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Posted by on Mar 9, 2017 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Personal | 3 comments

The Night I Met Donald Trump at Shaq O’Neal’s 33rd Birthday Party

 

 

Twelve years ago tonight, I met Donald Trump at the most unlikely of affairs — former NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal’s 33rd birthday bash in Miami Beach.

Why was I invited?  I have no connections to the NBA or Miami’s hipster social scene.  I hate going to parties.  And, hanging out with celebrities is way overrated.

Well, I wasn’t invited to Shaq’s party, exactly.  But I did fly all the way across the country.  I stayed the entire evening.  I also hung out with celebs including Shaq O’Neil, future President Donald Trump, and a young up-and-coming comedian who shall be mentioned later.

I’m writing about this story for the first time.

_____

Two months earlier, right after New Years, I was at the Sea World park in San Diego on a family vacation.  Miami Beach, Shaq O’Neal, and Donald Trump were 3,000 miles away, but might as well have been somewhere on the moon — for all I cared.

That’s when my cell phone rang.

The voice on the other end informed me about a potential marketing and public relations opportunity for the company I was working for at the time.  In addition to my annual seasonal work at the World Series of Poker, I also worked full-time for PokerStars.com, serving as their Director of Communications.  Those were exciting days to be working in poker, when we all had money to burn and the sky was the limit.

For the princely sum of $135,000 PokerStars.com had the chance to be the “official sponsor” for Shaquille O’Neal’s 33rd birthday party.  That figure amounted to pocket change for Isai Scheinberg, PokerStars.com’s enterprising founder and then-owner/CEO.  Shaq’s party was certain the be the social event of early 2005, even going so far as to generate national attention, especially in the sports and entertainment media.  O’Neal was then at the top of his game.  He’d just left the Los Angeles Lakers where he won an NBA title, signed as a free agent with the Miami Heat where he joined legendary head coach Pat Riley.  He’d lead them to their first world championship the following year.

O’Neal wasn’t just a basketball player.  He was a superstar.  He appeared in movies and was one of the most recognizable athletes in the world.

$135,000 sure sounded like a bargain.

Sponsoring the birthday bash meant paying for the mega-party which was to be held on ritzy South Beach, on the night after the Heat played a home game in Miami in early March.  Everyone who was anyone was invited and expected to attend.  This party included a stellar guest list certain to generate lots of publicity and perhaps even some much-needed goodwill with numerous celebrities.  TMZ would even be there, their cameras rolling, just in case anything wild happened.

After a follow-up conversation with Dan Goldman (PokerStars.com’s Director of Marketing) and Isai, we jumped at the chance to host Shaq’s party.

This wasn’t just about poker.  This was Creative Branding 101.  This was being hip.  This was being at the center of the scene where much of our player demographic wanted to be.  We were about to entertain the most popular sports stars in America, numerous A-List celebrities, and one brash New York real estate developer who a dozen years later would become the 45th President of the United States.

What could go wrong?

_____

In early 2005, PokerStars.com ranked the second-largest online poker site in the world.  The site was raking in millions, remarkable since at the time there were no more than about 200 employees worldwide.  The site might as well have been a mint.  PokerStars.com was printing money.

But for Isai, and his son Mark (who was just as instrumental in building the site and creating the empire that was to come), ranking second was totally unacceptable.  We knew our software was superior to the game design used by industry kingpin, PartyPoker.com.  We knew our customer service was top notch in the industry, out hustling every other company in the gaming sector, including the land-based casinos which might as well have been living in the previous century.  We knew that our top management was genuinely driven by something more than just making money and was run by dedicated poker people who knew the game backwards and forwards and were clued into what players wanted in a poker experience.

The push was on to become the number one poker site in the world, both in terms of daily traffic and reputation.  Sponsoring non-gambling mainstream events like Shaq’s birthday party was yet another way to try and legitimize our company — which despite our best efforts — was still tainted as a shady gambling company based someplace that might as well have been Outer Mongolia, and therefore was quasi-legal.

