Never, and this really applies exclusively, should one begin a text with “I”. I have taken this to heart here, even though it forced itself upon me. For the actual preface only now begins with the confession:
I am a player.
What did you spontaneously think? It seems so neutral, but the associations are astonishing. “What? A gambler? If he’s not ruined yet, it won’t be long now. Otherwise I know a good doctor or can recommend a self-help group. Oh, yes: I also thought of addiction. But no one can deny that.”
And now I’ll take another word. Mathematics: “Oh God. Anything but that. One – two – still no tree in sight?”
So I devoted myself to a task that was at least not entirely easy. Writing about playing is still possible. Despite your deep-rooted aversion, which you like to call a “virtue”, you can at least rely on the “fascination”. But with mathematics? That’s where everything really stops! “I had maths at school, just like everyone else. And if anywhere the word ‘compulsory subject’ is appropriate, it’s here. Besides, why do you need all that nonsense? I was glad when it was over.”
There is even an added effect: if you are in a larger society and mathematics comes up by (surely unfortunate) chance, then it is “chic ” today to immediately identify yourself as an opponent and school failure. “Maths? I always got a 5.” and everyone is relieved. In contrast, the supporter must really fear for his social reputation. Others whisper to the neighbour: “Did you hear that? He says he likes maths and was good at school. So that’s who he is. Stay away from him. He thinks he’s better than us.”
Now that I’ve prepared you for how you should assess me, it’s time to come clean:
So I’m a gambler and I’ve had a lifelong weakness for mathematics. That’s who I am.
The first thing to do is to combat certain prejudices: not every gambler necessarily has to be a loser. I even claim to have financed my livelihood with gambling for about 25 years (you simply can’t do more than “claim”. How could you believe me?) and there is no end in sight.
Gambling, that is, playing for money, absolutely has its fascination. Does Dostoevsky have his fingers “in the game”? And isn’t it really the case that one suddenly imagines accumulated wealth in a seductive atmosphere, surrounded by pomp and beautiful women? Everyone imagines it somehow great and would very much like to, and why not actually themselves, just once maybe a little lucky streak? But we have all been well warned that gambling is like heroin: once done, immediately addictive. And even if you win that one time, you do it again anyway and in the end all is always lost. So remain steadfast. Nevertheless, I’ll keep reading the story. It is exciting after all. Even if it’s only because I’m experiencing all the ups and downs myself, so that at the end, after the bankruptcy, I can take a deep breath and say: “You see, I always knew that. Luckily I only lived through it in the novel.”
But now my companion has his say. I called him “mathematics” earlier, trotting along so high. In truth, however, it is only a very small part of mathematics. The magic word that triggers this fascination in us is thus: “probability”.
I would like to take a closer look at this word, in all its facets. First of all, purely conceptually. Then its reputation. Within mathematics and among ordinary people (not you!). How the word is used and how it is understood. Misinterpretations and misunderstandings, if one should not rather call it “incomprehension”.
The word “probably”, like any other word, has its origin and its justification. Today, when one says a sentence like “I’ll probably be there later” or “it will probably rain tomorrow”, one means (presumably this is how it is understood) that the event referred to is more probable than the counter-event. So “I’ll be there later” is (much) more probable than “I won’t be there later”, “it will rain tomorrow” is (much) more probable than “it won’t rain”. Agreed?
So by a “probable event” one wanted to mean an event whose occurrence is not quite 100% certain. Whether it is then 80% or 90%, even more, remains open. “Probable” stands for “(significantly) more than 50%”. Mathematicians have harnessed the word and made it accessible for quantification. The word used in speech was given a meaning in mathematics and, how could it be otherwise, a definition. “Probability is a value between 0 and 1. 0 denotes the “impossible event” and 1 is the “certain event”.” So since then, there is also such a thing as “small probabilities”.
