My son-in-law, or perhaps a more correct term is step-son-in-law, Michael, passed away recently after a long illness. Michael was married to Bonnie’s daughter Joyce. He was more than 20 years older than Joyce, and in fact was a few months older than me.
After a somewhat rocky start, where Joyce and Michael were initially opposed to Bonnie marrying a professional gambler and did their best to sabotage the wedding. Over time we all got to know each other well and became friends.
Before he retired, Michael was a high-ranking Civil Service executive for the Nevada state government and worked in Carson City — which is south of Reno and near Lake Tahoe. Bonnie and I would take extended trips to Harrah’s Lake Tahoe and in addition to the gambling we would find time every trip to visit with Joyce and Michael.
Michael liked to play video poker but wasn’t very good at it. During one trip, I believe it was nine years ago, I scouted all the casinos in Carson City and Dayton, the suburb where they actually lived at the time, in search of the best video poker for him. At the time, the games I believed were best for him to play were found at Bodie’s, Carson Nugget, Casino Fandango, and Dotty’s. Each of those casinos has changed their inventories and promotions, and these may or may not be the best places to play in that area today.
The single best game I recommended in the dollar denomination was NSU Deuces Wild, the 16-10-4-4-3 game that was worth 99.73%. Dotty’s in particular had that game (no more), and I explained to Michael how to get the most out of Dotty’s slot club and promotions. I gave him a Winner’s Guide for that game along with a copy of the software, Video Poker for Winners.
Since Michael’s work brought him to Las Vegas regularly, I let him know the schedule when I was teaching classes. I suggested he sit in on the beginner and intermediate NSU classes. If he aced those classes, perhaps sit in on the advanced class as well. People learn differently from taking a class than just reading a Winner’s Guide. He never found the time to attend one of my classes, or perhaps he just wasn’t interested, and he didn’t want a one-on-one class during one of our visits to Lake Tahoe.
Michael didn’t do well gambling, even with his newfound knowledge. He probably read the book at least once and practiced a few hours on the computer, but then basically stopped studying. Whatever information he obtained from that brief study lasted him the rest of his life.
Michael settled for playing the 16-13-4-3-2 version of Deuces Wild that he found in a 15-machine bar about a mile from his home. This game is 3% tighter than NSU, and there are a number of very common hands that are played differently between the two games. One is 7♠ 7♥ 3♣ 3♦ K♠, where it’s correct to hold two pair in NSU and one pair, either pair, in the 16-13 game. Another is A♥ J♥ 8♥ 4♥ 4♣, where it is correct to hold the hearts in NSU and the pair of fours in the other game.
How Michael actually played these hands, I’m not sure. I do know he lost a consider amount. He certainly could have adjusted the computer software to the pay schedule he was actually playing (or asked me show him how to do it if it wasn’t obvious to him), but even practicing a 96.76% game on the computer is not going to yield very good results.
Somewhere along the way, a frustrated Michael told his wife, “Doing it Bob Dancer’s Way Can Lead to Bankruptcy.” That was repeated by Joyce to Bonnie, and then repeated to me. I was forbidden from letting him know I had heard what he said.
In general, I believe in the bromide, “Don’t speak ill of the dead,” but in this case I wasn’t allowed (assuming I wanted my marriage to work well) to say anything about this before Michael died and there’s an important teaching moment here.
In my classes and writings, I repeatedly urge players to only play when they have the advantage if they want to win. Michael’s play violated this underlying premise — with predictable results. Michael may have thought he was doing it Bob Dancer’s way, but playing the game he was playing with the skill level he had was nowhere near a situation I would recommend. Although I did tell him this a few times, I wasn’t a nag about it. He has his own money and can do as he pleases.
Although Michael blew many tens of thousands of dollars to gambling, possibly hundreds of thousands, he didn’t bankrupt the family. Joyce doesn’t have as much as she might have had Michael gambled intelligently, but she’s all right financially. And there’s no chance Bonnie and I will let her starve even if she does struggle.
Although Michael and I were friends at the end, this one statement he made stuck in my craw and so I wanted to say something about it. So I did.
Technically, however, Michael’s statement was accurate. All gambling involves risk. It is possible to do everything correctly and still go broke. Not likely. But possible. There are no guarantees I can make that a particular player will succeed.
If you’re playing with an advantage for small stakes relative to your bankroll, you’re most likely going to end up coming out ahead. But any deviation including playing games where no player has an advantage, playing when the slot club and promotions aren’t at their most generous, or playing with a skill level that is far less than perfect, can lead to very poor results indeed. Not always. But usually.