Chance: Exploring the Mysteries of Randomness and Probability
What is chance, the mysterious force that sometimes shapes our destinies and influences the course or outcome of events, not only in betting or gambling? Does anything happen without any cause? How is chance practically utilized? What is a random event and a random experiment?
In common language, the word chance typically evokes an unexpected event or a series of events unrelated to anything. When something is deemed chance or a random event, we can express two opinions: (1) either we cannot find the cause or explanation for the event, or (2) we believe that the event has no cause.
A random event is the result of a random experiment, about which we can immediately decide whether it occurred or not, such as the outcome of a bet after spinning the roulette wheel. A random experiment is a term from the probability theory and mathematical statistics, representing a procedure that can be repeated arbitrarily and whose outcome is not predetermined, such as tossing a coin or rolling a die.
In the first case, we say that something happened by chance, and we cannot explain or find a reason for it. In the second case, it becomes a highly philosophical question – the assertion that something has no cause or, conversely, that everything has a cause, i.e., that nothing is random, is bold and hardly provable. Searching for an event without a cause remains a challenge and sometimes an impossibility, addressed by various philosophical and scientific currents. Is there really something we can call absolutely random?
Chance in Everyday Life
In everyday life, the word chance is often used to denote events or a series of events that seem inexplicable, unexpected, without an apparent cause.
When two seemingly unrelated events coincide, we say that a random or coincidental occurrence has taken place. An example could be meeting a long-lost friend in a foreign city or accidentally discovering an interesting book in a bookstore. An accidental coincidence also occurs, for instance, when something happens to you on an "unlucky" Friday the 13th, or when a black cat crosses your path, and later, you have a car accident. Those who seek a certain hidden connection (do not consider it random) are called superstitious.
We encounter chance daily. It is often used as a kind of substitute for justice, for example, in drawing exam questions (fairer than if the teacher assigned the question), in soccer, deciding who will play first on which side (against the sun), in a chess match, deciding who will start with white pieces, or deciding the winner by lot in case of tied scores or all additional evaluation criteria.
Random numbers can be used in encryption.
Insurers work with chance, or rather, with probability theory and statistics. For example, they know how many insurance events they have in a year, who crashes most frequently, male/female, in which region, in which car, etc. They can estimate how much they will collect in premiums and, with a certain reserve, how much they are likely to pay out in insurance benefits, making it profitable for them. It is highly unlikely that, for example, all cars would crash or all houses would burn in a single year. Conversely, insurers fight against insurance fraud, which has nothing to do with chance.
Random sampling can be used in (not only) opinion polls, conducting checks, uncovering fraud. For example, it is not necessary to ask all citizens of a country or state about their voting preferences or check all products, etc. It is enough to do everything on a selected sample, but it must be sufficiently representative – from part of it, one can conclude about the whole with a certain probability – mathematical and statistical methods take care of that.
Chance in the World of Gambling
Of course, chance plays a crucial role in the world of gambling and betting. Lotteries, betting games, and various other casino activities are built on the unpredictability of chance and generation of random numbers. Gamblers and players try to predict the outcome, attempt to get luck on their side, and win.
This can succeed for them in a short period. However, in the longer term, the mathematical advantage of the casino or betting company usually becomes apparent, known as the expected outcome of betting. This advantage is anchored in probability and leads to the casino having a statistically stable profit in the long run.
As an example, consider roulette: if you bet on red, 18 red numbers play with you, but against you play 18 black numbers and 1 green zero. Although chance or luck may occasionally favor players, it is important to be aware of this seemingly small mathematical fact. One of the few games where a player can use their skill and gain an advantage over the casino is the card game Blackjack, but even there, casinos carefully monitor exceptional players, such as those capable of counting cards. Famous actor Ben Affleck was once expelled from a casino for this reason.
Some players seek or try different systems or strategies to win. Some of them are very remarkable; for example, a whole range of systems has been developed in roulette, and we have also tested them, but it does not change the fact that in the long term or with long-term playing, the advantage remains on the side of the casino or betting company.
Chance is a remarkable phenomenon of life. Regardless of whether we perceive it as a hidden force or pattern or a mere random element, it undoubtedly influences our decisions, creative processes, and destinies in everyday life and in betting.
You Might Be Also Interested
- Random Number Generation: From Pseudorandom to True Random;
- Probability, Odds and Luck;
- Expected Value Concept in Gambling Explained;
- Chevalier de Mere's Probability Puzzle of the 17th Century;
- Monty Hall Problem aka Three Door Puzzle;
- Two Beagles Probability Puzzle;
- All Articles on Probability.
Based on the original Czech article: Náhoda.