Variance

I’ve been playing poker seriously for over five years. When I say seriously, I don’t mean I play for big money, I mean that I am a student of the game. I read books about it, discuss the game with friends, run simulations, constantly try out new strategies. I started out playing in the local casinos, although now I mainly play on-line where the game is quicker and you can play multiple tables at the same time and the “rake” the portion of the pot the casino takes for itself is much smaller. To date, I consider myself a modest long-term winner.

Poker is a great instructor in life. It is a game that has three components: patience, skill, and luck. It is very much like life. If you are patient and skillful, you should be a winner in the long term, although short term anything can happen. You’ll have streaks where you run well, and then vicious streaks of being beaten — streaks that cause you to question yourself deeply. You have to stay focused on the goal — playing each hand the proper way, putting your money in only when you are getting the best of it, not letting emotion overwhelm your better judgement.

One of the more interesting lessons in poker is variance. In Texas Hold’em, the best starting hand is AA. The odds of being dealt that hand are 1-132. But that doesn’t mean you will get that hand once every 132 times. You might not get it for 500 or 1000 hands. Or you could get it three times in a row. And just because you get it doesn’t mean you will win alot of money with it or even win at all. You might get aces, raise and everyone folds or you might get dealt aces, and your opponent, who has kings will catch a third king on the last card to take the big pot that you have pounded your money into, and you will lose more than if you had been dealt 2-7, the worst hand, a hand you almost always fold at the start. Getting beat when you have bet with the better hand is called a bad beat. You might have everything going for you, then that last card comes — maybe the only one in the deck that will beat you, but the one feared card falls on the green felt, and you lose.

I think about EMS in poker terms sometimes. Right now I’m sort of in the dolldrums, waiting to catch a hand. I’m sitting at the table, I get my calls (my cards), nothing very interesting to play. Everything routine — nursing home falls, old people feeling weak, psychs, minor motor vehicles. No big hands for me to show my stuff, no big hands to win or fail.

A few days ago I was covering a suburban town, when we got sent for a pneumonia. Not a minute later the next call came up in that town. As we headed south going lights and sirens we saw several police cars race north at unusual speeds. A two year old run over by a car — his own mother backed over the boy in the driveway.

The crew that responded took him lights and sirens to the hospital, but he was dead. Nothing they could do. The medic on the call has kids of his own — a tough memory for him to carry home to them.

I think about the mother — how everything was probably going great for her — sitting at the table, enjoying a good run of luck, she’s healthy, has a nice home and family, the child has just had a birthday. Then she goes out and gets in the car. Imagine the sound or the feel as she encounters something unexpected as she starts to backup. She gets out of the car. The paper this morning quotes a neighbor hearing her scream, saying the only thing capable of making such a sound is a mother in distress over her child.

What kind of horrible hand was she dealt? The random events of a day all leading to the worst beat a person can ever take. What does the future hold for her? Will she be able to recover? Will she understand that there is only so much you can do to protect yourself and your family? That sometimes the cards just aren’t on your side no matter how well you’ve played the game so far.

What does the future hold for her? What does the future hold for any of us?

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Variance is a parameter that measures how dispersed a random variable’s probability distribution is. — statistics website.

3 Comments

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    Our hearts sank hearing that call go out..I couldn’t wait to get home to hug my son…Part of me wanted to go to help…part of me said you’re better off not seeing it…I told my wife about it and for the rest of the night she kept asking me “Why does God let this happen to people….why did he take their son away”,..like I have any answer to that except to cherish what we have every day…it’s heartbreaking..

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