Becoming an expert in gambling doesn’t guarantee you’ll become a winner at gambling. There’s a big difference between knowledge and acting on that knowledge. But making informed decisions is the 1st step in becoming a winner, so becoming an expert is a good 1st step.
This post is meant to fill that gap. It’s meant to be just as useful to the aspiring blackjack card counter as it is to the recreational slot machine player. I see plenty of gambling writers turn their nose up at recreational gambling, by the way. These writers act as if gambling without an edge is a sin or something you should never do.
That’s not the case. You can be an expert in gambling and still place negative expectation bets from time to time. Some of the best and smartest gambling minds I know admit to playing slot machines from time to time. I’ve found that the smartest gamblers tend to enjoy blackjack or craps when they’re playing negative expectation games.
I’ll explain some of the reasons that’s true, too, in the post below. Here are 7 steps to becoming a real expert in gambling:
1- Take a Course in Probability
For something to be considered gambling, it requires a couple of criteria to exist. One of those is that there must be money on the line. Without risking money or possibly winning money, it isn’t gambling. The other is that there must be uncertainty as it relates to the outcome. Probability is the study of uncertainty. It’s the math that measures the likelihood of events.
It’s about being an expert. And being an expert gambler means being an expert in probability. You might be able to get away with just buying a probability textbook and working your way through it. Some people are really good autodidacts. If that’s you, great—go get a college probability textbook and work your way through it. Lesser mortals like me—as talented at math as I am—must instead take a class with a teacher. This is the best starting point for expertise in gambling that I can think of—taking a probability class.
EdX.org offers free probability courses you can take online. MIT offers math courses, too, through their Open Courseware initiative. You can take a course named “Introduction to Probability” on either site, but you might consider delving deeper into the subject. Of course, probability issues will also be covered in some of the books about gambling that you’re going to read. Which brings me to the next step…
2- Read Some Decent Books about Gambling
Gambling books are often frustratingly specific. Some of them are also frustratingly wrong, especially when it comes to understanding the math behind some of the gambling activities most people participate in. Your goal is to find good books about gambling in general. Read and understand those, then move on to more specific books on more specific gambling topics.
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Gambling Like a Pro by Stanford Wong is also good, although I though it was a little TOO basic. For some readers, it might be a better starting point for learning about gambling than Brisman’s book, although I think most of my readers can probably handle both books just fine. Casino Gambling for Dummies, by Kevin Blackwood, is also a fine introduction.
Gambling 102 by Michael Shackleford is a good book, too, but it’s short. I wish he’d gone into more detail, but he has a website you can visit for more insights, too. He’s one of the smartest gambling writers I know.
David Sklansky is responsible for some excellent books about gambling that focus largely on the math behind the games. Getting the Best of It is well worth your time. Fighting Fuzzy Thinking on Poker, Gaming, and Life is also one of the better books you’ll read on the subject. How to Make $100,000 a Year Gambling for a Living is one of the books that influenced my thinking about gambling a lot. Finally, DUCY? Exploits, Advice, and Ideas of the Renowned Strategist is good, although it’s less about gambling than you might think.
3- Choose Something to Specialize In
It’s one thing to be a generalized expert on gambling. Eventually, though, you’ll want to specialize in something that suits your temperament. A lot of that will have to do with what you enjoy.
Even if you’re okay with being a recreational gambler, you should still focus on activities with a low house edge. Learning blackjack with basic strategy is the best value in the casino. You’ll also have the best opportunity to walk away a winner from that game. If you decide to take things up a notch, you can learn how to count cards later.
Craps is my favorite game for pure fun. It’s really common to have big swings, which makes it a lot more fun than some other casino games. It’s hard to imagine a game that’s more fun for the recreational gambler than craps. I don’t put a lot of stock into those experts who claim you can get an edge by influencing or controlling the dice, but some reputable gambling experts think you can.
