Awaken the Winner Within

Person Meditating With a Casino Chip Background

My goal with this post is to enable you to understand the psychology of gambling well enough that you can start taking control of your gambling hobby. The idea is to become a winner, and that starts in the mind. I’m convinced that almost everyone has a winner inside, and the trick is to find the code to unlock that winner.

And my hope is that this post will set you off down the road to awakening the winner within.

Winning at Gambling Is About Good Habits Versus Bad Habits

Consistency is everything.

I’ve written before about the differences between gambling with a positive expectation versus gambling with a negative expectation, but here’s the deal:

If you gamble with a positive expectation some of the time and a negative expectation some of the time, you might as well be gambling with a negative expectation all the time.

This means if you’re an expert poker player, and you need a change of pace, don’t go blowing your money at the roulette table. If you need a change of pace, learn to count cards and go win money at the blackjack table instead.

It does you no good to book five small winning sessions if you just blow it on your 6th gambling session.

Your State of Mind Has to Do With Your Behavior and Decisions

I’m not as big a believer in trying to manage your state of mind as some success gurus like Tony Robbins are. Robbins seems to think you should try to control your mental state all the time, learning to associate painful emotions with stuff you don’t want to do and feel-good emotions with stuff you do want to do.

I’ve also done a lot of work with a therapist who says there’s no such thing as a negative emotion. I know what she means, but I still don’t enjoy grief.

An Ornate Gambling Hall

Cognitive behavioral therapy works from the supposition that if you change your thoughts, your behaviors will change, too. After all, before you do anything, you have some kind of thought that leads you to that decision.

How does all this apply to gambling?

Mostly it just means you should pay attention to your state of mind when you’re embarking on a gambling session. If you’re feeling depressed or tired, maybe you shouldn’t be at the blackjack table. It’s easier to make a bad decision when you’re in a bad state of mind.

You might be able to psyche yourself up occasionally, but it might also be good to just feel your feelings and avoid gambling when you’re feeling bad.

Winners at Gambling Play by Their Own Rules

I don’t mean you get to make up the rules to blackjack as you go along.

Instead, I’m suggesting that you have your own rules for your behavior in gambling situations.

Here’s an example:

My friend Drunk Gary has a rule when he’s playing blackjack for real money. When he has a hunch, he listens to it. A lot of gamblers have that rule.

I have a different rule when I play blackjack. I ignore all my hunches and stick with basic strategy.

You might have a rule that you only play blackjack when a single-deck version is available, and you deviate from basic strategy whenever the count says that it’s appropriate. (I’m not talking about Count Dracula, here – I’m talking about people who count cards. The count is just a measure of how many high cards are left in the deck.)

Other people have rules they follow for how much money they’re willing to lose before calling it a day, while others have win goals that signal that it’s time to quit. I know some gamblers who stay in a game as long as the math is positive expectation for them. They only quit when they’re too tired to continue to win money.

Raise Your Standards Everywhere in Your Gambling Life

It’s easy to have low standards as a gambler. For example, you might think it’s no big deal to put $100 into a slot machine once in a while.

That’s not a winning decision, though.

Real gambling winners only make positive expectation bets, and you can’t get a positive expectation on a slot machine no matter what you’ve read on the internet.

That little $100 losing session is the kind of leak you need to plug if you’re really going to win at gambling consistently.

Overhead View of Multiple Blackjack Hands

You also want to raise your standards for what kinds of bets you’re willing to make. If you insists on only gambling when the odds are in your favor, you’ll eventually become a winner just because of the math behind the games.

Here’s an example:

Drunk Gary loves to play blackjack, and he visits a casino in Las Vegas that offers $5 blackjack. But this game has a 6/5 payout for a natural. Gary doesn’t care. He just wants to stay in action.

On the other hand, I refuse to play ANY blackjack game with a 6/5 payout. My standards are higher than that. I’d rather not play than play such an inferior game.

Changing that payout adds 1.5% to the house edge, which makes any edge you might get counting cards null and void.

Losing Is Painful, and Winning Is Pleasurable

Losers just like being in action. They don’t associate losing with pain or winning with pleasure.

That’s an important distinction to make. You’ll see “slot zombies” losing money hand over fist enjoying (if you can call it that) a day in front of the one-armed bandits.

But I have a more important distinction for you:

You should be so focused on making good decisions that winning and losing just aren’t as important anymore.

If you get all your chips in the middle of the table before the flop when you have pocket aces, you’ve done great – even if you lose the hand.

That’s because you’ve made a good decision that will result in long-term winnings.

You just have to stay in the game long enough.

Winning Consistently Requires a Big Commitment

Imagine never playing real money slots again.

Does that sound like a big commitment?

Now imagine spending 40 hours a month reading poker books for the next year.

That’s a big commitment, too, right?

Reeled and Video Slot Machines

These are the kinds of commitments winning gamblers make as a matter of course throughout the year.

You must become committed to learning how to make sensible decisions consistently.

Then you have to become so dedicated to doing so that you never make bad decisions when gambling.

That’s a commitment that makes marriage pale in comparison.

Winning at Gambling Isn’t About Luck

When casinos that are part of a publicly-traded company discuss earnings, they don’t have the option of explaining that they just had a run of bad luck during the last quarter. They must justify their earnings based on how they’ve managed the business.

Gambling is, at its core, an exercise in math and execution. Get the math wrong, and you’ll lose. Ignore the math and do something that isn’t mathematically optimal, and you’ll lose.

Casinos are consistently profitable for two reasons:

  1. They have a practically unlimited bankroll, so they can afford to stay in the game even when they do have an unlucky streak. Most recreational casino gamblers don’t have a bankroll large enough to withstand a run of bad luck.
  2. They tilt the odds in their favor on every game in the casino. If you play a negative expectation game long enough, you’re almost certain to lose all your money.

Being a winning gambler – at least doing so consistently – means finding a way to flip that mathematical edge in your favor.

Getting lucky just isn’t good enough unless you get lucky once early in your gambling career and quit forever.

Einstein said that compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe, but when it comes to gambling, expectation is the most powerful force in the universe.

The two are closely related, anyway.

If you can remember that luck happens but isn’t what makes you a winner, you stand a chance at winning in the casino.


How do you awaken the winner within?

You need to examine your belief systems about gambling and change them.

When those belief systems change, your behavior will change, too.

Winners take different actions from losers, and you want to learn how to take those actions and do so consistently.