Out of reading people's faces
And knowing what the cards were
By the way they held their eyes..."
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. Unlike the foolish country bumpkin who eagerly rushes to the gambling hall after payday and promptly loses everything, the professional gambler plays it cool. They know the odds, can read the other players' intentions and resources, and know the best strategies. They may not always win, but they win often enough and avoid losses enough to make a living and stay in "business."
As this way of earning an income only works with games that reward logical thinking, experience, careful reasoning, focus and applied psychology and acting ability, the professional gambler does not play at purely luck-based games, like roulette or slot machines. Favoured games are poker, blackjack, and other Card Games; more rarely seen are sports betting, dice games or billiards. In modern times, some will even try their chances at online casinos. 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 (hiding emotional responses).
A professional gambler may not actually cheat or do The Con, 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 jewellery, 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 trope 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 Gambling Brawl, and the gambling pro may have to pull his Derringer out.
Despite his sometimes glamorous lifestyle, the professional gambler is usually a disreputable figure, because even if they aren't doing The Con they do have to choose less-skilled partners and take their money. As such, authors like to do An Aesop with the professional gambler and have them get payback. The professional gambler will often come to a bad end in fiction, such as being exiled from town or jailed. If the professional gambler is crooked and is caught Fixing the Game they may meet up with a Hanging Judge and their career will be suspended...from the county gallows.
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 Hustling the Mark, feigning 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. Skillful players can also demonstrate that Cunning People Play Poker.
- 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.
- 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 perpetual 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.
- Mitchal, a minor character from Heat Guy J is implied to be this, alongside being a bodyguard (and friend) to Clair. Mitchal always carries a pair of pink dice he believes are "lucky." They become Clair's after Mitchal blows himself up to protect him.
- The D'Arby brothers in the third part of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure...well, at least Daniel. Both enjoy gambling, but while Daniel is an expert gambler, Terence isn't so great at it. Their skillsets are opposites as well: where Daniel plays games of chance and cheats whenever he can, Terrence relies more on games of skill and generally plays fair, though they share the mindset that "It's not cheating if you don't get caught". Daniel 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.
- 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.
- Gojyo in Saiyuki. His main source of income before he joined the others on their journey.
- 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.
- In a filler episode of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, one of these who went to school with Alexis when they were kids shows up to settle the score with her. However, most of his success (at least as a kid) was due to the fact that he had enough money to keep gambling until he finally won. Alexis got sick of it and won everything back through Duel Monsters, but he was a sore loser and stole the scarf she wagered anyway, which leads to their present day game. He uses a deck based on coin tosses and has Alexis on the ropes, owing to the fact that he had a card which allowed him to re-toss bad coin flips. When Alexis destroys the card, he botches the coin flip that would have protected him from the game winning attack.
- Bat Lash, a Western character from The DCU.
- Doctor Who Expanded Universe: In one of Doctor Who Magazine's backup strips, the Celestial Toymaker once played poker with a riverboat gambler. The gambler endured defeat after defeat, until he resorted to putting holes in his opponent's cards so as to declare the game forfeit. Imagine his surprise when he found holes in ''his'' cards as well!
- "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.
- A trio of these appear in Manehattan's Lone Guardian, with them being four to five times older than the filly they're playing cards against. They note that said filly, Fiver, has the potential to be one of these when she grows up, considering her generally good playing ability and excellent poker face. As such, none of them are upset when Fiver accidentally wins a hand against them.
- In 5 Card Stud, Van Morgan is a professional gambler who runs a little card game in town but one night things get out of hand. A stranger amateurishly tries to cheat and, though Morgan tries to stop it, his fellow players string him up. Morgan leaves town but returns when he hears that the other players are being killed off one by one.
- The Apple Dumpling Gang: Donovan is a sophisticated, traveling gambler who is unhappy at being forced to stay in town to take care of several kids. Interestingly, despite Donovan's skill at cards, the local bank president is an even better card player and beats Donovan on multiple occasions. The two develop a fairly Friendly Rivalry.
- 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".
- In Canyon Passage, Lestrade is a professional gambler who makes his living skinning the miners in Jacksonville. He holds George's IOUs and keeps dragging him in deeper.
- 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.
- Played for Laughs when Nicky himself figures out a way where he can’t lose when he gambles. His way? Collecting when he wins and telling the bookies to go fuck themselves when he loses.
