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Lucky streaks exist, but luck's got nothing to do with it

Research on gamblers by two scientists show much more subtle pattern emerging in lucky streaks than mere chance.

Know when to fold 'em. bestecasino/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

What are the chances that some people are just lucky?

You look at them and think: "How on Earth did he manage to marry her?" Or you wonder: "He's not smart. He's not articulate. He's not even a criminal. How did he get a house as big as that?"

Perhaps he's just a very good gambler. Indeed, some scientists from the UK decided to see whether hot streaks and hands really did exist beyond the parameters of pure luck.

As The Economist deals it, Juemin Xu and Nigel Harvey at University College, London, examined gamblers.

Their conclusions were as cheering as they were depressing. Some gamblers really do manage lucky streaks. Equally, some losers are just spectacular and consistent losers.

Their research wasn't cursory. They looked at 565,915 bets made by 776 different online gamblers.

What they found was that the "lucky" gamblers' chances of winning a first bet was 48 percent. The next bet had a 49 percent chance of being a winner.

It was then that supposedly lucky streaks gained momentum. The third bet offered a 57 percent change of success, the fourth (assuming a continuing streak) 67 percent, the fifth 72 percent.

By the time they got to the sixth bet, there was a 77 percent chance that these lucky gamblers would actually stay lucky.

But was it luck? The intellectuals believe that what was really happening was that as the streak increased, the chancy nature of the bets decreased. The gamblers took more conservative steps in order to keep that winning feeling, choosing bets with better odds.

They may have made less money, but they felt more like a winner. Indeed, many a gambling expert insists that gambling is not really about how much you win, but the buzz you get from the excitement.

So what about losers? In this research, losing made the gamblers even bigger risk-takers. Which, unsurprisingly, accelerated their losing streaks.

Sadly, such research merely reinforces the notion that you should behave sensibly. It suggests that if you get a little luck, you shouldn't actually leave too much to chance after that.

It was the gamblers' own self-control that turned them into bigger winners, rather than their sense of riding an unbeatable, magical stallion of fortune.

And that's why an accountant makes a perfect spouse.