One way to improve at anything is to find a mentor. And you can find a mentor without even meeting that person if they’re one of the elite. The trick is to learn as much as you can about that person.
I recently decided that I wanted one of my unaware mentors to be Bob Dancer, the video poker guru. I don’t think anyone will doubt that he’s as good a professional video poker player and gambler as there is.
The trick to doing this is to get to know that “mentor” so well via what they’ve written, what’s been written about them, and what they’ve read that you know what their answer to any of your questions will be without having to ask them.
I started this process reading Million Dollar Video Poker, which is a memoir of Bob Dancer’s career as a video poker player.
Some of his formative experiences might make anyone a better gambler, but they’re unusual compared to some of the advice you’ll find in the blog posts on those other gambling blogs.
Here are seven unusual ways to improve your in-person and online gambling results that I’ve learned thus far.
1– Decide You’re Going to Become Very Bright
Bob Dancer attributes a lot of his success to being smart. He even suggests that being nerdy and being a little bit of a social misfit can be a bonus.
How do you become “very bright,” though? You’re either smart or you’re not, right?
I am confident that most people have a certain innate intelligence, but I’m also confident that you can also become more intelligent with a shift in focus.
If you only read comic books now, try reading an actual novel, or vice versa. If you spend most of your time watching mainstream films, try watching some independent films or documentaries. These activities might open you up to more information you otherwise wouldn’t have learned.
You could also start reading every day (if you’re not already) and maybe even start studying another language. Or you could start learning to play a musical instrument.
Get some exercise and eat right, too. A healthy mind resides in a healthy body.
2 – Learn How to Play Lots of Games at a High Level
Dancer also points out that he’s been playing a lot of games at a high level since he was a kid, and he mentions being able to beat everyone at checkers, chess, and Scrabble. It’s never been easier to improve your skills in those games.
You don’t even need to buy strategy books anymore; you can find an almost endless amount of strategy advice for any of those three games online.
Don’t stop with games of perfect information, though. You should also learn to play various card games, including bridge, pinochle, and poker (obviously).
Backgammon is another game that’s popular among gamblers, and it combines random chance with strategy in a way that should improve your chances of becoming a long-term winner.
Don’t just learn how to play video poker perfectly. Master basic strategy in blackjack. Learn how to count cards.
There are an unlimited number of newer board games and card games you can learn, too. Dominion is an especially good card game for strategic thinking, and Cosmic Encounter has some interesting poker-like aspects to it.
3 – Become a Strategic Thinker
The first 2 points are steps in the direction of becoming a strategic thinker. But they’re a starting point, not an ending point.
Dancer got his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in economics. He did some PhD work in economics, too. You don’t have to major in economics to become a better gambler, but that’s one route that might work.
You might also consider majoring in math. That’s all about strategic thinking, too.
Since we’re talking a lot about applied logic, a degree in philosophy might be worth looking into, also. I didn’t take logic when I minored in philosophy, but I knew the basics from my experiences taking ethics and aesthetics classes.
Legal thrillers are great for this, as are political thrillers. Espionage novels are also great, as are mysteries.
A lot of gamblers would be better off starting out with the complete works of Sherlock Holmes than with reading something by Frank Scoblete.
4 – Learn How to Manage Money
I’m not talking about money management skills like always quitting while you’re ahead or trying to cut your losses by ending a session when you’ve lost an arbitrary percentage of your bankroll.
I’m talking about being able to budget your money well enough that you can put together a starting bankroll. If you’re spending your entire paycheck every payday, you’ll have a hard time getting enough money together to fund your gambling.
Some people are really good at offense when it comes to personal finance. I’m one of those. Offense means having a high income and an ability to make money.
Other people are really good at defense when it comes to personal finance. Defense means being able to spend less than you earn and save money regardless of what else is going on.
If you want to succeed as a gambler, you should get better at defense and offense. If you have trouble with debt and spending, you might want to consider consulting a financial advisor.
Whether you get amateur support or professional support, it’s worthwhile to get your money management skills together. This can be helpful not just in gambling, but in other aspects of life.
5 – Develop Your Ability to Focus
If you want to gamble successfully, you need to be able to concentrate on one endeavor for seemingly-endless periods of time. This is true whether you want to be a world-class poker pro, a card counter in blackjack, or a video poker pro.
Most people have a problem focusing their attention these days. I had a professor in college who used to say that everyone’s attention span had been systematically lowered to 10 minutes because that’s how often you’d see a commercial on television.
One of the students corrected him and told him that, on average, you’d see a commercial every seven minutes.
Things have gotten worse because of cell phones. A lot of people play on their phones while watching television at the same time. They’re not really doing both at the same time, though. They’re switching their attention back and forth between the two activities rapidly.
You can find plenty of advice about this kind of meditation through a quick internet search. Meditation doesn’t have to involve a religious or spiritual focus either.
6 – Develop a Network of Successful Gamblers Even If You Don’t Know Them Personally
Your goal is to know your mentor so well that you can end a sentence for them. When you can do that, you won’t have to ask them for advice in person or on the phone. You’ll know what advice they would give you without having to ask.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to network with excellent gamblers in person or over the phone. But since a lot of gamblers are solitary in their habits, it might be hard to actually form these relationships.
Who should you have in your network? Some successful gamblers I study (in no particular order) include David Sklansky, Bob Dancer, Steve Badger, Phil Hellmuth, Arnold Snyder, Stanford Wong, and Michael Shackleford.
You don’t have to limit yourself to them. They’re just the gambling authorities I think of first.
Be careful, though. Some gambling gurus offer terrible advice rooted in pseudo-science and logical fallacies. John Patrick published some of the worst advice about every form of gambling under the sun. Frank Scoblete is a little better.
7 – Spend Some Time Solving Math Problems and Puzzles of All Kinds
The kind of thinking that will get you to the next level as a gambler is the same kind of thinking that will help you solve math problems and puzzles.
I’m not suggesting that you sit around doing math problems every night, although if your skills are deficient in this area, it’s probably worth doing.
But solving puzzles is something a lot of us do for fun. I spend a lot of time on the New York Times crossword puzzle, and I have a friend who works on Sudoku puzzles all the time.
As Bob Dancer points out, every hand of video poker is a puzzle with 32 possible solutions. Only one of those solutions is the best solution from a mathematical expectation perspective.
Summarizing Our Thoughts
Much of the advice in this post might seem to run pretty far afield from what you expect when you ask someone how to improve as a gambler. That’s by design.
You can find plenty of more traditional gambling advice anywhere on the internet. Expanding your thinking about what it takes to win in the casino or at the poker table is a prerequisite for success.