Squares & Sharps, Suckers & Sharks: The Science, Psychology & Philosophy of Gambling

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Cleopatra's Nose

Blaise Pascal, a 17th century French mathematician and one of the founding fathers of probability theory, once famously remarked: “Cleopatra's nose, had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed.” Had her nose been smaller, he hypothesised, she would have lacked the dominance and strength of character which a large nose in the Egyptian first century BC epitomised. As a consequence, Julius Caesar and Marc Antony would not have fallen under her spell, wars would not have been fought, and today we might all be speaking Latin. The ‘Cleopatra's Nose’ theory is basically the proposition that chance has a massive role to play in the evolution of history. And so, of course, it does in gambling.

We have probably all had similar ‘Cleopatra’ insights, thinking about how things might have happened differently given tiny changes to insignificant starting points. If Steven Gerrard had woken up a second later than he did on that fateful day in April 2014 when Chelsea beat Liverpool, would he still have slipped over? If Mark Robins hadn’t scored his 56th minute goal against Nottingham Forest in the 3rd round of the FA Cup on 7 January 1990 would Manchester United have won 13 Premiership titles and would Alex Ferguson have been knighted?

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