Skill & Chance Continuum

KTR’s Zubon has a great system of theories that he references often in his posts.  Many revolve around the concepts of chance and randomness.  A recent post relating to games of minor chance and skill that deter people from participating.  Which I think is the definition of sport as we know it.

In sport, there is always some element of chance – that the ball will be take an odd bounce, that a stick will break, that someone will slip rather than jump.  I mean, if it was a purely objective event we wouldn’t have sports betting right?

A Z-theory (I like that term) is that randomness helps the weaker party, which in practical effect is quite true.  I have a great distaste for games of pure chance.  This is compounded by the fact that my wife has an abnormally large swing to the “luckier than not” camp.  I’ve had enough nights of multiple Yahtzee to learn my lesson.  Games of moderate skill with elements of chance are also rigged in her favor.  I can count cards and I can detect patterns.  Heck, I’m an analyst by trade.  But the element of chance is seemingly in her favor (we joke that she has my grandmother’s luck).

Example.  Cribbage is a card game where you count to 121 points.  Points are accrued through discard per round, then through a point scheme in your overall hand.  Pairs, 3+ in a row and counts of 15 give points.  Simple in theory.  Odds would dictate the optimal cards to play at a given time, where statistically you’d be favored.  However, as with all games with chance, there’s some long-odds chance that you get more points, one where you give up the certainty of points for the chance.  To say my wife is an amateur cribbage is not fair.  That said, the better she gets at understanding the game and the systems that support it, the less likely she is to win.  Which I guess makes sense in the short game but certainly not in the long game (the famous change adaptation curve).

My brother is on the other side, where he actively aims to increase skill and optimize his play.  He has a dislike for randomness and chance, to the point of frustration.  Someone who wins through “cheese” as he calls it, pushes all the wrong buttons.  That said, even if he were to lose a game of skill there is always some additional factor to himself that would cause it.  My sister and I can clearly remember the nights of “stop walking so loudly”.  I was accused of cheating in GoldenEye because I remembered where the armor spawns were.  And the reactions are in the heat of the moment.  Once removed from the event, he can break apart what worked and what didn’t.  I guess that deals with focus?

I find myself closer aligned to my brother than my wife.  I prefer to play games of skill to chance and to play against opponents of equal or greater skill.  I do not want to be the best player nor do I want to be the worst, just somewhere in the top 10%.  Never been a fan of topping DPS meters but I am a fan of looking at why other people do.  And most times, assuming same power level, it’s because they replaced all pretense of defence with attack.  That isn’t an exchange I am willing to make.  On the odd time that I find someone who is truly more skilled than I am, I break it all down, compare to what I have and try some of it out.

Hockey is my final example.  I play 3 times a week and I can objectively say that I am a better player at 35 than at any other time.  Not better physical shape, far from it, but a better player.  I’ve moved from teams to better ones, taken up some high level shinny and pay a closer attention to other professional games.  I get to try some stuff out, see what works with my skill set and go from there.  You reach a point of confidence in the action, where you also understand the risk involved.  You then become more instinctual than thought-based, which drastically increases reaction time.  I had to relearn a bunch of fundamentals in the past 2 years due to bad habits. It’s made a world of change.

The point of the post is more about exploring where along the skill/chance continuum I find comfort and realizing that not everyone is there with me.  And that people who are too far apart on that line will have a hard time playing together.


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