This article first appeared in Card Player magazine.
Fourteen years ago a book was introduced that is now out of print. Called Caro On Gambling, it was mostly a collection of my earliest published writing. In it is something I now refer to as "The Dead Gambler Lecture."
This piece not only explains the very nature of gambling in a way you’ve never read before, but it provides you with the most profitable outlook for the future. Now, as my holiday gift to you, we revisit that ancient and controversial column, and we start our 1998 new year out armed with the right attitude.
The right winning attitude. Pretend I'm dead. The autopsy shows no evidence of alcohol or drugs. No foul play is suspected. You approach my body, inspired by a mysterious smile frozen on my lips. Is it a trick? You watch for subtle movement; you listen for some sign of shallow breathing.
Finally, you shake your head dismally. "I guess Mike Caro isn't bluffing," you whisper to yourself. Maybe it's a case of poker fatigue, but who cares? Dead is dead.
Please use all your best powers of imagination. It is very important that this vision appears real. Still not convinced? You study me for a very long time, but there is no indication of life. No faint flutter of an eyelid.
Suddenly I speak. Immediately you know damn well you're going to listen and obey. The first thing that flashes to mind is that old saying: Dead men don't tell lies. But like many folk sayings, this one has crumbled under recent scientific investigation. It turns out that some dead men do tell lies. In particular, dead politicians lie. Dead fishermen lie. Even dead preachers lie. But you're aware of another recent scientific finding: Dead gamblers never lie.
That’s why you're prepared to accept anything I say without argument. I'm glad, because if you were just reading the following ideas anywhere else, you'd consider them opinion. This way you're going to know they're the truth and you'll obey and profit.
So keep imagining.
Many reasons to gamble. The voice that comes from me is powerful and authoritative. It seeps from everywhere although my smile doesn't budge. Clearly this is not a voice emanating normally.
My first words are: "Why do you gamble?"
Please choose your response from the following list:
(1) I gamble for the challenge.
(2) I gamble because I'm bored.
(3) I gamble to win money.
(4) I gamble to lose money.
(5) I gamble to be social.
(6) I gamble for the excitement.
(7) I gamble because it makes me happy.
(8) I gamble because I'm sick.
(9) I gamble because nobody cares.
When you've given me your answer, I respond, "That's pretty good. Actually, I was prepared to accept any answer you offered. You see, gambling needs no justification. If I'd asked you why you drink water, you might have said, 'Because I'm thirsty' or 'To stay alive' or 'I'm trying to get wet.' Whatever you said would have been fine with me, because you can always supply a reason although you never need one."
You think about this for a few seconds. Although the truth looks a little vague, you are very sure these words will prove helpful. After all, they were uttered by a dead gambler.
The real reason you gamble. I continue, "Instead of the answer you gave me, you should have said, 'I gamble to get it over with.’ Now there's a powerful truth! Everyone gambles to get it over with! That's the secret. No matter what causes you to gamble – a will to win, a will to lose, the need for excitement – your true hidden motivation is always to get it over with. You must understand that."
"This is beginning to make sense," you say politely, although you're not quite certain.
"Everyone is a compulsive gambler. Being a compulsive gambler is no worse and no better than being a compulsive breather. It is everyone's nature to gamble. Don't confuse being a compulsive gambler with being a compulsive loser. All the greatest professional gamblers have sooner or later decided to come to terms with their true natures."
But I know a lot of people who hate to gamble," you object.
"They may have contempt for formalized games of chance, but they do gamble," I assert. Your spine tingles because you're hearing the wisdom of the dead. "And even though they may think they hate taking chances, they all do it.
"Everyone reaches out for risk. Everyone craves it. Some people may unconsciously seek out dangerous personal relationships. Rather than settle on a stable romance, they create an explosive situation in which they stalk a difficult reward while risking great pain. They are gamblers in the act of gambling.
"Every conscious act requires risk. Every conscious act requires decision.
"You put those two facts together and you realize that the secret to success in life is not to avoid gambling, but to gamble well."
It begins to make sense. After another hour, you're totally convinced of these truths:
(1) Every human being ever born was a compulsive gambler.
(2) Some gamblers compulsively win and some gamblers compulsively lose. Others compulsively don't care.
(3) Humans who fear formal games of chance tend to trick themselves into gambling more heavily in their daily interactions.
(4) Your success in life is dynamically connected to the quality of your gambling decisions.
(5) People who realize that they are gambling have a much better chance of winning than people who deny that they gamble.
(6) As a group, the world's most reckless gamblers win life's biggest pots and share life's greatest miseries.
Some of these points you understood and some seemed obscure. Nonetheless, because these ideas all came from a dead gambler, you were glad you listened.
Making it work for you in 1998. Finally, imagine that I left you with one command before my voice fell silent: "For one month, I want you to write a report at the end of each day. In a left-hand column, list the six most important events that happened to you personally today. Then, starting at the top of the list, fill in a second column, briefly describing how that event related to gambling. To the right of that, mark whether the main decisions you made were 'Conscious' or 'Unconscious.'
"Then, in the right most column, mark 'Good Gamble,' or 'Bad Gamble.'
"By the end of the month, you will have regained permanent and critical control of your life. In everyday activity, in the casinos, and at the poker tables, you will make winning decisions. Although you will still gamble to get it over with, your objective will always be profit. You will be your own best fan and your own greatest coach. Trust me; I'm dead."