How I Became A Pro Gambler

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This week’s US election was one of the biggest betting events in history, with hundreds of millions of pounds traded on the UK’s Betfair exchange alone. But is it possible to win long term? SLMan spoke to pro gambler Paul Krishnamurty, who proves you can make an income from your hobby...

I am a completely self-taught gambler. I was 13 when I discovered football coupons. I couldn’t believe it: all you had to do was back Arsenal, Man United and Liverpool to win, and you could get paid out at 14/1 just for that. I discovered them on a Saturday and by the Monday I was the school bookie, taking bets from all of my mates. I’d been a sports nerd from the age of six and the maths came naturally to me. I was gambling pretty constantly from then on. At 14, I told my school careers adviser I wanted to be a bookie and they weren’t very impressed. When I was 18, I went to work at a betting shop in east London until I was 25, when I went to university.

That’s an unconventional start, but all of the kids in the area who liked a bet became friends and that’s what we did all of the time. We’d bet on the horses during the day then go dog racing at night. We’d play cards together – we’d even bet on the next song to come on the radio. We’d also play snooker for money. There’d be a competition at the local club each week with about 30 players. When I wasn’t playing, I’d walk around the tables, pricing up the players, working out the odds on them winning. That’s the skill I developed at a very young age.

Going to university was crucial for me. It taught me how to do my research properly. Up until that point, I’d bet on anything. Rugby, football, snooker, cricket – my Saturdays could be pretty insane. I probably made a few quid over the years, but none of it was planned and it wasn’t strategic. Then, studying politics at university, I learned the value and discipline of research. That’s when I understood the power of evidence over opinion or feeling.

The people who win as professional gamblers can do the maths and they don’t have any of the negative problems around betting. They’re not addicted. It’s actually pretty rare to find a full-time professional gambler. I know a lot of people who do it a couple of days a week alongside a regular job. I’m a political journalist now and don’t put in the same hours as when I was full time. Looking back, it might sound like I was a compulsive gambler! Actually I never bet on anything for the sake of it and, if I do have a big win, I don’t change my behaviour because of it. There’s a plan and I stick to it. If you can do that, there are great opportunities.

"The people who win as professional gamblers can do the maths and they don’t have any of the negative problems around betting."

The people who win as professional gamblers can do the maths and they don’t have any of the negative problems around betting. They’re not addicted. It’s actually pretty rare to find a full-time professional gambler. I know a lot of people who do it a couple of days a week alongside a regular job. I’m a political journalist now and don’t put in the same hours as when I was full time. Looking back, it might sound like I was a compulsive gambler! Actually I never bet on anything for the sake of it and, if I do have a big win, I don’t change my behaviour because of it. There’s a plan and I stick to it. If you can do that, there are great opportunities.

There are three common mistakes to avoid. If you’re serious about making money, never chase losses. Don’t start betting bigger sums to try and make your money back. Second, have a consistent staking plan. Grade your bets according to how strong you think they are and stake them accordingly. Finally, avoid fun bets. Don’t get roped into betting on things you don’t have a strong opinion on.

In-play betting changed everything for me. Instead of just betting on a result before a match began, suddenly you could bet on matches as they were happening. To make money, you didn’t have to know what the final outcome was going to be; you just had to know what was going to happen next and which way the market would go. Trading quickly in this way suited me because I’d learnt to do that at an early age.

I didn’t plan to turn professional. I wanted to be a political journalist, but I couldn’t afford to be doing internships in my late 20s. As I was leaving university, Betfair came into being. I think I had £400 of my student loan left and the 2001 general election was coming up. I’d been studying politics, talking about it all day long and here was this goldmine where I could bet and trade on almost anything I wanted to do with the election.

My favourite bet is one I made just after that. Iain Duncan Smith to win the Tory leadership election at 33/1. There were five runners in the race, but only two that everyone was talking about: Michael Portillo and Ken Clarke. Most of the papers over here were only interested in talking up their own candidates: the right wing had decided Portillo was some sort of liberal demon; others thought Clarke was a pro-European demon. I knew Duncan Smith had strong connections in America that could help him. I could also see he was going to get close to the top three while the big two tried to kill each other. At 33/1, Duncan Smith didn’t even have to win – even if he’d come second I’d have won a lot of money. That’s when I realised bookies didn’t know anything about politics and that I could make a living as a gambler. But those were the early days of political betting and they don’t tend to make the same mistakes today.

"I firmly believe the rate of return on sports betting outstrips what you can realistically achieve on most investments."

My most painful loss was also in politics. Ahead of the 2016 US presidential election, I backed Ted Cruz at every price under the sun to be the Republican candidate and, if he’d won, I’d have won six figures. I had reasons to believe Trump would drop out, but you know what happened next.

I could never win at football. No matter how systematic I was – and I kept a lot of detailed records about football matches – I just couldn’t win. I found I was good at cricket, though. The way I gamble is very knowledge driven and I think cricket offers the clever little betting angles I’m looking for. The more complicated and nuanced the sport, the more of these there are. In cricket, if you really understand variables like the weather, the nature of the pitch and how it’s going to change, the strength of a batting lineup and so on, you’re going to have a big edge because a lot of other people betting on the game are going to be sitting in front of their TV and they’re not going to be as meticulous.

A hedge fund for sports betting is a really interesting idea. I firmly believe the rate of return on sports betting outstrips what you can realistically achieve on most investments. You’d just have to find places that would accept your big bets. At an individual level, with a bit of research it’s easy enough to find a set of reliable tipsters offering free advice. If you followed that advice across a few different sports, with a consistent staking plan, it’s not unrealistic to think you could make returns of 20% a year. But not many people take sports betting that seriously; they see it as a bit of fun or something that students can do at uni to make a bit of spare cash.

A tip for 2021? Boris Johnson to go. He’s around 7/4 to leave his position as PM before the end of next year. That’s a good price – he’s a leader to win you an election, not to guide you through international crises. As for who replaces him, Rishi Sunak is a worthy favourite, but bear in mind that until Boris won the last one, favourites didn’t tend to win Tory leadership contests – just look at Duncan Smith! If I was looking for an outsider in the next one, Priti Patel’s an interesting option at around 20/1. The grassroots Tory membership loves her and it’s their votes that count.

 

 

Paul Krishnamurty is a professional gambler and freelance political and sports analyst. He blogs at PoliticalGambler.com and has written for CityAM, Esquire, GQ and Politico.
 

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