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Now THAT’S How To Bust A Bracket March 16, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in General.
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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 August 26, 2016

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Football, Horse Racing.
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14020c_lgSo 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As out of date as they all were, Jasper’s basic theories and structures are fairly sound – he number crunches all the data he can to determine league averages in various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…..

Preakness Picks 2012 May 18, 2012

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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Considering how well I did in calling the Kentucky Derby a couple of weeks ago, I fully expect some 50-1 longshot to flush me down the toilet on my picks for the second leg of the Triple Crown, but I’ll post them anyway.

It’s the eternal optimist in me, I guess. One of the main considerations in this race is the short two week interval between the Preakness and the Derby – usually horses ought to be given a three week (at least) rest between races, especially major stakes races where even finishing fifth can mean decent purse money. The first thing I look for when handicapping this thing are competitive horses who did not run in the Kentucky Derby.  This year, I can only really see one of these, Zetterholm, having any sort of shot at it, although I’d say the chances for a win are slim.  He’s won his last 3 races, though all of them were at a considerably lower class level and his running times are not quite competitive with the top picks I’ll name below… BUT: this horse closes well in the stretch and will most likely pass a lot of the field once they come around that final turn. He’s in better form now than he was a month ago at Aqueduct when he won a 75K stakes race, and at 20-1, he makes a very tempting bet to simply wind up in the money or be part of any exotic combo.

The more serious contenders, to me, are all horses that did well in the Derby, starting with my #1 pick for this race, Bodemeister. He barely lost the Derby in the end, after setting a blistering pace for nearly the entire race. My guess would be that he’d once again be the pacesetter, but I’m sure Baffert and Smith would rather he conserve just a little more energy, maybe adding a second or so to those split times, still leading & with enough in the tank in the end to finish this slightly shorter race.  For the #2 and #3, I’d go with Derby winner I’ll Have Another and fellow SoCal entry Creative Cause to once again keep pace with Bodesmeister, with Went The Day Well & Daddy Nose Best as contenders for third or fourth.

So, throw Zetterholm in there and you have six horses to play with for exotic combos, perhaps keying the top choices. I haven’t really figured out how I’ll actually bet yet, I’ll have to sleep on it & see if there are any last minute considerations like weather, but I’ll probably Exacta-box my top 4 at the very least. Unlike the Derby, the Preakness will have a ten cent Superfecta, so I might use all 6 horses in that somehow. I’ll amend this post with my results.

Results: Well, I had the longshot Zetterholm hitting the board in the Super like I figured he might, and got the other top 3, but since I keyed a couple of my exotics to Bodemeister winning, I basically broke even due to the small payoffs all around. Ah well… at least I called it well & I hope any of you who took my advice set up your own tickets more successfully!  I’ll try again in a couple of weeks with the Belmont.

Belmont Stakes Results 2009 June 6, 2009

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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Shoulda woulda coulda…. boxed that superfecta! Then I would have had it, with #4 Summer Bird sneaking into first instead of finishing second or third. But since all my bets were based on either Dunkirk or Mine That Bird finishing first (and they came in 2nd and 3rd, respectively), down the toilet I go.


Not that it would have been a huge payoff on a ten cent bet… $42.60, to be precise. Not really worth it, but better than losing fifty bucks.

Now, the pick 6, which paid nearly a million… THAT’S the bet I’d’ve liked to win…

Maybe next time… or maybe at the end of July, on my next Vegas trip.

Handicapping The Belmont Stakes, 2009 June 4, 2009

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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I won’t be in Las Vegas for this year’s Belmont, as my bowling tournament was a week earlier than usual this year and I did all my sportsbooking last week. If you’re curious, I went 7-1 on baseball/basketball/hockey bets, thank you very much, and notice how I HAVEN’T mentioned my horse betting…. well, it wasn’t THAT bad, only lost $26, most of which went towards an all-longshot-filled Pick 4 at Hollywood which would have brought yours truly an astounding $13.5k if I had gotten the other half of it.

But ignore that FAILURE and bear with me as I prognosticate this year’s final leg of what I think will be a personal Triple Crown for Calvin Borel.

