Editor’s note: Christatos Aristad is a recently retired professional gambler. He has most graciously volunteered to write a series of posts for AoM on the ins and out of gambling in general and the basics of various games for the education and enjoyment of those AoM readers who are interested in this subject.
Gambling is probably a different thing to everyone who takes the time to form an opinion on the matter. Job, diversion, hobby, glamorous lifestyle, addiction, sin, vampyric drain on the economy and the body politic, half hearted restitution to the indigenous population of a wealthy country, mob business, diversion of royalty and the wealthy, social occasion, or legitimate business. What you, the reader thinks, I do not know. What I do know is this. As a man, gambling, the skill, the art, the technique, the manners and the etiquette, are not just a way of making money, but an effective tool for building your social, political and business circle, as well as mingling with the highest echelons of society in a manner that will display your class and dignity. But how can you learn this lost art when every book on the subject today is written to teach you how to make money, or in such a way that no one who isn’t already in these circles could possibly ascend to them? There is no simple answer, and in truth, there is no guide. To rise up through gambling is one part training, and five parts nature, but that one part can be possessed by the soul of brevity, so without further ado, allow me to present the first part of a series of articles on the heart of gambling, the purpose of which is to separate the wheat from the chaff, and the shark from the gentleman.
You Know What They Say…
The average gambler is superstitious, and ultimately not very smart. And their method, such as it is, is defined by three sayings that are in truth three logical fallacies or statistical rules from which no one can escape. The trick is to recognize them, and then to escape them.
Saying #1: “I’m Due”
Explanation: This fallacy is appropriately called the “Gambler’s Fallacy.” It is the belief that based solely on a previous run of bad luck, you are certain this time to get a good hand or a good roll. This is nonsense. The failure in reasoning here is the belief in a certain outcome, the positive benefit, without actual evidence. This fallacy is the logic behind slot machines and the marketing genius behind the gigantic boards advertising how long its been since the last jackpot.
Solution: Recognize the nature of the situation. Each game has a set of controls you can employ to alter your outcome. In the absence of your use of one of those controls, expect nothing except an even game.
Saying #2: “I’ll stop while/when I’m ahead”
Explanation: This saying is also called the “Gambler’s Conceit.” This is also the little voice that tells us, “just one more drink.” The problem with this saying is that if you are ahead, your capacity to predict when you will stop being ahead is likely zero unless you possess clairvoyance. And if you are behind and therefore waiting to get ahead, there is most likely a very good reason you are behind, and you are therefore unlikely to get ahead at all on a meaningful basis within any reasonable time frame.
Solution: QUIT NOW! As soon as you think or say this phrase, or any phrase that sounds like it, that is an immediate sign from God, Allah, Buddha, or whoever you pray to to stop playing. If you have to justify why you are playing, you shouldn’t be playing.
Saying #3: “The House always wins”
Explanation: This saying is rather appropriately called “Gambler’s Ruin,” for it is the rocky, mist clad shore upon which Viking ships full of gamblers are wrecked. Now I know what you are saying, “Plenty of people beat the house. You beat the house.” This is true, for a little while, but play the House long enough, and they will win. And not just win, but break you. Why? Because they have unlimited cash and you don’t, and given enough time, the player with unlimited cash in any fair game will beat the player with limited cash.
Solution: Don’t play the house. The object of the game is not to beat the house, it is to make money. The house has the most money, but they also have the advantage. They make the rules, and they have every edge. But the other players at the table have money too, and they can’t close the table or kick you out. Go for them, and while people may hate you and flee the table like rats from a sinking ship, you will last a lot longer in the long run.
The Basic Tells
The key to gambling with class once you have control of yourself and the situation is the lie. Not just the bluff, but the construction of an entire table facade that allows you to deceive and obfuscate your opponent so that whenever you wish, you may drop it and produce confusion and fear in your enemies. Unfortunately, this skill can not be taught. To learn how to hide who you are with absolute effectiveness, you must first gain a certain level of self-awareness, and then apply the basics of obfuscation to yourself in the specific. However, there are three basic tells that the observer can use to identify the great liar from the poor liar, and to learn the craft themselves.
Many gamblers will tell you that there is a magic to the eyes, that every gambler is different, that when you lie you look one direction and when you tell the truth you look the other, that every person has a different pattern of how they move their eyes, and that by reading it, a skilled gambler can divine complex truths about a player and predict their every move. These gamblers are either stupid, lying or both. Allow me to pull back the curtain on hundreds of years of gambling magic, and reveal the conscious or subconscious trick to the biggest tell in gambling. When people have a good hand, their pupils dilate. When they have a bad hand, their pupils contract. Now the reasons behind this are some fairly complicated neurochemical ones that escape me at the moment, but this is the basic truth of it. Watch the pupils. If they are too small to follow, watch the iris’s.
There are two kinds of smiles. One is genuine and one is fake. A fake smile involves only the muscle of the mouth and expresses little if any genuine joy or happiness. A genuine smile involve the muscles around the corners of the eyes, causing crows feet to temporarily develop, and is an expression of genuine joy. Now human testing has determined that a genuine smile is difficult but not impossible to fake. Observe your opponent and his smile and its relationship to the cards. If he can only fake a smile, then he is a passable liar. But if he can produce a genuine smile on command, then he is a liar of respectable skill.
