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Excerpt from Chapter 42
Gambling (and Life) Lessons from Greek Mythology
align="center">Two Eyes see things, One Eye - ideas.
In This Chapter
Ø Old Masters and Gambling in Antiquity
Ø Philosophical interpretations of Greek Myths
Ø Gambler’s interpretations of Greek Myths
Ø Philosophical and Gambling Analyses of 10 Myths:
Flight of Icarus
Death of Achilles
Polyphemus and Odysseus
Scylla and Charybdis
Hercules versus Hydra
Atalanta and Hyppomenes
Memnon and Achilles
Hera and Zeus
Perseus versus Medusa
Sometimes I think about our gambling predecessors from the good ol’ days when Olympic games had no rules, Beauty was measured and male and female gamblers wore the same sandals. Let’s “unchain our minds” and “let our imagination go” to have a glimpse of the views the ancient gamblers probably held on the general principles of gambling.
What the Old Masters could teach us – “modern” men and women about gambling? Since Gambling is, probably, older than the oldest profession, their accumulated wisdom should be deeper than the eyes of a philosopher and more precious than a last drop in a desert.
In the times when the ideals of Antiquity were taken literally, the gamblers were busy people. We know they played dice games and many others we’ve never heard of. They, of course, had their own “sport and race” gambling and made bets on who would win Olympic competitions and be the first at the finish line in the races. As a matter of fact, as the representatives of the developed culture, they bet on everything that was a part of their everyday life. From predictions and associated bets on how big will be the next year’s olive harvest to whose amphora is more beautiful on the basis of the proportions required by the Golden Ratio. Instead of a notebook and slacks, local bookies, probably, used marks on the ground, small pebbles and fingers (not the way we use them) to help with the calculations and dressed themselves in tunica.
All available information about that romantic era reached us in the form of the Myths presented by Homer (10th Century B.C) and Hesiod (9th or 8th Century B.C.) in a poetic form. Let’s take a closer look at Greek Mythology and poetry and try to “read between the lines” looking at the classical plots through the clear Vegas dice to get a gambling perspective on a probable Hellenistic wisdom, which can be used in our gambling.
Greek Myths are not only simply the best fairy tales to stir a young mind and imagination in the direction of heroic, noble and beautiful. According to opinion of many, they are, also, philosophical allegories expressing an ancient wisdom and, as such, they are an inexhaustible source for a mature reflection of an adult mind. Mythology is like a magic well – every time you drop a bucket down there, it comes back full of Light and Gold and amazingly deep thoughts about a nature of a man, relationships between humans and an interaction of a man and a world around him.
Often, Myths are the representations of bizarre events filled with unusual characters and creatures, unexpected twists and turns in the plots and surprising endings. Sometimes they look so grotesque on the surface, they become too complex and confusing to allow one simple interpretation. Every myth usually warrants few more or less acceptable explanations. Below, I’ll give you, first, few possible philosophical meanings of every myth and then offer a gambler’s version of it the way it can be perceived by a modern gambler.
The Flight of Icarus
The story of that Myth is well known. The King of Crete Minos held Daedalus – the greatest mechanic, sculptor and artist of Greece – against his will. Daedalus found the way for him and his son Icarus to leave the island using artificial wings. The wings would work under the condition of not flying too close to the sun or to the sea. The heat from the sun would melt a wax keeping feathers together and the water would make them wet and useless. During the flight Icarus went too high too close to the sun and fell down to his death.
Philosophical meaning of that Myth is the idea of a preference for a middle way instead of the extremes. That reflects our common everyday life experience showing that a moderate life style is a lot healthier than the one full of excesses. Speaking philosophically, we would express the same idea saying that a Virtue always walks the middle line and avoids the extremes of Pleasure and Self-denial. This way we would relate the meaning of the Myth to the area of Morale. My personal interpretation is: setting your goals too high or too low is setting yourself for a failure in life. If you’ll set your goals too high beyond your capabilities, you’ll break yourself trying to reach them. If you’ll set them too low, you won’t live up to your full potential. In both cases your life will not be fulfilled.
What I see in that Myth when I look at it as a gambler?
The father in the Myth is the wise gambler. He “lived the life”, he “knows the score”, and “he’s got stories to tell”. He devised the good workable strategy – to flop his way out of Crete. The correct way to use that strategy was to fly somewhere between two elements. The kid in the Myth is the young aspiring gambler. He is young, he has a whole life in front of him, but, like many gamblers, he is too impatient and wants to win one million olives or worthless drachms in a few hours of play. He breaks the big rule of gambling – play your strategy and nothing else and play it good. Flying too close to the sun was playing something else, but not his learned and initially adopted strategy. Result – the kid paid ultimate price, dropped all his bankroll and lost his gambling life and career. His father, a pro, stuck to the strategy to the end and finished the whole session successfully. According to the Myth, he landed safely in Sicily where the ancient King-Mafioso hid him in his palace away from the long hands of King Minos.
