Avoiding pit stops: Plugging the sports betting leak
If you happened to see All In: The Poker Movie, you know that I'm in there telling my story, especially everything leading up to the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event. One of the things I talk about was how I used to bet on sports, which as we all know represents one of the most common leaks poker players can have.
I don't do much sports betting at all anymore these days. I didn't have a bet on the Super Bowl at all, and in fact I've probably only placed one sports bet in the last year or two.
Poker is a tough game, no doubt, but sports betting is very difficult as well. It's really hard to figure out the bounce of the ball. It's so easy to catch a bad break, too. Say someone returns a punt for a meaningless touchdown late in a game, suddenly you miss your over/under bet or a team covers the spread, and just like that you lose.
Another problem with sports betting is that even if you put in a lot of study and make informed decisions when you bet, the juice is often so high that even if you break even with your bets you come away a loser. And the lines they set are often so close, it's very hard to be right more than half the time.
When you're a serious poker player, you spend so much time playing and learning the game and tracking your win rate and doing everything you can to improve and ensure your success. After all that, it is a bad idea to go into the sports book and gamble away whatever profit you've made in a situation where you really are negative EV.
A good poker player expects to win money. Every time I sit down at the poker table, I expect to win. Of course, I don't always win, but I always have that expectation and I do win more than I lose. But whenever I used to walk into the pit or the sports book, I guess in the back of my mind I'd be hoping to win, but realistically I have to admit that I expected to lose.
This was a long time ago, but I remember how it wouldn't matter how I did in a poker session, my night was going to be determined by how I ended up in the sports book or in the pit. I could win or lose at poker, but I'd bet bigger in the sports book or in the pit, and thus it all came down to how I did in games where I was more or less expected to lose.
The truth is, anytime you gamble on something when you aren't a favorite, that represents a leak. If you do spend your time to hone your skills and you become a successful poker player, one of the worst things you can do is grind away for 16 hours and make a profit, then go over and see the Hawaii game is about to start and gamble it all away making a hasty bet.
Speaking of Hawaii, I remember a funny story from way back when me and a buddy of mine had put a bet on a Hawaii game. Now this was before the internet, and so we were desperate to get a score but didn't have any way of finding out what had happened.
We thought about it for a while then finally figured out what to do. We started calling people in Hawaii -- just random Hawaii phone numbers! -- trying to see if we could find out the score. It sounds crazy, but we had to get that score! It was brutal!
The fact is, we were action junkies. And really we were in that situation a few times, betting on Hawaii or cricket or Swedish basketball or whatever, then becoming desperate to find out the score. It goes without saying, when we bet on Swedish basketball, our EV wasn't exactly positive.
Like I say, though, thankfully that's all in the past for me. In other words, these days I don't have any trouble getting from the poker room to the hotel room without making any "pit" stops, so to speak.
Chris Moneymaker is a member of Team PokerStars Pro and the 2003 WSOP Main Event champion.