Football Picks: Weekend of October 5-6, 2019

Here’s what I often do: Take a 12 oz glass and throw 3-4 ice cubes in it. Then, I add about 2-3 finger widths of Jack Daniels or Bulleit Rye. Then maybe a teaspoon of lemon juice, and top it off with some fresh brewed iced tea. (Then drink, obviously).

After my performance in picking games last week, I might need to do this repeatedly. Good thing I get those giganto bottles of JD and Bulleit at Costco.

Started out well, felt great – got my first 3 picks… and then the remaining 7 went sour. Bah. Season totals are barely above even, at 22-21-2.

So this week, it will ALL TURN AROUND and I can drink my whiskey concoctions in total bliss. My stomach will thank me.

College Games:

Boston College +6 against Louisville (they did it for me last week…)

SMU -13 over Tulsa

Georgia -25 over Tennessee

Navy +3 1/2 against Air Force

Kansas +32 against Oklahoma (I think Oklahoma wins, but does not cover)

Arkansas State -7 1/2 over Georgia State


Jaguars +3 1/2 against the Panthers (I think the Jags will win outright)

Vikings – 5 1/2 over the Giants

Saints -3 over the Buccaneers

Chargers – 6 1/2 over the Broncos (risky…. but Broncos are awful on the road)

Cowboys – 3 1/2 over the Packers (great matchup, and I think Cowboys win it)

Chiefs -11 over the Colts (another risky one.. Chiefs might win without covering, but I’ll go for it)

None of these games really jumped out to me as amazingly easy bets, to be honest. If I had to pick my top choices, I’d probably say Arkansas State and the Jaguars, maybe followed by Georgia. But no top picks this week, really.

Here’s a picture of a kitten drinking beer foam. Skoal!

Football Picks: Weekend of September 27-29, 2019

The sure-thing picks last week were 4-0, everybody! That’s a 14-1 parlay bet, y’know. Overall I was 8-6-1 for a season total of 19-14-2. Not great, not terrible. 54%. Good enough for a pro, I guess, but NOT good enough for ME.

Yeah, ME! The guy who adorns his degenerate gambling picks with a photo of William Schallert since “The Trouble With Tribbles” is on.

Whatever. Ten total picks this week, so let’s win some money. Top picks, once again, are in italics.

College Games

Duke +3 against Virginia Tech

Penn State -6 over Maryland

Boston College + 6 1/2 against Wake Forest (in a pick where I question my sanity, but I’ll keep telling myself how ANGRY BC remains after that embarrassing upset a couple of weeks ago. And then there were the tribbles in their chicken sandwich and coffee. As near as I can tell, they’re born pregnant. All you have to do is stop feeding them.)

Iowa State – 2 1/2 over Baylor

Fresno State – 17 1/2 over New Mexico State

Utah State -24 over Colorado State

NFL Games

Colts – 6 1/2 over the Raiders

Chiefs – 6 1/2 over the Lions

Patriots -7 over the Bills

Rams -10 over the Buccaneers

So there you go. And I have never questioned the orders or the intelligence of any representative of the Federation. Until now.

Now THAT’S How To Bust A Bracket

I had Virginia winning it all in the pool I entered.

A #1 has NEVER lost to a #16 in the opening round in the ENTIRE HISTORY OF THIS THING.

…. until I picked one to win.

You’re welcome, history! Anytime!


Well…. not until it stops raining, anyway. Then I might try betting Santa Anita. I haven’t lost enough money lately.

I need to practice with my drill thrall.

Random Thoughts On My Sports Betting Bibliography


So one day while killing time between a dentist appointment and an eye doctor appointment, I wandered the nearby neighborhood and wound up in one of what’s probably one of the few used bookstores left in LA in the age of the internet.  As much as finding specific old rare stuff online is easier, browsing through smelly old stacks of long-abandoned tomes always turns up stuff I’d NEVER heard of or would have even thought of. Web surfing doesn’t quite produce the same effect.

I rolled the reach-to-the-top-shelf store ladder over to explore the top shelf of old dusty sports books, and came across a pristine copy of Sports Betting by Jim Jasper, dated 1979. A quick skim of the thing  fascinated me – not so much for the advice and system offered, but in that the 1979 world I’d stepped into involved a book suggesting I base my betting systems on the lines of BASIC he offered up for me to punch into my TRS-80 to determine whether or not Ron Guidry and the Yankees would defeat Scott Macgregor and the Orioles.

