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The Life of a Professional Gambler

Dirk Paulsen lives purely on football betting, and he feeds his family with it. The professional better speaks to us about gut feelings, trips to Monte Carlo, and the start of the second half of the Bundesliga season.

Katharina Reckers

This article originally appeared on VICE Sports Germany.

Dirk Paulsen seems like a pretty normal jolly bloke in his early-60s. But one thing separates him from other men his age: he places bets for a living. He's a mixture of a crazed gambler, a mathematical genius, and a football fanatic. But he's not a victim of his own addiction; in fact, he supports his family through football betting. It doesn't seem real at first, but after a nice conversation with this human betting computer he's got us convinced.

VICE Sports: You live with your family in a big apartment, you have several children and earn your money betting. How much pressure is there to be right?

Dirk Paulsen: The pressure is high. Especially because there's always the temptation to bet against the figures and statistics and to go with your gut feeling. But you can lose a lot of money by thinking irrationally. By now, I have enough experience that I always bet with a very clear head. Not a lot goes wrong here.

What was your biggest loss ever?

Until 2008 I was betting alone [Paulsen now has 'business partners']. The weekly revenue was frequently more than 10,000 euros. There were definitely also times when €30,000 went down the drain on a weekend. Once in a while there were longer periods where things went wrong. But you have to come back from that. On the other side, you have to keep the good periods going as long as possible without letting go of your reason. Both in the positive sense and in the negative.

You mainly bet on football. Whether the ball goes in or bounces off the post is often a matter of luck – how do you calculate your tips?

I developed a programme myself that works completely off of mathematics. My bets have nothing to do with luck. I never leave anything up to a gut feeling, it's all about my calculations.

Do you have a degree in anything, or did you always know you wanted to be a gambler?

I studied maths, but I started playing more and more on the side. I developed the programme at college and started playing in the big bad world. Backgammon, blackjack. Later I started with football, and then I developed a programme for that while at school.

So how old were you when you started placing bets?

I was 24 years old when a friend showed me a betting slip from SSP Overseas Betting. Back then, you had to bet in writing. Initially, I didn't understand it at all, but I placed my first bet anyway. I was pissed off – we lost like 10 marks. Then I started thinking and making all the calculations.

So when did you start winning with your programme?

We placed our first professional bets during the European Cup in 1988. We won about 4,000 marks. Then, when the 1990 World Cup rolled around, my programme was completely finished. And that's why we were so successful! After that Word Cup, I quit my job as a programmer and since then I've been in the betting business full-time.

That was pretty brave, to quit everything else because of a good World Cup, becoming a professional gambler.

It sounds crazy, but I was just that good at it! I can do it. When I was 26, I won 20,000 dollars at the backgammon world championship in Monte Carlo. It wasn't just a whim to completely focus on betting. I knew would work.

You were a young man with 20,000 dollars on your pocket in the middle of Monte Carlo. You must have been having delusions of grandeur, right?

Yeah totally. I did a few stupid things, or duly enjoyed myself to put it another way. Girls can tell when you're successful and Monte Carlo is a good city for having fun. After that win, I travelled around for another six weeks and kept gambling.

Is addiction at play here with all this betting and gambling?

Not really. Back then I eventually left Monte Carlo. I could tell that I was having insane luck and that it couldn't last. It was too much. I went to Monte Carlo with 5,000 marks and after six weeks of partying and fun I went to St. Tropez, Nice and Paris. Ultimately I made my way back to Berlin without having lost money.

What differentiated you from other people who bet?

I don't follow a favourite team or have a lucky number. I'm all about science and mathematics. I've created statistics, which would be of interest to Sky, the teams, the coaches, the managers, sports reporter – actually to anyone. I have rankings that are way more precise and model the performance in a different way than the tables. I also built in a luck ratio for me to be able to calculate chance.

How do you measure a team's luck?

I'll explain with an example. If Werder Bremen is on the offensive and there's a chance to take a shot from far away, from over 20 metres away from the goal, then maybe they'll try their luck. They take the shot but don't really have a chance of scoring. A Bayern player would maybe look for a teammate in a better position to pass to, until it's time.

Additionally there's the fact that a better attack uses its chances better. So when Lewandowski has the same chance of scoring as Hosiner from Cologne, then Lewandowski may utilise this 50% of the time, Hosiner only about 25%.

And according to the luck ratio (from the first half of the season) who was lucky?

For example, Hertha BSC has a lot of damn luck at play. In contrast, Wolfsburg had really bad luck.

How does the public react to your chosen profession.

A typical quote is, "If you bet, then you cheat." That's total bullshit of course. Betting is a mathematical, fair thing. And luckily that's recognised in society today more than it had been. People used to make a thing out of it more, especially older people. Today it's hardly an issue.

How do you tell your children what you do for a living?

My younger children are getting to understand it gradually. And they get that there's usually money around and they get what they want. What they answer if someone asks them in school what I do, I don't know. "He does something with football betting," I imagine. They definitely aren't ashamed.

Are you ever worried that you're setting a bad example with your profession.

My older son is 18 and he recently needed a job. I offered him one supporting me. He was at my place for a week and got to know my programme and the statistics, rankings etc. Showing him the ropes is something like a legacy. Also because there's nobody who can work the programme except for me. So I'm not setting bad example.