Of course, no one gave this financial shakedown a second thought.  The irony of multi-millionaire athletes, presumed billionaire financiers, and movie stars having their personal entertainment paid for by an outside company was preposterous.

We’d all jumped the shark.  This was cultural insanity.

_____

Shaq’s birthday party took place at the swanky Hotel Victor, a refurbished Art Deco percolator for Miami’s “in crowd,” where South Beach’s thriving gay scene intersected with local elite.  Think of the movie — “Birdcage.”  A few years earlier, fashion icon Gianni Versace had been gunned down just steps away from the main entrance to Hotel Victor.

Rich Korbin and I became the chosen ones.  We were plucked to play the role of party hosts, representing the official sponsor — PokerStars.com.  My qualifications for this role were suspect, at best.  However, Rich was essential to the operation.

Rich was known as the man to get things done at Stars.  “The fixer” has a bad connotation.  But if we had a fixer, it was Rich.  He made things happen, and it was usually best not to ask about details.  We didn’t want to know.  When we’d ship stuff to events and ran into the Teamsters Union, and we needed our freight moved before everyone else’s shit got rained on at the loading docks, Rich greased the wheels and got us set up before everyone else.  When it came time to negotiating a new deal with a supplier playing had ball on the contract, Rich ball-busted the shit out of them.  That was Rich’s talent.  “The Art of the Deal” should have been written by Rich Korbin.

Rich also seemed to have connections just about everywhere.  So, he hired a handful of local poker dealers based around Miami to pitch cards all night.  We planned on running two poker tables non-stop as long as they’d let us run the games.  Given the legal restrictions against gambling and the precious time demands of party guests, we agreed it was best to run something called Sit n’ Go’s.  That’s basically a small tournament of 9-10 players, usually lasting not more than 30-40 minutes.  We expected to give away thousands of dollars in prizes.  Hopefully, the media would stick around and we’d get some “free” promotion for PokerStars.com, which would only end up costing us closer to $160,000 with all the extras added in.

Who knows — maybe Rich and I might even make TMZ.

_____

Sometime around 30 years ago, an unknown marketeer saw a tremendous opportunity in the mundane.  Take a closer look at old movie newsreels of athletes and celebrities.  When out in public back in those days, famous people up through the end of the 1970’s were almost always interviewed while bunched up in crowds along with other people hanging out in the background.  Entertainment and sports media lacked much in the way of commercialization.  There were no logos.  Corporations didn’t dabble in what later became known as — entertainment marketing.

Then, at some point during the “Greed is Good” 1980’s, a marketing maven somewhere who likely never got proper credit (more fittingly, the blame) for the idea saw lots of precious media real estate being wasted and decided to change every aspect of how pop culture is covered in the modern age.  And so, that’s how the “Step and Repeat” banner got invented.  When the person of the focus took a step, the logo was imagery repeated over both shoulders.  It didn’t matter where the celebrity stood or the position of the head and face.  There was the logo behind.  Note that’s how the banner got its name.

Today, you can’t watch a soccer game or see an interview with a movie star on television without absorbing a corporate logo plastered somewhere on the screen.  The Step and Repeat banner is now used everywhere, in all sports and major media events.  After a ball game, athletes are interviewed with corporate logos emblazoned in the background.  Now, even parties have the unremitting Step and Repeat banner in the background, and Shaq’s Miami bash was no exception.

Our banner that was special made that evening included logos from PokerStars.com and — much to my shock when I initially saw it — Hennessy, the brand of cognac which has a reputation for being a favorite of hipsters.

What in the hell was Hennessy doing on our Step and Repeat banner?  We paid a premium for that space!

