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Beginner’s luck?

中国日报网 2022-11-18 15:28


Reader question:

Please explain “beginner’s luck”, as in this sentence: The first time I played mahjong, I won – Mom calls it the beginner’s luck.



My comments:

The first time the speaker (I) played the game of mahjong, he won.

That’s unexpected. Mom, being a sensible woman, said he got the beginner’s luck.

Beginner’s luck is that particular brand of luck newcomers seem to have which enables them to be successful.

Take mahjong for instance. Mahjong is a sophisticated game with complex rules. It’s a difficult game to play. It’s a difficult game for anyone to win. It’s highly improbable if not entirely impossible, therefore, for a newbie to win.

But our speaker won his first game. That’s an incredible achievement.

Maybe the speaker is a genius.

Or maybe, as their sensible mother says, he or she just had the beginner’s luck, i.e. they got really lucky.

Beginner’s luck?

Like I said, it refers to that mythical thing that enables someone who tries a new skill to be successful.

It’s mythical. It’s mysterious because it’s unexplainable.

But, on the other hand, beginner’s luck is not too difficult to explain, at least on some levels. When we try something new, our curiosity, for example, outweighs our expectations. We have no pressure. We just want to enjoy the game and enjoy ourselves in the process. We just want to have a good time. This enables us to do our best.

However, after a while, we’re stuck. We find that we are not improving, or not improving as fast as we want to. We begin to agitate. We begin to put pressure on ourselves.

Needless to say, the more pressure we put on ourselves, the less well we perform.

And we don’t seem to get lucky again. We don’t even win by fluke any more – because we no longer have the beginner’s luck.

To keep playing well and play well consistently, we need to train. We need to put in the hours. Experts say, to master any skill game, be it basketball or, indeed, mahjong, one needs at least 10,000 hours of practice time.


That’s a lot of time.

That’s a daunting task.

It is. And that’s what separates professionals from us, the amateurs.

All right, no more ado. Let’s read a few media examples of “beginner’s luck”:


1 Beginner’s luck.It’s an idea that’s been around for generations. It even has its own Wikipedia page. But does it really exist?

To find out, I decided to investigate with my newly minted Drexel MD friend, Tom Schmicker. It all started last week, when we went to the bar to play some darts.

“I taught Avir, he’d never played before,” said Schmicker. “And the first time I beat him pretty badly. But the second time, he beat me and I was pretty surprised by that because he didn’t just beat me, he beat me by a lot.”

Let’s be clear. I humiliated him.

“I wouldn’t say you humiliated me, I would say you had a pretty good stroke of beginner’s luck.”

So this got us thinking. Beginner’s luck is more than just luck – it’s the idea that there’s actually some sort of tangible advantage to being a rookie, that you won because you were a beginner. But how does that work? You might have heard the idea of the beginner’s mind, in which a beginner is less bound by rules and is therefore able to outwit the more experienced player. Or the low vs. high pressure theory, in which the beginner expects nothing and therefore is not shackled by the pressure that the more experienced player feels.

These explanations make sense. The only problem is that we couldn’t find any references to back them up. And the more we thought about it, we started to wonder, is this phenomenon called beginner’s luck even real, or is it all in our heads?

Well, no, according to Larry Milliken. He’s the social sciences librarian at Drexel University, and I figured if there was something to find in the scientific literature, he could find it. At our request, he combed through multiple scientific, economic and psychological databases, looking for any evidence of beginner’s luck.

“I expected to find a number of articles taking a look at whether it existed,” he said. “I didn’t see any of that. What I saw instead was a number of articles looking at the belief in beginner’s luck.”

Even though beginner’s luck isn’t real, at least as far as any scientific study found, we do nevertheless perceive it. And as it turns out, that perception can influence us in very real ways.

- Does beginner’s luck really exist or is it all in our heads? By Avir Mitra, WHYY.org, July 2, 2015.



2 For a period in the late 2010s, I had the good fortune of belonging to a regular poker game. Whenever someone new would join us, confessing they didn’t really know how to play, my friend Mike and I would tell them, “That means you’re going to win.” And they always did.