Yes, I think #7 Mine That Bird will win the Belmont… after watching him burn up the end of the Preakness and nearly catch the winner, I’m thinking he’s got the stuff to go the distance in a race where maintaining energy to the end of the long mile and half run is usually key. When I went through the past performances of the ten contenders, I was mostly looking at (a) which horses run better at longer distances and (b) who had the best accelerating pace figures late in such races. Sometimes I could gather hints from the works times of some contenders, but nearly all of these horses have run routes at stakes levels (except for #9, Miner’s Escape, a tempting inclusion in exotic combos at 15-1, but I think there are better candidates out there for even that) and the majority of my decision making comes from looking at the results of recent stakes races.

The other horses I can see challenging Mine That Bird until he outruns them in the end are #8 Flying Private (4th in the Preakness) and #2 Dunkirk, whose lousy Derby run I’ll treat as a fluke. They are the only two horses in this race with speed and pace figures comparable to what Mine That Bird has been doing lately.

In the next group, I’d include #3 Mr. Hot Stuff, who ran a lousy Kentucky Derby, but is in great form and has great potential, #4 Summer Bird, who ran a decent Kentucky Derby and closes well, #6 Charitable Man, who runs well towards the end of a route, but it’s still a question mark whether or not he can go this distance, and I’ll take a chance on #10 Brave Victory, whose best races at lower stakes levels come close to the best horses here – so at the long odds he’ll probably get, why not add him to the party?

Ever been to a horse party? The smell is hard to take, but they sure can drink and dance.

The Virtual Bets:

I’d put ten bucks on both #7 Mine That Bird & #2 Dunkirk to win, as well as including #8 Flying Private in an exacta box for another twelve.

Trifecta play: 7/2,8/2,3,4,6,8,10 for ten bucks, and a Superfecta (ten cent bets) of 2,7/2,7,8/2,3,4,6,8,10/2,3,4,6,8,10 for another eight bucks.

Fifty virtual dollars total out there. We’ll see what happens to those odds as we get closer to post-time, but I think I’d probably stick with all of these if this week were last week and I was parked in the Wynn sports book enjoying my free beers (thank you, anonymous angry old Noo Yawka horseplayer who I chatted with & gave me some free drink coupons) and smelling the inevitable douchebags smoking cesspool-brand cigars.

And this year unlike in the past, I think I’ve FINALLY learned how to bet on baseball games and do well! I guess I could do more virtual betting to test this theory, with the possibility of another Vegas trip this summer in the offing… we shall see! Maybe I’ve just been lucky. After all, I DID find a DIME on the sidewalk today!!! Yay!

The rest of the summer? Well, I have VOWED I will finish my new book. I have to design a new art & music history class, which I will model after my film class. I should watch more movies & blog about them here. Stay tuned.

Wagstaff’s Picks Results – Las Vegas Edition November 25, 2008

Posted by Jim Berkin in Football, General, Horse Racing.
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Yes, when I think of Las Vegas, I think of William Demerest, don’t you?

If only he could have danced like Ann-Margaret in that movie, where Ann’s body gyrates & her hair flies all over, but her head manages to stay perfectly still throughout except of course when she spins it around like Linda Blair. Then again, maybe Demerest DID dance like that on My Three Sons until Ernie told him it made him hot & gave him a dollar.

In fact, I think I remember that episode. But I just had another birthday and am getting more senile. So don’t take my word for it.

So after actually betting REAL money on my football picks this week, I wound up actually hitting a 3 team NFL parlay that made up for some losses, and my total football betting of 36 college and 8 pro games netted me a grand total of….. FIFTEEN DOLLARS!!!!

Now I can retire!!!

Oh wait, I gave it all back & more by blowing money on horse races that went very very badly, especially today. The only tracks available on a Monday are mostly the minor-league stuff, where things are unpredictable and the odds vary wildly. But I went with the stupid idea of “Well, I’m here, I may as well bet something!” and kept getting hammered over and over again. My day started out by hitting a trifecta in my first race and winning a grand total of $3 because of lousy odds. On my last bet of the day, I bet $12 and got the superfecta, getting the top 4 horses in order out of a field of 12, and for my BRILLIANT HANDICAPPING got a payout of….


