Wednesday’s Child: The Joy of Losing
I hadn’t planned on pursuing this line of argument in the present series of posts, I really hadn’t. I thought it far too obvious a direction, as so many of us have known punters who seemed happy in defeat and even elated at the prospect of it, as though reveling in the certainty of martyrdom. But then last week I ran across a newspaper story that added Oriental spice to the argument, and the piquancy of it changed my mind. “Sometimes the foil,” I said to myself, “shines more brightly than the gem it was meant to set off.”
A Malaysian gambler is suing Aspinalls, the London gaming club where I was the first Russian to become a member in the early 1990’s, for the 4 million he had lost there in a card game that lasted 72 hours, on the grounds that the club “didn’t force him to stop and rest” as “it had a legal duty to interrupt his losing streak.” Back in the days when John Aspinall was alive, and a chauffeur would use his commodious Rolls Royce to deliver homemade desserts to the club’s restaurant for these to accompany the sommelier’s Sauternes, the place in Curzon Street had the occult, rococo-mirrored and velvet-curtained aura of a gambling den of the bygone era, despite the Betting and Gaming Act having made this den legitimate ever since it first opened as the Clermont Club in Berkeley Square. When, in 2000, brave Aspers died of cancer, after some years of incremental decline the club was sold to some vile Australian chain and became a casino like any other.
Not surprisingly, for British journalists covering the absurd lawsuit it was the club’s ancient mystique, as well as the fact that it was at chemin de fer that the Malaysian had lost his millions, which sent them scurrying to the first Bond novel, Casino Royale, where “Bond creator Fleming famously devoted 25 pages to a detailed description of 007 playing a game of double-chance baccarat.” Of course Bond played nothing of the kind in the book, any more than he played the Texas Hold’em he was made to play in the eponymous 2006 film, but this is what British journalists know of playing cards nowadays.
“Bond’s experience told him,” writes Fleming, “that few of the Asiatic races were courageous gamblers, even the much-vaunted Chinese being inclined to lose heart if the going was bad.” Fleming seeks to portray his hero as the opposite of that, as intrepid, unswerving, in short, a true gambler, yet the fact – which I know so well from a life long left behind – is that the true gambler plays to lose, not to win like Bond. All Bond wants in the casino is the money, and in this sense he is no more courageous than the Malaysian now suing the casino.
A real gambler only wants the money in order to keep playing, because he can scarcely conceive of any meaning or use for it other than as a means to stay in the game. He does not want it to please his wife or mistress, to pay the heating bill, to help the socially disadvantaged, or to unseat the villain Le Chiffre at the behest of Her Majesty. He knows that the longer he stays in the game, trembling fingers on the dwindling stack of chips upon the green baize, the more he as a unique sentient individual becomes a pathetic casino statistic, and that his defeat is therefore as assured as the dawning of day. Yet this incontrovertible truth is powerless to make the fool walk away from the table. He is the epitome of a hero, this fool, because for him the sea is knee-deep and there are no odds to consider.
My previous two posts that began this series had, or at least were meant to have, a geostrategic subtext. It is quite possible that the present parable of the gambler as hero has one as well, but I’m rather stumped to say what that might be. Perhaps one will emerge, like the grainy image on a developing negative, in the red light of general opprobrium.
This is wonderful stuff at its core and I enjoyed the writing surrounding and sustaining it as well. The best things
in life, as in gambling, is losing and I guess winning too for those types but the worst is having no game at all. It has so many dimensions of “real life” that it would be cliche to share them here but suffice it to say you have hit upon something that gave me great joy to read and ponder but dead as a door nail concerning sales, attracting new readers or calming the angry mob at the stadium. Keep up the good work Andre’, winning and losing are perennial, it’s the suspicion of the void and nothingness that corrupts from the inside out.
I’ve often pondered on what makes people either risk takers or risk aversive and what are the reasonable limits to each attitude. It seems to me that all normal men need a certain amount of risk in their lives. Few in a modern Western society encounter much overt risk on a daily basis, at least for the time being, but this appears to be changing with the general disappearance of trust. Even the machinery is largely tame now. A man needs to face lions and hyenas, to dig holes a mile deep and buildings hundreds of feet tall. The risk aversive often profit vastly by the manipulation of this need in other men. Our lives used to require the occasional expense of adrenaline. Why do some men require more? Some are satisfied with the challenges of daily life, some need to simulate a more intense experience of life by gambling or other risky behaviors. Some are absolute risk/adrenaline junkies. I know nothing important about the science of all this but addiction to the endorphin rush certainly must come into it. Why else would a Sioux warrior risk his life raiding another village and then come home to lose his spoils in a game of chance. If the Malaysian wanted a sure thing he should have stuck to playing video games in his mother’s basement. Losing relieves one of a certain amount of responsibility, but the widow’s mite might be the better route to go.
This article was a worthwhile digression.
…construct buildings…, not dig
Why should the owners of the London gambling club or casino be sued? These places are in business to make money. Look at Macau in the Republic of China. It is the richest gambling capital of the world – greater than Las Vegas, Nevada. Just to see a picture of the place invites one to lose his money.
As a lawyer friend once told me, you can sue anyone for anything. Of course, when there are laws, no matter how foolish they are, violators may then be sued. In America, tort law underwent a shift, and it is no longer necessary to prove that Peter has actually done something to damage Paul. If Peter has violated a law or even acted without prudence, Paul need not prove that his own damage is the result of Peter’s negligence. This was a point well made by Murray Rothbard.