Understanding the Psychology of Professional Gambling
Mastering Your Reaction to LossesBy Orange County KO
(From Blackjack Forum XXIII #1, Spring 2003)
© Blackjack Forum 2003
During my relatively short blackjack career of almost two years, Iíve enjoyed some euphoric winning streaks and disastrous losing streaks. Like most players, I take the winning streaks in stride -- of course I won, isnít that the idea? The losing streaks, on the other hand, are much more difficult to handle.
Extended losing streaks can be disappointing, debilitating, and downright depressing, no matter how sure you are that you were playing with an advantage. With experience, the inevitable swings become more tolerable and expected. Iíve suffered several miserable sessions in which I barely managed to avoid CTR paperwork -- these sessions were the catalyst for writing this article on the psychology of losing.
Which Type of Player Are You?
Suppose you just returned from a weekend trip to Las Vegas. This was your fourth losing trip in a row, extending your losing streak to three months. Which of these players more accurately describes you?
Youíve lost roughly $8,000 since your last all-time high. Un#&*%ing-believable! That figure is eating away at your gut. You contemplate how many standard deviations to the left you must be. You think about what you could buy with $8,000 -- if only you had that $8,000 back!
You know youíre a solid player, but you just canít believe your bad luck. You mentally review the details of your trip. You recall several max bets you lost because you just couldnít get the cards. You recall with agony the round you lost five max bets when the dealer made a 5-card 21 -- you felt sick to your stomach on that hand. You also recall the time you played two spots with max bets and the bliss you felt when you got twin blackjacks. The bright spots were few and far between, however, and you continue to sulk.
In the back of your mind, you know itís been a while since your last all-time dollar high, but you also realize this measure is not important. You mentally review the details of your trip -- you stuck to your game plan and actually played more hours than your goal. You recall only one hand -- a generous ruling by a floorperson resulted in $300 in free EV due to a dealer error. Although you lost money on this trip, you had the best of it, and thatís all that matters
How to Define Wins and Losses as a Professional Gambler
This is an important issue. Casual players define results in terms of dollars won or lost. This simple mistake alone has amateurs well along the path to failure. Actual dollar results are irrelevant, insignificant, inconsequential, immaterial and completely meaningless.
Serious players, on the other hand, measure their results in terms of EV. The distinction between the two will have a major impact on your psyche. Results should be measured by the amount of extracted EV, not by dollars won or lost. If you can revise your thinking this way, you have taken a big step forward. EV results, of course, are difficult to measure, while dollar results are easy to gauge. The amount of extracted EV can be estimated using a simple formula:
Managing your own expectations will have a huge impact on your success as an advantage player. Amateurs expect to win -- after all, youíre supposed to win when you have an edge, right? Amateurs enter every trip and every session with the expectation of winning.
This is a monumental mistake that results in disappointment, depression, discontent, and serious damage to your psyche. Yes, you are supposed to win, but not money, rather EV. Serious players enter every session with the expectation of extracting EV. If you put in the hours with good conditions, you have met your own expectations regardless of the dollar results.
Regarding Emotional Attachments to Money
We are all in this for the money. Money can buy houses, cars and boats - perhaps even happiness. How do you feel when you win or lose a big bet? Amateurs feel angry or disappointed when they lose a big bet, and elated when they win a big bet.
But any emotional reaction to winning or losing money will be detrimental to your game. Underbetting or overbetting is usually a result of emotional reactions to winning or losing. Serious players have no emotional reaction to winning or losing big bets. Serious players are more concerned with how the pit feels when they win or lose a big bet. In fact, professionals often fake emotions to appear like ploppies.
Dealer just made a 5-card 21? Time to shake your head in apparent disgust while mumbling to yourself. Meanwhile, youíre thinking: am I close to the CTR threshold, and whoís this other guy in the pit now?
Analyze Your Losses Objectively
Ok, youíre suffering a nasty, unrelenting losing streak -- the red ink keeps flowing with no end in sight. This is the perfect time to take a step back and evaluate your play. Ensuring that your play and game selection is solid will be a boost to your confidence and squelch those doubts lingering in the back of your mind.
Leave no room for ambiguity in your bet schedule -- this is key to avoiding deviation from the pre-defined bet schedule. Your bet schedule will be a welcome crutch during the inevitable losing streaks. With a firm bet schedule, you will be far less likely to underbet or overbet.
There are player mistakes, dealer mistakes, and even cashier mistakes that can cost you money. Practice and dedication will minimize counting mistakes, playing mistakes, betting mistakes, deck estimation mistakes, and true-count conversion mistakes. An alert player will catch payoff errors, buy-in errors, color-up errors, and cashout errors.
If, on the other hand, your analysis reveals weaknesses in your play, itís time to take a step back and improve your game. Be honest with yourself about your weaknesses and work to improve them. If your game is fairly solid, negative variance is likely responsible for the vast majority of your losing streak, but take the opportunity to fine-tine your game anyway.
Realize that You are a Walking Casino
Yes, being an advantage player is just like owning a small casino. Letís say you have one table of blackjack that uses an 8-deck shoe, but you can only deal to one player at a time. The casino is open for business whenever you decide to play. Mostly, you will deal to average ploppies who play with a 1% disadvantage. This is comparable to you playing a typical counting game with an overall 1% edge.
From time to time, a player who knows perfect basic strategy will show up at your table - this is like you playing a weak game with an overall 1/2% edge. Occasionally, you may find a really bad player at your table - this is akin to you playing a strong game with an overall 2% edge. Once in a blue moon, a skilled counter will arrive at your table -- this is like you playing a negative EV game (like craps or baccarat) with a -1% edge.
You can easily recognize which players are which, and since itís your casino, you set the table limits for each player. So, you let the bad players bet more (and encourage them to play more often by issuing comps) and adopt a zero tolerance policy for skilled counters.
As the casino owner, you donít sweat the action because you know theyíll be back, and you have the best of it. Some days youíll lose, some days youíll win - it really doesnít matter because in the long run you will always win. Develop a desirable clientele base and discourage undesirables. Report results monthly, not daily. Focus on running the business, not on sweating the action.
You are the casino owner. How is your time best spent: watching the turn of every card or strategically developing the business for the long haul? You own the casino, run it like a business.
Sooner or later, lightning strikes all players. You will be hit with a devastating losing streak that exceeds your worst nightmare. You are not immune - you may be the next victim. How will you handle it? Changing how you feel about money and how you judge yourself as an advantage player will help you survive the nasty whiplash that is so prevalent in professional gambling. By conquering the psychology of losing, you can cultivate a professional attitude that will carry you across the most difficult barrier from casual player to serious professional. ♠
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Blackjack Bankroll Fluctuations and the Psychology of Professional Card CountingOne of the most difficult things to deal with in card counting and other types of professional gambling is the disappointment of negative bankroll fluctuations, or losing streaks, when you are playing a winning game. This Blackjack Forum article deals with the psychology of losing.