A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

From Abracadabra to Zombies

reader comments: gambler's fallacy

26 May 1999
I was fortunate to have read your essay on "The Gambler's fallacy" before I went to Reno on a gambling trip. I knew before going that "dice have no memory." I am also a hardcore skeptic. However, it is is easy for emotion to outweigh logic when gambling (it is for me at least).

I was playing craps and my friend and I noticed that 12 people in a row had not made their point (don't pass). My friend remarked, "it is time to make a huge bet on the pass line. There is no way 13 people in a row are going to not make their point." I agreed. My friend and I decided to put $200 each on the pass line. My bankroll was $500. Then I remembered your essay and immediately stopped my bet and took my friend's chips off the pass line as well. "What the ____ are you doing!" shouted my friend. " Just wait," I replied. The shooter rolled a 12 on his first roll and we would have lost. Thanks for the essay. I saved $200 and I got a free steak & lobster dinner from my friend. Also, I plan to buy your book and share some of my savings with you. Great job on the website! I spend hours there.

(name withheld by request)

reply: What would you and your friend have done had the shooter rolled a "7"? The experience might have reinforced the false belief that fixed odds change when a series of events seems to defy the odds. The valuable lesson here is that science and logic trump experience but it is one that many people never learn. For example, when Gilovich et al. demonstrated the clustering illusion behind the belief in the "hot hand" in basketball, even the brightest of coaches dismissed the evidence in favor of what they saw with their own eyes and knew from experience to be true: when a player gets hot, get him the ball because his chances of making a basket are greater than his average play. Gilovich and his colleagues demonstrated that the evidence doesn't support the belief, but to no avail. Knowing how to integrate experience into our lives in such a way that minimizes error is very difficult and goes against our natural inclination to confirm what we already believe or want to believe.

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