Everyone defines success in a different way.
A successful gambler to one person may simply mean enjoying gambling while not losing too much money. Gambling might be an entertainment expense and being successful simply means having fun.
For others being a successful gambler may mean being able to gamble and break even. You might enjoy playing with a low house edge and collecting comps for free meals, rooms, and shows.
Yet others may only feel they’re successful if they can be long term winners.
I’m not here to tell you how to define success.
But I’ve collected 7 skills you need to develop to be a successful gambler no matter how you define it.
1 – Mindset
The most important skill is to develop the correct mindset.
Once you decide exactly how you define a successful gambler you can start adjusting your mindset to help you reach your goals.
Here’s an example:
If you want to be close to a break even gambler while enjoying comps you can make a plan to accomplish this goal. But in order for the plan to work you need to make the decision that you’re going to do whatever you need to do in order to make it happen.
This is where mindset comes into play.
Unless you make up your mind to accomplish your goal it’s just hope or a dream.
You’re plan in this example might look something like this:
- Find games that have a low house edge.
- Pick a game or two from the list to concentrate on.
- Learn as much as possible about the game or games.
- Master the best strategy for the game or games.
- Find the best comp programs.
- Sign up for the comp programs.
- Set aside a bankroll for playing.
- Track your play and comps to see how close you can get to break even play.
- Adjust your plan as you continue playing for the best results.
This may all seem like common sense, but if you’re in the right mindset it’s a list of important steps to reach your goal.
Decide exactly what you need to do to be a successful gambler and start developing the right mindset starting immediately.
The list in the example is simply a starting point. You can use it or develop your own list based on your needs.
2 – Basic Math
You don’t have to be a mathematical genius to be a successful gambler, but if you can develop basic math skills it goes a long way to reaching your goals.
Many people are afraid of math and / or struggle with it. But don’t let this stop you from learning the basics and how they relate to gambling.
Here are some of the simple math skills you can start with concerning gambling.
The house edge is probably the most important mathematical concept concerning gambling. If you know the house edge for a gambling activity you can determine important things lie how much you’re going to lose on average while playing.
It’s a simple calculation based on the edge, how much you bet per hand or spin, and how many hands or spins you play per hour.
The edge is expressed as a percentage. Depending on the rules and the strategy you use the house edge for a blackjack game might be 1%. For a bet on the banker in baccarat the edge is 1.06%. On the pass line at the craps table it’s 1.41%.
Here’s an example of using the house edge to determine your expected loss per hour.
If you play baccarat and always bet on the banker, make bets of $25 per hand and play 100 hands per hour you use this equation.
Amount bet per hand times hands per hour times the house edge.
$25 X 100 X 1.06%
You convert the percentage to a decimal by moving the decimal point two places to the left.
This leaves you with $25 X 100 X .0106
Plug this into a calculator and the result is $26.50.
This means that you can expect to lose on average $26.50 per hour. This is an average over time, so your immediate results may be higher or lower. Some hours you’ll even be ahead, but in the long run this gives you a realistic picture of how the house edge relates to your results.
You can use this for the simple information of expected loss, but you can also compare this to the comps the casino gives you for every hour you play.
If you earn $10 in comps for every hour you play you’re expected loss is reduced to $16.50 per hour.
The payback percentage is closely related to the house edge, but it’s expressed in a different way. It shows the amount a machine or game returns as a percentage.
When you see information about video poker games and slot machines it’s usually expressed as a payback percentage.
A Jacks or Better video poker machine using the 9 / 6 pay table and the best strategy has a payback percentage of 99.54%.
If you want to convert the payback percentage to the house edge you simply deduct the payback percentage from 100%. This means the house edge of the Jacks or Better machine I just described is .46%.
The payback percentage is the amount the machine returns on average per $1 bet. So the Jacks or Better machine, on average, pays back 99.54 cents per every dollar wagered.
You can use this to make the same type of determination for your expected hourly loss as we did using the house edge.
Here’s an example:
Playing the 9 / 6 Jacks or Better machine at $5 per bet at 200 hands per hour you can determine your expected hourly loss using this formula.
Bet amount times hands per hour time the payback percentage. Then subtract this from the total amount wagered, which is just the bet amount times the bets per hour.
$5 X 200 X .9954 = $995.40
The total amount wagered is $5 X 200, or $1,000.
$1,000 minus $995.40 leaves an hourly expected loss of $4.60.
Many people find it easier to change the payback percentage to the house edge to make these calculations.
The payback percentage is a good way to compare different games. If one slot machine has a payback percentage of 95% and another offer 97%, it’s easy to see that the machine offering 97% is a better machine for your bankroll and long term losses.
Odds can be confusing to anyone because different people use them in different ways. But for our purposes we’re going to look at them in a simple and straightforward way. And I’m going to use simple examples to help you use them from now on.