Turns out Jasper wrote two other books (at least) filled with suggested BASIC coded programs for tracking football & baseball bets throughout the year, as well as following horse tracks. I found them both at the LA Central library. I’m guessing they haven’t been loaned out in quite a while.

As out of date as they all were, Jasper’s basic theories and structures are fairly sound – he number crunches all the data he can to determine league averages in various categories, assigns some weighting in terms of home field and the like, and then bases his betting on how far above or below average particular matchups turn out to be, in both baseball and football.

In other words, a general method easily reproduced using whatever categories of comparative stats are readily available online.

Much of Jasper’s number crunching and data recording, especially when I got to the horse racing portions of the two BASIC books, reminded me of the olden days where handicappers would calculate their own speed figures and track biases. When I used to haunt the sports books in Vegas betting the tracks whenever I was there, I’d see the older guys with their notebooks filled with their own timesheets and speed figures. Old habits die hard, I guess.  I have some older horse handicapping books that painstakingly go through how to do it, like Andrew Beyer’s Picking Winners or the more recent (1995) Dave Litfin’s Expert Handicapping, but since relative speed figures are now available in nearly any racing form, there’s not much point (at least to me) in doing my own calculations. And as far as comparing the value of speed figures on Brisnet sheets versus Equifax versys the Beyer speed numbers in the Daily Racing Form… well, if I’m comparing different speed numbers calculated the same way between horses in the same race, I don’t really see what difference it makes. I’m getting comparative ratios, aren’t I?

While I use websites like Statfox to see comparative football, baseball and basketball team stats, spread records and the like, I use Brisnet past performances for horse racing, because like Statfox, they’re available free online if you know where to look.

The best basic edjumacation in reading horse past performances I can recommend would be DRF’s Brad Free’s Handicapping 101, the first book I read on how to go through the racing form. It covered everything in plain language and served as a nice launch point for studying more complex material or systems offered up by others.

My own systems? Well, I’ve been toying with the idea of writing my own book about betting methods, whether in Vegas where I can bet the team sports legally, or back home where I can bet the track in person or online. But I think I’d want to string some sort of Wagstaff story around it. This post served as  a way to empty my mind of all the things I’d probably try to work in and get them down in print. Maybe I’ll post more in the future about particular strategeries that work, maybe I’ll try to weave them into some hybrid how-to book down the line.

In the meantime, I wonder if I could dig out my old copy of Microsoft Quickbasic on floppy disc and use it to create a totally foolproof horse picking program….hmmmm…..

Horseplayer Academy

For pretty much the same reasons I enjoy picking football games once I have enough past performance & odds data to work with, I’ve plunged into the world of handicapping horse races by analyzing the past performance data in The Daily Racing Form. Once again, I get to look over a bunch of different and often competing variables and try to determine the outcome of a sporting event I’ll enjoy watching anyway. Once again, I get to see if I get it right as if I’m solving some sort of gigantic complex puzzle. And once again, perhaps I might get some money out of it – not enough to retire on with my cheap betting, of course, but enough to pay for celebratory dinner or to add to the Wagstaff yardsale shopping fund.

I started out with Brad Free’s excellent introduction to deciphering the racing form tables, Handicapping 101. Every horse bettor weighs the different categories of comparison their own way, and Free explains all the important ones to look for & offers solid advice for how to consider each one.

Think of everything going on here for a moment – what surface is the race on, turf or synthetic/dirt track? Much the way tennis players are markedly different on grass or clay, horses run differently on those surfaces. What is the class of horses running in this race? Has a major leaguer been slipped into a lower grade race, or vice versa? How fast does the horse usually run? How has the horse been running lately? Blinkers on or off? What’s the distance of the race? Is the horse better at short sprints or long distances? Are the oddsmakers and other bettors overbetting a particular horse or underbetting a real contender? What’s the trainer’s record in races like this, with horses like this? How about the jockey?


Free’s book helps you navigate through all of this without your head exploding. He also covers the Los Angeles area tracks for the DRF as well, so whatever subtleties of his own handicapping have been determined by the particulars of Santa Anita, Del Mar or Hollywood Park might have worked their way into his overall views on the subject. Fine by me, since those are the tracks I’d go to or pay attention to for the most part (except during any Vegas trip when the tracks I focus on are purely dependent on what time of day I’m in the sports book when live races are happening). As a back-up to the nuts and bolts of handicapping techniques, I also read Las Vegas racing columnist Richard Eng’s Betting On Horse Racing For Dummies, since I certainly felt like one the first time I hung out at a Vegas sports book one June, with no football to bet on, and began chatting with horseplayers over whatever methods they were using. One guy tried explaining the racing form to me, but he concentrated so much on his own narrow technique that I only wanted to know what all those other numbers and stats meant even more – after all, if he knew what he was doing, why the hell was he talking to ME?

