Monday, September 27, 2010

Joseph Mazur's "What’s Luck Got to Do with It?"

Joseph Mazur is professor emeritus of mathematics at Marlboro College. His books include The Motion Paradox: The 2,500-Year-Old Puzzle behind All the Mysteries of Time and Space and Euclid in the Rainforest: Discovering Universal Truth in Logic and Math.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, What's Luck Got to Do with It?: The History, Mathematics, and Psychology of the Gambler's Illusion, and reported the following:
Apply the page 99 test to What’s Luck Got to Do with It? and you find yourself the kernel of con activity, one of the best con stories in the book. It is the story of “Swindled,” a young man who contacted me when he heard I was writing a book on gambling. Swindled frequently won at the tables of the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City. One day he met Marcia, a girl who claimed to be underage for entrance to the casino. She offered to give him $40,000 in cash to play with, and told him that he could keep 25 percent of the winnings.

“What if I lose?”

“If you lose, you owe me nothing,” she said with a smile. “But you won’t”

Swindled wins reasonably big at roulette winning almost $200,000. After taxes and a $5,000 tip to the croupier he earns himself $31,200.

Now the book is about luck, the illusion of it and the definition of it. Gambling is about risk and risk behavior. The book brings its readers from the early history of gambling to the frontiers of gambling psychology. Using plenty of engaging anecdotes it explains the mathematics behind gambling and describes the emotional factors that get people to put their faith in winning.

Even Swindled didn’t come out as lucky as he first thought. It would seem that earning $31,200 in one day at no risk to himself would be a deal no one should refuse. But several months later, after losing almost all his winnings at another night of roulette, the FBI arrested him on counterfeiting charges. He spent three months in jail and $12,000 on lawyer’s fees to get out. Marcia, on the other hand, got her counterfeit money laundered.

Gambling is a risky business even when you win.
Read an excerpt from What’s Luck Got to Do with It?, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

See Joseph Mazur's five best books on gambling, and visit Mazur's website.

--Marshal Zeringue