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Einstein, Reserves, and Poker

by Steve Zolotow |  Published: Jul 13, 2011

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Steve Zolotow

A question that often arises in the discussion of poker legalization is whether or not it is a game of skill. Almost any rational person quickly realizes that poker is a game of skill. Since laws and the legal system don’t focus on rationality, justice, or right and wrong, this is irrelevant from a legal perspective. I want to interrupt this discussion briefly to examine physics.

Isaac Newton “proved” that physics obeyed certain natural laws. It was mathematically precise. Basically, it was a “game of skill,” and there was no luck involved. Then came Einstein and quantum physics. He realized that when small particles are studied, there is an element of chance. One can’t state what a specific particle will do, but one can assign probabilities to several things it might do. For example, uranium-238 has a half-life of 4.47 billion years. This means that half of the atoms in a sample of uranium-238 will decay into other elements over 4.47 billion years. You can’t tell exactly which atoms, but you can be sure that 50 percent will decay. Einstein, who was one of the founders of quantum physics, did not like the fact that the laws of probability were the keys to the science he had discovered. Now back to poker.

Poker is very similar to quantum physics. It obeys the laws of probability. Skillful players can’t predict what will happen exactly, but they are very good at making decisions that take advantage of the odds. Legal pundits occasionally argue that this means poker is a game of luck. Thus, poker is not a game of skill, and should not be legal under a strict interpretation of the law. They are wrong. It is a game of skill. Yes, chance is involved, but just like quantum physics, it is one element that an expert has to deal with.

As Einstein aged, he became somewhat of a curmudgeon, and was famous for having stated, “God doesn’t play dice with the universe.” Niels Bohr, another famous quantum physicist, heard this and responded, “Albert, don’t tell God what to do!” I feel the same way about poker. The government shouldn’t tell us what to do.

The US government has certainly focused on telling us what to do without even attempting to prove that online poker is illegal. The UIGEA forced the most legitimate payment processors to stop doing business with the websites. This forced them to use more questionable payment processors. One of these processors absconded with a lot of money. Now, finally, our illustrious government stepped in. Did it do the right thing and get this processor to return the money to players and sites where it belonged? No, it turned around and made a deal with the villain. Then it seized some more of the players’ money. WTF! And we pay taxes to subsidize this. If you haven’t been paid by a poker site, blame the US government, not the site.
I keep hearing that sites didn’t or don’t have adequate reserves, but no amount of reserves is adequate when big chunks of reserves are stolen and seized. This doesn’t even take into account the fact that they were suddenly required to repay every US customer. The banks and insurance companies didn’t have adequate reserves either. When real estate loans collapsed, they were in big trouble, but the government bailed them out. Unfortunately, no one in Congress has proposed the Poker Website Relief Act of 2011. Those sites that have managed to repay some or all of their customers deserve praise, and those that are struggling to do so deserve patience and understanding. Most important of all, make sure you communicate to government officials, especially those who will be seeking campaign contributions and re-election in 2012, that you won’t do anything to aid and abet this kind of behavior on the part of our government. No money and no votes for anyone who opposes legal poker. ♠
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Steve “Zee” Zolotow, aka The Bald Eagle, is a successful games player. He currently devotes most of his time to poker. He can be found at many major tournaments and playing on Full Tilt, as one of its pros. When escaping from poker, he hangs out in his bars on Avenue A — Nice Guy Eddie’s at Houston and Doc Holliday’s at 9th Street — in New York City._