Getting the Best of It
Author David Sklansky
Synopsis of Getting the Best of It
Getting the Best of It by David Sklansky contains six sections discussing probability, poker, blackjack, other casino games, sports betting, and general gambling concepts. This book contains some of the most sophisticated gambling ideas that have ever been put into print. Included is perhaps the best discussion of the basic mathematics of gambling, yet it is written so that even the most non-mathematical of readers can understand it. Many of the ideas discussed are those that the author himself has successfully used during his career.
Topics include expectation, combinations, Baye's Theorem, the eight mistakes in poker, checking in the dark, playing tight, The Key Card Concept, casinos and their mistakes, crapless craps, betting sports, hedging and middling, knowing what's important, the Law of Averages and other fallacies, and much more.
Excerpt from the Book Getting the Best of It: Knowing What's Important
Basically, this chapter further expands on the principles in the previous chapter. This time I discuss which factors to concentrate on in a gambling or business endeavor if you can't concentrate on everything. If there are many factors involved it may not be the right to simply "maximize" as many of them as possible. It is important to consider the relative importance of each factor. You may very well do better by concentrating on only a few factors rather than on a great number of factors with lesser importance.
Many serious gamblers suffer from a very common problem. The problem is not easily seen but frequently keeps them from being as successful as they should be.
This problem affects players in all types of gambling: poker, blackjack, backgammon, sports betting. Ironically, it frequently affects the conscientious student of a game more than the intuitive player. I used to be a victim myself.
However, as with everything else in gambling, a thorough logical analysis finds and cures the problem. The intuitive player must eventually wind up second best.
The problem I'm speaking of is the propensity of some players to learn as much as possible about a certain game with out attaching a relative importance to each of the concepts. Basically, every gambling game involves knowing and using the right play for each given situation.
Often the game is too complex for one person to learn everything. It stands to reason, then, that the goal should be to learn as many of the right plays as possible. The more often you are right, the more you will win.
Unfortunately, this is not quite correct. lt is possible that you will know a higher percentage of the proper plays without play ing as profitably as someone who knows less.
The reason this can happen stems from the fact that not all plays are equally important. Even though you know the right decision for more of the situations that may arise, an opponent may be correct more often when it comes to an important decision. Thus, he wins more money.
What do I mean by an important decision? One of two things: First, a decision may be important because there's a big difference between playing it right and playing it wrong. More on this in a moment. Second, a decision is important if it comes up often (even if there isn't a great difference between the right and wrong plays). Obviously a decision that fits both of these categories is extremely important.
To be a really successful gambler, you must do the right thing as often as possible when confronted with important decisions. You need not worry as much about less important decisions.
Let's look at some examples.
It's sad but true that most of the world class poker players are not thoroughly knowledgeable regarding poker odds. (Though their intuitive estimates come pretty close anyway.) Conversely, many lesser players know the odds exactly.
They can still be weaker than the intuitive players because knowing the right odds is not that important! The reason is two-fold. First, it rarely happens that the odds the pot offers are near the break-even point. When, for instance, a good player is a 6-1 underdog to make his hand and is only getting 3-1 pot odds, he would know to fold just by his fairly accurate intuition. Likewise, he would know to take 8-1 odds. He is only likely to make a mistake those rare times when he is faced with a close decision.
In other words, your ability to always make the correct decision in this spot will only occasionally make a difference--those few times when it's close. Moreover, making the correct decision is no big deal when it's close.
For instance, suppose you're an 8-1 underdog and the pot of- fers 7-1. (I disregard future-round bets for the purpose of this discussion.) Say someone bet $10 into a $60 pot. You would now fold and save $10. But you really didn't save the full $10. The intuitive player might call in this spot and cost himself $10 seven out of eight times. However, he gains $70 the one out of eight times that he makes his hand. His bad play only costs an average of $1.25, which isn't much.
Now let's take a somewhat different situation. Once again, a player bets $10 into a $60 pot, except this time it's the last betting round. Your hand can only win if he's bluffing, and you're almost sure he isn't. Thus, you fold in order to save $10.
The intuitive player, confronted with this same situation, might realize that there is a one-in-three chance that his opponent is bluffing. So he calls, thereby winning $70 one out of three times while losing $10 two out of three.
