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What I’ve Learned From Gambling

by Ed Miller |  Published: Apr 26, 2017

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I realized a few days ago that I am coming up on the 15-year anniversary of when I started getting into poker seriously with the goal of playing (and then writing, teaching, etc.) for a living. Spending this length of time in and around poker is a bit uncommon—most of the people I knew years ago who were playing for a living have since moved on to other things.

One thing you gain over time is the bigger perspective of what works—and what doesn’t—in gambling. You see hotshot players rise and fall. You get approached to invest in many endeavors—and then see most of them fail. And you see players who were very successful at first forced to ride smaller and smaller edges as time goes on.

In this article, I will share with you a few of the big picture concepts that I’ve learned from my time in the gambling world.

Great Opportunities Rarely Last Long

During my time in gambling, I’ve seen a few truly great opportunities come and go. Of course there was the huge poker boom. For a few years, poker money just rained from the heavens.

I’ve also seen a boom of online casinos that offered some amazing opportunities. More recently, daily fantasy sports also had promise to be a great gambling opportunity before its growth got derailed with legal troubles.

These great opportunities never last long. The peak opportunity value for each of these examples lasted only two or three years before the decline phase set in.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that as time goes on and new things come out all the time, we are bound to get new opportunities with regularity. So the trick should be to try to identify the opportunities as soon as possible, figure out how to make the most out of them, and then don’t try to hang on too long during the inevitable decline phase.

There are still great opportunities in poker if you know where to look. For example, be on the lookout for new poker rooms that open in areas of the country (or the world) that haven’t had real poker room access before. Oftentimes there is a huge rush of players at these new rooms willing to play big and play often. You will definitely do better in poker if you plan to play as many hours as you can at new, fresh rooms.

You Can’t Turn A Bad Gamble Into A Good One With Money Management

Money management is important. If you’ve found a good gamble—whether it’s poker or something else—you can definitely wreck the long-term value of that gamble by overbetting your bankroll.

But some people seem to think that if you can ruin a good gamble with bad money management, you can also save a bad gamble with good money management.

Nope. It can’t be done. A bad bet is a bad bet is a bad bet. You can’t make a series of bad bets in any way with any money management strategy that will turn those bad bets into good ones in the long-term.

The reason this fools people is that with money management, you can often shape the outcome distribution almost any way you want. If you want to win almost every time you play, you can do that. But the price you pay for that is that when you do lose every once in a while, you will (on average) lose everything you’ve won to that point and more.

You can also set things up to hit big wins. But naturally you will offset those wins with tons and tons of little losses. And, if the underlying bet is bad, then over the long term you will pay more in little losses then you win in big wins.

This fallacy is at the heart of many gambling scams. Don’t fall for it. If someone’s main angle in a gamble is a money management-based strategy (i.e., how much to bet after a win versus a loss is a key component of the strategy), then it’s total garbage and you should stay far away.

The Best Ideas Are Not Available Publicly

This isn’t universally true, but it’s mostly true in most gambling games. Poker, for example, has a terrific literature available nowadays. If you want to learn to get better at poker, you can read articles and books, you can watch videos, you can go to boot camps, and so on. There is some very good information available that is easily found—if your goal is to improve from an amateur-level player to a consistent winner at small and sometimes medium stakes.

But if you want to move beyond medium stakes to become a huge winner at the highest stakes, however, then you will be much harder-pressed to find really valuable information that is published publicly.

This is true in other areas of gambling also. You can make good money betting sports, slots, table games, and so on. But if you want to get into these areas, only the basics are published publicly. All the really valuable concepts are held privately by the practitioners.

If you want to be successful long-term in gambling, eventually you have to build a social network of other successful gamblers. The best ideas are generated and disseminated in these private networks of gamblers.

Anyone Selling Easy Success Is Probably Full Of It

This is a point related to the last one. If the best ideas aren’t available publicly, then anyone who is claiming to have the secret recipe for riches for sale is probably full of it. You see this in sports betting all the time—touts are people who sell sports picks. Almost universally, these picks are not winners. The logic behind it is pretty simple. Truly winning picks are worth a fortune, because of the large amounts of money you can bet. Non-winning picks are obviously worth nothing.

If someone is selling something for $20 and it’s either worth a fortune or it’s worth nothing, which do you think is more likely?

In poker, anyone who offers legitimate strategy advice will tell you that getting good at poker takes a lot of work. There’s no shortcut. No magic bullet.

Final Thoughts

The gambling world is full of pitfalls. The first key to having long-term success is to ignore all the nonsense. There are a million people who will sell you a clever “system” and some false hope to anyone willing to pay. This stuff is all worthless garbage, and you should do your best to avoid it completely.

Beyond that, keep your eye out for new opportunities. A new cardroom opening or a new poker game catching on in your area—if you seek these things out and try to exploit them, you will have more success over the long term.

Finally, don’t fall for promises of easy money. Gambling success is hard and, no matter what route you choose, it requires a lot of work. If you are prepared to work, seize good opportunities, and avoid the noise, you can have long-term gambling success. ♠

Ed MillerEd’s newest book, The Course: Serious Hold ‘Em Strategy For Smart Players is available now at his website edmillerpoker.com. You can also find original articles and instructional videos by Ed at the training site redchippoker.com.