- Steve McQueen (actor) is "The Kid" and Edward G. Robinson is "The Man" in The Cincinnati Kid. Both aspire to be the best professional poker player in the country if not the world. Care to lay a few bucks on who wins?
- In Ghost Town (1988), Dealer is a blind gambler who has spent so much time handling the cards that he can feel what they are. Also acts as Blind Seer.
- 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 favour 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.
- 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 (1961) plays pool for money, but he's dwarfed by Bert Gordon, a Manipulative Bastard whose lavish lifestyle is sustained by his winnings alone.
- In the first "Kenny Rogers as The Gambler" made-for-TV movie, Brady Hawks (Rogers) plays this pretty straight: he's a sharp dresser and he carries a hidden Derringer handgun for emergencies. He doesn't wear much visible jewelry, but he does have an expensive-looking cane and quite a lot of cash. He's very good at spotting cheats, and smacking them down for it too. He plays only poker, and he's very good at it. Not much changes in the four sequels, save that Hawks starts carrying a typical-for-the-period .45 single-action revolver in addition to the Derringer.
- Father Time from Posse.
- Prairie Fever: Monte James is a crooked one, and Olivia is his partner-in-crime, until Olivia decides she has had enough and blows town.
- In Rimfire, The Abilene Kid is a professional gambler whose knowledge of a federal gold heist gets him framed for using marked cards and hanged following a Kangaroo Court.
- 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.
- 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.
- Han too, winning the Millennium Falcon from Lando.
- John "Lucky" Garnett of Swing Time. He also dances a bit, but he insists that gambling is his real talent.
- In Today We Kill Tomorrow Wedie, Francis 'Colt' Moran is a professional gambler who is also an expert gunslinger and knife thrower who will work as a Professional Killer if the money is right.
- "Doc" Holliday from Tombstone, though his first scene has him sticking up the game.
- 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.
- The Gamblers' Guild of Ankh-Morpork. 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. (When people ask why they built their guild house across from a building that explodes so often, they reply "did you read the sign above the door?")
- In Witches Abroad, after Nanny loses her broomstick and all the witches' money to some card sharps, Granny proceeds to beat said card sharps at their own game.
- Professional gamblers appear in many of the novels of J.T. Edson. Frank Derringer is one who is a recurring character.
- Rafe Adova of Elemental Blessings.
- Bret Harte created many Western tropes, and had a defining example of this one in the character John Oakhurst.
- In Horatio Hornblower, Hornblower is forced to do this after his promotion is cancelled in the Peace of Amiens and the Navy puts him under pay stoppage until he "repays" the salary he drew during that time. He makes himself a "permanent fourth" at whist in a high-class gambling house, where the owner gives him a small stipend for doing so (along with his winnings).
- Michael Chabon, in his semi-autobiographical novelMoonglow, depicts his mother's Uncle Ray as having given up the rabbinate for making his living as a pool hustler and poker player.
- Many of these appear in Damon Runyon's "Broadway" stories, including Big Nig the crap shooter, Regret the horse player, and Sky Masterson, who will bet on just about anything.
- The Savant has Snodgrass and Minx, two men who make a living betting on horse races and rob Arlo because he's better at predicting winners than they are. Arlo gets his revenge by tricking them into betting all their money on a horse he knows will lose. The incident shocks Snodgrass into going straight, but Minx continues on his destructive path.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, this is one way to view how Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish plays the game of thrones. Others focus on pure Xanatos Speed Chess or just being the best damned Chessmaster they can be: he's too busy getting rich and moving forward while playing poker or backgammon with the both the markets and politics. He is a very good Master of Coin — everybody with a POV concerning him is very quick to point that out. But, part of it is not just being better than most lords at complex mathematics, bookkeeping and keeping a cool head, but also by being willing to stack the deck his way using very underhanded methods. He plays with probability and people's psychology while spiking other player's hands whenever he gets a chance. And, all of Westeros is his hustle.
- Phaid from the sci-fi novel The Song Of Phaid The Gambler by Mick Farren.
- 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 in Vanity Fair. 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.
- 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.
- His own soldiers and officers continue to play with him throughout the series, feeling it's worth the steady loss of money for the reassurance of how phenomenal their commander's luck is.
- Xandri Corelel spent years as one. She would study the other gamblers until she learned all their tells, then win as much money from them as possible. She only barely made enough to survive, but it was excellent training for her job aboard a First Contact ship, where reading the body language of aliens is an important ability.