Not exactly what I had in mind after spending the time & effort to handicap a half dozen or so races the previous evening & as I went along today. I suppose over the long haul I’ll make money back on a few big bets, but I think the lesson today was to be much more selective & have a back-up plan for visiting the Vegas sports books on off-football days, such as bringing a crossword puzzle book, perhaps along with a couple of strippers who have a big vocabulary, or who understand paramutuel odds better than I do.

On a Monday in the race book, you find the serious horse players – the guy sitting in front of me was betting Philadelphia Park and having about as good a day as I was, and went off on a rant of several minutes where it seemed he was caught in an endless loop of the old George Carlin “Seven Dirty Words” routine. Once he had finished marching up and down the aisles shouting his obscenities, he looked at me and apologized, saying he just does that to blow off steam. I told him it was okay and asked if we were related, and he laughed. He told me he’s been playing the races for fifty years, and does it for a living. He only bets a couple of horses each day, regardless of the odds, which told me he must be betting much larger amounts than my $12. No wonder he was so pissed when he lost.

Other highlights of today’s racing adventures: looking around the place and seeing perhaps only one or two guys about my age or younger. The rest all looked like they came straight from the retirement home. One guy was on his cellphone yelling to his friend that he’d bring his nitrate pills right after he was done betting.

“That heart attack will just have to wait Murray, I’ve got a hot tip on the sixth at Calder!!!”

The place was full during the football days of Saturday & Sunday, however, and various small encampments of alumni fans were spread around – Michigan here, Ohio State there, Oklahoma over there, and so on. There was also the usual assortment of douchebags with crappy cigars along with regular cigarette chain smokers to ruin the breathing for everyone. At least on Sunday, the Superbook at the Hilton opens up their theater as a non-smoking big screen assortment of every NFL game. I went in there after a while just to clear my lungs up.

By the way, I am NOT going to include any totals from my predictions for this weekend into my virtual scoresheet. I went 17-19 in college and 5-3 in the pros if that means anything.

Other Wagstaff Vegas Goodies: On Sunday I had an interesting conversation with the guy sitting next to me who turned out to be a pro football gambler. He told me how he basically makes 6 figures a year betting football, and then explained his theory of how NFL games are fixed & how he adjusts his betting accordingly. So, I’m sitting there listening to this, pegging this guy as either a lucky paranoid or a towering genius who has found the ultimate way to beat the system. And then I start thinking about some of the truly horrendous bone-headed officiating in the NFL this season, especially in games involving San Diego, especially this past Sunday where the refs stopped the clock for NO reason giving the Colts a chance to regroup and score the winning points COSTING ME FIVE DOLLARS, and I’m leaning towards “genius” for that guy.

I should have gotten his phone number & had him make my horse picks today.

Overall, the trip was fun. Had a wonderful dinner Saturday at Enoteca San Marco at the Venetian, which might becoming my new favorite Italian restaurant in Vegas. My airport shuttle driver today was a cross between Carl from Carl’s Cuts & Barney Fife and was entertaining. He might have been the only obligatory tip I paid out on this trip that I actually felt was worth it.

Yes, I am THAT MUCH OF A CHEAP BASTARD, even though I’m actually a generous tipper. I just like BITCHING about it afterwards.

Then when I got on my flight back, I look across the aisle, and there’s a Hasidim along with his son so I think to myself “Wow! I’m in the JEW row!”

However, this theory is then shattered once the two seats next to me are taken by a woman who looked like a gene splicing between Rosie O’Donnell & Kathy Griffin and a guy who looked like Bobby Trendy after the accident. God forbid the fabulous babe exotic raven haired beauty I saw waiting along with me at the airport sit next to me. God forbid she return any of my dirty old lecher smiles at her. God forbid she stop talking to that cop and pointing at me…

Kathy-Rosie smiled at me, however. At least someone has good taste, even if their arms were covered in spiky-chain-link-fence design tattoos.

