Poker and craps are not Tweedledum and Tweedledee

The difference between a crapshooter and a poker player is not a matter of taste in generally similar games. Poker is a game of nearly infinite subtlety and complexity, in which money is managed across a constantly changing information landscape as deep as the psychology and perspicacity of all the players. Smart poker players are much better at it than dumb ones, though smart in the usual sense is not enough to be good at it. Some people are bored with poker and can’t concentrate on it well enough to succeed, but not because it’s beneath their intelligence. The nearest analogy is investing in securities, or perhaps commanding small units in combat, except for the team aspect of the latter and the impersonal dimension of the former.

Craps, like roulette and a slot machine, is a simpleminded exercise whose players pay a fee for a particular kind of reptile-brain excitement. It is not social, and no player can change the odds on the next move, which are a set of nine numbers that never change (though more complicated side bets are possible, they also depend on a fixed small set of probabilities). There is no such thing as being good at craps, and no such thing as being a steady winner. Anyone for whom it is a preferred pastime strikes me as a person scratching a psychological itch that’s best understood as a character or intelligence defect. I am genuinely appalled to learn that this idiotic fidgeting absorbs McCain for any significant time.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

One thought on “Poker and craps are not Tweedledum and Tweedledee”

  1. I think it's the difference between a gambler and a person who takes calculated risks, the very definition of a game of chance is that no amount of information can affect the outcome, which is entirely random. A gambler who goes with his gut doesn't rely on information to make the best decisions.

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