David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth have produced some of the most important and thought provoking books ever written on gambling. Whenever they produce a new work, I almost invariably buy it sight unseen. This book works as well, although it’s not quite what I expected.
I really expected the book to cover what the professional gambler would need to know in order to profit in their profession on a day to day basis. For example, I thought I might find advice on what times of the day the loosest middle and upper limit poker games would be played, how specifically to sacrifice a little expectation to lower variance, how to deal with W2G forms and gambling taxes, etc.. I really expected the book to be aimed at the already skilled gambler who is considering making this a full time occupation.
Instead, the book aims a bit lower. It is not assumed that the aspiring professional blackjack player already knows how to count cards, or even basic strategy. Nor is it assumed that the aspiring professional poker player knows how to calculate pot odds or knows what a good Texas Hold’em starting hand looks like. I understand the editorial decision to include this information in this book, but it means that there’s a lot less meat here than one would expect. I sure wouldn’t have minded a paragraph at the beginning of the blackjack chapter, for example, that said, “First, go read two of the following books, then come back and read this chapter,” and then less background and more new material, but I guess that isn’t good business.
The first section is on blackjack. To be honest, there isn’t a lot new here that doesn’t already appear in other sources. Some of the information is made more up to date here, which is good, but the well read blackjack player won’t find any new deep secrets here.
The next two sections, which I’ll lump together here, are on sports and ligaz11 betting. Admittedly, these are subjects I know little about, so the information here was interesting to me, although it may be well known to those who participate more often. The authors focus not on traditional handicapping techniques, but what mathematical circumstances might indicate when a particular team, horse, or combination might be undervalued by the oddsmakers. I don’t know if this information by itself is sufficient to make money at sports or horse wagering, but it is interesting nonetheless.
Section four is on slot and video poker playing while section seven is on casino tournaments. Again, nothing new is here and aspiring pros would be much better served by reading other definitive works in this area. There is an interesting description of how modern slot machines work, but as far as the professional gambler is concerned stating, “One can’t know what the true odds are of any slot combination coming up, therefore one can never know when one might have an advantage, so the professional gambler should never play slot machines,” is sufficient as far as the topic of this book is concerned.
Sections five and six are on usually unbeatable games and casino promotions. These sections are about mistakes the casinos make in calculating payouts, how to recognize them, and then how to take advantage of them. While material like this has been presented elsewhere, it has never been presented definitively, and these sections make a good addition to what has already been written. If one wants to take advantage of these situations, one does have to keep their eyes open. Nonetheless, taking a second look at a game’s payout takes little time, and there might be a pleasant surprise.
The eighth section is on poker, the subject the authors know best. Even though both Sklansky and Malmuth have been generally successful as gamblers at many games, this is their bread and butter. Unfortunately, the section reads more as an introduction to their other fine books than as any new contribution. There’s little more to be written on how to play various poker games, the authors have already written pretty definitive works on these topics, so I would have liked to have seen more advice on how to be successful at poker when you’re not playing. What should one look for in a game that makes it good? What should one be doing away from the table to help improve one’s game? These are issues that have not been dealt with definitively, and this book could have benefited from a thorough discussion of them.
The book ends with a section titled, “Putting It All Together”, an appendix on probability and a second appendix on suggested reading. There are some interesting topics in this last section, and, frankly, I wish more of the book had been like this. The appendix on probability is obligatory and serviceable. The appendix on recommended reading is good, in my opinion the recommendations are quite sound.
As a whole, the book is good and worth reading, but I can’t help but feel a little disappointed. If viewed as an outline on what one needs to learn before one can become a professional gambler, it works quite well. However, there’s another book that can be written covering some of the more fundamental questions about how one goes about pursuing this enterprise on a day to day basis. I have to admit I was hoping this book would have been it.
Aimed at the individual who enjoys gambling and is thinking about becoming a professional but hasn’t studied the games seriously, this book, while far from the best efforts of Sklansky and Malmuth, is satisfactory. I would have like to have seen the book be more of an operational handbook for the professional gambler and less of a study outline for what one ought to know. The well read gambler will find enough information of value here to make the purchase of the book worthwhile, but might feel a little bit disappointed in the lack of depth.