Friday, March 04, 2011


Bingo And The Suicide Strategy

Don't ask why as I can't even remember myself how, as a teenager, I started going along to bingo evenings at the local Mecca, a gaudy cavernous hall in Brighton that had clearly once seen more elegance and glamour. Maybe it was just the allure of experiencing an unusual subculture; it certainly wasn't in order to meet anyone there, mostly frequented by  middle-aged or elderly women as it was. Each and every one armed with a drink and a fat marker pen, all entirely focused on their table array of bingo cards, readying themselves for eyes down.

Clickety Click, sixty-six. As a panicky neophyte fish amongst these experienced female bingo sharks, I found it surprisingly hard to keep up with the numbers, even with my one tragically solitary card. Two Fat Ladies, eighty-eight. Most of the other players would have, incredibly, by comparison, from six to a dozen cards each to keep track of. Kelly's Eye, number one.

The tension got really bad in the second game when all the numbers on my card started filling up. Fuck, I now only need the 11 to win! Legs Eleven, number eleven. 'Bingo!', I blurted out. There was a sharp disapproving collective intake of breath. Not only did this male interloper insult formal bingo protocol but he had the cheek to win the £50 prize with his lone card. Unlucky For Some, number thirteen.

It was in conversaton a few weeks later I made the facetious remark to someone that I was now qualified to write The Skill Of Bingo. Surprisingly, and unwittingly, that turned out to be an invaluable lesson to me, and formed the basis of a rather special longstanding theory of mine. Heaven's Gate, seventy-eight.

See, on the face of it, bingo is a game of pure chance. Ostensibly, there is no skill. But, upon reflection, I began to realise that there was quite a bit. But not in the obvious sense.

First, to get the best odds you should only have one card. Otherwise you're effectively playing against yourself in a game in which the house takes a percentage; a bit like for example the folly of backing the entire field in a horse race, or betting on every number on a spin of roulette.

However, more than that, the most important skill of all: you must cross the numbers off correctly.

One number mistaken or missed and you cannot win a game of bingo. Many of these older ladies are playing with far too many cards at once and often simply can't keep up. Why do they do it? Because it's edge play, it appeals to superstition, to marginalisation, it's more exciting, it appears to give them more winning chances. In truth, it's a suicide strategy.

It sounds too obvious, and yet this is a priceless transparent concession, one where delusion is the inevitable precursor to success, and failure to disappointment. In other words, what if the most critical skill isn't founded in doing something well, it's in the simple managing to avoid adopting strategies for self-destruction? The longer that resonates, the more it begins to make sense, in all kinds of unexpected ways. Staying Alive, eighty-five.



Shonx said...

I have been in that very bingo hall, for similar reasons and have never returned. It was a friend's birthday and we all headed down for cheap booze and a spot of subculture voyeurism. I remember they had a very Vegas bingo caller who wore a silver waistcoat and went by the name of "Maverick" - an odd dash of glamour in such low-rent surroundings.

William Bennett said...

haha, 'Maverick'! almost worth a revisit :-)