That was the first time I’d seen Hennessy was involved in our party.  I’d been led to believe PokerStars.com had an exclusive on the marketing.  Gee, I wonder if Hennessy had to fork over $135,000 for their role as the “official sponsor?”  Err, make that — “co-sponsor.”  Something seemed dirty about this deal.  Of course, this is how those deals work.  It’s standard practice.  This is the bait and switch game, and companies fall for it — hook, line, and sinker — every time.

Still, if we were going to share media exposure, then I suppose we could do a helluva’ lot worse than being connected to Hennessy.  Poker and a premium liquor — that’s a coveted pairing.  Fortunately, we didn’t have to share the limelight with chewing tobacco, or tires, or worse — an insurance company.  Thank you, Geico — for presumably not returning the phone call or we might have been paired with that green lizard.

That night, the Miami Heat defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 108-100.  That was a good thing.  We didn’t want the Heat to lose, which might have cast a spell over the jovial expectations of Shaq’s birthday party.  Winning basketball players are happy basketball players.  Oh, and thank goodness the game didn’t go into double-overtime, which could wrecked the evening.

Sometime around 9 pm, Tara Reid was among the first celebrities to show up on the red carpet and walk the Step and Repeat, which marked the glitzy entrance to Hotel Victor.  Reid was either so drunk or so stoned off her ass that she had to be helped up the ramp to walk.  She was a hot mess.

Limos and Bentleys and Rolls Royces pulled up in front at the red carpet and one by one the celebrities paraded like pretty people in front of the cameras.  I worked the red carpet “line,” making sure the dozens of media outlets got the shots they needed while making certain no celebs were held up for too long by any one photographer or interviewer.  My mission was to keep the line flowing steadily, getting the shots, and making sure the celebrities weren’t overwhelmed.

My career had been reduced to an ass-kissing enabler.

 

Coming Next in Part 2:  Meeting Trump and Playing Poker with Shaq

 

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Posted by on Mar 3, 2017 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Personal, Sports Betting | 2 comments

Gambling for a Living: A Madness to My Method

 

 

Writer’s Note:  This is PART 4 in my ongoing series, “Gambling For a Living.”  What follows is a partial recollection of my sports betting escapades over the course of 2016.  For other chapters, please read PART 1, PART 2, and PART 3.

 

Sunlight sanitizes the dim hue of gambling daily.

All the time wasted and ultimately lost — days, nights, weeks, weekdays, and weekends — prodding often so pointlessly and more often still so profitlessly — crunching ideas, testing theories, reading injury reports on squeaky laptops and cracked smartphone screens — eyes darting back and forth between ball scores — the “previous” button battered on the remote control beyond recognition — my solitary self-made man-cave begins narrowing slowly.  Life becomes absorbed within this timeless vacuum, sucking all the life and energy out of everything else that’s happening in the vast beyond, to which one becomes oblivious and indifferent.

Winning or losing has no impact on this dark place.

There’s a reason why convicts shackled up in solitary confinement are given at least an hour of daily sunshine.  Twenty-three hours spent locked within an isolation chamber of unbreakable steel walls are at least temporarily forgotten when the warmth of the sun’s rays hit the face and sink into the body.  This stimulant along with human contact keeps a prisoner from going mad.

The sun is my salvation.

*     *     *     *     *

August, 2016.

108 degrees today in Las Vegas.  Kick-off in five minutes.

Five months of full-time sports betting has provided me with a modest profit, and much to my surprise, almost narcissistic personal satisfaction.  It’s ridiculous, because I could have spent all those hours doing something not just constructive, but likely more financial rewards.  But there’s something inherently pleasing, even smug worthy, about doong what few people can and beating something that few people have mastered.

Sure, almost all sports gamblers talk a good game.  Ask any sports gambler is he’s a winner and damn near 100 percent will say yes.  Indeed, they might look successful.  But virtually all heavy sports bettors have reliable sources of outside income that help to cast the illusion of success.  Beating the vig in the long run is far more difficult than people realize.

I have no other outside sources of income, and so I was sort of forced into this role.  The bills are due.  The mortgage needs to be paid.  Oh, and one of my cars has 130,000 miles on it and the engine is starting to make funny sounds.