Just my type!

Perhaps I should have HER make my horse picks next time.

Wagstaff’s Picks – Weekend of November 22 Vegas Edition!!! November 20, 2008

Posted by Jim Berkin in Football.
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“Luck is when preparation meets opportunity” – Robert Evans

Great, now I’m quoting Robert Evans, or should I phrase it as “Am I quoting Robert Evans? You bet your ass I am” since that’s how Evans would put it. But after all the weeks of virtual practice, this is the weekend where all the theories, methods & madness that comprise the preparation meet the opportunity of being able to bet actual money. We’ll see whether it’s good or bad luck in the end.

Here’s where I’ll be going for the gold:

In The NFL:

I like the Forty Niners plus 10 points against the Cowboys, the Ravens minus 2 against the Eagles, the Falcons by 1 1/2 over the Panthers, the Raiders plus 9 1/2 against the Broncos, the Cardinals plus 3 against the Giants, and the Chargers by 3 over the Colts. I’m leaning towards the Chiefs plus 4 against the Bills, the Jets plus 6 against the Titans, the Vikings plus 2 1/2 against the Jaguars and the Redskins by 3 1/2 over the Seahawks, though I might swear off that last once since both teams are pretty shaky. I’ll probably avoid the Browns/Texans, Bears/Rams and Bucs/Lions games unless I do well enough on Saturday to treat $5 on any of those like lotto tickets.

In the college games:

A lot more money spreading out here, but since I will be avoiding complex parlay combos, I don’t think I’ll be breaking the bank. I’ll take Temple by 11 over East Michigan, Army plus the 17 1/2 against Rutgers, Northwestern plus 2 1/2 against Illinois, Cincy by 4 1/2 over Pitt, Boston College plus 2 against Wake Forest, Ohio State by 21 over Michigan (that one makes me a little nervous…), Virginia Tech by 16 1/2 over Duke, Maryland by 1 over Florida State, North Carolina by 11 over North Carolina State, Kansas State by 10 over Iowa State, Vanderbilt by 3 over Tennessee, Mississippi State by 1 over Arkansas, Akron by 2 1/2 over Ohio, Wyoming plus 2 against Colorado State, Rice by 9 over Marshall, Notre Dame by 20 over Syracuse (another one that makes me nervous), Washington State plus 7 1/2 against Washington in the Apple-Bowl-Big-Battle-Of-SUCK, Tulsa by 28 1/2 over Tulane, Texas Tech plus 7 against Oklahoma in the game of the week, Penn State by 14 1/2 over Michigan State (I changed my mind on that one today for some reason), Clemson by 2 1/2 over Virginia, California by 9 over Stanford, Louisiana Tech by 7 over New Mexico State, Boise State by 6 over Nevada, UAB plus 6 1/2 against East Carolina, Houston by 15 1/2 over UTEP, Utah by 6 over BYU, Minnesota plus 6 against Iowa, Arizona by 2 1/2 over Oregon State (another good matchup), Louisville plus 7 against West Virginia, Memphis by 5 1/2 over UCF, Ole Miss plus 3 1/2 against LSU, Florida Atlantic plus 4 1/2 against Arkansas State, Florida International by 6 1/2 over LA Monroe, Mid Tennesee State minus 20 1/2 against North Texas, and Troy by 9 1/2 over LA Lafayette.

Oh, and Brown over Columbia. I don’t care WHAT the spread is!

Some of the point spreads might move a little between now & when I place the bets, and I might wind up being talked out of some of those, but that’s probably the way it will all wind up. I’ll also put together a couple of 3 or 4 team parlay cards, but no more.

I’ve also handicapped most of the Friday night Hollywood Park card and a few high potential horse races over the weekend. I’ll keep an eye on them inbetween watching multitudes of football. My brain might melt from all of this, but I’m sure several pints of Guinness will bring it back to life.

In the meantime, YOUR brain can melt from watching this:


Horseplayer Academy September 1, 2008

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, General, Horse Racing.

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…..

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!