The professional gambler is a person whose sole source of income is gambling.  If he doesn’t depend on gambling for his living, then he is an amateur- no matter how expert he is at cards nor how informed he is about horse racing, and no matter how often he plays or bets.  Most members of the profession of gambling can be fitted into one of three categories: They can be skilled and experience gamblers who manage to stay ahead of the game honestly (by knowing the odds and percentages, among other things, and betting accordingly); they can be professional cheats or confidence men; or they can be businessmen who own and run gambling premises and facilities (and who themselves may never gamble).

A great deal of romantic and some infamy has long been attached to the character of the professional gambler.  Popular fiction is full of romantic idealization of the gambler as a devil-may-care rogue (though not a villain), a foot-loose and self-sufficient wanderer who drifts from adventure to adventure and from woman to woman.  Folk songs (like the American “blues” “Roving Gambler”) describe the restless, nomadic life of the gambling man; romantic fiction (like the American musical Showboat) stresses his invariable fascination for women.  Of  the more recent versions of this fictional image of the professional gambler, the American television series Maverick is the best example.  Even the hero’s name is appropriate: In the American West, a “marverick” is specifically an animal that hasn’t been branded with a mark of ownership generally, the term is applied to an independent, wild, and irresponsible person.  Both as a hero and as a gambler Maverick is representative of a stock fictional character though a very popular one, especially in America.
Professional gamblers probably enjoy this public image of themselves as much as anyone.  But their enjoyment is likely to be tinged with irony, for real professionals may not be very colorful or romantic.  And, if they stay on the straight and narrow, they are often unlikely to be very rich.  For example, an American professional named jeremiah Preedy, who ran card games on Mississippi river-boats in the early 19th century, is supposed never to have made a dishonest bet in his life.  He was pursued everywhere by parasite tipsters, whose advice he generously bought because he knew they were desperate for money; but this kindness of heart soon ran his fortunes down to nothing and he died in poverty.  (Later he was made the hero of a melodrama called The Gambler that, together with The Drunkard and The Sinner, had record runs in the mid-19th century with traveling theater companies.)

Another American professional, Jackie Swire, made $ 100,000 profit a year during three years spent in the same river-boats.  He invested the money in government stocks, went on playing online poker with the interest, and eventually became a millionaire.  But according to his autobiography he could never sleep peacefully: “It was the thought of the morrow, the hideous valley of prophecy in which my bills might have to bet met, that robbed me of my rest.  For I was forever in the hands of fortune and skill, and forever putting on a plain face that was not mine but the face of one more confident than ever I could be of success.”

Nick the Greek, America’s most famous professional gambler, in action at the faro game tables.  Like all “straight” professionals, he always prefers games with low house percentages in which he can make full use of his skill  and experience.

Anxiety, insecurity, the ever-present fear of financial ruin-these are the full-time companions of the professional gambler.  A far cry from the reckless and fancy-free gambling man of fiction, but a truer picture.  And another part of that picture is the immense amount of hard work that is necessary for a professional gambler’s success.  Though chance is an unbeatable factor, its effects can be minimized in a number of ways; and the professional must learn these methods and use them to his advantage if he is to stay in action for any length of time against the stiff competition he will meet.

The professional approach to gambling.  Dedicated card players hide their emotions behind dead-pan poker basics faces,” so as not to reveal the strength or weakness of the cards they hold. 

If his game is cards, he must learn (for instance ) all the odds against his drawing specific hands; he must have a computer-life ability to remember all the cards that have been played so that he can (with mental mathematics ) adjust the odds and his betting; and he must develop an ability to gauge the psychology of his opponents, to read the strength of the others’ hands from, say, the smallest change of expression.  This last ability may come largely from the professional’s instinct or intuition, but the intuition itself will have been sharpened by experience.  Patrick Herne, a professional who made enough money out of poker to start his own saloon on Broadway, New York, in 1840, wrote: “I spent 14 hours at a stretch overlooking four poker theory games and never embroiling myself in any of them, but only studying the faces and cards of the players and deciding what I would have done in their stead had I been in the position of any one of them without the knowledge I had of their opponent’s hands.”

But amateurs display a far more happy-go-lucky attitude-like the lady, playing the five-cent slot machines a Harold’s Club, Las Vegas.

But the would be professional’s accumulation of experience while he is learning his trade is always hazardous, for he is completely at the mercy of chance and of more skilled players.  “I was for ever assembling capital,” wrote Minnie Matruh, a Midwest madam who turned her brothel into a gambling saloon when she found she had an almost uncanny gift for remembering cards.  “My jewels went first and my house next; then my clothes even those I stood in, so that I had to resort to borrowed finery merely so that I could practice and lose and lose again until the way of it was that I made of my skill something worth while.”

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