C’mon Los Angeles Rams!  Daddy doesn’t need a new pair of shoes!  He needs a new timing chain!

My $7,000 wager on this “meaningless” preseason football game promises to set the tone for the entire 2016 NFL season.  Worst-case scenario — it’s gonna’ be brutally tough to dig myself out of a $7,000 hole, that is, if I lose this bet.  The way things have been going, that’s about two months worth of what I’ve managed to make so far, while doing this full time, and that was mostly on baseball, which will end soon.  I’d have to pick fourteen $500 winners per game down the road just to get back to even (actually, more than that, with the vig).  To put that into perspective, only 80 or so entrants out of 1,727 — which is less than 5 percent of the field — who entered last year’s NFL Handicapping Contest at the Westgate (what used to be the Las Vegas Hilton Super Contest) finished fourteen games above .500 or greater, for the entire season.

But if I manage to win, that’s a strong head start and a nice financial cushion to invest in the upcoming football season, given my average bet size usually ranges between $300 and $500.  The bottom line is — this isn’t merely a $7,000 game for me, which would still be a lot.  It’s really a $10,800 game, since that’s the full amounts of the financial swing.

Indeed, this is money that means something.  They say you never know the real value of money until you don’t have any.  This will sound strange to non-gamblers, but every serious sports bettor will understand it.  I’ve wagered $5,000 on ball games dozens of times over the years, even on teams where I couldn’t name a single player.  Once, I bet $39,000 on a Super Bowl game [READ THAT STORY HERE].  Still, there’s no correlation between the size of a bet and the pressure to win it.  Most of the time when I’ve bet big in the past, I had enough money to cover the loss, and then some.  Notice I said, most of the time.

Fact is, this is a bet I really cannot afford to lose.  I need the Los Angeles Rams to win the game.  That’s it.  No point spread.  Rams on the money line, laying no points.  Just win baby.

This is the first NFL game played in Los Angeles since before the turn of the century.  Although it’s just a preseason game, 92,000 fans still pack the L.A. Coliseum to welcome the Rams back to Southern California (just three months later, they’ll be calling for the coach’s head to be fired, and they get their wish).  Based on the win-loss records from the previous season, the 7-9 Rams should be able to easily handle the 4-12 Cowboys, especially with the extra motivation of wanting to start off the new era in Los Angeles with a big win for the hometown fans.

Dallas should mail it in.  The veteran starter, Tony Romo is out. He’s not even suiting up to play.   The second-string quarterback got injured in training camp.  Some kid that no one has ever heard of who was drafted in the middle of the fourth round is starting for the Cowboys.  His name is Dak Prescott.

The game begins, and meanwhile — I’m outside sunning by the pool doing my best to magically make a fresh bottle of Santa Christina Umbria disappear, preferably before halftime, after which I’ll crack open a bottle of Blac d’ Blanc Champagne from Schramsberg.  All this is evidenced by the photo above.

I’m not even going to bother watching this game, I tell myself.  Why should I?  I refuse to waste a gorgeous Las Vegas afternoon in front of the television.  I’ll be doing plenty of that during the rest of the season.  My money should win.  Let it do the work for me.  Let my money make me money.  It’s just like stocks, I tell myself.  Like a mutual fund.  Hmm, should I go cash my ticket that going to be worth $10,800 later tonight, or wait until tomorrow?  Such are the difficult decisions of the overconfident.

*     *     *     *     *

My laptop is out by the pool.  The game kicked off just a few moments ago.  I want to make sure I’ve got a good connection, so I hit the refresh button while linked to ESPN.  My first look at the scoreboard….

With 14:43 left in the first quarter, it’s Dallas 7, Los Angeles 0.

What the fuck!

How the shit did Dallas score in the first 17 seconds?

