Two Alums to Form All-Swattie Professional Gambling Team

Are you a senior still thinking about post-grad plans? Good with numbers and cool under pressure? Comfortable handling large sums of money? Went to see “21” and thought, “I could do that”? Fred Bush ’98 and Ben Williams ’99 may have a job for you.

They are both professional gamblers and are looking to start the first all-Swarthmore gambling team. The successful applicant will be a graduating senior or young alum, intelligent, a quick thinker, trustworthy, and comfortable with a job that’s more than a little off the beaten track.

Neither Bush nor Williams had a background in card games before graduating. Williams was a ranked chess player in North Carolina, and Bush played board games and Magic (incidentally, he also found time to co-found the Gazette, and was responsible for coming up with the name. Thanks, Fred!). While he finds that these things have a similar skill set to games like poker (as well as fields like business and finance), he didn’t make the jump to gambling until later.

Bush got his start as a serious gambler at his fifth year reunion, just after getting out of grad school for English Literature. He ran into Williams, a college friend, who was gambling professionally. When it turned out that they were going to be in Vegas at the same time, Williams suggested that he should learn to play poker.

Five years later, Bush is a professional hold-em player. He and Williams want to bring others on board to expand the game’s opportunities.

The team would be a collective: all members would be expected to put in roughly the same amount of work each week (about 40 hours of playing time) and in return would share equally in the team’s winnings.

While 40 hours might seem like a lot, there are perks: “Gambling shifts are erratic,” said Bush, with the team ideally playing around the clock, so “individual players can pick hours more appropriate to them.” And, of course, there are monetary benefits. “The more you work, the more you get paid; that’s a pretty powerful incentive.”

To start off, Bush and Williams will be funding the team out-of-pocket, but anticipate that, after a little while, members will be able to play with team earnings. In other words, members won’t be playing with their own money, so they don’t risk a loss. Bush and Williams are also picking up the team’s housing and traveling tabs, including expenses in Atlantic City. Bush is confident enough in the team that he says he and Williams can guarantee all members a “basic income and a basic win.”

After years of working successfully on their own, what made these two decide to team up? As individuals, Bush explained, both he and Williams make “a fair amount of money…but there are certain things you need more people to do, certain games and gaming situations to take advantage of.”

For example, they are interested in playing in poker tournaments. With cash games, you can sit down at a table with any amount of money, and you can take your winnings (or losses) and leave at any time. In a tournament you don’t have that option: you have to play until you win or run out of money.

“With tournaments,” said Bush, “the results are very chancy: even if you’re twice as good as everyone else, you might not make back your money…[But] if you get enough people the results even out.”

Although he wouldn’t give details, Bush said there were other games that were “beatable using the right strategies,” as long as there were several people available to pull it off.

How legal is this venture? While the idea of a trained team of gamblers might seem questionable, there are no rules against it. In the movie “21” a team of MIT students figure out a way to beat the house at blackjack by counting cards. Unsurprisingly, they antagonize casino owners everywhere, but according to Bush, card-counting (and other clever strategies for beating the odds) is completely legal.

“You’re not actually cheating,” he said, “you’re just keeping track of what cards have been played. You just keep a running count, and when the running count hits certain numbers it’s possible to bet. Since it doesn’t actually involve cheating, courts have ruled that it’s legal.”

But “legal” doesn’t mean “accepted”. “Casinos don’t like it, and if they figure out that you’re doing it they throw you out. You just have to be careful when you’re doing it.”

New team members will undergo training, sitting down to play. Bush and Williams will be teaching the rules of the games as well as giving lessons in basic probability and observation techniques. The goal, said Bush, is to “get people so they’re on autopilot. You want to watch the other players, not the cards. [You need to] keep your attention on a more sophisticated level than the basic game.”

Of course, there are some things that can’t be taught. While it is possible to develop a good poker face, the abilities to remain calm under pressure, especially when there are large amounts of money at stake, and consistently make good judgments are something you either have or you don’t.

Similarly, not everyone who gambles is the sort of person who should be trusted with a shared cash pool. But Bush thinks Swatties are the sort of people who are trustworthy enough to be in business with.

“Swarthmore students have the combination of being very intelligent and very trustworthy,” he said. “That’s one thing that’s missing in the gambling world…there’s a lot of shady people. The college does a really good job of inculcating social responsibility in students.”

The team will begin operations in Atlantic City in mid-June, shortly after Alumni Weekend. Bush hopes that Atlantic City will be just the beginning, and that the team will be able to travel “once opportunities change,” possibly even moving to Vegas. He foresees the team lasting “indefinitely, as long as they’re successful.”

