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"You got to know when to hold 'em, Know When to Fold 'Em; know when to walk away, know when to run"
— Kenny Rogers, "The Gambler"
Someone whose primary source of income is gambling.
Risking money on games of chance and skill is a pastime that has been around since the dawn of civilization. The Professional Gambler is someone who emphasizes the "skill" part of the equation. She knows the odds, can read the other players' intentions and resources, and knows the best strategies. She may not always win, but wins often enough to feed herself and stay in "business."
As this way of earning an income only works with games that reward logical thinking, experience, and possibly applied psychology and acting ability, the professional gambler does not play at purely luck-based games, like roulette or slot machines. Favored games are poker, blackjack, and other card games; more rarely seen are sports betting, dice games or billiard. The exact skills required of a professional gambler vary from game to game: in blackjack, savant-like memory and counting skills help to make the game profitable, and poker requires practical psychology and acting.
A professional gambler may not actually cheat, but certainly knows how to, and how to spot another cheat. Some games may come down to who can cheat the best. Expect to see The Magic Poker Equation
come up in stories involving this character—though often for their less-professional targets.
In the Western
, professional gamblers are usually dressed in fancy clothes, looking quite prosperous but a bit tacky. Thus the adjective "tinhorn
" often attaches to them. Many will wear a fair amount of jewelry, both to show off, and to have something to toss into the pot if the night is not going well. The gambler's weapon of choice is a Derringer or other small hold-out gun; this can make it hazardous to check his sleeve for concealed aces.
A frequent "bit" in Westerns is for someone on the losing end of a poker
game to lose their temper and accuse the pro of cheating—this can start a Bar Brawl
or a quick shootout.
Despite his sometimes glamorous lifestyle, the professional gambler is usually a disreputable figure, and will often come to a bad end in fiction.
Compare The Gambler
, who uses a gambling motif in his or her fighting style. See also the Card Sharp
, who uses cheating and sleight of hand to win, and Hustler
, who feigns poor playing skills to draw others to play against him. And if you're trying this but losing
most of your money, then you might be The Gambling Addict
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Anime and Manga
- Suguroku Mutou ("Solomon" in the dub) of Yu-Gi-Oh! was a professional gambler in his youth, and apparently very successful until he retired. Mai Kujaku ("Valentine") is also a pro (she works cruise ships), but no match for the gifted amateurs of the story.
- Akagi sure makes a shocking amount of money from gambling, managing to bankrupt one Yakuza boss after another. He isn't good at spending, however.
- The D'Arby brothers in the third part of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure...well, at least Daniel. He partially, and Terence completely, look for another kind of payment as well: souls. Daniel runs afoul of Jotaro's incredible poker face; Terence runs afoul of Joseph's legendary skill at cheating his ass off.
- Gojyo in Saiyuki. His main source of income before he joined the others on their journey.
- Hiroshi Nikaidou in Poker King aka Million Dollar Kid, is a professional gambler decided to play against other professional gamblers around the world.
- The Gambling King from Ranma ½, who is actually a terrible gambler.
- Firo Prochainezo of Baccano!, as part of his duties as a camorrista, manages the Family's casinos (which often involves breaking people's fingers for cheating). As a result, he's picked up enough tricks both honest and dishonest over the last seventy-two years of perpertual teenagerdom to rain hell on casinos. As a Self-Imposed Challenge he once decided to see what he could do with $100 solely through smart betting. He called it quits after two hours because he managed to multiply his original sum by over a thousand and was worried continuing would raise suspicion even with his occasional deliberate losses.
- Bat Lash, a Western character from The DCU.
- "Cutting Cards", an EC Comics story, had two extremely competitive professional gamblers playing To the Pain.
- Scat Thumbs from the Lucky Luke album "The Stagecoach".
- This is a recurring character type in the Lucky Luke albums. Scat stands out by being one of the good guys, while most professional gamblers that Lucky Luke encounters are bad guys.
- "Doc" Holliday from Tombstone, though his first scene has him sticking up the game.
- Rounders is set in the world of professional poker.
- Silverado has Slick, who introduces himself as "a gambler looking to run an honest game." His Face Heel Turn comes as no surprise.
- Sam "Ace" Rothstein from Casino. He is professional to the point of analysing the types of wood different baseball bats are made of, or checking the windspeed during a game in order to analyse every variable of his gambling, so that, overall, he makes much more money than he loses. His associate Nicky, however, feels that he's missing the point of gambling by never having any fun with it.
- The title character of Barry Lyndon gambles his way across the courts of Europe with his companion, "the Chevalier de Balibari". The pair often cheat along the way, and duel with any man who refuses to pay his debts. Despite their winnings, their transient lifestyle yields little more than some fine clothes and a few trinkets. Towards the conclusion of the story, we are told that Barry has "resumed his former profession of a gambler, without his former success".
- Father Time from Posse.
- The protagonists from the God of Gamblers series are all...well, gambling masters. It's never shown specifically what tricks they use except for one guy who's a psychic that simply changes the cards to his favor with psychic powers, but it's presumably counting cards. In one movie, the Big Bad used a computer to count the chances, which was countered by the protagonist using a black toothpick to fool the overhead camera.
- Star Wars Lando Calrissian, part of the time. Other times he's either like Han and hunting treasure or smuggling, or trying to go legit and generally failing after a while. When he became the Baron-Administrator to Cloud City, it's because he won it in a card game.
