Alan Woods: Professional Blackjack Player and Horse Racing Gambler
Alan Woods was a mathematical genius who used his skills to become one of the most advantageous gamblers of his time. Whether it was by counting cards in blackjack or by helping develop software that could accurately predict the outcome of horseraces, this man has had a huge impact on the world of gambling.
Learn more about Alan Woods and his journey to finding success through gambling by reading this detailed biography. We take a deeper look into his childhood, his gambling history, and his personal life. You'll surely discover something you never knew before.
Alan Woods was born in Australia in 1945. His parents were entrepreneurs who ran several successful businesses, including a news agency, a cordial factory, and a hotel. His family was very well off, making young Woods quite spoiled. He received just about any material possession he asked for and relied on the maid to clean his room and do the majority of his school work.
He was first introduced to card games at an early age when his father taught him how to play solo whist. Solo whist is an elaborate trick-taking card game that is similar to bridge. Woods loved playing this game with his family and was actually very good at it. It was through this card game that Woods discovered he had a natural talent for mathematics.
After graduating high school, Woods attended the University of New England in Armidale in hopes to obtain a degree in mathematics. Woods didn't find his math assignments to be too challenging, but he still received poor grades in college because his attendance was so low. He was kicked out of the school just one semester before graduating.
Introduction to the World of Gambling
A few of his college roommates encouraged him to go with them to a nearby casino one weekend. Having never been to a casino before, Woods didn't know what to expect. He was overwhelmed by the hundreds of slot machines and table games to choose from. Since the only game he was familiar with was poker, he decided to try that out first. He found the rules to be complicated and the competition to be stiff. That game wasn't for him.
Luck was also not on Woods' side when it came to the slots, as he lost a significant amount of money on the slots his first few trips to the casino. His parents actually stopped sending him money because they didn't know how he was spending it so quickly. With a limited bankroll, Woods was forced to avoid the casinos for a while.
He eventually replaced his time spent at the casinos with trips to the racetrack instead. He attended his first horserace with a good friend from college and immediately got addicted to its atmosphere. The first bet he placed was on a horse that was projected to get third place. Woods chose wisely that day, as that horse surprised the entire crowd by taking first place while breaking its own personal record.
The next time around, Woods decided to be a little smarter with his money. He set a strict budget and kept track of his wins and losses. He started off very well, winning a decent amount of money on his bets. As time went on, though, his losses quickly surpassed his wins. Woods decided it was in his best interest to give up horseracing for a while.
A Failed Marriage and an Addiction to Blackjack
After college, Woods started dating a beautiful woman named Meredith. She was the daughter of one of his parents' business partners. The two fell in love quickly, and by 1972, they were ready to walk down the aisle. They started having children almost immediately after they got married. They had a son named Anthony and a daughter named Vicky.
Woods had a hard time keeping a job throughout his marriage, as he would often oversleep and arrive to work late. This caused a strain on his relationship. Woods and Meredith fought often, and their home had a very hostile environment. Only seven years into their marriage, Meredith packed up her things and left, taking the children with her. The loss of his wife and his children caused Woods to turn to gambling for comfort.
One of his friends had taught him how to count cards in blackjack. After practicing for several weeks, Woods decided he wanted to count cards in an actual brick-and-mortar casino. His first attempt was successful, as he was able to walk away from the casino with a couple thousand dollars in his pockets.
It was around this time that his friend recommended that he apply for a job at the Wrest Point Casino, as they were going to be opening shortly in a nearby town. They were in need of someone to calculate the house edge on all of their games. Woods was just the man for the job, as he was able to do the calculations twice as quickly as Wrest Point Casino was expecting.
Woods was particularly interested in what the house edge was on blackjack. Initially, he calculated it out to be 0.7% when four decks were in use. After taking into consideration the impact of card counting, Woods discovered that this actually allowed him to gain an edge over the house. Now, he was more determined than ever to win money through playing blackjack. What started off as a hobby to cope with his divorce turned into a full-blown addiction.
At one point, he even spent six months in Vegas so that he could play blackjack morning, noon, and night. By the end of his time in the United States, he had won over $100,000. He then traveled across Asia, Europe, and Australia. He played in a wide range of different venues, making millions of dollars along the way.
As casinos started to recognize who he was, Woods started wearing disguises to avoid being thrown out. He had fake mustaches, glasses, and wigs. He dyed his hair often and would change up the style of clothes he wore on a regular basis. Sometimes he would dress to the nines in his finest suit, while other times he would wear just jeans and a t-shirt. In 1984, his picture was published in the Griffin Book, which all casinos have access to. Even disguises wouldn't be able to prevent him from being tossed out of the casinos now. It was time for Woods to give up card counting and move on to his next big adventure.
Back to Horse Racing
Remembering his love of horseracing, Woods decided to give it a second chance. He moved to Hong Kong to join Bill Benter and his team of professional gamblers. They were trying to find a way to make accurate predictions on the outcome of horse races. In an interview with The Monthly, Woods described their approach in this way, "You could say that our whole theory behind betting on horses is to take a contrarian approach to whatever the public is doing."
At this time, no one was using computers to increase their chances of picking winners at the racetrack. So, Woods helped Benter develop a computer program that determined a horse's chances of winning based on what track they were racing on, what the weather conditions were on the day of the race, what their form in previous races looked like, and a variety of other factors. This program was developed using several different algorithms and complex calculations, many of which Woods came up with on his own.
After two years of making adjustment to the program, it finally started to make accurate predictions on a regular basis. By placing bets based on what their program predicted, everyone on the team was able to make a decent amount of money. Unfortunately, the team did not stay together for long because they fought over finances. Some members believed they deserved to be given a larger share of the profits than what they were receiving. Greed got the best of them, so they were forced to part ways.
Reaching the End of His Life
Towards the end of his life, Woods became very generous with his money. He donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to mental health research, as he had several close friends who suffered from depression. He also had a soft spot in his heart for the Philippines. He donated millions of dollars to various orphanages, schools, and hospitals over there. His goal was to create a better living environment for Filipino children. He even looked into adopting a child from the Philippines, but he was unable to do so due to his declining health status.
He was diagnosed with appendix cancer in the early 2000s, choosing to spend his remaining days in the comfort of his own home. He refused to go through radiation and chemo treatment, so it wasn't long before his cancer spread to other organs in his body. On January 26th, 2008, Alan Woods breathed his last breath. He would go down in history as one of the most prosperous gamblers in the world, for he had accumulated over $500 million over the course of his career.