Every value greater than 0 and less than 1 that is henceforth assigned to an event allows for both occurrence and non-occurrence. More on the confusion caused by this later. Now I want to turn briefly to the mathematician’s use of this term. For it is the case that the word triggers a certain shyness even among mathematicians. And to do this, we must first “dissect” the word itself and then the mathematician. The word “probably” could also be interpreted as: something “seems true.” And this already shows how difficult it is to deal with it in general. But even more so for the mathematician. The mathematician spends his whole existence proving and disproving statements. It is his purpose in life. There are true statements that have the value 1. And there are untrue statements that have the value 0. What, pray tell, is such a person supposed to do with a statement “that seems true”? He runs away quickly. He doesn’t like that at all. You can’t prove anything. Or: the proof is already there. Namely, that it only “seems true.” Is it perhaps even a lie?
Unfortunately, this is also the crux of the matter for the normal consumer. A probability is not tangible. As soon as you have assigned a probability greater than 0 and less than 1 to an event in the future, you allow it to occur and not to occur. Immediately one has to say “comes or does not come”. You simply have no other option. And two things make it even worse: as well as saying it is coming or it is not coming (which obviously everyone can do) you not only allow both possibilities to occur, you even have to allow the highly improbable event to come at some point. So if it does occur, and your assumed value was less than 1%, and someone wants to complain and “vote you out” as a prophet, then you even have to say, “Lucky it occurred. If it never happened, then I would have a problem. For then everything would indicate that it had had 0%.”
The second problem is that every event in the future has a probability between 0 and 1. There is no such thing as a certain event. If you think it is certain that the sun will rise tomorrow morning, I dispute that. But not because there may be clouds, but because I personally cannot be sure that the world will always go on in the usual way. I don’t know if time will stand still, or if the world will end, or if one day (or does that only happen at night?) there will be no time at all.
All this still collides with our understandable need for security. We want to undertake something and carry it out. You make an appointment, you look forward to it. You build a house and want to move in. You pay into a pension scheme because you want to collect a pension one day. You have children because you long for immortality. You save for your children so that they can get their driving licence one day. You bet that Germany will be world champion again, and of course you win the bet. Or you say, “I’m going to the sauna this afternoon.” You wouldn’t think of putting a probability on that. All our plans have the character of a certainty for us. We know intuitively that something can always come up, but we ignore it, Intentionally. And for the contingencies we have insurance. Or 10.
Thinking in terms of probabilities goes against our need for certainty.
Let me recap: I am a gambler and have studied one branch of mathematics intensively, namely probability. In mathematics itself, probability calculation already has a special position, it is unpopular. And it is also extremely difficult to deal with. One does not want to expose oneself to contingencies, risks, uncertainties. That is human.
And yet I have done it. The sentence I always have to hear when I tell people about my money stakes is: “What? You’re betting money on that? That would be way too risky for me.” And when you also hear orders of magnitude of 1,000 or even 10,000 euros: “Nah, I would never do that.”
I have exposed myself professionally, exposed myself to probabilities. I maintain that in principle everyone is a participant in this game with probabilities, namely life. Yet there is certainly a huge difference: in the world of gamblers and gambling, it is the case that events are constantly being generated whose outcome is uncertain. This is to attract players. This creates excitement and also promises a “gambling” profit to the one who predicts correctly, who has the right approach, who is lucky. The roulette ball is spinning, Maybe black will come up now? Or even 29? If I bet 10 euros, I can collect 350. So I’ll give it a try. Or maybe not? An event with an uncertain outcome is carried out on purpose so that people have something to play with.
Nevertheless, it remains the case that one must have a certain world view in order to expose oneself to this game of probabilities for the purpose of making a living. This world view is a certain model of thinking that assumes a certain calculability of chance. This predictability is not of the “coffee grounds” or “horoscope reading” or “consulting the crystal ball” or even “today I’m wearing my lucky jumper” type. It is rather the belief in iron logic. If there are 37 numbers in the cauldron and I have no other starting points, then I assume that each number occurs 1/37. If I take a cube in my hand and can’t see anything on it, then I initially assume 1/6 per number. At the same time, however, this means that I allow for every outcome, that goes without saying. If I play a card game and have no further information, then every card remaining in the deck has the same chance of being drawn. I have to assume that.
