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Be Wary of What Motivates You
Blackjack Professor
by Lance Humble

No matter how proficient you are at the game of Blackjack or how well you have mastered the strategies that give you a decided edge, you must be constantly be alert to the subtle psychological factors that can spell the difference between success and failure.

Psychology tries to explain why people behave as they do. Gambling experts estimate that less than one person in a hundred wins money from gambling in the long run. The paradox is that, although people are consistent losers, they continue to gamble over and over again. Therefore, they must be gambling for psychological reasons rather than for the profit motive.

Gambling is nothing more than adult play. Winning is secondary. We hope to win money, but what we really enjoy is the action. Look at the language surrounding gambling. Gamblers are “players,” They play cards, play the horses, play games, play the stock market, and they even play around. Gambling, with certain exceptions, is not a competitive sport. You don’t “play” track and field, you run it. In a game, it’s not your turn; it’s your play. My research has shown that the play of gambling fulfills two basic human needs: the need to feel alive and the need to feel worthwhile.

The Gambler feels alive by getting excited and aroused. Physically, gambling can speed up our heart rate, quicken our breathing, and increase muscle tension. There’s no feeling like the one when our money hits the table. The emotions are a roller coaster of hope, excitement, euphoria, or anxiety, disappointment, frustration, sorrow, or regret. Yes, even anger, hostility and aggression.

Gambling makes us feel worthwhile. When we win, we react with pride, courage, and a strong sense of self-esteem. Gamblers describe their feeling with words such as “happy,” “thrilled,” “excited,” “powerful,” and “brave.” They feel full of energy and in control of the situation. While gambling fulfills these two needs, those fulfillments are not what make gambling so addictive. Gambling releases us from the real world. We are isolated. There is no outside, no past or future, only here and now. Our whole being is focused on that next card. The gambler is transported into a play world, a fantasy where reality is suspended until the bankroll slips away unnoticed and unlamented until later.

While on this mental midway, we act, feel, and think with abandon. We suspend ourselves at a comfortable level of arousal. We are “high” or “spaced out.” While in this state, we can courageously test our decision-making and predictive powers by trying to guess what to bet on or what bet will win. We are actors, the heroes of our own Walter Mitty drama. The uncertainty of the wager tweaks our childlike fascination with the unexpected, the surprise. We mentally scream our exhilaration at our successes, and because it is only play, feel safe from any real punishment for our failures.

Casino administrators are the best applied psychologists in the world. Every casino operator knows how to put his clients in a special frame of mind so that they will lose their money smoothly, effortlessly, and pleasurably. The accountant who spends two shopping days trying to save twenty dollars on his purchase calmly drops two hundred dollars in an hour at the tables while on vacation. The casino subtly grips his psyche with its polite service, free alcohol, gourmet dining, lavish entertainment and the yawning empty spots at the games.

If you want to gamble and win, you must be aware of the strong attraction that your psyche has on your frame of mind. By realizing how your needs are being satiated, you can better control your decisions and actions.

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