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Handicrapping November 12, 2007

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, Food, Football.
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I spent the weekend in Vegas, mostly for the purpose of betting on tons of football games. I lost my enthusiasm for table games and slot machines many years ago, after playing at them during various Vegas trips (and one Atlantic City trip way back in 1990). I’m just too damn cheap to enjoy myself playing blackjack since I can’t get by the idea that it’s five REAL dollars I’m plunking down each hand, for a game I can play for free on a computer to see if my rough card counting and basic strategy is paying off. And lately on the Strip, the cheapest weekend tables are anywhere from $10 to $15. Bah. It’s just not worth it.

A friend of mine is a poker fiend, spending lots of time and actually doing pretty well for himself in the Texas Hold ’em rooms. I’m a decent poker player and can handle the math in my head while keeping a blank face and trying to distract people with assorted rude and often obscene sarcastic humor, but I don’t love the game enough to sit there for the requisite hours it takes to build up a big bankroll, and I’m also guessing that the pros who practically live in those rooms would gang up on me sooner or later and pick over the bones of my wallet sooner rather than later. I think I prefer the penny-ante rounders type poker setting, complete with lots of good sandwiches, junk food, and beer.

Come to think of it, I’m finding the good sandwiches, junk food & beer the real appeal.

Which brings me to my love of football betting. It’s not so much about the money, though I certainly enjoy hitting a big payoff as much as anyone. For me, the appeal is approaching the odds and point spreads like a giant puzzle, where my job is to out-guess the oddsmakers and “beat the market” as it were by means of superior knowledge, logic, and (of course) some luck. But the emphasis is on some – much the way the appeal of blackjack to me earlier was to formulate strategy and test it out, sports betting allows me to bring knowledge to the table at the outset since it’s a sport I follow pretty closely, and anything that requires some thought and analysis is going to appeal to me much more than randomly dropping money in a slot and pulling a lever to see if all 7s come up.

I also enjoy people watching in Las Vegas, whether it’s taking note of all the morbidly obese people downtown, or the idle rich at the Wynn, or the rather diverse ethnic mix I just saw at Treasure Island this past weekend… by the way, unlike a lot of other guys my age, I really enjoy scoping out 20-something hotties in skin-tight jeans and high heels. Call me a rebel. In any event, I’ve been to Vegas enough times to take in all the oddball architectural experiments from the past several years (I like the New York, New York interior decor, as well as the Venetian canal & day-to-night sky effects, as well as the general layout and feel of the Paris casino, if you’re curious), for entertaining visits to the Liberace Museum, or the Dusenberg room at the Imperial Palace (FREE with AAA membership!), or the Museum of Las Vegas/Mafia history inside the Tropicana (And Good GOD what an old dump that place is – I couldn’t even find a clean bathroom the last time I was there, a subject near and dear to me!), Las Vegas ’51s games when they are in season… I spent a lot of this past weekend sitting in front of game after game, pretty much.

I enjoy sitting in the sports book watching several games at once – what could be better for us ADD control freaks? – bringing in nearby food & pouring down the all-too-often complimentary beers. The only drawback for me is the omnipresent smoke, and there must have been a big sale on low-end smellyshit cigars this weekend, since far too many douchebags had to light up stogies that smelled more like a Gary, Indiana tire fire than Havana gold. I can imagine most of these poor slobs being henpecked by the wife not to smoke cigars in the house, so now in the Treasure Island sports book they can let loose, kick back & puff away… and I get to choke on it as if a stray tear gas grenade has gone off. By the time the Colts game rolled around Sunday night, I watched it back in my room since it was the only game on and I desperately had to get better air.

Though I ought to mention that the Colts game left a stench worse than all those cigar boys and their stogies and their chili cheeseburger farts combined – the ONE week I actually want those bums to win, when I’m convinced they’d be angry over the loss to the Pats and be all ready to take it out on San Diego… and Peyton “I’ll be home watching Tom Brady in the Superbowl” Manning throws SIX interceptions. And after losing a couple of earlier bets, I doubled down on that stupid game. Talk about good money after bad… though if the reason why the Colts were so horrible (Viniateri also missed TWO field goals… unheard of!) was that the Patriots are in their heads and have psyched them out for the rest of the season… well, that might be worth the money!

