Op-Ed

Op-Ed
How to Win at Games of Chance

Russ Pitts | 15 Oct 2007 21:00
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The trick is to remember the house always wins. This is good if you're the house, bad if you're not. Most of us are not.

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The gun was chained to the counter so I couldn't run away with it, spraying the fair-going crowd with BBs. I wouldn't have gotten far anyway, tethered as I was to the air compressor providing the oomph for the plastic AR-15 mockup in my hands. No, this gun was not designed for a mad rampage through the fairgrounds; it had only one purpose: to make you think you could win.

The target was a piece of paper placed about 10 yards away from the desk. On this piece of paper was a red star on a white field, a holdover from the '80s when everything bearing the red star of communism was fair game. The mission: Shoot BBs at the target, obliterating all traces of the red star. If any remained after you'd fired all your BBs, you lost. The prize: a stuffed animal.

Few games are as simple, few carry such weight. The counter was crowded with men confident they'd be the one to best the system, win the prize and put his arm around the lady bearing the stuffed animal at the fair. It's a heady feeling to buck the system, beat the house and win the prize. Viagra should be so good.

I paid the man and he loaded my gun, selecting an aluminum tube full of BBs from a rack near his elbow and upending it into the gun. He handed it to me; I assumed the position and took aim.

Aiming a gun is an exercise in applied physics. Most firearms are simply long tubes designed to contain the explosion of whatever propellant is in use and direct the projectile along as straight a course as possible. There is a sight at the end closest your eye and another at the end of the barrel. The trick is to align these two sights in your field of vision so that the "business end" of the weapon is pointed where you want to do damage. Yet as with all things, shooting a gun is fairly simple to learn, fairly difficult to master. I've been shooting since I was 8.

The carney man's fake AR-15 had a bum sight; it skewed down. Compensating was as simple as aiming high. But that wasn't the only fix he had in. The gun didn't shoot straight no matter where you aimed it, and it fired in bursts. The best you could do was aim near the center of what you wanted to hit, hope the spray went where you wanted it to go and that you had enough BBs in the gun to finish the job.

I did OK on my first run. On my second, after I'd adjusted for the faulty sight, I did better. I watched someone else take a go then, noted which way the spray tended to go and decided the best course of action would be to just aim at the center of the star and let fly. I thought I'd figured out the game. I had a system. I wasn't counting on the carney man.

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