A Gambler’s Instinct: The knack for taking calculated risks and knowing when to take them

“One thing that is different in our players of today and our players of yesterday is that earlier our players used to play mostly not to lose, and today they very often play to win”, said my broker friend Jigneshbhai over our Sunday evening coffee. Continuing, he remarked, “The difference may seem minor but is vast. In the first approach, the best result you will get in the game is a prevention of loss and then you hope for a win. While in the second approach, the worst approach you may get is a loss, but if you calculate your risks, you may also get a big win.”

“Like what happened last week, when Dhoni and Raina suddenly decided in the 35th over that they were not happy with 225 as that may, at best, prevent a loss, but wanted 300 to play for a win.”

“But there was risk in it. What if they had lost their wicket?” interjected Swami.

He was right. There was a risk of that happening, and in that case even the result of prevention of loss would have been difficult to guarantee. “Yes, that’s right. Playing for a win always has more risk than playing not to lose. And it is not always sensible at all times to play only for a win. There will be stages when it is best to play not to lose. But the reason I think Dhoni is a great captain is because he has a wonderful gambler’s instinct that helps him decide when to play not to lose and when to play for a win. And acts accordingly.”

Just as we were leaving, he added, “You know, Swami. In the long-term game of investments in the capital markets, playing not to lose can, sometimes, also mean you are playing to win. It seems to me that the current period is one of those times when you can both play not to lose as well as play to win.”

And then in the background I heard this song by the famous country music singer Kenny Rogers that he started humming as we left.

“Now every gambler knows the secret to survivin’
Is knowin’ what to throw away
And knowin’ what to keep
‘Cause every hand’s a winner
And every hand’s a loser
And the best that you can hope for
Is to die in your sleep”

“So when he finished speakin’
He turned back for the window
Crushed out his cigarette
And faded off to sleep then somewhere in the darkness
The gambler he broke even,
but in his final words
I found an ace that I could keep”

“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done”

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