You also have a reason why you think that the casino, for example, will definitely win. That is precisely the side that “has the advantage”. The casino games are designed in such a way that each game offers the organiser a winning advantage and this can also be realised with the form of game offered. This is also a purely mathematical approach that you rely on without further enquiry.
So if you as a player could manage to shift the advantage to your side, then you would have a licence to print money just like the casino, wouldn’t you? That is exactly the job of the professional gambler.
I’ll briefly list game by game what my approach would be to shift the odds to my side:
Lotto: Play as many numbers and combinations of numbers as possible that others don’t play. This in no way increases the chance of winning. But it certainly increases the payout rate if you ever hit it. But I don’t think you can win in the long run.
Toto: Here, too, the rule is: bet on tendencies that others don’t bet on enough. Avoid clear favourites as much as possible. These are the typical bank games, so you have to bet against them. This also increases the payout odds, but drastically reduces the probability of occurrence. Whether you can live on this in the long run is questionable.
Roulette: Two possibilities here:
1) Observation roulette. One would have to try to get an idea from the trajectory of the ball where it could fall. Then you have to bet on kettle areas. Two important aspects:a) there is someone who has been doing this successfully for years. b) even small shifts in the probabilities of occurrence are enough to shift the odds in your favour.
2) Before the question of playing with or against the bank, of course, only with the bank. It means playing the odds that have occurred in proportion too often. The only possible cause for this, if it is not just coincidence: there are “boiler errors” which ensure that these chances occur more often. Of course, this could also be due to the croupier who throws the ball. But if so, then only with the bank.
Chances of successful gambling: not small. The biggest problem with all the suggestions, however, remains discipline.
Black Jack: a little more in the book. Obviously, big cards, if there are still many, help the player more than the bank. So bet (a lot) when many small cards are out and big cards are still in.
Even these seemingly pure games of chance offer starting points for thinking about how to gain an advantage. If one now considers the alleged games of chance with a recognisably high proportion of skill elements, such as backgammon or poker, also skat, bridge or rummy, it becomes clear quite quickly that one can at least try to feed off them. It depends on aptitudes, which are quite different. But beyond that, these games are played for money, sometimes with considerable stakes. And who is supposed to earn if there is no organiser any more? Simple answer: the better, even if only in the long run.
All these approaches are united by one basic idea: one exposes oneself to the probabilities, but tries to bring them favourably to one’s own side. This means that the outcome in individual cases is not predetermined, which is quite welcome in order to “keep the weaker ones in line”. Nevertheless, the advantage is felt in the long run. And that is exactly the principle with which the casinos earn their money: the advantage is on their side in the long run. Short-term successes for the wrong side are not only possible on a daily basis, but even more than that: they are distinctly desired. Other players should see that it is possible to win higher amounts, get them and go home happy. What happens the next day is another story. Most of them bring the money back, as they say in gambler’s language.
I have tried my hand at several, almost all of these games. Sometimes with more success, sometimes with less. Some games are more fun, some less. Some suit you more, others less. Some promise good profits, others small ones or none at all. It is always a matter of weighing up what is worth playing. Today, on 26 May 2009, in view of the poker boom, it might be worthwhile to play poker. Why not? You play against other opponents and pit your own playing ability against theirs. The organiser takes a percentage (if you don’t happen to have a private game), that’s perfectly legitimate. But then it’s a question of: who can play better?
From my life story, I can tell many amusing and exciting stories. About mistakes, lucky streaks or unlucky sequences. Everything happens. In general, it is worthwhile to think about luck and bad luck. You just have to think of it as riding a bicycle. And luck is the tailwind. You don’t feel it. Bad luck is the headwind. You feel it twice. That’s because of the direction of travel. Always to the front.
Even if I could now convince you to some extent that it is possible: all these games move in probabilities that are accessible in some way. Will the 6 come? Will my 10 of clubs come? Will my ace come? Will my 6 numbers come in the lottery? That is always, even if difficult here and there, still “calculable”. But what now, when we deal with games that other individuals play for us?
