Stop Gambling and Start Investing

Gambling versus Investing

Professional gambler has always been a moniker that makes me twinge.  As a card counter, I have never considered myself a gambler.  Investor is a much more fitting title for a professional card counter.  Some may say that this is an insignificant matter of semantics.  After all, both gamblers &  investors put their money on the line with the goal of making a profit. However, there is a big difference between the approaches & outcomes of a gambler as compared to an investor.

These are the traits of a gambler:

1)   A gambler does little or no research & preparation before taking on risk.

2)   A gambler hopes to win despite unfavorable odds.

3)   A gambler acts based on hunches, misinformation &  unproven systems.

4)   A gambler is affected by the emotions of greed &  fear.

5)   A gambler’s motivation is largely driven by thrill seeking &  entertainment.

6)   A gambler loses.

Conversely, these are the traits of an investor:

1)       An investor completes thorough research &  preparation before taking on risk.

2)       An investor knows he/she has a high probability of winning (making money) because the odds are in his/her favor.

3)       An investor utilizes a rational &  proven model or system.

4)       An investor does not allow emotions to influence his/her decisions.

5)       An investor’s motivation is not risk seeking &  entertainment.

6)       An investor wins.

These characteristics hold true not only in blackjack, but in just about any potential gamble/investment, whether it’s the stock market, poker, real estate or buying a fast food franchise. Gamblers tend to have a narrow, short-term view of risk versus reward, focusing primarily on the upside. On the other hand, investors see the big picture &  factor in risk when evaluating the long-term prospect of an investment. Of course even the savviest investment has an element of chance. But, if you have the right mindset &  implement a  rational, proven approach, you will maximize your odds of success.


  1. Mike, I enjoy the site and your posts. I’m a failed MIT counter myself – I was trained by an alum in New York and attempted just the lowly spotter checkout (“2-share checkout,” or something like this, if memory serves) for Shadow a couple times around ’98 or ’99 but was not up to speed. I ended up joining a different team, slightly laxer when it came to their testing, but very fierce players. I earned my living at blackjack for five years. And, for what it’s worth, I’d say the winningest blackjack players I know fell on the gambler side of the gambler/investor dichotomy, and would not mind admitting as much. Many of us were motivated by thrill-seeking and often (if we happened to be losing) by emotions. I think, barring exceptional circumstances, that solid returns in blackjack are so much tougher to realize than comparable returns in more conventional investments, pretty much the only reason people with capital and with serious life opportunities go into card counting is for the thrill. We want to be gamblers, albeit of the positive-expectation variety. There is – was? – plenty of opportunity on Wall Street for those who would rather invest.

  2. Josh, I agree that card counting does provide a thrill when you put out the big bets with a favorable count and cash in on the advantage. In any profession, those who excel are motivated by more than just making money. I know I never lost the adrenaline rush when it came time to push out the big money. But emotions never dictated how I played my hand or how much I wagered. As you know, a professional card counter always plays his/her hand based on the correct strategy and wagers the optimal bet size based on player advantage and bankroll size. I have to say that from a percentage basis, the return on investment for a skilled card counter is much more favorable than conventional investments. Largely because the mathematics of blackjack and card counting are blackjack & white. Given a sufficient skill level you can confidently estimate your expected win. Measuring advantage in or investments is a much trickier proposition – you could argue its not too far removed from gambling in some cases. Unlike blackjack, it’s often unclear as to whether an edge even exists. From a gross perspective, the profit potential in Wall Street is undoubtedly greater than card counting because you don’t have the scaling issues you have with blackjack (table maxes). Thanks for commenting. It’s great to hear from a fellow MIT card counting alum.

  3. hey man, nice post. well put.

  4. hey mike, im wondering why you choose the hi-lo system over the other card counting systems like the hi-opt 1&2 which are said ro be more accurate than the hi-lo system but are more difficult to learn. I know you used the hi-lo in your counting days but id like to know what you think which system works best and what you prefer. anyway, this site of yours is well put, the best i’ve come across so far. Good day mr. Aponte

  5. Great post (actually, the whole blog is great),
    I’ve been learning to count and have developed a betting system for myself and have been slowly but surely making a profit from blackjack. Many a time I’ve referenced this post to my friends or sent them a link to it after we leave the casino, them down money and sometimes me being the only one who was up.

  6. Cool! Mike Aponte and Josh Axelrad on the same blog post. Mike, this site is cool and “21” the movie is the bomb! (As is the book Bringing Down the House)
    Josh, I enjoyed your book (Repeat Until Rich) as well. Are you playing again?

  7. Hi Mike,

    I have been practicing hi lo system counting for a few weeks with 4 decks and am discouraged by how often I will have a high positive or negative count and expect a major shift in direction when in fact it either keeps going in that same direction for 5 or more points or just flips back and forth between say -10 and -11 maybe 6 times in a row. In other words it seems like the count doesn’t give me much in the way of advantageous information. Basic strategy knowledge made a huge difference in my performance but even playing with a computer next to me checking the count doesn’t seem to up my advantage/performance very much.

    Is there a better system than just hi lo counting that is manageable but really ups the advantage?

  8. Or maybe a system that supplements hi lo counting?

    Not having to do the true count conversion would help too…..

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