Think you’ve got what it takes? Email Fred Bush at frederic.bush at gmail.com


Hello, did you like this article? Write for The Gazette! Open staff meetings are every Monday at 7:30 p.m. in The Daily Gazette office on Parrish 4th; You can also email us at editors@daily.swarthmore.edu.

10 comments

  1. 0
    Eric Jensen says:

    Ben,

    Nice to see you putting your astronomy education to work, in another field with “astronomical” odds. I often tell students that a clear understanding of statistical analysis is broadly useful across many fields other than astronomy.

    Have fun! It sounds like you are.

  2. 0
    Ben Williams says:

    I would like to take a moment to address a few of the above comments.

    Maurice: I would say the social responsibility value of being a professional gambler is neutral, just as it is with most jobs. It is up to the individual or team to decide if he/they would like to use some of the profits or personal freedom gained from gambling in a socially responsible way. I could make the argument that draining casino coffers is a good thing but, in truth, the amount we take out of the casinos is so small compared to their total earnings, that it’s actually insignificant. Using the team relationship as a springboard for socially responsible work on the side, though, sounds like a good idea, and is something I’d definitely consider implementing in the future.

    student/Miles: Yes, I declined to be interviewed because I don’t really want much in the way of biographical information about me hitting the web. That said, casino surveillance isn’t all that sophisticated, and my preference for not being profiled is at least as much personal as it is professional. I don’t think casino personnel are out there searching the web for articles like this, nor do I think it would matter if they knew I was forming a team. They all have my name and picture anyway, and it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference. Yes, I get thrown out of casinos on occasion, but, in time, they forget me again.

    Prof. Burke: You’re right that collusion in poker is illegal, and that’s not what our team would be about. As you point out, one of the main benefits of forming a team is to reduce each individual’s exposure to risk. This is especially valuable in poker tournaments, where the variance is astronomical, and an individual winning player could conceivably lose year after year playing in the major buy-in events. The other benefit, which I believe is at least as important as variance reduction, is the ability to educate ourselves via instruction and discussion as a team. Consider it a case of applying the Swarthmore seminar format to poker. Finally, when it comes to this team, I don’t envision casino games or poker tournaments being the end of the road. There are a lot of other markets out there that a team armed with gambling know-how can attack, and my hope is that it will be fun and profitable to do so.

  3. 0
    Timothy Burke says:

    The house (not to mention other players) *does* mind if poker players collude, however, and therefore any group like this instantly sends off some red flags if they’re playing poker collaboratively. Because the major point to playing collectively in poker is to collude. Otherwise, I don’t see the incentive for a poker player to join up except to reduce exposure to risks, access to a sufficiently large bankroll, and minimizing the size of the peaks and troughs over time in NL hold’em by having money in a larger pool.

    This isn’t such a big concern in tournaments, though, for precisely the reasons given. Unless the team gets very lucky, the players on the team aren’t likely to be at the same table. If the team starts sitting down at regular tables together, then that’s a different matter.

  4. 0
    Joey Headset says:

    I think there is great social good in taking money AWAY from Donald Trump. Even if you elected to spend that money on coke and hookers, you’re still ahead of the game.

  5. 0
    Miles Skorpen ( User Karma: 6 ) says:

    The Gazette initially asked another Swarthmore alum-turned-gambler for an interview, and he turned us down citing the exact concerns mentioned above. It probably depends on the game—in some, including Black Jack, you certainly are playing against the house.

  6. 0
    Finlay Logan ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Lauren and student: I asked the same thing – with poker, you’re playing other players, not the house, so the casino doesn’t mind if you win more often than other people. Also, I suspect that most poker players (who aren’t in it to win), sit down, lose their money or make back a little bit, then get bored and play slots for a while, and the casino makes their money that way. Since the team would mostly be playing poker, advertising isn’t too much of a worry. And since Fred suggested the story himself, presumably this is a calculated risk!

  7. 0
    Liana ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Oh the things you can do with a Swarthmore education! I can now live out my dream of being Nick Arnstein.

  8. 0
    student says:

    For a gambling team, I don’t think that advertising it in print or on the Internet is such a good idea for the team’s success.

  9. 0
    Maurice says:

    Well, this is certainly a novel invocation of the social responsibility value. What are the social goods expected as an outcome of all this team work…all in the ways one makes use of the winnings?
    cheers,
    Maurice ’61

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