I did much better with the college games, and did what I always try to do – win on a multi-team parlay card. To me, deciding on a handful of “definite” games to bet on and doubling them all up on each other and then GETTING it is like finishing the NY Times Sunday crossword in pen with absolutely no mistakes… a perfect game! And the money is nice too!

It’s an odd experience for me, an alum of a school where football is basically a joke, to become so invested (literally, if $5 counts) in whether Kansas wins by a touchdown or not, but it adds to the fun. Even at such small amounts, simply adding the element of risk adds excitement. It reminds me of a book I got long ago at some thrift store, Against The Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk, all about the subject that looked pretty interesting from the parts I skimmed. I’ll have to bump it up towards the top of my to-read list.

I’ve been trying to learn how to handicap the horse races as well, but I don’t know enough about the sport yet, and I also think that going to the racetrack live would be much like sitting in the sports book… even if I wind up losing, I enjoy the experience of being there. It’d also be nice to come out ahead, even by a small amount of money as I did 🙂 since that tells me that I solved that puzzle pretty well, despite a few crossouts here and there.

Also caught the Cirque show “Mystere” while in Vegas, which was very entertaining and often impressive, if you find French Canadians lifting each other above their heads using only their ankles impressive. No wonder they won that part of the War of 1812. And the dinner we had at Enoteca San Marco, the Mario Batali casual place over at the Venetian, was just damn well wonderful. Batali may have never sent me so much as a postcard form letter in response to the free copy of my book that I sent him (that DICK!) but the dressed-up version of Italian mac ‘n’ cheese I had, with pasta and pork sausage and broccoli rabe in a sauce of melted pecorino romano…. oooooh! Yummy yum yum!

So here is my modest proposal: even though I am most likely NOT returning to Vegas for the remainder of this football season, and California has the ABSOLUTELY RI-GOD DAMN-DICULOUS law against accessing sports book websites from within the state, I am going to handicap the college & pro games each week from here on out, and post my would-be choices here on this blog, as if I were betting the actual money. I’ll keep score as I go, but I won’t be betting any actual money at all. It will only be about GLORY!

DISCLAIMER: I’m not suggesting you follow my advice. This is NOT a sports betting site, I’m NOT selling you my picks, and I’m telling you right now that I have NO idea what I am doing (I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve said THAT on a date.) This is purely for recreational purposes (Hmmm… said that, too) and I’m not encouraging gambling or anything illegal and will every God damn lawyer just jump into a vat of acid and leave me and civilization the hell alone?

But with the Ivy football winding down, and with my confidence in my ability to pick these games boosted by my modest success this past weekend, let’s try a simulation until the end of the year (Jeesh, I keep quoting my dating dialogue here) and see how it goes. Wheeeeeeeee!

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Comments»

1. ed - November 15, 2007

Actually, this season has turned into the Seinfeld episode where Elaine becomes George and George becomes Elaine. The Colts used to be the high powered run and gun team and the Patriots the eke it out and pund you on defense team. Now the roles are reversed. With all the injuries the Colts have you are now seeing Manning playing as Brady had to when all he had to throw to were run of the mill receivers like David Patten and Jabar Gaffney. Now it’s the Pats who are scoring at will and the Colts who have to try to shut opponents down on defense.

Of course now that Dwight Feeney is done for the season, the Colts are toast. They’ll go 4-3 the rest of the way (only because they have the hideously awful Raiders, Ravens, and Falcons on the schedule to finish up at 11-5 which, with Jacksonville, Tennessee, Buffalo and Cleveland playing well, may not be good enough to crack the wild card slot (hee hee).

Oh, and you’re right about the morbidly obese motherfuckers on the Strip.

2. Jim Berkin - November 15, 2007

Actually, the morbidly obese MoFos are downtown on Fremont Street and the Strip is growing more and more upscale. They imploded the old Frontier casino the day after I left, something I could have watched out my TI room window actually, and it will be replaced with a condo/casino combo at premium prices. As much as the cheapo side of me (Hmmm… that’s actually ALL sides of me) misses the era of the $20/night on-the-Strip rooms in the older parts of the older casinos, the newer resorts on the Strip and the premium restaurants therein are actually worth the extra bucks.

I’ll enjoy myself thoroughly if you’re right about the Colts, by the way.


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