The many must lose in order that the few may win

I’ve never been much of a gambler. After turning 20, I went to the casino to see what it was like (and got torn apart by a commenter for spending $20 on the slots, which I thought was quite ridiculous, seeing as I would have spent that much on a couple of drinks if I was a drinker, and nobody would judge me for THAT).

What I really found fascinating there was the people-watching potential. I can happily sit quietly and listen to group conversation for hours without contributing much, if anything, and watch people go about their business for just as long. At the casino, there’s the people who plant themselves at the tables and blow thousands in minutes; the people hanging out for one more hand, hedging their bets on roulette and on casinos caliente; the people who methodically, robotically scroll through the slots without ever seeming to see anything else around them (okay, they’re not so interesting to observe).

The lure, of course, is the promise of hitting the jackpot. “$160,000!” (or whatever) the screens proclaim in lurid digits. That promise of a pot of gold is all the more accessible online through sites like Pokerstars.net (T has taken up casually playing there).

After all, there are people who genuinely make money through gambling. Ever seen 21? Fascinating true tale about a bunch of mega-smart MIT students who basically used maths to hack blackjack and hit Vegas on weekends for millions. On a smaller scale, plenty of more average (but equally as dedicated) pros play cards for a living. A blog post I came across recently, The Hustler’s MBA, actually suggests learning poker as the first of nine steps in an alternate route to your typical university education (I can’t say I agree, but to his credit, later steps include travelling, learning to code, and starting a business).

Here’s a sample of his argument:

Poker will cost you money at first. Let’s say $5000 in the first year. After that you’ll be able to make between $45-60 per hour for the rest of your life. That’s about $85,000 per year, which adjusts for inflation because as money is inflated, the stakes to keep the game interesting will go up. You will also receive “raises” because you’ll always improve as a player and be able to play better stakes. If you’re dedicated to poker, getting this good is virtually guaranteed. I’ve been through the process and it’s not particularly hard. Can school guarantee you a job that pays this well?

I’m inclined to agree with Tynan that games like poker hone your logic and maths chops. As T always tells me, it’s all about reading your opponents and anticipating what they’ve got. (The one time I played with the guys, I played emotionally, and while I knew it, that never stopped me from forging on nonetheless rather than cutting my losses.) Some of his friends take it pretty seriously, getting together multiple times a week, and yes, making casino trips, which they often make a profit on.
I’ve read my fair share of polemics making the case against university, although this one is definitely the first to advocate poker as a key income source.  And I’m sure he’d agree the advice is not for everyone. Making a legit $85k a year through poker = the exception, rather than the norm. I’ll stick to the role of observer, for one.

One thought on “The many must lose in order that the few may win

  • Reply CF December 19, 2012 at 19:54

    We go to the casino perhaps once a month, sometimes more, and play blackjack. You can definitely win at the casino, but the longer you play, the more likely you are to lose – the “gambler’s ruin” problem http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gambler%27s_ruin.

    It’s usually covered in university statistics, but the basic premise is – if you’re playing a fair game (where fair is considered having a 50% chance of winning) against an opponent with a much much larger bank of money that you (eg. the casino) you WILL eventually go broke. And, casino games are not “fair” – they all favour the house, making “gambler’s ruin” come even faster.

    We have a $100 “gambling fund” that we play with and we generally leave after winning only $20-$40 – usually 15 minutes or so. Part of that money goes into our pockets as profit and part of it goes back into the gambling fund as buffer. We only ever take $100 to the casino.

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