Gambling as a profession (or maybe not)

My winter holiday this year was spent in a warm place with a stack of books, some good friends, and a flu we all shared. Despite the flu, we had a great time, and I’d repeat the entire experience in a heartbeat (except for the vomiting).

It was this book, Michael Konik’s

Michael Konik is one of those rare, self-actualized people. He understands innately that he’s wants to play poker for a living, and he’s figured out a way to get himself paid to do it, by writing about it. In this and his other book,

Most notable, of course, is the story of the man who won $100,000 by taking a dare to go under the knife to get fake breasts and keep them for a year. He did it, and kept them for more than a year.

I didn’t like Konik’s second book, ‘Telling Lies…’ as much, because of his obsession with offshore gambling. He spends pages and pages talking about how to pick offshore gambling websites, all while talking about how they’re all basically fraudulant enterprises that will keep your money should you ever win big. He becomes tiresome during this portion of the book, and I ended up skimming it.

One of Konik’s painful moments shared with us is his trip to the World Series of Poker. He arrives to find out that one of his favorite publications, Harper’s, has finally decided to cover the tournament, but that they have picked another writer (Andy Bellin). What’s worse, Bellin appears to be a better poker player, because he finishes Fifth in the tournament, and Konik doesn’t even finish in the money.

Andy Bellin’s book,
Apart from being utterly awed by his innate ability to compute odds on the fly (he can easily convert 4/52 into a percentage, while taking into account all the cards on the table in the blink of an eye), Bellin uses his interviews of other players to impart a crucial fact about those who gamble for a living: it’s damn boring. Over and over again, we meet both professional winners and losers who remind us that when you’re playing a game of statistics, the only way you can do well is to have a large sample. And to have a large sample in poker (or anything else) you need to do it over, and over, and over again. And you must do it mathematically perfectly all the time to maintain your edge. It’s this mind-numbing activity that causes card players to smoke, do drugs, eat excessively, and eventually, to cheat.

I enjoyed Bellin’s book, dare I say even more, than Konik’s and heartily recommend you pick it up.

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