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5 Ways to Gamble Like a Professional Gambler

| June 28, 2017 12:00 am PDT
Strategy

Most people don’t have the skills to become a professional gambler. Even those people who can learn those skills often lack the temperament to learn them.

But if you’re interested in learning what separates the professionals from the amateurs, this post offers several insights.

In fact, if you want to gamble like a professional, you can learn most of what you need to know right here.

1 – Count Cards in Blackjack

Professional gamblers learn ways to get an edge over the casino. One of the most commonly known ways of getting a mathematical edge over the casino is by counting cards in blackjack. But most people don’t have the first clue as to what that entails in real life.

The good news is that you don’t have to memorize which cards have been played.

The bad news is that getting an edge is almost as hard as doing all that memorization.

There’s more bad news, too:

Most casinos are on the lookout for professional blackjack play, and they’ve gotten good at deterring card counters.

Still, if you want to learn to count cards, I can offer you a few insights.

The first thing you need to do is master basic strategy. You need to have it down cold.

Basic strategy is just the correct mathematical play in every situation during the game. You can find a multitude of basic strategy charts on the Internet. But be aware that subtle rules changes can also affect the accuracy of the basic strategy chart.

Depending on the rules variations in effect, mastering basic strategy will lower the house edge from 4% to between 0.5% and 1%.

But you can’t be a professional gambler if you’re losing an average of 0.5% of every bet. You must be able to win 0.5% to 1% of your bets.

That’s where counting cards comes in.

Blackjack, unlike other casino games, has a memory. If you spin a roulette wheel, you have 38 specific results that can come up. It doesn’t matter what happened on the previous spin, those 38 specific results are possible on the next spin.

But in the case of blackjack, once a card has been dealt, it can’t be dealt again until the deck is shuffled again. Most casinos still don’t shuffle after every hand.

The other crucial fact about blackjack that makes card counting possible is that a blackjack (a natural)—a 2 card hand totaling 21—pays off at 3 to 2.

A deck with a higher ratio of aces and 10s as compared to other cards is a deck where you have a higher chance of getting dealt a natural and getting that bigger payoff.

If you raise your bets in situations where you have that extra chance of getting a natural, and if you lower your bets in situations where your chances of not getting a blackjack are higher, you’ll get an edge over the casino.

A good blackjack player can get an edge of 1% to 2% over the casino.

How much money does that translate to?

You can project your hourly earnings by multiplying the amount of money you’re putting into action per hour by the edge you have over the casino.

I’ll assume you’re playing 60 hands per hour and averaging $100 per hand. That’s $6000 in hourly action.

If you have a 1% edge over the casino, you’re expected to win $60/hour on average.

The easiest card counting systems just involve assigning a value to the high cards and another value to the low cards and keeping a running count based on those values.

For example, aces and 10s might count as -1. The lowest cards in the deck, the 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, and 6s, might count as +1 each.

If the count’s positive, you raise your bet size. If it’s negative, you lower your bet size.

There are practical considerations to think about, too, though.

Since casinos actively discourage card counters, you should avoid playing for too long at the same casino. In fact, you should probably never spend more than an hour playing at a specific casino.

You should also limit the number of times you play at a casino during a specific shift. Once a week per shift is probably plenty.

You don’t want the staff to recognize you.

2 – Play Poker at a Professional Skill Level

Playing poker is preferable to counting cards at blackjack because the casino doesn’t care if you win at poker. The casino makes its money by taking 5% of each pot. That 5% is called “the rake”.

If you can find home games to play in, you can avoid the rake, too.

You can win at poker in one of a couple of ways. The easiest way is to become reasonably skilled and play only when you can find tables full of losers. It’s easier to choose games where the competition is soft than it is to learn how to beat experts.

Here’s how you should think about poker:

If you’re playing poker at a table with 9 other players, and you all have exactly the same level of skill, you’ll all break even if you play long enough. (That’s assuming no rake.)

If you’re playing with players who are all exactly the same skill level as you with a table where there’s a rake, you’ll eventually go broke. So will the other players at the table.

