Most people who attend the Wharton School at UPenn end up with a one-way ticket to Wall Street.
David Sklansky is not most people.
After one year at Wharton, he dropped out and temporarily worked for an actuarial firm. Then, he quit to become a professional poker player — and has done exceedingly well ever since.
In fact, he is considered to be the “the number one authority on gambling in the world today“, and has co-authored 13 books on gambling theory and poker.
And if that wasn’t enough, Sklansky is credited with introducing the Fundamental Theorem of Poker, which states:
“Every time you play a hand differently from the way you would have played it if you could see all your opponents’ cards, they gain; and every time you play your hand the same way you would have played it if you could see all their cards, you lose.”
Sklansky’s success off the table comes from his ability to simplify and to “present ideas as simply as possible“. He breaks down the complicated underlying concepts in poker such as mathematical expectation, pot odds, proper betting technique, and the value of deception in simple layman’s terminology that is accessible to all readers.
Amateurs expect Sklansky’s texts to contain play-by-play guildelines analogous to those found in chess puzzle books. Instead, he applies the fundamental theorem to various scenarios. He does not tell you which exact decisions to make, but rather shows you how to think critically about the game.
For example, both new players and the media often get caught up in the emotional highs of bluffing. Sklansky instead suggests a rational alternative: bluffing must be a tool used with “proper frequency” in order to deceive an opponent.
Everyone knows that when you bluff successfully, your opponent thinks that your hand is stronger than it is. Sklansky goes one step further and redefines bluffing in terms of the Fundamental Theorem of Poker: when you bluff successfully, your opponent is “playing differently than he would if he could see your cards”. By thinking about bluffing as just “another way to keep the opponent guessing”, you are less likely to make the careless emotional mistakes that sink amateurs.
His ability to communicate these kinds of ideas has lead him to doing consulting work for casinos, internet gaming sites, and gaming device companies.
And on the table, Sklansky’s poker winnings speak for themselves: he has a total of three World Series of Poker bracelets and has won over $US1 million in live poker earnings alone.
Interestingly enough, although his employment at the actuarial firm was relatively short-lived, it greatly influenced his poker career. While he was working there, he discovered a faster way to do certain calculations. But Sklansky’s boss “promptly dismissed them“.
In “The Biggest Game in Town”, a book on the World Series of Poker by Al Alvarez, Sklansky describes this episode in his life as following:
“I knew something no one else knew, but I got no recognition for it. In poker, if you’re better than anyone else, you make immediate money. If there’s something I know about the game that the other person doesn’t and he’s not willing to learn or can’t understand, then I take his money”.
And he has certainly made a career of making money by knowing what other players don’t.
Not bad for a college drop out.