The Paradox of Skills Cascades

To rephrase the aphorism then: If I can’t spot the fool at the table then the fool at the table is me — if all that matters is this game.

In the chapter on The Poker Bubble, Nate Silvers writes that the paradox of skill can have a cascading effect. “The subtraction of fish from the table can have a cascading effect on the players. The one who was formally the next to worst player is now the sucker and will be losing money at an even faster rate than before and he may bust out too, making the remaining players’s tasks more challenging.”

We can revisit the post on Jeopardy James to consider this idea more fully. Broadly, success in Jeopardy is the outcome of four inputs said Ken Jennings:

  1. Trivia knowledge.
  2. Buzzer skills.
  3. Game board strategy.
  4. Luck.

However, these are not obvious at all times. Jennings, for example, says that once his winning streak approached ‘absurd’ levels the Jeopardy producers allowed new contestants more time on the buzzer. Then it was James Holzhauer who demonstrated the third component, looking for Daily Doubles.

Through each step: trivia, buzzer, and board, the weaker players filter out and the competition grows, forcing out further weaker players.

Here’s where our Jeopardy analogy breaks down. The goal of Jeopardy isn’t winning, the goal is entertainment. Much like The Only Honest Sport, the objective isn’t brilliance or bafflement but for the people at home to feel in the game.

Sometimes the game isn’t about winning, sometimes there’s a game within the game, and to win one game one only must stand out in another. Different games have different finish lines too. If someone says ‘best’ or ‘winner’ it’s only in that context.

Tracking Tom Update: We guessed that there’s more that can ‘go wrong’ than right for Tom Brady this season and so far that guess looks just okay. It might be wrong in the end, as Brady is +108 of passing yard pace, but it still feels like good reasoning for taking the under. At the right price, of course.

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