Over time, you’ll all be dealt the same cards, so the determining factor in who will win the money is based on skill level.

If you’re only 1% better than the other players at the table, you can’t guarantee yourself a profit, either—at least not at a table where they charge a rake.

You must know how to play well enough to overcome the rake AND beat the other players.

Luckily, you can find multiple paths to success in poker. You can focus on the math and technical aspects of the game and win that way.

Or you can focus on learning how to read the other players. You still need to understand the basics of the math in poker, but it’s not the dominant factor.

Countless books have been written about winning at poker. You can also find professional poker coaches and training facilities.

I suggest tracking how much you spend on your education as a poker player, though. That affects your overall net profit, too.

3 – Learn How to Win 53% or More of Your Sports Bets Consistently

I’m admittedly less well-educated about sports betting than I am about other forms of gambling. I understand sports betting well enough to know that to win consistently, you must be good enough to overcome the vig.

What’s the vig?

Remember how I talked about the rake in poker? In sports betting, the house makes you risk $110 if you want to win $100.

They also set the lines for the games so that there’s an approximately 50/50 chance of winning.

Your only hope is to spot when those lines are out of whack often enough to win more than 53% of the time.

Here’s how the math breaks down:

You bet $110 per game on 100 games during a season, and you win 50% of the time. You’ve won $100 on 50 games, or $5000. But you’ve also lost $110 on 50 games, which is a loss of $5500. You’re down $500.

But if you win 53 games, you’ve won $5300. You’ve only lost 47 games, but you did lose $110 on each of them, which is a loss of $5170. You’ve won $130 over those 100 bets, which means you’ve won an average of $1.30 per bet.

Since you’re betting $100 every time, you can say that your edge is 1.3%.

To make a living with an edge that low, you’ll need to bet on a massive number games or put massive amounts of money on each game.

If you’re betting $1000 per game instead of $100, your winning season starts to look more impressive.

Finding enough bookies to cover all that action won’t be easy, though. They don’t like to lose to sharp sports bettors. They’ll often have limits to how much action they’ll accept from you.

4 – Learn How to Cheat

I don’t really recommend cheating at gambling. If you’re cheating when you’re gambling with individuals outside the casino, you’re risking retaliation. The kind of people you might cheat in a bar are often the type of people who would have no qualms about retaliating toward you physically.

Trying to cheat at a casino is just as dangerous. Cheating means breaking the rules and changing the conditions of the game. This might involve changing the size of your bet after the outcome has been determined.

In Nevada, cheating at casino games is a felony. You can serve prison time for behaving like this.

I should point out that counting cards doesn’t constitute cheating, regardless of what the casinos say. You’re just thinking about the game while you’re playing it. I don’t know how anyone can consider that cheating.

But some players do cheat, and they do make a living at it—at least until they get caught.

5 – Start Your Own Casino, Poker Room, or Bookmaking Operation

The real money in the gambling industry is made by the businesses, not their customers. The casino makes lots of money. A poker room guarantees its profit by taking a percentage of each pot. Bookmakers make money by charging a vig.

Legal issues aside, the surest way to make money as a professional gambler is to go into the business. Starting your own casino requires licensing if you want to do so legally, though. It’s more of an investment than most people are willing or able to make.

Bookmaking is a federal crime, too. I know lots of small-time bookies who haven’t been caught, but I’m not convinced that I wouldn’t get caught. That’s been all the incentive I needed to stay out of the business.

Running underground poker rooms is also a felony in most states, but it’s a no-brainer of a business model once you understand the math behind it.

If you can find a way to legally own your own gambling business, that’s the surest way to make money as a professional.

Conclusion

Gambling like a professional isn’t easy, but it’s fun to think about and talk about. If you’re serious about it, you have multiple avenues available to you.

One thing all those avenues have in common is an understanding of the math behind gambling. I suggest taking at least one college level course in probability or gambling math.

I also suggest staying within the bounds of ethics and the law. There are easier ways to make money than selling your soul or risking prison.

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