- Hard Eight has a strange example in that the two main characters somehow manage to make a living mostly playing casino games like craps, though such games always carry a house advantage in real life.
- "Fast Eddie" Felson in The Hustler plays pool for money, but he's dwarfed by Bert Gordon, a Manipulative Bastard whose lavish lifestyle is sustained by his winnings alone.
- The Gamblers' Guild in the Discworld books. Their Guild House is situated right across the street from the Guild House of the Alchemists, which explodes often enough to be worth betting on.
- Phaid from the sci-fi novel The Song Of Phaid The Gambler by Mick Farren.
- Bret Harte created many Western tropes, and had a defining example of this one in the character John Oakhurst.
- Several of William Makepeace Thackeray's characters, generally impoverished patricians spent time as cardsharps. The Villain Protagonist of Barry Lyndon was one, as was Becky Sharp's husband Rawdon. Throughout his novels, there is an entire family named Deuceace who have this as their "hat".
- In Walter L. Kleine's The Wolf and the Panther Were Lovers (published in Analog), the protagonist, Ace Craddock, is such a one.
- In Time Scout, this is one of Skeeter's many vices.
- Professional gamblers appear in many of the novels of J.T. Edson. Frank Derringer is one who is a recurring character.
- Mat Cauthon from The Wheel of Time is an unusual case who doesn't actually need much skill: he's so lucky he can reliably support not only himself but also (during one period) his private army with the gold he's won playing at dice.
- Jason dinAlt in Harry Harrison's Deathworld makes his money by gambling at various casinos all over the galaxy. It helps that he possesses weak and fickle Psychic Powers, and his Mind over Matter ability can be used to adjust the path of thrown dice and even nudge a roulette wheel. This stops after he moves to Pyrrus.
- Rafe Adova of Elemental Blessings.
Live Action TV
- The TV show Maverick had a whole family of them. Bret, Bart, Beau and Brent. The little seen sequel Young Maverick had Ben Maverick. Oh, and naturally The Movie Maverick had a passel of professional gamblers.
- Beau "Pappy" Maverick (played by the same actor as Bret and appeared on the same screen as him, a neat trick back then) and Bent Maverick, Pappy Maverick's brother (played by Bart's actor) appeared as well. Of course, those two only appeared in one episode.
- The Movie revolved around a high-stakes poker game full of these (and plenty of Card Sharps) at the climax. Oh, and Pappy was again played by the actor who played Bret...in the TV series.
- The Twilight Zone TOS episode "The Grave". Steinhart (Lee van Cleef), a poker player who bets the protagonist he won't go to his enemy's grave at night.
- Similarly, "A Game Of Pool" involved a small-time "pool shark" challenging a legendary (and dead) player, with the stakes being life or death for the challenger.
- Ezra Standish of The Magnificent Seven TV series is a Professional Gambler drafted into law enforcement; he doesn't give up his cards, but he does sometimes have to put them down to go arrest someone.
- The short-lived ESPN scripted series Tilt featured a new meat professional gambler (played by Eddie Cibrian) learning the ropes from a hardened Vegas pro (played by Michael Madsen).
- When forced to it, Mr. Lucky can make his living this way, though he generally prefers to run casinos rather than gamble in them.
- Professional poker tournaments were broadcast on reality TV, usually for Texas Hold 'em. They were usually professional players that tended to be already skilled, sometimes with a well-performing amateur that did well on an online tournament.
- Speaking of reality TV, poker pro Jean-Robert Bellande was a contestant on Survivor: China.
- The song "Life's Other Side" has a verse about a gambler who is finally reduced to throwing his mother's ring into the pot—and dies, presumably from shame.
- The Kenny Rogers song, "The Gambler", and the four or so TV movies derived from it.
- The Clockwork Dolls' "The Ballad of Black Jack Jezabel" is about a professional gambler who hunts down the one man to ever defeat her.
- Sting's "Shape of My Heart" is (at least, in its most literal interpretation) about a professional gambler who seeks to comprehend "the sacred geometry of chance".
- Guys and Dolls is focused on the lives of a few professional gamblers (the "guys") and two of their girlfriends (the "dolls"). Based on several Damon Runyon stories.
- Claire Majoram in Mitsumete Knight, who becomes the Blackjack croupier of Dolphan City's Bar after her husband Yang has died in the battlefield, in order to make a living. She's thus the character in charge of the Blackjack mini-game.
- It's unclear whether Setzer of Final Fantasy VI actually earns a living this way before joining the party, but he certainly fits the archetype. After joining up, he earns a living by beating up Money Spiders like everyone else.
- Celestia Ludenberg in Danganronpa earns her scholarship to Hopes Peak Academy for being "The Ultimate Gambler," renowned for cleaning out everyone who she's ever bet against. Since she's also known for being an incredible liar, it's hard to tell which of her stories are true; she still fits the motif quite well however (such as knowing immediately when other students are lying or showing off her vast knowledge of game theory frequently).
- The protagonist of EV is a successful gambler, specializing in online poker. A fair number of the supporting cast are also professional gamblers, of varying levels of competency.
- In Next Town Over, Hunter is introduced gambling with a woman of this type, who is indignate, and calls in her guards, to deal with the charge of being a hooker.
- On the Looney Tunes short "Mississipi Hare", Bugs Bunny passed himself off as one when he stowed away in a river boat, and locked horns with a real Professional Gambler, Colonel Shuffle. Bugs won.