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The Illusion of Skill

Author: Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: I prefer to play slot machines that allow me to stop the reels from spinning whenever I like. Can you tell me, does having this control make any difference to the outcome of a spin?
Kate S.

Whether it is you stopping the reels yourself or allowing the machine to do it, either way it produces random results. Many superstitious players believe in synchronicity, the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear to be related. The games' designers prefer to call this the "illusion of skill."

Those who like to stop the reels from whirling only think they are in charge of the outcome. The reality is, Kate,your result has already been determined when the reels start to spin.

So, Kate, I am sorry to say, but your golden touch will not make any difference. But, the rabbit’s foot in your pocket may, even with the overwhelming evidence that it didn’t work for the rabbit.

Dear Mark: My friends and I meet every third Friday to play poker. We play Texas Hold'em and keep as close to Vegas rules as we can. There is one rule we are not quite clear on. At the showdown, is the player that wins the hand obligated to show both of his cards, or only the card that made him a winner?

Half of us believe the winner only has to show the card that won the hand, while others believe you must produce both cards. What is your thinking on this rule, and how is it done in Vegas poker rooms?
Clay B.

Well Clay, since your Friday night poker game is private, I prefer letting whoever is hosting the game, supplying the table and the food and beverage determine the rules. Home poker games may have all sorts of odd rules about how the game is played and this is fine, just as long as those rules are set and agreed upon up front.

With the showdown situation you describe, some in your group believe the winning player must expose all of their cards, face-up on the table, whether they were used to win the hand or not. They probably figure that they paid to see their opponent’s cards, and thus, should be able to ask to see the caller's hand. Personally, Clay, I have always considered it poor etiquette to do this.

In Vegas, rules and etiquette can vary from one casino to another. Therefore, it is going to depend on which Vegas poker room you are playing in. There is no “official” Las Vegas rulebook of poker. All casinos have their mode of operation that they either shaped themselves or borrowed from another source.

That said, I have seen this type of challenge handled both ways. Since 'Robert’s Rules of Poker' is not the end-all reference in Las Vegas poker rooms, if the casino says you must show all of your winning hand, then that is what you must do. Other casinos may have guidelines that say you only have to show the cards that made you a winner.

Although you might be playing at a felted octagonal table in someone’s den, it is not Las Vegas. I would recommend that the "house rules" be discussed at the start of the evening, and not after a disagreement occurs.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week:
“The people who run the casinos are tough and smart in so many ways, but they belong in the Dark Ages. They explain the phenomena of their world the way the ancient astrologers did. They really believe that dice get hot.” Edward O. Thorp, The Green Felt Jungle (1965)