What is an AP?—Part II

[Colin Jones Season 2 will resume next time!]

Previously, we asked the question, “What is an AP?” As an example, I threw out for debate the machine player who learns a few fun facts on Twitter and then wanders around the casino picking up money as a button-pushing zombie. As kids, maybe as early as age 5, my brother and I would look in the coin returns of vending machines and pinball machines, and underneath the washers at the laundromat (those coins get yucky, no TITO!). Doesn’t every kid do that? I wouldn’t call that activity AP, and isn’t that exactly what some machine players are doing today?

There seems to be no consensus on a label for this type of machine player, and I’m not prepared to offer an answer. Online, I’ve seen such a player referred to as a tongue-eating louse, for being really disgusting and intercepting small fish on their way into the giant casino mouth. Does it matter? Do we need labels?  We don’t, but if someone asks me, “Should I quit my job and become an AP?” then I have to say, “It depends on what you mean by ‘AP’!”

I think we can probably agree on what isn’t a defining characteristic of an AP. First, I’d say that making money within casino walls is not actually part of being an AP. A casino happens to be where a lot of the good targets are, but it’s really not about the casino. APs can operate online, at home, or out there in other industries. I’ve heard it said that Bill Belichick is a great coach because he’s an AP, and the rest of the coaches are just donks.

I would also say that the fact that the income stream exhibits variance is also irrelevant. Almost everyone’s income stream exhibits variance, from those who receive tips, to gig workers, to those who own small businesses, or to those who work for firms that give unpredictable bonuses. I have a feeling many business owners made money in 2019, and lost money in 2020. That doesn’t qualify them as APs.

So what is the defining characteristic of an AP? In my mind, I’d say that our operational definition is that the AP is able to find a legal, profitable advantage in a game or system that is widely considered to be theoretically or pragmatically unbeatable. So the fact that most people don’t know that casino games can be beat, or as an empirical reality most people do not beat those games, is critical to our definition of an AP. Without the donks, there is no AP. It’s a yin-and-yang thang.

So with a system like the stock market, that game is generally considered to be profitable, so investing money in the stock market would not qualify a person as an AP, because everyone makes money in the stock market. But now it’s widely considered to be pragmatically impossible or extremely difficult to beat the S&P index, so if you’re a stock investor who has an edge superior to the S&P, then you’re an AP.

Back in the early days of social media, when you could pump up your social media following by buying/trading Likes, Links, and Friends, the APs were doing that. Then those tricks and methods became commonplace. Once that happened, the cute barista from the casino who has 4000+ Instagram Followers ceased to be an AP. But maybe having 1 million or more Followers would still qualify, because not everyone knows how to do that.

Part of the definition is that the AP is in the extreme minority. The AP doesn’t just find advantage; rather, the AP finds advantage where the masses do not. A cactus is the AP plant of the desert, cuz you can’t live in the desert! That cactus would no longer be an AP if it were living in the rainforests of the Amazon.

As the masses learn the methods of the AP (the Black-Scholes formula, once proprietary, became an industry-wide benchmark), the true AP continues to innovate. The AP adapts so that he constantly remains ahead of the masses, always in the clever minority.

But what about the player who knows how to generate an edge, and does so to earn a living, but did not develop the methodology himself? What if that methodology is super simple? To that I would make two points. First, I think there isn’t a discrete dichotomy between the AP and a non-AP. I think there’s more of a continuum. On the one end of that spectrum are the one-trick ponies who learned their simple trick from someone else. At the other extreme are those who look for edges everywhere, and continue to develop edges and increase edges for every target they have. For these APs, the lifestyle is not the knowledge of a specific method to beat a target, but rather a mindset—a way to look at every possible target.

Second, I’d emphasize that even the one-trick pony who executes a simple trick can still be on the AP spectrum. Because if the trick is so simple, then why aren’t the other 99% of people doing it? Why aren’t they sleeping on mattresses full of Kitty Glitter cash? There are 3.5 million visitors to Vegas every month, and I doubt that 1000 are net positive players. It might be as few as 100. Think about that percentage. So a person who learns a few tricks on Twitter and then goes to grind out a living might look like just a worker, but still gets some AP credit in my mind.

Back to our little tongue-eating louse, could you have imagined that a creature could live inside the mouth of another animal, after taking over its tongue?!?!? Who does that? That’s a truly innovative, albeit disgusting, way to make a living, more impressive than a cactus or camel. So is a one-trick machine player an AP or a tongue-eating louse? The answer is: Yes!

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