The main gambling lesson of that Myth is a paramount importance of 1) Discipline. On top of a poor discipline, the kid probably got greedy and over betted to get fast results. Any gambling pro, regardless of a particular nature of the game he plays, will tell you that a regular day is a slow grind of a small profit. Magnificent gambling coups are rare and they come on their own schedule. Since you can’t hurry them up, don’t go to your next session with a goal to get a “big one” no matter what. Instead, be realistic and make your main goal to stay in the game long-term, to win few bucks and have your bankroll in one piece.
Peripheral gambling implications of that Myth are: 2) Greed is the enemy; 3) to over bet is to ask for a disaster; 4) be realistic about your wins in your next session; 5) Patience is the Virtue.
Icarus broke Discipline and did not follow the strategy. What would be a good strategy in the minds of the Old Masters?
Death of Achilles
The famous Myth depicts the episode from the Trojan War. Where there is a war, there is a strategy. The war divided mortals and Gods in two opposite camps – one for Greeks and one for Trojans. Achilles was the greatest Greek hero. He was the son of the great hero Peleus and the lesser sea goddess Thetis and the grand - grand son of the one who walked softly but carried a big thunderbolt everywhere he went – Zeus himself. With that lineage Achilles had enough genetics to grow up to be a physical specimen. Eating bears’ brains for a breakfast and lions’ livers for dinner all his childhood also helped to beef him up. Unfortunately, during the war, he had a lot of “beef” with Apollo, the God of Light. Apollo saved many Trojans from Achilles’ sword in the battles that took place under the walls of Troy over 10 years of war. In result, “who the heck are you” was going back and forth between them for quite a while and the hulk directly threatened the God of Light more than once. Finally, the “moment of Truth” came and Apollo used Paris’ arrow to strike the hero down through his only vulnerable place – the Achilles’ heel.
Possible philosophical interpretations are many. Balance of things in the world – good is balanced by evil, beauty by ugliness, strength by weakness etc. Overall Achilles’ strength was counterbalanced by the weakness in the form of the vulnerable heel. Other possibility is the impossibility of Perfection, which is related to the previous interpretation. Another one is the coexistence of inseparable opposites in Nature and Man etc.
That’s how I see that Myth in gambling terms. Apollo was Zeus’ son and, as such, he was a God of a major ranking. Achilles was a third generation from Zeus and could not be Apollo’s match in principle. Vegas would give a 100 to 1 in favor of Apollo getting rid of Achilles in a straight muscle fight with few bladed weapons included – the one that Achilles, probably, had in mind. Look what Apollo does. Instead of a straightforward facedown, he refuses to play as he’s expected and uses the most effective strategy that saves him from all the hassle, risk and guarantees an easy victory. What a gambler, what a pro!
The Myth explains for me what is the only correct gambling strategy is. It is the strategy that first: 1) determines where a vulnerability of the game is and, second: 2) proceeds to exploit it. Apollo finds the vulnerability in Achilles’ heel and exploits it by introducing a poison from the arrow’s tip into a bloodstream of the man. The heel was the part of the Greek’s body. That tells us where we should look for vulnerability in every game we play - that vulnerability is an intrinsic (making it what it is) part of the game.
What is intrinsic to the games we play? The structure of the game in the form of the odds and payoffs attached to the offered to us bets and the conditions, which the game is played under. All bets in our games carry a disadvantage against us – we won’t find vulnerability in a structure of the current casino games. That leaves us only a second option – to find it in the conditions of the game or in the way it’s played.
The type of vulnerability Apollo used in that Myth was, obviously, literally and figuratively a structural one. The heel was the only weak part of Achilles’ body structure. Also, for Apollo to hit it was to make a bet with the greatest advantage for him. On the other hand, Thorp, Braun and few others found the vulnerability in the Blackjack of the Rat Pack days in the conditions of the game. The vulnerability stemmed from a very small size of a single deck of cards being shuffled for many rounds to the point of randomness in their appearance and being played to the end providing a 100% penetration into the deck. That made possible to use a simple count to get information about the value of upcoming cards and play accordingly. The long-term odds were changed in favor of a player. A player played a different game – it was still called Blackjack, but not the one casino expected the players to play. Casinos, however, were able to save the game by changing the way it was offered for a play. Instead of a single deck, the players have to fight now against 6 and 8-deck monsters. They make a count a lot more difficult to implement especially if you use a so-called True count for a better accuracy. They are not dealt out to the end and often give a 50% or less penetration making counting methods of the good ol’ days extremely inaccurate and unreliable. The decks are shuffled in a preferential way, and a dealer picks up the cards from the table in a specific way – all that promotes clumping of the cards of the same value and kills almost a pure random space, which the game enjoyed for the few years in the 1960s and early 1970s. Now, it’s a new game – it’s still called Blackjack, but not the one Thorp found the golden key for. To beat that game a new vulnerability should be found. The strategy to beat the game, obviously, should evolve parallel to and in step with the evolution of the game.