I had a great boss when I worked at Hotels.com who used to tell me that the man who chases 2 rabbits catches neither. I’ve also heard that the original expression jack of all trades, master of none wasn’t an insult at all. It was something to aspire to. But it’s also a misquote. The real quote is this: Jack of all trades, master of ONE.
This should be your goal as a gambling expert. Know how to do just about everything when it comes to gambling, but start by becoming an expert at just one activity—be it blackjack, horse betting, poker, or sports betting.
4- Move to Las Vegas
One of the surest ways to increase your expertise at gambling is to gamble a lot. If you live in the United States, you’ll have an easier time of that—and find better games—if you spend a lot of time in Vegas. Sin City is home to 104 casinos, almost all of which also have a sportsbook. It’s also home to 31 poker rooms. If you want to gamble a lot, this is the place. It’s also where you’ll find more gamblers to interact with than anywhere else.
Not everyone can manage a move to Las Vegas. Some people have careers which force them to live elsewhere. If that describes you, maybe you can be one of those gamblers who just visits Las Vegas a few times a year. Once you’ve become established enough in your career, it’s probably time to start taking some time off.
5- Avoid Sucker Bets
I’ve said repeatedly that expert gamblers can also be recreational gamblers. This means that it’s okay for an expert gambler to make a bet with a negative expectation. But not all negative expectation bets are equal.
Let’s assume you’re playing for $10/hand. That’s $2000 per hour in action. You’re expected to lose $10 to $20 per hour under those conditions. That’s NOT a sucker bet.
Let’s compare that to a slot machine on the Strip. We’ll be generous and assume that this slot machine’s house edge is only 5%, which is on the loose end. Most slots players make 600 spins per hour. Let’s assume you’re playing for $3 per spin. That’s $1800 per hour in action, which is actually less action than you’re bringing to the blackjack table in the example above. But if your expected loss is 5% of that, you’re looking at losing an average of $90/hour over time. That’s a huge difference.
Some of the other bets at the craps table are far worse. The proposition bets at the craps table are some of the worst. It’s not unusual to see bets with a house edge of 9%, 10%, or even 16%. You’re better off playing most slot machines than you are taking the proposition bets at the craps table.
It’s hard to think of yourself as an expert gambler if you’re making sucker bets all the time. For our purposes, a sucker bet is a bet with a much higher house edge than you should be accepting.
6- Keep a Gambling Journal
I’ve mentioned the idea of keeping a gambling journal in some of my other posts. I’m a big believer in the power of the written word, especially when it comes to personal performance. That’s why I think you should record your gambling activities and outcomes in a journal. This is even more important if you have hopes of becoming a professional gambler.
It’s a combination of wishful thinking and confirmation bias. They WANT to think that they’re breaking even, because the realization of how much money they’re actually losing at the casino is painful. Confirmation bias just means they remember what they want to remember. They remember the results that support the story they’re telling themselves and their friends.
Once you start recording actual amounts, you’ll get some serious clarity about what you’re spending (or earning) from your gambling activities. You can’t really call yourself a gambling expert if you don’t know whether you’re winning or losing.
Of course, some people want to become experts on gambling without ever placing a bet. I think this is like wanting to become a great bartender when you never take a drink. It’s like being a chef who never eats his own cooking.
But you’ll have a hard time writing anything convincing if you’ve never actually wagered any of your own money. Playing the free games on the internet won’t provide you with the same experience, although it’s better than nothing. If you want to become an expert gambler, you’re going to have to make some bets. That’s the nature of being an expert gambler.
Luckily for you, probability is probably the easiest branch of mathematics to learn beyond basic arithmetic. It’s certainly easier to understand than algebra or calculus. Specializing in a single activity and mastering it before trying to master another activity is also an excellent idea. Experts specialize. This applies to gamblers as well as to other professions and/or hobbies.
Being an expert gambler doesn’t have to mean making your living as a gambler, though. You can be a recreational gambler and an expert at the same time. Different people have different goals. But if you’re an expert gambler who plays recreationally, you’re better off understanding what you’re doing and how it works than not.