Always watch the hands. Busy hands means someone is bored. If someone is bored and winning, they are good. If someone is bored and losing, they are bad. But how does that affect their status as a liar? The key is to pay attention to how busy they are when they bluff. If someone stays busy even when they bluff, then they have it. But if they have to focus to keep everything together for the bluff, then you have a perfect way to identify the quality of their hand beyond their bet. Now almost all gamblers fiddle, but the key is to pay attention to the exceptional fiddlers, especially the people that bother the other players. They are either really bored, cheating, or they have a system.
Casinos today are an eyesore. Built to distract from the ugly cities they sit in, they follow no known design law other than the kind used to keep in Minotaurs, and generally use a color scheme that appeals more to the human psychology that deals with spending money than with staying sane. To add to the problem, the inhabitants of these ugly places are poorly dressed, foul smelling, and ill-mannered. That in mind, today is the day you become a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem. So here we go gentlemen.
1. Evening Wear at Par
While a trip to Las Vegas or Atlantic City is, in the United States, a way for young men to blow off steam and make an ass of themselves in a number of different ways, the instant you step into my world, the gambling world, I expect you to dress for success. So before you head to the table, always think of your manner of dress in this light: If you wouldn’t wear it to take a young lady out to a nice dinner out on the town, don’t wear it gambling. If you wouldn’t wear it to a funeral, don’t wear it gambling. If you wouldn’t wear it to a wedding, don’t wear it gambling. If you wouldn’t wear it in front of your significant other’s parents the first time you met them, don’t wear it gambling!If the kinds of people you see on those occasions don’t want to see it, we don’t either.
2. Button up
Now that you’ve put on a button up shirt, a nice pair of slacks, a decent pair of shoes, and a respectable belt, you’re ready for the tables. Except for one thing. You’ve made a rookie mistake. You have assumed, as does every young man these days, that because you have good muscles, or a decent chest thatch, that the world wants to share. You’re wrong. We don’t. You don’t have to button the top button and wear a tie, but for goodness sake, leave something to the imagination. Remember, class. Show some.
I’m not going to lecture you on hair. But let me be clear. If your hair identifies you with any group, subculture, region, ideology or idea, then it’s wrong for gambling. The idea is to be presentable, and hopefully slightly attractive. But if the latter is impossible, go for the first.
1. Keep it quiet.
Don’t shout, scream or yell. I recognize that this might seem a little robotic of me, but this is for the dealer’s sake. I recognize you just hit 21 and made a ton of money. I recognize you just were totally bluffing about your straight flush and got the other guy to fold. I recognize you just rolled a 2 to 12 World in craps, but these people listen to players for a living. They don’t need more ear damage.
2. Keep it polite.
This is not personal. If it ever gets personal, leave the table. If you win, be sincerely sorry. And you are. If you lose, be sincerely happy for the winner, and you are. And never get uppity with the dealer. They do not cheat, they do not play favorites, they call it like they see it, and if you mess up, you mess up. Do not blame other people for your problems. You chose to sit at that table, and that means everything that happens to you is your fault. Period.
3. Keep it light.
No crying, no politics, no religion, none of that nonsense. You keep it light and happy. The dealer doesn’t want to hear about your problems, and just because they are forced to listen doesn’t mean they like it. This also applies to bartenders. If you have a problem, get a therapist. Otherwise, stop complaining. You got a problem with another player, you get a new table, not the other player, even if you sat down first.
1. Tip the dealer.
If you win, there is absolutely no excuse not to. None. I have lost and tipped, but I am professional. These people put up with extremely unbearable people all day, and have put up with you, and your odd behavior. They deserve a share of the winnings. In my opinion, there are no hard and fast rules for tipping dealers, but as your winnings go up, your tip should exponentially rise as well.
2. Do not act like a “player.”
Don’t have your girlfriend blow on your dice. Don’t carry a good luck charm. Don’t act like this is a movie. You are not Robert Downey Jr. or Daniel Craig. Chances are if you meet a beautiful woman in a casino who wants to gamble with you, she just wants a piece of the action. There is nothing wrong with this. These women are called con artists. Respect and fear these women as they deserve. If you take them to your room and spend the night with them, you deserve every chip or dollar they take from your wallet before you wake up. Lesson? Be who you are at the tables, not who you want to be.
3. Don’t drink.
There are two big reasons not to drink while gambling:
- It makes you look like a cad. The guy with the glass of wine or glass of tequila or whatever at the table is very hard to respect and is displaying a lack of respect for the others at the table. Now if someone shows up with a bottle of gin and proceeds to pound the entire thing back without swaying even a little, that is a man to be feared, but unless you have the constitution of a pirate or a Russian conscript from the Second World War, you will run into the second reason not to drink.
- It will destroy your technique. Very few gamblers can gamble with alcohol in their system. Unless you are both an experienced drinker and an experienced gambler, you are not one of these people. Being a steady drinker is not enough. Absolute resistance to alcohol is required.
In conclusion, to gamble like a man, all that is required is that you act like a man. Don’t lose your head; act like an adult. Dress and behave like one, and you will be treated like one by others and by the game. Now this is not to say that every game is the same. Indeed, each game has its own rules, and we will get to them in time, but for now, play by the rules I have given you, and you will be all right. See you next time, kid. Don’t forget to tip your waitress.