The Perils of “Hoping to Get Lucky”

Even if we understand the house edge of a particular casino game or our hand’s equity at the poker table, the allure of making a decision based solely on hopes of “getting lucky” can still be surprisingly strong. After sitting down at a table for hours on end, witnessing scores of weak players raking in a big win after making poor decisions, it’s natural to question why we can’t do the same thing. Some players obviously have more discipline than others but all of us are human, and if our determination or patience are at all wavering, we can certainly justify occasional behaving this way.

I was recently thinking about times I’ve personally observed this type of thing, and one incident in particular stood out. I was playing a game of Pot Limit Omaha poker with several friends, and three of us got involved in a big hand. I kept pushing the pot to the maximum because I held top set, but two other guys pushed back and the three of us ended up all-in. I was a little worried what I might be up against, but announced that I had the current nuts and flipped my hand on the table. The first guy, a very solid player, said he was on the draw and showed me the nut flush draw and an open-ended straight draw. With two cards to go, we were virtually even money. But what about the third guy?

The third player wasn’t a winner at our game, and he frequently chased bad draws and made questionable decisions. He flipped up his cards and said “I know I’m probably behind, but I’m hoping to get lucky.”

The two of us looked at his cards, and saw that he held two baby pairs and a weak flush draw. He didn’t realize it immediately, but he actually had no chance of winning. Between the two of us, we had all the outs taken up, leaving him with nothing but a false sense of hope. (He didn’t even have the minuscule chance of making runner-runner quads due to exposed cards.) But he wasn’t thinking about this or his odds at all; instead, all that was in his mind was a vague desire to “get lucky.” As the turn and river were dealt, he still crossed his fingers hopefully. It didn’t even cross his mind to think about what the other players had in relation to his hand; if he did so he would have realized he was doomed.

I’ve seen plenty of other situations in various games where a player lets the desire to “get lucky” completely take over, even when the slightest amount of thought would quickly steer him or her away from a perilous play. It can be either a product of a lack of discipline, or a sense of unfairness brought on by other players that he or she has personally witnessed “getting lucky.”

No matter what you do, don’t stoop to their level. Don’t use lady luck as a crutch, because, as in the Omaha example, sometimes your desperate hope doesn’t even exist.

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