The odds are a different way than percentages to describe the chances of something happening.
Here’s an example:
If you have a deck of 52 playing cards the odds of any single card being dealt is one out of 52. Assuming a shuffled deck, the chance of the first card off the top being the queen of clubs is exactly one out of 52. This means that if you use a truly shuffled deck 52 times that on average one time the queen of clubs will be on top.
Averages like this are based on thousands and thousands of actions, so in a sample of 52 the queen of clubs may not be dealt first or it might be dealt first two, three, or more times. But in the long run the odds say one out of 52.
Here’s another example:
When the ball is dropped in a roulette wheel with only a single zero the chances of any single number coming up is one out of 37 times.
You can use odds to compare the payoff of a bet to the chances that it happens. In roulette you know you get paid 35 to 1 on a single number bet, but the odds of it happening are only one in 37. The difference creates the house edge.
Odds are used by good poker players to get an understanding of their chances to win a hand.
Here’s an example:
If you have four cards to a flush after the turn in Texas holdem you know that the deck has nine cards to complete your flush. You’ve seen the four community cards and your two hole cards so there are 46 unseen cards.
This means that nine out of 46 times you’ll get a card that completes your flush. In other words nine cards help you and 37 don’t.
You can reduce this number by dividing 37 by nine. This makes the odds 4.11 to 1 that you’re going to complete the flush.
When you compare this to pot odds, covered next, you can see if you should call a bet or fold based on the long term profit, or expected value.
Pot odds are used in poker to determine if you should call or fold. You compare the odds of something happening to the reward if it does. When the reward is better than the odds you call and when they aren’t you fold.
Here’s an example:
If we continue with the flush example we used to determine the odds, let’s say the pot has $500 in it after the turn. Your opponent bets $100, making the pot $600 and requiring you to put $100 in to see the river.
We determined the odds of hitting your flush are 4.11 to 1 so we need to see if the pot is offering better odds than that.
You have to invest $100 to win the $600 in the pot so the pot odds are 600 to 100 or 6 to 1. 6 to 1 is better than 4.11 to 1 so you should call.
You’re still going to lose the hand 37 out of 46 times on average, but the nine times you win gives you enough money to cover all of the times you lose and shows a long term profit.
Your expected value is the profit or loss in any situation on average over time.
Remember when we covered the house edge and payback percentage above we used the numbers to determine how much you could expect to lose over time.
Your expected value on a $100 bet with a house edge of 1% is negative $1. Every time you make a $100 bet with a house edge of 1% you lose $1. Sometimes you might lose the entire $100 and sometimes you might win $100, but over time you’re going to lose $1 every time you make the bet.
You can also use expected value when playing poker using odds and pot odds like in the previous example.
We determine the expected value using the example above we use the following calculations to get an average win or loss amount.
If we play the situation 46 times our total investment is $4,600. When we lose the 37 times we lose our entire $100. The nine times we win we get back our $100 plus the $600 in the pot. So when we win we get a total of $6,300.
Subtract your total cost of $4,600 from $6,300 and your total profit from playing the hand 46 times is $1,700.
Divide this by 46 hands and your expected value per hand is $36.96. This means that this situation has a positive expected value of $36.96 every time you play.
The vig is the amount the sports book charges when they take bets. A common example is when you need to bet 110 to win 100. The difference between the amount you need to risk and the amount you win is the vig.
The sports book only collects the vig on bets that you lose. So if you win you get back your bet of 110 and the 100.
So on each pair of bets the sports book takes at 110 to win 100, with one bet on each team, the sports book makes 10. Since the calculation uses two bets, one on each team, this makes the vig 5%.
So basically this means you need to win enough times more than you lose to overcome the vig to show a long term profit.
Interestingly enough this doesn’t mean you need to win 55% of the time. In this example you need to win 52.5% of the time or more.
Here’s an example:
If you place 1,000 bets at 110 to win 100 if you win 52.5% or the time, or 525 bets, gives you a small profit.
1,000 bets cost $110,000. The 525 times you win gets you back $110,250
The exact percentage of games you need to win to break even in this example is 52.38%.
If you’re a sports bettor you probably know how difficult it is to win over 52% of your bets on an average. But it can be done.
It also should tell you that if you can find bets at 105 to win 100 it means you need to win fewer games to break even or show a profit.
1,000 bets at 105 to win 100 cost a total of $105,000. You only need to win 51.22% of your bets to break even. You determine this number by dividing the total investment of $105,000 by $205. $205 is the amount you get back when you win; the $105 you risk and the $100 you win.
3 – Bankroll Management
The skill of bankroll management is important because if you don’t have any money to make a wager it doesn’t matter how good the chances of profit are.
If you found someone who agreed to pay you $200 when a coin landed on heads and you only had to pay $100 when it landed on tails, it’s easy to see this is a good bet. But if you don’t have $100 you can’t even take the bet once.