Motivated by panic, my curiosity piqued, I slam the refresh button again and see that the Cowboys have run back the opening kickoff 101 yards and scored a touchdown.

I’m about to throw up my last gulp of Santa Christina.

Alright.  Calm the fuck down.  It’s just one touchdown.  Some dude who’s about to be cut from the team blew a tackling assignment.  Big deal.  It happens.  The Rams should still be in control of the game.

Next series, Rams go 4 downs and out.  Punt.  Dallas ball.

Rookie Dak Prescott takes the field for the first time in a Cowboy uniform.  He looks like Roger Staubach winning the Heisman Trophy at Navy and dashes Dallas on a 85-yard drive that looks to be pristine perfection.

Dallas 14, Los Angeles 0.

I’m swimming and cursing at the same time.  If the neighbors didn’t already think I’m half crazy, they’ve got plenty of new material to ponder.  I refuse to let this gambling abomination ruin my day.  No. No. No. No. No.  Let the game play out and quit obsessing over every play of every drive, I tell myself.

About 40 more minutes pass.  Unable to accept the serenity and remain calm, the laptop opens up again and now it’s Dallas 14, Los Angeles 7.

That’s better.  Now, I’ve got a chance.  I’m back in the game.

Another 40 minutes or so passes.  It must be halftime, by now, I suspect.

ESPN on the screen.  Half time score:  Dallas 24, Los Angeles 7.

FUUUUUUUUUUCCCCCCCCCCCCKKKKKKKKKK!!!!!!!!!

*     *     *     *     *

I tend to be pretty good at the things I’m interested in.

If I’m not interested, or worse — bored with it — I’m the laziest motherfucker on the planet.  [Consider that one reason it took me a month to get back to writing this story.]

Lots of people don’t know this but my work did have a significant impact on NFL betting about 15 years ago.  Allow me to tell you that story.  Since it’s halftime, this makes for perfect timing.

Just before I moved to Las Vegas from Washington, DC, I spent that last summer in the nation’s capital outdoors in the sun, reading and calculating and pouring over old box scores of ball games dating back nearly 20 years.  Each and every day, my routine was pretty much the same.  I went outside, dug into the numbers, made my notes, and eventually came up with gambling fucking gold.  It was the equivalent of discovering hidden treasure.

I have to share some of the credit here.  A handicapper and researcher named Mike Garbowski (whom I’ve never met) had been the first writer ever to take on the unchartered topic of football halftime betting.  Sometime around 1999, he published an obscure data set in a booklet which included all the NFL halftime betting lines and results dating back to the season when they first became available, sometime back in the 1980s.  I don’t even think that data is around anymore.  If there’s a copy of “NFL Second-Half Betting” around somewhere, I still have not seen it since my old copy became so worn out it is no longer legible. [Note:  I think that’s the title of the book.  I’m not sure.  It’s been many years since I’ve seen a copy.]

Thing was, Garbowski didn’t do much in terms of creating a narrative with all his data.  He didn’t market the research, at all.  So, I spent the next three months scouring his numbers and then crosschecked them with as many NFL game results as I could find from the Internet.  The longer I worked, the more excited I became.  After a few weeks of doing this, I couldn’t wait to wake up the next day, go outside, and spend the entire day data mining NFL box scores.  I know, that doesn’t sound like much of a life.  I guess — it isn’t.  But in the faux-laboratory of the mind of an NFL handicapper, this became an obsession.

The work wasn’t easy.  For every nugget of gold I found, probably 30 or so theories turned out to be false leads pointing to fool’s gold.  That’s the excruciating toil of data mining, the labor that no one sees.  It’s spending half a day or longer than that on something that looks very promising dating back a few seasons, and then when you continue to run the numbers with all the crosschecking, eventually the advantages fizzle out and end up at the same random percentages as coin flipping.  That’s why it’s called mining.  You have to go deep underground, dig through an incalculable amount worthless rock, and if you’re extraordinarily persistent and then lucky, you might just find a few tiny diamonds amidst the coal.  Data mining is an exercise in constant frustration and disappointment, not to be attempted by anyone but the most determined and stubborn.