Beginner’s luck is real.Poker always depends on luck, but there’s something else, beneath the luck, that feeds the luck, a root system. Beginners aren’t afraid. They have no performance anxiety, because they have nothing to live up to. They don’t know the other players’ habits, so they have no distracting expectations. And they’re not afraid of their own cards, whether they’re especially good or bad, because they don’t know how good or bad their cards are; they have no internalized sense of the odds. They’re unafraid out of ignorance – you might say, unafraid for the wrong reasons – but fearlessness is still an advantage, and it’s a skill you have to relearn. Most players, after their beginner’s luck runs out, stay mediocre because they never do.

People say “Trust the process,” but I’ve found there’s a danger in trusting my writing process too much. Once a process becomes fully routinized, I’m not learning anything. I know I can write a short literary essay – what a friend of mine calls an “I noticed a thing” essay – of a thousand or so words. I wrote a book of those. I know I can write a research-based essay of about four thousand words, generally in three sections – almost three subsequent essays that become a super-essay. I wrote a book of those too. I know there’s a certain amount of material, mostly books and other writing, I can consume to have enough interesting thoughts to build an essay around. I didn’t always know that – I had to try and succeed many times in a row first. (The only measure of success: I liked the effect.)

A surprising thing happened when I published that second book of essays. A lot of people told me that the first one I’d written was their favorite in the collection. There was something a little bit off about that essay, something weird in the balance, something structural I’d done but didn’t really understand. I couldn’t trust the process yet, because I had no idea what my process was – I was trying something. I had to try something else with another of the essays, one of the last ones I wrote for the book, because I’d accidentally taken in too much material for a three-section essay. I had so many notes I couldn’t organize them that way; I needed a new system. I’d been reading Crowds and Power, so I took a page from Elias Canetti and wrote a bunch of short, discrete sections, like mini-essays, and gave them each a little title. It’s the longest piece in that book and the only one in that form, and other people told me that was their favorite essay. I think those two stand out because I didn’t quite know what I was doing. Unwittingly, I’d found a way to capture beginner’s luck.

Over the past year, while finishing another book of essays, I’ve been challenging myself to attempt a new formal approach with each of the essays, because I want to not know what I’m doing. I want to distrust the process. I read a memoir with no chapters or section breaks at all, just a long spill of paragraphs, and I found that fascinating, so I tried writing a long essay without any breaks. I tried a three-section essay but with much longer sections, each as long as one of my old super-essays – a super-super-essay.

It seems to me that students often turn in something great for their first assignment, and then their work gets worse for a while, after all the encouragement – now they’re too confident, now they have to fail, they have to learn what they don’t know. I like to cultivate conditions of the first-year student by “inventing” new structures. (There are no new structures, only structures new to me.) I love the game-like feeling of inventing a new set of rules. I often think, the more I write, that I’m not getting better as a writer, exactly. I’m getting more experienced, but I’m losing something too, the generative energy of cluelessness. And even if I am getting better, I still want my ambition to exceed my ability.

- Elisa Gabbert on Writing and Capturing Beginner’s Luck, by Elisa Gabbert, LitHub.com, September 2, 2022.



3 Beginner’s luck proved true for a Michigan woman who cashed a $1 million Powerball prize while playing the lottery for the first time.

According to the Michigan Lottery, Joni Thompson matched the five white balls in the Nov. 8 Powerball drawing that returned the million-dollar payout.

“I’d never played Powerball before, but I decided to purchase a ticket after seeing the jackpot was over a billion dollars,” Thompson said. “After the drawing, I saw a social media post about a $1 million prize won in Mecosta County, so I went to the lottery site to write down the winning numbers and checked my ticket.”

Thompson said she bought her winning ticket at a Country Corner Supermarket in Stanwood, about 35 miles west of Mount Pleasant.

“When I realized I was the big winner, I started hyperventilating,” Thompson said. “I had my son scan my ticket on his lottery app to make sure I was reading it right. I am still speechless.”

Thompson, 54, recently visited Michigan Lottery headquarters to claim her prize. She said she plans to use her winnings to build her new business and save the remaining amount.

Beginner’s luck: Woman wins $1M Powerball prize first time playing lottery, WBTV.com, November 18, 2022.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


(作者:张欣 编辑:yaning)



It blew his mind? 大吃一惊


Piece of cake? 小菜一碟?


Carry a chip? 以挑衅的态度出现


Chin up 别灰心

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