This has been on my checklist for a long time now, even before I posted “The Apparent Dichotomy of Skill and Luck in Games” that tackles the topic of how different games are affected by different levels of skill and luck. This time, it’s all about luck, or more of the false perception of luck in various instances when victory comes from a seemingly unlikely instance. Most people would call them “lucky shots” — many of which are not as lucky as they would like to think. This may be a new flash to some people, but they can be practiced.
Much of this article was written to address all the salt being thrown by those who seem to not get why things happen when they do and they just happened to take the brunt of them. Analyzing the lucky shot requires an open mind and being able to lay out all the important factors on the table while throwing out the unimportant ones.
NOTE: I don’t admit to a very in-depth knowledge of this phenomenon or whatever goes into them, but I do know enough on why they happen whenever they can happen, even if most other people would say that they’re virtually impossible.
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Pure Luck: Natural 20’s, Stacked Decks, etc.
Things like dice rolls and card draws are entirely up to chance and probability, or “RNG” as gamers colloquially call it. With them, you’re mostly at the mercy of the laws that govern the universe. You can’t really practice rolling natural 20s and hitting blackjacks or royal flushes in an effort to get them consistently, and they’re not directly affected by prodigious use of physical force.
Perhaps they can be affected by having dice loaded or their corners worn down deliberately in a precise manner to make them roll in a certain way; arrange the deck of cards in advance and shuffle them a certain way; rig the roulette or wheel to make them stop spinning at a precise moment; basically, physically manipulate cheat your way to getting your desired result.
Of course, that’s why casinos throw out and ban card counters in blackjack since they want their tables to be as luck-based as possible. When any sort of skill is involved, it’s no longer gambling and can be more on the player’s foresight and ability. But still, few things in this universe are as cruel as a bad dice roll, card draw, or coin flip.
The so-called lucky shot has a lot more going on with it; more variables involved other than chance and probability. There’s the shooter, the target, the projectile, the distance, and the variables involved in that distance like wind and whatever else can interfere with the projectile.
When someone shoots a gun without explicitly aiming at anything, there is always a possibility of the bullet hitting something that’s not meant to be destroyed, which is why gun safety is such a serious subject that must never be taken lightly. I’m not highly educated on gun ballistics themselves and how firearm accidents actually happen, but I do know about first-person shooter games and how good high-level players can get with hitting opponents while moving at awkward angles and extremely long distances with weapons that require a great deal of accuracy like a sniper rifle or a railgun.
NOTE: Loud music. Also, most of these are not no-scopes but fast-scopes. Still takes skill though.
There’s even the fabled (and much-ridiculed) 360 no-scope, which is actually an exhibition of considerable skill, despite its outrageousness. The difficulty of the no-scope shot is due to the absence of a reticle, so it’s said to be a lucky shot if a novice or non-expert hits with it. However, there are quite a number of high-level players who can hit no-scope shots consistently, even with differing conditions from one game to another. However, not using the scope is discouraged due to implied inconsistencies.
The same explanation can be applied to ball sports like basketball and golf, wherein a ball is thrown or hit to go through some sort of opening or targeted space. With basketball, a shot made from past the half-court is seen as a “Hail Mary” that won’t likely go in, but we do see buzzer beaters happen from such distances. Same thing goes with shots that are heavily contested by defending players, which have a lower chance of being made successfully.
Someone like Stephen Curry has become famous for his ability to hit shots beyond the 3-point line while being heavily contested by two or more opponents, which shows that such low-percentage shots can be practiced to a high level. Meanwhile, Robert Horry (a.k.a. Big Shot Bob) won 7 NBA championships with 3 different teams by being a go-to clutch guy, despite having averaged only around 7 points a game in his career. Such performances are hardly due to luck, but due to being able to perform consistently when called for.
What ultimately defines a “lucky shot” is the intention behind its execution in relation to the high degree of difficulty involved. When someone hits something that seems very unlikely to be hit, that phrase gets thrown around by both observers and the person who hit the shot.
Bear with me here as I add something extra to this topic that I have a bit more intimate knowledge of. Whether it’s in combat sports or in real fights, “lucky punch” denotes conditional success through lack of skill and being smiled upon by the gods. However, this has a whole lot less luck involved compared to lucky shots.
While similar to “lucky shots,” the so-called “lucky punch” is something that very often gets thrown up erroneously. Unlike projectiles, punches and kicks do not become independent from the person when thrown since the hands and feet are still attached. Whoever threw one that connects at the right spot is entirely responsible for having thrown it in the first place, with little to no interruption from either the forces of nature or providences both divine and sinister.
Former MMA heavyweight champion Bas Rutten said it best — “There is no such thing as a lucky punch.” Since you’d be aiming at the opponent anyway, then it’s not entirely the fault of the person who threw it, but also of the opponent for not expecting and properly defending against it.
Let’s take a punch that most often gets labeled “lucky” — the overhand right. The same punch that Juan Manuel Marquez used to knock Manny Pacquiao out in their fourth fight; that Fedor Emelianenko used in many of his victories, including the last few wins of his illustrious career; that Mighty Mo used to fell the Korean giant Choi Hong-man in K-1. As you can see here, it’s far from “just lucky.”
What enables someone to hit a “lucky punch” is muscle memory. In modern practices, focus mitt training is the primary method for building speed, coordination, and appropriate responses to an opponent’s offense. Advanced mitt training would involve the trainer throwing punches and kicks to simulate an actual opponent’s incoming attacks to train the fighter in defending and countering against them to the point of it being second nature.
When a so-called lucky punch lands, it’s not entirely the fault of the person having thrown it, but also the receiver who didn’t expect it and/or defend against it. That’s pretty much a significant part of martial arts training, especially for those who don’t believe in just throwing technique away and letting the chips fall where they may in the heat of a fight.
Lucky shots wouldn’t be what they are without the target being hit. However, it’s either because it happened to be in the way or it was actually supposed to get hit anyway. A multitude of factors are involved in this dynamic, including whether the target is a human or just an arbitrary goal.
This is where the nuances in the comparison between a punch with an arm attached to the body of a fighter and a bullet coming out of a gun or a ball leaving a player’s hand come in. If it’s just a non-living target, then it’s a matter of whether you were aiming deliberately or not.
When human targets are involved, especially if they’re trying to do the same thing to you, successful attempt being “lucky” is mostly due to people not accounting for the receiver’s response to it. The same can go with a lucky shot when involving a human target; the victim just happened to be in the way of the bullet’s trajectory.
Perhaps at times the shooter didn’t precisely account for whoever was going to get hit by that particular shot, but the intention behind firing the weapon at that moment is still to maim or kill. But then again, this is something that snipers contend with all the time.