My research finally led to 7 NFL Halftime Betting Angles that were irrefutably successful, and ended up altering the second-half lines of pro football games.  Seriously, the actually stared shifting the lines because of this research,  I first published my data in 2001 online at MadJack Sports (with proper attribution given to Mr. Garbowski, of course), and afterward everyone pretty much stole our data, re-posted it elsewhere at other sports betting forums, and the gold rush was on like has never been the case in NFL second-half wagering.

Incredibly, those NFL Halftime Betting Angles produced a whopping 65 percent winners during the full 2001 season.  My systems produced an average of 3 to 4 plays per week.  There was no handicapping involved, whatsoever.  You just bet them blind, and won.  It was that simple.  A monkey could make the plays and win.  It was a dream come true.

Making a really long story much shorter than it really deserves to be (note to self — do the detailed write up someone later, especially on the dead-end angles), those angles made me some money, but they didn’t make me rich.  I had no full-time job for about a year (similar to my experience now), so I relied on those wagers to keep me going.  Thank goodness for offshore sports books, which was my only betting option in those days.

The following season, in 2002, I moved to Las Vegas.  The angles performed even better, winning at nearly 67 percent.  In 2003, Dave Tuley published my angles in the Daily Racing Form, even though the subject matter of the periodical was horse racing.  I published a revised editions of my angles in 2003 in Casino Player magazine.  In other words, I updated some angles, and dropped a few based on results.  This was before software packages ran the data, and even that wasn’t very good since quarters and halves aren’t usually broken down with numbers and percentages — so all the work had to be done the old fashioned way, by making your eyeballs bleed pouring over the data.  By 2005, I was attending sports handicapping seminars in Las Vegas and the “experts” sitting up on the stage were quoting my work (and Garbowski’s work), citing our betting angles, and I pretty much just sat there stewing like a pressure cooker with a thumb up my ass, silent like a bitter victim who watched as everyone else ran away with the prize.

Fuck me.  I never should have published those angles.  I should have kept them to myself.

I coulda’ been a contender.

Addendum to this story:  Two things happened — (1) Lines makers began adjusting lines to the angles, and they became less reliable.  (2) The NFL became more of a passing game and rules were changed which helped offenses, negating some of the “under” betting systems I had created.  Closing advice — don’t bother with the angles anymore.  They’re now totally obsolete.

*     *     *     *     *

No, I didn’t tell that last story with any purpose in mind.  It just seemed like a good time.

No, I did not make a halftime wager on this game.  I’m already down y 17 points.  It looks like I’m about to lose more than enough money on this day and the first thing you must when you’re stuck in a hole is to stop digging.

Second half kickoff.  Dallas 24, Los Angeles 7.

Under these circumstances, I now have to go back into the house and watch my action.

Fuck the sun.

Fuck the pool.

The champagne is still sitting the fridge.

Marieta senses that something is very wrong.

I’m miserable as all fuck.

The second half of the first preseason opener is usually a romper room of ineptitude.  Players who have no shot of ever playing in the NFL are now out on the field, trying desperately to make an impression somewhere on someone just enough to get noticed so he might later get signed to a minimal contract to play on the practice squad.  Many preseason second halves are nothing more than scrimmages — training exercises where the coaches just go through the motions, sending in dull plays that would only interest some talent scout from the former XFL.

For this reason, being stuck 17 points in a preseason NFL game is like being down 30 points in a regular season game.  It means your double fucked.

My five-figure wager is now riding on the arm of a new quarterback for the Rams named Sean Mannion, who used to play for the Oregon State Beavers.  I had to look that up just now, because I could not even remember his name or anything about him.  But over the next 90 minutes or so, he’s going to turn into the second coming of Jesus Fucking Christ.