So now we have landed at sport. And almost everyone plays some kind of sport. The sport one plays, one usually enjoys watching. You can judge the top performances well, compare yourself with them, it’s exciting per se. But there are also plenty of other consumers of sport. Mostly, it is the absolute top sport that is conveyed to us through the media. You follow the tournaments, the games themselves, you feel the excitement, but, even more, you form an opinion. And that’s where sports betting starts. People have formed their opinions, they also want to follow the event, so they bet on their assessments. Even if this still happens to us behind closed doors: it happens.
And what is our favourite child? What are the media and the stadiums overflowing with, but also the “experts’ benches”? Exactly: football. And on top of that, a lot of people follow football, so a correspondingly large number (no, not Germans?! Well, there are other nations) bet on it. So it is a “high-turnover market”. Billions are turned over every day. At a betting exchange, betfair, you can immediately read the turnover on every event that is offered. I’ll give an example: Today, Wednesday, 10 June 2009, a total of six World Cup qualifying football matches will take place. Among them are such illustrious matches as “Australia – Bahrain”, “Japan – Qatar” or “Sweden – Malta” (those were the three biggest). The turnover so far: over 3 million euros! It’s only morning and I’m only looking at one of hundreds of providers.
So what could be more natural with these gigantic turnovers than to get involved if you are equipped with the right tools?
Football betting is my main business. And the crucial question that inevitably arises immediately: is football predictable? We don’t have a dice and a roulette wheel. We usually have 22 people, individuals, led by a referee, hired and set up by a coach, chasing a single ball and with conflicting interests at that. What is supposed to be predictable? Crossbar, post, in or out?
I’ll answer the question briefly in the affirmative. If the reader is still looking for further answers that could shed light on this “yes”, I must recommend the study of the book.
However, I must say a few words about my motivation for writing this work. There are two levels of motivation. One is that I have acquired a fair amount of knowledge and, in view of my own transience, have come to the realisation that it would be unfortunate if I did not even record it. How many insights gained in the process are revolutionary, I subsequently leave to the experts, who will of course beat me up. However, my experience teaches me that there are a few things that have not yet been recognised in this form or at least, if they have, they have not yet been recorded in this way. In addition, at some point you realise that the whole path of life is not an ordinary one. Things happen that have not yet happened in this form to many other people. One feels an inclination to simply write that down.
But just as naturally, I am confronted with the question: Why does he want to tell us all these secrets about how to become a successful player? It always reminds me of the question with authors of roulette books who have worked out a “system”. And, this is not necessarily new, they first have to find a convincing answer to the question: why explain the system and not apply it?
I personally have two answers to this: the entire betting market is growing. Poker is also experiencing a gigantic boom. More people will surely join it, one way or another. Who is a winner or a loser in the end is something everyone has to work out for themselves. But I certainly have no reason to worry that by writing the book I am “sawing my own branch”, that I am depriving myself of possible merit by passing on my findings. But there is an even more important and better argument: it may sound nice and exciting to earn your money all your life just with a combination of your hobbies. Football, mathematics, computers, gambling. But there too there are signs of fatigue. What sounds exciting and desirable to many has become part of everyday routine for me. You watch a game, you win it or you lose it. You watch the next one and win it or lose it. Afterwards, the accounts are settled so that all the accounts are correct.
There is no question that the game itself can offer excitement. I am well aware that someone else who hears that 3000 euros is at stake for me would have a heart attack if he had such a sum at stake himself. But when it happens every day, sometimes you can’t help but let it bounce. 3000 euros? Never mind. One I win, one I lose. That’s how it was and that’s how it stays. It would be a total lie and also excessively arrogant to call gambling, betting, “boring”. With every bet, one also struggles to make one’s own assessment. But you also begin to imagine that you don’t always “need” to do it every day and four times. One could also do without it quite well.
I imagine that one day I will only be able to do it when I want to do it. I’m sure I’ll always enjoy it. But I would also like to be free of the pressure.
So, I’m happy to tell you all my secrets. There’s nothing I feel the need to keep to myself. If you were to become a better player, or a good one, a successful one, after your studies, I would have achieved one goal in any case. If I have only provided you with temporary entertainment through the reading, a goal would also have been achieved. If, however, what you have read should simply make you more aware and enjoy playing even more, then I would also be satisfied.