If a discovered vulnerability of the game will be so deep that casinos will not be able to shake it off by changing the conditions of the game, then, providing that enough players will wise up to the strategy exploiting that vulnerability, casinos will lose the game.
To put it shortly, that Myth for a gambler’s mind is nothing short of a condensed theoretical treatise on the basics of a correct strategy and vulnerability of the game. The gambler’s interpretation of that Myth is closer to its literal reading than possible philosophical interpretations mentioned above. We know that Homer and Hesiod delivered the Myths to us in a poetic form. Gambling analysis of that Myth and others makes you wonder: “who were those guys?” who created those myths. Were the real creators of them wise men, or were they wise and gambling men?
Thus, the lesson of that particular Myth is about the nature of a correct gambling strategy. The Myth also has a peripheral gambling advice. According to the Myth, before he sent an arrow, Apollo covered himself with a dark cloud – the pro used a camouflage.
A camouflage is the main lesson of the next Myth also related to the Trojan War.
The Myth tells about the last days of Troy. After 10 years of war, Greeks, finally, came up with the correct strategy to use the only vulnerable place of the city – the main gates – to get inside and finish the prolonged warfare on the streets of the city. Trojans had no desire to make it easy for the Greeks and to open the gates by themselves. Odysseus’s invention – a huge wooden horse – was supposed to do the trick. Greeks pretended that they left and the wooden horse was the only one standing in a clear sight in front of the city gates. Inside the horse, Odysseus and few other warriors were sitting in hiding. One Greek by the name Sinon showed up and sold Trojans the story that he left Greeks for “personal reasons”. He explained that the horse was the gift from the Greeks to the Goddess of the Battle Athena. The story was supported by the Ruler of the Sea Poseidon, who was on the side of the Greeks as was Athena. When Trojan priest Laocoon advised Trojans to destroy the horse, Poseidon sent two huge sea snakes to shut him up which they did. Trojans believed that, if they opened the gate and brought the horse in, they would please Athena. Motivated by their beliefs, Trojans dragged the lumber in. Odysseus and partners got out in the middle of the night and opened the gate for all the Greeks to get in and make an easy bloodbath out of the still sleepy Trojans.
Among many possible philosophical interpretations, one of the most obvious is: since Trojans opened the gates themselves following their own beliefs, we can say that the prejudices and beliefs of the people often become the reason for the demise of their own creators.
Let’s look at that Myth sitting in the king suite somewhere on Las Vegas strip. Odysseus, like the whole Odyssey proves it, talked, walked and played like a pro. He and his brothers-in-arms had the good strategy. He understood better than anybody that they would be allowed to play according to the strategy only if they would use a camouflage – they used the big horse and a thick cover of the night to disguise their real play and intent. Odysseus, obviously, is not the kind of a player who goes to the Blackjack or Craps tables sporting a T-shirt with big red letters across the chest or back screaming: “Counter for Life” or “Diagonal Grip for President”. Our hero, as well as all his team players, kept a low profile during the last winning session in casino of Troy when they finally took it down.
The gambling lesson of the importance of a camouflage is my favorite in that Myth. There are also other important lessons: 2) Trojans played their last game like 100% amateurs breaking the basic rules of gambling survival. Instead of being cautious, they were wishful thinking and ignored all signs of danger. Laocoon warnings fell on the deaf Trojan ears and they continued to play. 3) On top of everything, they were in a hurry to believe in Sinon’s Athena story and, like many players do in the cards games, they read into the game what was not there in the first place.
Great Myth – great gambling lessons. Odysseus was, probably, the greatest gambling champion among mortals in the whole Antiquity era. Next Myth is one of many proofs of that.
Odysseus and Polyphemus.
After the destruction of Troy Odysseus and his friends were on the way back home to Ithaca – his homeland – where his loyal and gorgeous wife Penelope waited for him like a wife for a sailor. During his dangerous voyage through many seas, his ship had to seek a safety from a storm in a small bay of the beautiful island. The island had a lush vegetation and as many goats as there were tourists in Vegas in a summertime…………………………………..
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