- Dead Man's Gun: In "The Gambler", luck finally smiles on a down-and-out gambler when he becomes the gun's latest owner, and has a winning streak. The only catches are that his luck has a time limit...and is only activated when he uses the gun to kill.
- Ben from Frontier Circus was a professional gambler at some time in his past. In "Quick Shuffle", he runs into another professional gambler he knew from the old days who uses a doctored IOU to try and claim half of the circus.
- Kit O’Brady in Highlander was one who had an apparent allergy to other immortals. He’d always sneeze when sensing them. He owned a casino in the flashback until Amanda won it from him, and was trying to buy a racehorse in the present day part.
- 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 TV show Maverick had a whole family of them. Bret, Bart, Beau and Brent. The little seen sequel Young Maverick had Beau's son 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 Bentley Maverick, Pappy Maverick's brother (played by Bart's actor) appeared as well. Of course, those two only appeared in one episode.
- When forced to it, Mr. Lucky can make his living this way, though he generally prefers to run casinos rather than gamble in them.
- 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).
- The Twilight Zone (1959):
- "A Game of Pool" involves a small-time "pool shark" challenging a legendary (and dead) player, with the stakes being life or death for the challenger.
- In "The Grave", Steinhart is a poker player who bets the protagonist he won't go to his enemy's grave at night.
- In "The Trade-Ins", in the hope of winning enough money to afford a second procedure so that he and his wife Marie can both be young again, John Holt takes part in a high-stakes poker game run by the professional gambler Mr. Farraday. He loses most of his money over several hands. Farraday is moved when he learns why John is playing and by the fact that he is desperate to have the procedure done due to the terrible pain that he is experiencing. John has three kings and hopes to win back the $5,000 that he lost. Although Farraday has three aces, he takes sympathy and allows John to win.
- 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. Maria Ho and Tiffany Michelle, who were also professional poker players, competed in season 15 of The Amazing Race. Then there was sports bettor James “the high roller” Holzhauer who was one of the few Jeopardy! to equal Ken Jenning’s winnings total and threaten his win record. He later became a regular on The Chase
- The Clockwork Dolls' "The Ballad of Black Jack Jezabel" is about a professional gambler who hunts down the one man to ever defeat her.
- 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 five TV movies derived from it.
- 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".
- Spirit of the Century lets you play this sort of character if you want — Gambling is its own distinct skill (in a game where those are generally fairly broad) and comes with its own set of stunts to expand on the concept (say, by letting one apply that skill even in games of pure chance, use one's gambling experience to see through bluffs in other contexts, or having a convenient network of gambling buddies).
- In The Girl of the Golden West, the Girl invokes this trope to Rance as a rationale for settling Mr. Johnson's fate by a game of straight poker:
"You're a gambler—he was, too—so am I. I live on chance money—drink money—card money—saloon money. We're gamblers—we're all gamblers!"
- 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.
- The protagonist of Card Shark is an illiterate mute who gets recruited to be an aide to the Compte de Saint Germaine as he helps him cheat at cards. Through his tutelage, he eventually becomes a proficient enough gambler in his own right to cheat his way into high society.
- Ace Visconti of Dead by Daylight made a career out of gambling and pulled himself out of poverty this way, though he did rack up some major debt before the Entity abducted him. The official role given to him by the game is "lucky gambler", and naturally, his unique perks are based around traits that would benefit someone in his profession, such as high luck and increased perceptiveness.
- 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.
- 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.
- Big Gamester from the Richman series is a gambler who wins every bet by manipulating his opponents, making them panic and lose as a result. He'll try to make the opponent lose in all costs! However, this is subverted in 7's ending, where he faces the God of Gamblers and loses...
- Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright winds up forced to become a variation for a time after losing his license to practice law. When we see him in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, he makes a living playing poker, though he doesn't actually gamble any real money on the games he plays, he just gets paid to use his status as an undefeated poker player to attract customers to the restaurant he works at.
- Celestia Ludenberg in Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc 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.
- In Poison Ivy Gulch, the protagonist Lotta Doler is one of these. Strips updating the first of each month usually show her playing cards against opponents at a saloon table.
- Widdershins: When O'Malley and Wolfe are on the road, O'Malley gambles at cards for a living, reading the other players with his emotional Aura Vision.
Captain Barber: So you cheat at cards for a living.
O'Malley: S'not cheating, it's using a natural advantage, isn't it?