Wilson: How I Went From Poker Player to Sports Bettor (And Back Again)

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Jun 13, 2020, 02:51 PM EDT
  • Collin Wilson details how he went from a poker player to a sports gambler (and back again).

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There was a routine to my visits to hang with grandpa in Iowa in the early 1980s: Stock up on Pabst Blue Ribbon from HyVee, order 20 Maid-Rite loose meat sandwiches, and get $100 in quarters from the bank to prepare for a night filled with endless poker against the city of Fort Dodge.

Now those fond memories come rushing back anytime I thumb a new pack of Bicycle cards.

Grandpa taught me that it wasn’t just the cards, but your attitude, conviction and body language that won a pot full of money. “Don’t bullshit the bullshitter” was my family motto, even with legendary home games that included my father throwing a blank check into a pot on Christmas Eve.

At the turn of the century, the internet had changed how we shuffle up with virtual card rooms for real stakes. But it wasn’t until 2003 that millions of people started playing poker professionally thanks to the “Bluff of the Century.”

Chris Moneymaker led the online boom after qualifying for and eventually winning the World Series of Poker — his marvelous heads-up with the esteemed Sammy Farha is considered a highlight in the history of poker. After his win, everyone with a dollar to their name rushed to online poker and live card rooms to compete in WSOP and World Poker Tour events, including me.

Fresh out of college and starting my corporate career, I found time to visit neighboring states to compete in poker. Tulsa, Kansas City and Tunica were among the weekend spots to play house games. As ‘Fossilman’ Greg Raymer went heads up with David Williams in the WSOP main event, my pedestrian poker career had a few cashes throughout 2004.

Poker became much more than just a hobby.

To turn anything in life from a hobby to a profession requires strict discipline in preparation and execution. That meant knowing the percentage of win probability behind every combination while strategizing around button position. That also meant cutting alcohol on casino trips and mastering how to read opponents’ body language and their breathing patterns.

Life caught up to me in 2005 as a marriage parlayed itself into the birth of my first two children within a 21-month span. The prospects of my software career outweighed the probability of a poker career, thus ending my dreams of competing against the best.

That’s when sports betting became the primary way to get my gambling fix.

Poker is simply the practice of gathering information to make the best decision — a direct correlation to betting on sports. Betting on college football, specifically, is similar to the information gathering in poker: You have six days to collect as much information as you can on 130 teams in order to make a smart investment each Saturday.

There are plenty more similarities between playing cards and gambling on sports: Analysis begins with a base like two hole cards at a No Limit Poker table or box scores in sports betting. The flop, turn and river in poker are similar to live betting sports, both requiring quick probability analysis.

Poker is about putting yourself in the best position win mathematically, similar to shopping for the best number on a sports wager.

Now another poker boom is here in the wake of COVID-19. And just as my skill set as a poker player helped me as a sports bettor, now my skill set as a sports bettor is helping in my return to poker player.

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