How I Decided to Become a Gambling Expert

Man Wearing Shades and Holding Cards Next to a Certified Expert Sticker

When people ask me what I do for a living, I always reply, “I’m a writer.”

I always expect them to ask, “What do you write? Letters and such?”

But no, they always ask, “What do you write?”

When I tell them that I’m a casino and poker blogger and a gambling expert, they always ask how I got into that.

So, I thought it would make for an exciting blog post.

I Played a Lot of Games as a Kid

When I was growing up, I played a lot of board games and card games. I had a brother and sister, and we would play Monopoly.

But I also played a lot of games with my mom. She LOVED games. We whiled away hour after hour playing two-handed spades, blackjack, Scrabble, and Boggle. (She loved word games.)

I didn’t even know that blackjack was a gambling game at first, though. I didn’t have any money at that age, and all her money was tied up in the family funds.

When I got older, I played a lot of fantasy roleplaying games, like Dungeons and Dragons and Runequest. I learned a lot about probability – especially when it’s expressed as a percentage – by playing such games.

Sure, I was a nerd, but a lot of the expert gamblers I know were nerds.

In fact, most of us still are.

I Learned to Play Poker as a Teenager

When I got old enough, a buddy of mine and I thought it would be oh-so-grownup to start hosting a penny-ante poker game at his house on Friday nights. It was dealer’s choice, and we’d never heard of Texas holdem. (This was the 1980s in a small town.)

Closeup of Chips and Cards on a Poker Table

We listened to Eric Clapton and Robert Cray and brought all our spare change. We teased each other mercilessly as we played, too. The poker variations were usually based on seven card stud and included games with such politically incorrect names as “Mexican Sweat,” although I always preferred the stud variant baseball.

Here’s how that’s played:

It’s seven card stud, but threes and nines are wild. If you’re dealt a four, you get an extra card.

It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to understand the significance of those numbers. Three strikes and you’re out. A baseball game has nine innings. And four balls is a walk.

You need six or fewer players in baseball. You could run out of cards because of the four extra cards that might be dealt.

If everyone stays in the hand, with six players, you have 42 cards. If all the fours come out, you have four more cards, for a total of 46 cards.

If you tried to play with seven players, you’d have 49 cards, and, with the four extra cards, you’d have 53 cards total – which is more cards than you have in the deck.

At any rate, I knew nothing about appropriate poker strategy, but we sure had a lot of fun.

In My 20s, I Hosted Another Home Poker Game

At some point during the mid-1990s, I started hosting a home poker game with another buddy. We still didn’t play Texas holdem, though. This time we played for real money, although we were always looking at antes of less than a dollar.

The guys who played in this game were mostly referrals, and they actually knew how to play poker. I wound up poorer at the end of every one of these games.

Eventually, I grew tired of getting beat up by the sharks and bought a book to learn how to play poker, it was called Poker Nation by Andy Bellin.

I learned about the concepts of tight, aggressive play from this book, which is a memoir and travelogue about poker. It also contains some essential strategy advice and some insights into how to play the games.

I Visited My First Casino in the 1990s

When I was 26, I started my 2nd-longest career when I went to work for one of the first (and still largest) hotel consolidators. I worked as a sales agent there to begin, but I eventually worked my way into the internet marketing department. That last detail is essential.

But, as of 1996, I still had never been to a real casino or even done so much as played a slot machine.

I took my first casino trip when I started dating the woman who was in charge of the Las Vegas hotel reservations.

We went to the Sands and stayed there the last weekend they were open. It was such an experience. Since it was the last weekend they were ever going to be open, many of the gamblers who had been regulars there since the 1960s had decided to take one last trip to the casino where they used to see the Rat Pack performing regularly.

Vintage Photo of a Woman in Front of the Sands Las Vegas Sign

There was much crying, lamenting, and wailing in the hallways.

I didn’t know how to play any of the casino games but blackjack, but I quickly figured out how to play roulette and video poker. Even then, as a fresh gambling novice, I saw no point in playing slot machines.

Baccarat and craps remained beyond me. I learned how to play those games much later in my gambling career.

It was an excellent introduction to the world of Las Vegas casinos and gambling, though.

My Interest in Internet Marketing Grew at the Same Time as My Interest in Serious Poker

Eventually, I went to work in the internet marketing department of the travel company.

And it didn’t take me long to realize that the affiliates marketing our product on the web were making a lot more money than I was making as their account manager.

At the same time, I started getting invited to participate in some real private poker games where we played Texas holdem for real money. These were no-limit games with $1 and $2 blinds.

When I eventually got married and had twins on the way, I decided that to support my family, I needed a bigger income than I could achieve working for a corporation. So, I decided to start my own business on the internet. I taught myself search engine marketing and did consulting for online casino and gambling companies.

Online Poker Table Screenshot

One of the ways you make money as an internet marketer is to publish your own content on your own websites, so I learned as much as I could about gambling so that I’d have something to write about on my sites.

I learned a lot from the examples set by people like Michael Bluejay and Michael Shackleford, who are just two of the gambling writers online who published the kind of content I aspired to write.

I Get Even More Serious About Poker

As I started to get to know other people in the business, I started getting invited to join some of my peers in private online poker games. This is where I really learned how to play Texas holdem.

I eventually started focusing almost all my attention on playing poker well, although I did learn how to count cards in blackjack, too. I’m also a reasonably good video poker player.

But most of my time spent gambling was spent at the tables of private Texas holdem games. In those days, most of the poker action in the Dallas/Fort Worth area was happening in private rooms there. These private rooms eventually started getting busted, and it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure that out, either.

The WinStar World Casino and Resort in Thackerville, Oklahoma offered poker, and they didn’t want competition from a bunch of shady competitors who didn’t have a license. I still suspect that the Dallas vice squad only got serious about busting poker rooms when they got “encouragement” from Oklahomans.

Lots of Reading and Writing

How did I acquire expertise?

As it turns out, gambling is like any other human endeavor you want to learn about. You can read books on the subject.

Not every book about gambling is worth reading. I’ve read a few stinkers from authors like John Patrick and Frank Scoblete. But I’ve also read great books about various gambling concepts from writers like David Sklansky and Andrew Brisman.

Combine that knowledge with some practice at the tables and in the casinos, and I’m confident that I can bill myself as a gambling expert.

You could read the same books I’ve read, but to really acquire expertise, I suggest writing about what you’ve read.

Nothing clarifies your thinking on a subject in the same way that writing about it does.

Conclusion

So, that’s how I decided to become a gambling expert.

And those are some of the details about how I acquired the knowledge and skills that qualify me as a gambling expert.

You can follow a similar path. Start playing games and thinking about the probabilities involved. Read some books. Write about what you’ve read.

That’s the path to expertise in gambling.