In this case, his ability to assess his opponent made him an average of $16.67 more than you. Furthermore, even if he agreed with you that the guy was almost certainly not bluffing, this intuitive player might realize that a $10 raise could win the pot, let's say, 30% of the time. If this assessment were accurate, $20 risked would win $70 three out of 10 times for an average gain of $7. That's a lot better than folding as you would have.
In the previous example, we saw how a poker decision could be classified as important, because there was a large difference between making the wrong play and making the right play. This usually occurs late in a hand when the better player may be able to save or win a pot that a poor player loses.
The other kind of important decision (namely one that occurs frequently) usually arises early in a poker hand. I'm talking about the decision of whether or not to play a hand. Many players are too loose with their starting hands, committing themselves with any pair in 7-card stud or any ace in hold'em.
While these are only moderately bad plays the problem is that they come up often. Eventually, they will cost you a lot of money.
We have now seen examples of both types of important decisions as they apply to poker. What about the super important decisions? Is there a poker situation that comes up frequently where the right play is vastly superior to the wrong play?
Yes. It is game selection. Whenever you have a choice, your ability and willingness to find and play in the game that is most profitable is the most important aspect of your earning power. No matter how well you play any game, it is the abilities of your opponents that is the main component to your expected win.
This is why I think that a good player should learn to play all games. Then, if he finds an exceptional game, he can play even if it isn't his specialty.
It is better to be the third-best player in a good hold'em game than the best razz player in a tight game. (Obviously game selection only comes up if you're somewhere like Las Vegas or Gardena.) However, there are also important decisions applying to private games. One would be to keep the game going on a steady basis.
Another important factor would be to deal the type of poker (if it's dealer's choice) that gives you the biggest edge even if it isn't your best game! As far as keeping a game going is concerned, this involves things far removed from poker strategy and is another reason that some of the most successful players are not always the best players.
Let's see how this principle applies to other games. Blackjack gives the clearest example. In almost all cases, the best players are not the most successful. In most cases (one exception to be noted later), the ability to use advanced counts and the knowledge of obscure strategy variations is almost irrelevant. Not only is the opportunity to use this knowledge very infrequent, but the play is usually so close that making the wrong choice is not that bad.
The important thing in blackjack, like poker, is getting a good game. By this I mean a game in which they are dealing a large portion of the deck or decks and are allowing you to vary the size of your bets significantly.
The most advanced counter, betting one or two units and being dealt 20 cards from one deck, will not win as fast as someone using a simple plus-minus count while betting from one to four units and being dealt 30 cards.
Thus, the most important thing in blackjack is finding and keeping a good game. What this boils down to, in this day and age, is disguising the fact that you're counting. The count can be simple, but you must know it cold in order to appear that you're not counting.
(The exception I mentioned earlier sometimes arises in casinos that deal single decks rather than a multiple-deck shoe. These casinos have a tendency to be very paranoid about winners who alter their bets-no matter how well those winners disguise their efforts to count.
These casinos, though, will usually deal a good game to anyone who doesn't change his bet. Thus, the best way to beat a one-deck game is to use an advanced count that will show a nice profit on a flat bet. A simple count won't win enough. This is why most professional blackjack players now play mainly against shoes.)
What about backgammon? Once you become a decent player, there is only one important decision (besides finding a good game, of course). It can be said in one word. The cube. Knowing how to play the cube is almost always more important than any individual move might be. Yet, otherwise great backgammon players are frequently inept in this aspect of the game.
It is also important in backgammon to distinguish between a very bad move and a clearly bad move. I know some hustlers who get good games and sometimes even a "spot" by occasionally making a move that is obviously incorrect but doesn't hurt them much.
A good example of this occurs when you have a closed board with your opponent on the bar. If you must bring some men into your home board, you should do it in such a way that double sixes will not leave a shot. Failure to take this precaution, however, will cost you the game much less than 1 in 100 times.
Still, a good opponent who sees you make this elementary mistake may very likely be persuaded to over spot you. A similiar wrong move that's no big deal is making the two point on a 6-4 opening roll. If this causes an opponent to lay 11-10 odds on each future game, it is well worthwhile.
Sports betting is another field to which there are important and non-important aspects. I have found that it is usually not that important (believe it or not) to know how good the teams are! It is usually far more important to know (1) how to evaluate a particular situation; (2) how to evaluate individual match-ups; and (3) how to get the best line.
For now, I hope I've helped both the experienced and the aspiring gambler to decide what's really important while studying his or her particular game.