Okay, maybe he thought I was hot.


So, I learned how to read the racing form, tried my hand at handicapping one day at Santa Anita last spring when I played hookey from an academic conference (this way I’d be happy with my decision even if I lost money, and I didn’t, so clearly GOD WANTED ME TO IGNORE THE CONFERENCE. HA!) The following June I was back in Vegas again, went to the sports book more prepared, and won a little more on a handful of races on a few different tracks. I wanted to improve my ability to pick the actual winners in a race, or get better at picking the order of several finishers – most of my money was made by betting on horses that ran in the money, but I was collecting a lot of place and show bets, which aren’t really cost-effective in the long run versus other choices. If I was good at narrowing a field of a dozen horses down to a few that had a good shot at running first, second or third, how could I hone those techniques, in addition to repeated practice and error analysis?

So it was back to betting school! I read Andrew Beyer’s Picking Winners and Beyer On Speed, both interesting books that are mostly useful for understanding the mindset of a regular horse player, as well as for understanding what goes into the indispensable Beyer Speed Figures for horses that are part of the past performance tables. Most recently, thanks to one of those “Amazon recommends for you” emails, I discovered a truly excellent book on betting theory, Steven Crist’s Exotic Betting, where he outlines various strategies for multiple horse betting, both intrarace (extactas, trifectas, superfectas) and inter-race (pick 4, daily double, etc.). Covering all your angles in these bets can get a little expensive, but as I was reading, I came across this passage, and I decided that this was the greatest book EVER:

Playing the races is not a means to a reliable profit, but an end it itself, a uniquely fascinating problem-solving exercise more akin to completing a challenging crossword puzzle than to laboring for an hourly wage. Of course, it’s even better than a crossword puzzle when you add in the brave and beautiful horses, the thrill of the contest, and the many other charms of a day at the track. If you told me in advance that I would only break even for the next 12 months at the races, I would still play them for the sheer enjoyment of it, and I think most racegoers would too. (Crist, p.18)

Good GOD, this guy and I are on the exact same wavelength!!! Much like my attraction to parlay bets in football, I enjoy going for multiple horse bets in my egomaniacal desire to solve the puzzle to the nth degree and run the table.

So using the theories in his book, I virtually played the Del Mar races in the past week, going through the racing form and making out tables of bets in a notebook, reviewing my performance each day, making adjustments in both my handicapping & betting strategies, and I seem to be slowly putting together more consistent successful methods of both. So far I’ve “bet” $1,891 on 6 days of racing, and have won back $2,329.32, a gain of 23% or so. The ups and downs are certainly erratic, but I’d rather look for areas where I’m on the verge of improving (such as getting pick 3s and pick 4s) than worry about possible long-term losing streaks (especially when I’m not betting any real money!).

I’m not sure when I’ll actually put all this into practice using real money, though I’ll certainly feel more confident in my choices the next time I actually go to the track live or go back to Vegas without football to occupy my sports book time.

But wait!!! THROWING AWAY MONEY ALERT!!!! Unlike football betting, betting on horse races over the internet is legal in California…. <Shudder, the sequel…> Better put a padlock on my bank account… make that TWO padlocks.

Or not. I’m in no hurry to actually risk over a thousand dollars a week. There’s no guarantee of a 23% return on a regular basis, that’s for damn sure.

At the very least, to paraphrase Crist, I’ve found an enjoyable mental exercise that tops my New York Times crossword habit, helps develop analytical (especially self-analytical) skills and may actually net me some money some day. So – can I out-think the horse races? Only time will tell…

“Your move, chump!”

UPDATE: Holy should I quit my day job, Batman!!!! I just spent part of my afternoon of watching college football virtually handicapping & betting Belmont, and (on paper only, alas) won over eighteen thousand dollars by hitting the pick 6 along with a ton of 5 out of 6 consolation bets! I only called a winner in one other race outside of the last six, so I have the voice of Han Solo in my head yelling “Great shot kid, now don’t get cocky…” Granted, I had to lay out nearly $2500 for those Pick 6 bets, something I’d NEVER do in real life, but I suppose it’s a good start! Regular intrarace “betting” was putting out $207.20 and getting back $263.30, which is far more realistic for the sort of day I’d actually spend at the track.

But what was that I was saying about being able to bet online? Hmmmm…..


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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