 people has a better than 80% chance of including two who share a birthday, I’ve been hooked.
Also I love chaos and unpredictability (but never get me a surprise, I hate that; that’s different, cos you know what it is and I don’t and I hate being left out of a loop even with the intent of pleasing me yes I’m paranoid go away). My nephew went off to study physics, nervous about quantum theory, because he didn’t like probability. He now has an MA in nuclear physics, so I assume he got over that. Now I was geeky in many ways, but one thing I’ve never minded is randomness and chaos. I think I have reverse OCD; tidiness disturbs me (as you would know if you visited). More on that another day.
The more I read about stuff, the more a gambler’s view of ‘reality’ seems the right one. I think not in terms of out-and-out beliefs, but assessments of probabilities. I’m reasonably (say 99%) certain there’s no God, that the earth is an oblate spheroid and that the sun will rise tomorrow — and that my life will be just as shitty then as it is now. Other matters have different levels of confidence. And anxiety.
And so this leads me to use games and the devices of games in a metaphorical way to shine a light on life — sadly, not always illuminating the right bits.
As a lad, I was a swashbucklingly unsuccessful chess player. A bunch of us at skool tried our hands (ha ha) at bridge, and even had our own bidding system, designed to confuse opponents. Then we discovered that one of the rules of contract bridge is that an opponent may ask your partner what they understood your last bid to mean?! Wtf? So the joy of bidding two hearts to indicate that you have a playable hand but are void in the red romantics is gone if it lacks the intended element of bafflement. Not that this ever lasted more than a couple of hands anyway (a bid of one indicated one’s weakest suit; it is a viable and known system apparently, but not one that has ever found favour in the wider card-playing community).
Add to that the fact that one needs to remember what has been played, and I’m outa here. I don’t wish to count up the number of times I came close to serious injury, with exchanges like, “Why didn’t you play the king?” “I thought he might have the ace;” “You twat, I played the ace three tricks ago!!” At least I can see that I’m down to one rook, even if I can’t recall exactly how it happened (though I did start a kriegspiel club — chess where neither player can see the opponent’s pieces — of which more perhaps another day).
So I settled on backgammon. No need to remember what has gone before and no point in trying to keep a long-term strategy in mind, it was described by a medieval Moorish commentator as the perfect metaphor for life, where luck ruled our destinies but skilful play would still give better outcomes in the long run. A more sociable game therefore with opponents often up for a chat and a drink while playing, but worth a bit of thought — and my success at it indicates it is indeed a good analogy for my life (though I still think my phone app cheats).
It’s been a long and busy week, processing all those flash fictions, so I shall start applying this to life in part three. Bye bye for now