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Gambling to Pay the Bills

Two Mathematicians Write the Book on How to Beat the Casinos and Kiss Your Boss Goodbye
Michael Konik
From the Print Edition:
Michael Douglas, May/Jun 98

(continued from page 3)

In Gambling for a Living, Sklansky and Malmuth unmask this supposed money-making windfall. They show that there are 120 ways--five factorial, or (5)(4)(3)(2)(1)--to make a royal flush. Two of these royals are "reversibles." So only one out of 60 royal flushes qualifies for the bonus. Since the probability of hitting a royal flush on a poker machine is about 1 in 40,000, a reversible royal is about a 2.5 million-to-1 shot. Because five quarters are required per play, it thus takes about $3 million worth of quarters, on average, to be inserted into a machine for each reversible royal hit. "Note that $10,000 extra for every $3 million bet is one-third of one percent," they dryly point out. "This is a nice bonus, but nothing to write home about even if you pay no taxes on it."

"It's a shame that most of these books are being widely read," Mason Malmuth says. "Some of the advice these writers dispense is so bad it's laughable. But, on the other hand, it gives David and I a wealth of material to debunk."

Sklansky has plans for a new book that will apply game theory and logic to real-life issues, as was done partially in Poker, Gaming & Life. ("Sometimes I think even Bill Clinton could use an adviser who's well-versed in figuring out gambling problems," Sklansky quips.) Additionally, Sklansky hopes to expand his burgeoning casino consulting business. And Malmuth expects his publishing house to flourish as legal casinos continue to open in nearly every state in America.

But for now they're off to The Mirage to play poker, albeit at different tables, so as not to diminish their winnings. "We've got to put in the hours at the game," Malmuth says. "In some ways it's like punching a time card." Indeed, as readers learn in Gambling for a Living, short-term wins and losses are largely irrelevant. An expert player's expected hourly win rate--figured over hundreds of hours of results--multiplied by his hours played equals weekly (and yearly) profit.

In other words, a man like Malmuth is compelled to spend many hours in the casino. He has to bet and raise and fold. His job depends on it. Such is the life of a professional gambler. *

Contributing editor Michael Konik writes Cigar Aficionado's gambling column. At the Tables With Malmuth

Mason Malmuth agrees to play with me in the $10-$20 Hold'em game at The Mirage. This level of poker, where the pots are normally a couple of hundred dollars, is far smaller than he normally plays, but many fledgling professionals attempt to break in at this level, so the action is lively, if not always expert.

Having Mason Malmuth seated beside you at a poker table is like inviting Butch Harmon to ride along in your golf cart. Even when neither of us is involved in the hand, at my request Malmuth quietly provides a running commentary, turning monotony into a private tutorial. The depth at which he explores the possibilities of a poker hand is frightening. I'm almost too scared to actually play a hand in front of him.

Finally, I'm dealt a powerful starting combination--Ace-King--and raise. Two other players call. After much betting, I win a large pot, with two pair. But winning or losing is immaterial to Malmuth. He's concerned that I may have missed an extra raise on the end, costing myself an additional $20.

After a systematic re-creation of the hand, analyzing all of my alternatives, we both conclude that, yes, in fact, I would have been correct to raise.

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