My brother-in-law has a system. He says it works on a regular basis, and it must do, because every time he comes to visit us, he goes into the local casino and comes out with some small amount of winnings. ‘Small’? Yes, that’s part of his system. “Most people are just too greedy,” he says. “They imagine they’ll win millions and end up losing everything they have.” If you’re not greedy, he says, you can count on winning small amounts regularly. That helps to pay the rent, it might even buy you a bottle of champagne, so isn’t that worth having? Well, no, not for most people. They buy Lottery tickets in order to win the million pound prize. If they got a letter saying they’d won three hundred thousand, they’d probably be disappointed. That’s part of the problem of gambling: it inspires a level of complete unreality. But that’s the point, isn’t it? The casinos in Las Vegas provide an adventure in a fantasy world. They’d don’t sell ‘reality’. If they did, people wouldn’t part with their money so easily. In fact, they’d win more often. Like my brother-in-law.The second part of the system kicks in when he sits down. He plays Blackjack, starts slowly and relaxed, and looks round the table to see who else is in the game. He spots the losers, the high-rollers, the emotional types, and distances himself from all of them. Because that’s another way to lose. If you get influenced by the other players, you can’t watch your own game. Of course, in the real world, it happens all the time. Why else did thousands of people invest in ‘dot com’ companies in the ’90s? They were copying other people. Why else have so many people in Britain invested in housing and renting homes, even though the market has peaked and is now slipping down? They’ve listened to other people, they’ve followed what everyone else is doing. You want to win at gambling? Look at your own hand first and consider the odds you’re facing. Then compare yourself to everyone else later, after you’ve got some idea what your chances are.The next consideration is luck. Successful gamblers know it’s all about luck, but they work with it, play along with it, coax it and cajole it. They never, ever work against it. My brother-in-law says that Blackjack is a game where the cards seem to go in runs. For a while they might be with you and then they’ll turn against you. At that point you need to back off and wait for the good run to come round again. It always does, he says. So he plays with his luck, not against it. He’s placing small bets and if the cards seem to be going his way, he’ll slowly increase his bets, planning on building up winnings. If the hands are going against him, he’ll slow down, minimise the bets and conserve his stake. Why would that work for him? Because most people do the opposite, he says. If they see they’re losing, they’ll panic and increase their bets enormously, trying to win back all the chips they’ve lost. That’s crazy, he says. If the run is not going your way, you need to calm down and minimise, not maximise bets. Above all, don’t panic and wait for your luck to turn, as it always does. If you bet high while the cards are running against you, then all you’ll do is lose bigger. That’s his philosophy and it seems to work.That might be for two reasons. One is that ‘runs’ do exist. Try it. If you flip a coin and record the results you won’t get a list that says ‘head, tails, head, tails’. Sure, it’s random and there’s an even chance that it will come up heads or tails each time. But it won’t alternate. Instead, you’ll get a list that says ‘heads, heads, heads, tails, tails, heads’ and in that sequence you’ll see runs going one way or the other. In fact, this is a complex point, and fools a lot of people. When the first computer programmers tried to build a Random Number Generator a few years ago they were disappointed at their first results. They kept getting runs. To the untutored eye, it didn’t look ‘random’ enough! But it was. Randomness produces runs. You just have to be conservative enough to see it.That’s the main point. My brother-in-law is cautious. It’s the way he plays and the way he wins. Because he’s aware of the dangers of following other players; because he’s only aiming to win limited amounts; because he knows the cards could turn against him and produce a losing streak; he’s always reserved and waiting. He never makes snap judgements and takes absurd risks. In the end, he walks out of the casino with money in his pocket not because he’s a great winner, but because most of the other players are big-time losers. They follow other players; they risk high bets; and they compound a losing streak by betting amounts they can’t afford. In the end, that’s why he wins. All he has to do is keep his cool and win some money, standing by while everyone else loses theirs. He watches the cards, places small bets and increases only when he’s feeling safe. But that’s okay. The system works and will continue to work. Because? We know that out of all the people reading this article, most have never set foot in a gambling house, so they’re not rivals. Of those who do, most don’t go regularly and have never thought about applying a system. Of those who have a system, most are still prone to emotional and panicky responses. That leaves, well, how many? Not many. At the end of the day my brother-in-law is a regular winner, but then, how many real competitors has he got?