It has been said that sports provide a microcosm of life situations, and the same can be said of gambling. Just about all circumstances one might come across in a lifetime can be seen in some facet of gaming activities. Just consider the following lessons that gambling can teach to those who are open to learning.
The Nature of Risk
Gambling, by definition, means “taking a chance … to bet on an uncertain outcome.” Those who gamble discover not only the difference between “good bets” and “bad bets,” calculated risks and hopeless wagers, but also a lot about their own approach to risk-taking. It is far better to learn whether one is brave or foolhardy while playing cards or dice with money at stake than on a battlefield with one’s life at risk or in a business venture with one’s livelihood on the line.
The Beginner’s Advantage
Zen masters refer to the state of unknowing that precedes learning as the “beginner’s mind.” It is a mind free of preconceptions and notions of what’s right or wrong. As such, it is nonjudgmental. It pays very close attention to actions as it seeks meaning. It does not pretend to understand or know results before outcomes are produced. It is willing to take risks and make mistakes without fear, treating all situations as learning experiences. Anyone who has experienced “beginner’s luck” at gambling has witnessed the power of the “beginner’s mind” in action. One can “learn how to learn” through the trials and errors of gambling.
The Virtue of Patience
Rashness is usually punished by losses in games of chance. Gamblers soon learn to bide their time and wait for the right opportunities. Especially in games such as Texas Hold’em, where only one in seven hands may be playable, the ability to sit tight is just as important as being aggressive at the proper moment.
Some games of chance require little thought, like flipping coins. But the most lucrative forms of gambling, such as sports betting and poker, demand the development of mental skills from research abilities to tactical analysis. Most gambling professionals are true strategists, who carefully weight the pros and cons of each wager or action within the context of the game.
In many forms of gambling, such as poker and tournament blackjack, players compete directly against one another. Being able to “read” one’s opponents by studying their behaviors and mannerisms is a highly useful and transferable talent, especially when faced with stressful conditions—contract negotiations, legal disputes, family disagreements and the like.
How to Behave
All games of chance are governed by rules and basic standards of etiquette. Gamblers learn to abide by these and achieve their success within the parameters set forth for the games that they play. Good manners, good sportsmanship, humility, respect and politeness can all be learned at the tables and transferred into other life situations.
Practice Makes Perfect
No less so than in sports or playing a musical instrument, experience counts in gambling. In fact, as one blackjack professional put it, “Experts learn how to play at home and then apply their knowledge in the casino.… Their real victories are unseen. Talented people who perform in public have often spent many years honing their skills in private.”
The Importance of Math
In his 1984 book on management, the celebrated CEO of ITT, Harold Geneen, wrote, “The drudgery of the numbers will set you free to make intelligent decisions.” He could have learned that from gambling. Whether it means calculating the House edge in a game of blackjack, knowing how many “outs” there are for a hand of Texas Hold’em, or scientifically handicapping a horserace, the secret to success is in the mathematics; those with a knack for numbers hold a huge advantage over those who base their actions on instinct or feelings alone.
It almost goes without saying that the experience gained in taking care of a bankroll is invaluable to managing money in any aspect of life. From record-keeping and budgeting to looking for the best value and investing wisely, gambling instructs by example, not just theory.
Watch Your Back
Gambling also teaches one to be on guard for tricks, cheats, swindles and cons. It’s a useful lesson that can be applied in business dealings and all forms of social interaction. It was Malcolm X who once wrote: “This was my first lesson about gambling: If you see somebody winning all the time, he isn’t gambling, he’s cheating. Later on in life, if I were continuously losing in any gambling situation, I would watch very closely.”