What is ‘good luck’ really?

IRC COLUMN
Jonny Gould
Alternate Wednesdays

They call me “Jonny the Jinx!” I’m not sure it’s a totally fair label, but when you select a Baseball player for your Fantasy Baseball Team and they actually die mid-season – for real – even I begin to have my doubts. Oh, and that’s happened to me twice!

So, I’ll agree I’m not lucky, unlike my great mate Chris Sheasby. Chris you will remember was part of the 1993 England 7’s team that won the first ever Rugby 7’s World Cup. He was also a phenomenal practitioner of the XV’s game for Harlequins, London Wasps and London Irish, and won 7 Caps for England (it should have been more). Now there’s a man who has lived a blessed existence. He was an International sports star, who was once married to a Gladiator. I mean how much luck does one man need? Well, in Chris’s case, the fortune pot is forever overflowing.

Chris is a regular on the poker circuit. For 15 years I’ve been an honoured guest at his fabulously entertaining bi-monthly poker nights. The International Racing Club’s very own Joao da Mata is a fellow regular who often kindly funds all our winnings. Chris rarely loses – which probably explains why he never turns up with any cash in his wallet. He’s the King of the River and loves his pocket 8’s. A piece of advice – if you’re playing Chris at poker, and he raises a flop that includes an 8, just assume he’s hit trips and save yourself your stack. He’s also a very good player – if also very slow – and I’m not just saying that because yesterday was his birthday. Happy Birthday big man.

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My other mate Rhodesy is also very lucky. His good fortune usually manifests itself on a golf course. I’ve watched him slap-hook his drive towards the out-of-bounds only to see his ball hit a tree no thicker than my arm and ricochet back into the heart of the Fairway. I’ll then just push my drive a little off line, but it’ll end up in a bunker, in a foot-print, with a downhill lie, in line with the only tree in the County, with my ball stuck up the arse of a passing squirrel! Ok that’s a slight exaggeration, but you get my drift!

This sense that I’m “unlucky”, whilst certain others of my mates are the exact opposite has always fascinated me. Is it fate, is it Karma, or is it me??

Despite not being an overly religious man, there have been many times in my life when what I’ve witnessed can only been explained by the existence of some higher being. Take the recent win of my mighty Atlanta Braves in the 2021 World Series. The last three times the Braves won the World Series was in 2021, 1995 and 1957. The starting Quarter-Back for Auburn (110 kms South of Atlanta down the I-85) was Bo Nix in 2021, Patrick Nix in 1995 and in 1957 it was – yes you guessed it – Lloyd Nix. Ok that’s not fate, that’s just weird/bizarre!

But try this one out for size. On January the 22nd this year Henry Louis Aaron – better known as Hammer Hank Aaron who as we’ve often remarked was the greatest player ever to play for the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves – sadly passed away. Henry wore the number 44. The Braves had a record of 44 wins and 44 losses when their superstar Outfielder Ronald Acuna Jnr suffered a season-ending injury.

Most Braves fans assumed that was our season cooked. By the All Star break Atlanta still had only 44 wins to their name. Yet they went on to win a further 44 games after the All Star break, which was enough to clinch the National League East Divisional title, and so compete in the Play-Offs. And against all the odds they managed to win the World Series during – yes – the 44th week of the year. And all this happened under the watchful eye of the number 44 that the Braves had displayed on their centre field grass throughout the season. Literally every Braves fan believes that there was an angel looking down on us and the team throughout the season, and that the Atlanta Braves 2021 World Series win was literally written in the stars.

LUCKY FINGER: Oliver Stansfield, winner of the most recent IRC Charity Poker event, with Chris Sheasby, who hosted the event.

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So I believe in the power of fate, but I’m still not sure about luck. In fact what exactly is luck? According to the Oxford English Dictionary: “Luck is the phenomenon and belief that defines the experience of notably positive, negative, or improbable events.”

Luck is often specific to a certain culture. For example, lucky symbols include the number 7 in Christian-influenced cultures, but the number 8 in Chinese-influenced cultures – who  knew Chris Sheasby was Chinese?

This is also true of the opposite of good luck. In Greek culture for instance, it’s considered unlucky to leave a house by a different door to the one you entered by. In the Navajo culture it’s considered unlucky to throw rocks into the wind.  This is the birthplace of “superstitions.” How often for instance do you sub-consciously avoid walking under a ladder, and do you ever open an umbrella indoors? You may not class yourself as superstitious yet sub-consciously act as if you are.

My interest in luck is clearly driven almost entirely by my experience as a gambler. Like most gamblers I have lost way more than I have ever won. The other night I had a fair few quid on the Washington Football Club beating the Seattle Seahawks by 9 points or more. With just two minutes remaining in the game, Washington led by 8 and were within 20 yards of Seattle’s goal-line. It was 4th down and 2. If Washington kicked their very makeable Field Goal they would be 11 points clear of Seattle who would have to score twice in 2 minutes to deny Washington victory. Oh, and more importantly, it would also mean my bet was a winner.

Inexplicably Washington went for the Touch Down on a 4th down. No sooner was I cursing their stupidity, when the Skins Quarter-Back connected with his Running Back to make the Touch-Down. Suddenly their stupidity was an inspired decision, as I now had insurance against a Seahawk recovery. But no sooner was I rejoicing my good fortune, before the match officials reviewed the play to ensure that the Receiver had indeed successfully made the catch. Every single one of the TV Pundits said the catch was fair only for the on-field officials to rule it incomplete. Jonny the Jinx was alive and well.

Interestingly it’s commonly accepted that the word luck actually entered the English language as a gambling term. It appeared as part of the English language comparatively late around 1480, from the Dutch word “luk”. There are also records of a Slavic word “lukyj” that translates as “appointed by destiny”, and an old Russian word “luchaj” which means destiny or fortune.

Interpretations of luck take many forms. For some luck refers to that which happens to a person beyond that person’s control.  Another view holds that “luck is probability taken personally.” A rationalist approach to luck includes the application of the rules of probability and an avoidance of unscientific beliefs. The rationalist thinks that the belief in luck is a result of poor reasoning or wishful thinking. That’s definitely true of me and all other gamblers. The gambler’s fallacy involves denying the unpredictability of random events. How often have I convinced myself that because a Roulette Wheel has rolled a Red number on 7 consecutive occasions that it is now more “probable” to roll a Black number? Yet an understanding of basic maths confirms that the odds of the ball rolling into a black or red hasn’t changed one bit. Oh and while we’re on the subject of Roulette why do players prefer to play a double zero table which simply represents the House adding another points advantage with no downside? God, we gamblers are gullible.

I prefer the view of Philosopher Daniel Dennett who once wrote that “luck is mere luck”.   I also truly believe that a person makes their own luck, by their attitude and by their courage. True luck lies NOT in a gamble won or lost, but in the life one leads. I am lucky to have a son I adore and a family that loves me warts and all. I am lucky to be healthy and to have the constant support of wonderful friends. Life is about perspective, and if there is one thing I have finally learnt after 60 years in this world, it’s that I am the luckiest person I know.

I wish you all good luck my friends in all that you do.

Until next time! – IRC.

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