In this situation you want to be able to take the bet and do it for as long as possible. But if you only have $100 you still have a 50 / 50 chance to lose on the first flip. You know if the coin is fair that you’ll make money in the long run, but you have to have enough money to stay in the game long enough for the coin to land on heads and tails roughly the same number of times.
The chances of losing two flips in a row are 25%, three times in a row is 12.5% and four times in a row are 6.25%. You’ll even lose five times in a row .3% of the time. (Notice the decimal point is in front of the 3, so that’s three tenths of one percent.)
So even with a huge advantage like this you still need a large enough bankroll to survive. I want a bankroll of at least $500 to start the flips, and $1,000 is even better.
It’s rare to find an advantage as large as the one we just discussed in gambling, so you need an even larger bankroll in most situations.
When you play games where the house has the edge your bankroll will always be going down. You’re always going to need to add money from somewhere else so you can keep playing.
Even if you find situations where you have an edge you face swings that can wipe out a small bankroll quickly.
This means you need to make sure you have enough money to play as long as you want or need to.
4 – Analytical Abilities
Everything we’ve discussed so far can be combines to improve your chances of being a successful ambler. But you also need to know how to use everything you’ve learned.
I’ve tried to give examples of how you use these things to help impact your outcomes.
This all falls under something called your analytical abilities.
You not only need to know the concepts I’ve introduced, but you also need to be able to translate them into actionable strategies. In order to do this you need to be able to analyze situations, and sometimes people, in order to get the full use out of your knowledge.
In the section about mindset I laid out a sample plan to accomplish your goals. One of the steps involved choosing games or gambling activities to focus on.
To do this you need to analyze games based on their house edge, your ability to alter the edge, and your abilities to play.
To find the best video poker game you need to analyze the payback percentages and how well you can learn the perfect strategy to keep the house edge as low as possible.
If you bet on sports you need to be able to analyze the teams or players involved in the contest and compare what you learn to the line or spread.
Poker players need to learn how to analyze their competition and different situations they find in each game.
The only way to improve your analytical abilities is by learning as much as you can and practice. Try to analyze each situation as fully as possible to find the best option.
The more you practice analyzing things the better you can determine the best course of action. In other words, always be thinking when you’re gambling.
5 – Observation
Observation goes right along with your ability to analyze situations. You need to pay attention and observe as much as possible when you’re gambling.
Poker players need to always be watching their competitors to see when they might give away the strength of their hand or make mistakes. It’s easy to let your eyes and mind drift when you aren’t involved in a hand, but the best players are always watching, even when they aren’t playing the current hand.
In casino table games you should watch the dealer. Some dealers develop sloppy habits and flash some of the cards they deal. You might be able to see the next card to be dealt or one of the down cards.
The only way you’ll ever see a card from a sloppy dealer is if you pay attention.
Dealers also can make mistakes when paying out winning bets. Make sure they always pay you the correct amount.
This is especially true when the pay outs aren’t one for one. In blackjack when you hit a natural 21 is the most common place a dealer can make a payout mistake.
Many table games, roulette, and craps also have bets that pay more than one to one so keep your eyes open to make sure the dealer doesn’t short you.
6 – Patience
Most gambling games have long stretches of wins and losses. This means you need to be patient to ride out the streaks, especially the losing ones.
Most people who like to amble do it their entire life, so in many ways your gambling is just one lifelong game. So there’s no need to get impatient.
Even long term winning players who can beat poker, or the sports book, or blackjack, experience ups and downs. But if you have a winning system all you need to do is keep playing and the wins will come.
But if you get inpatient and start changing the way you do things it can quickly turn a long term winning system into a losing one.
By knowing the math involved in each game like we discussed earlier it can help you understand the long term expectations. Use what you know to help you remain patient through the down swings and celebrate the winning streaks you experience.
7 – Memory
Improving your memory is always helpful when it comes to gambling. If you remember the things you do that don’t work and use them to improve it can go a long way towards making you a successful gambler.
This is especially helpful to poker players and sports bettors, but it’s also good for casino gamblers as well.
If you play blackjack or video poker you need to be able to learn and use the best strategy in order o keep the house edge as low as possible. You can use a strategy card, but it’s better if you can eventually memorize all of the proper plays so you can observe other things while playing.
The best way to improve your memory is to use it.
Keep working on filing important things away every time you play. I find it useful to write things down as soon as I’m finished gambling or when I get home. Then I go over my notes again in a day or two to help commit them to memory.
If you need to memorize a strategy card start by using the card every time you play. Soon you’ll have the main plays memorized and you can keep working until you’ve memorized all of them.
Once you determine what makes a successful gambler you can start working on improving your skills. Use the 7 skills you need to develop to be a successful gambler included in this post to get started.