Mannion throws a touchdown pass in the middle of the third quarter, and after three frames, it’s Dallas 24, Los Angeles 14.  Still down by 10 points.  C’mon, you bastards!

By this time, Dallas has replaced Dak Prescott, who played like an All-Pro in his first-ever NFL start.  That stellar display foreshadowed the incredible rookie season he would later enjoy with the Cowboys as he led them to the NFL East title.  Done for the day, now a fourth-stringer takes all the snaps, and it’s apparent the Cowboys aren’t really interested much in scoring in more points or risking injuries to anyone who might make the team.  They won the half that counted on the scoreboard, from both a coaching and talent perspective.

Fortunately for me, the Rams fourth stringers are treating this game like a Super Bowl.  Los Angeles manages to score another touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, and now it’s Dallas 24, Los Angeles 21.

I’m pacing back and forth in front of the television like a wild mare.  Rams players who drop passes get called out as cocksuckers.  Cowboy receivers who drop passes get called out as heroes.

Down to the two-minute warning.  Rams have the ball, and are driving.  92,000 fans are on their feet, and while most of the television viewers watching wouldn’t normally think this is a big dive, for me this might as well be Elway piercing through the Browns defense in the epic ’87 AFC Championship game.

With about 1:30 left on the clock and the Rams with no time outs, it’s 4th down.  Crunch time.  Rams ball.  They’re on about the Dallas 35.  I’m mulling over the possibility of kicking a 52-yard field goal, and ponder if that’s what I went to happen.  But Rams’ had coach Jeff Fisher isn’t playing for the tie here.  He wants to win.  I desperately need a first down.  Then, I need another 30 yards in the closing minute.

On fourth down, Mannion takes the snap and goes back to pass, then looks to his right, and nothing is there, so then he looks to his left.  A pass rush floods into the backfield and just as Mannion is about eat the ball and go down with a sack, meaning “game over,” he sees a running back trekking out towards the sidelines, fires a missile that hits the receiver high in the shoulder pads, and he collapses with the ball out of bounds, but a half yard across the first-down marker.

First down Rams!

A few plays later, the Rams are down on the Dallas 9-yard line.  A few seconds remaining.  If I lose this game after storming back against the odds, something’s going to get broken.  I don’t like breaking furniture.  Marieta really hates it when I do that.  Please, o’ please let the Rams score.

Mannion goes back to pass……Aaron Green slants off darting towards the left post in the corner of the end zone…..his arm moves forward……ball is in the air…..Green makes the catch…..

TOUCHDOWN!!!!

With the extra point, Los Angeles 28, Dallas 24.  Final score.

Sean Mannion, my hero.  Congratulations, Sir!  You made the blog!

Time to cash a $10,800 ticket.

 

 

Coming Up:  I’ll be writing a lot more about “data mining” in my next chapter of “Gambling for a Living.”

 

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Posted by on Jan 18, 2017 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Las Vegas, Personal, Sports Betting, World Series of Poker | 1 comment

Gambling for a Living — Part 1 (How I Got to Now)

 

 

Since March 2016, most of my attention has focused on sports gambling, more precisely beating the books.  This is a detailed retrospective of that emotional and financial (mis)adventure over the past ten months.

 

The decision to gamble for a living wasn’t borne as much out of naivete that I could conquer the odds and beat the Las Vegas sports books at their own game, but rather drifted from a sobering and starkly frightening realization that, for me, at this stage of life, few other alternatives existed.  In the period once crooned by Sinatra as “the September of my years,” I had few cards left to play.

For many years, I’d worked the “house” side of gambling and was quietly content to remain as a well-paid shill.  In plainer words, I crossed the River Rubicon of Risk over to fishing for the sure thing in a barrel a very long time ago.  Playing poker and sports betting became merely peripheral part-time pursuits, jolly distractions even, secondary to the time-clock punching guarantee of a steady paycheck signed by whichever master I was serving — be it now defunct Binion’s Horseshoe, the World Series of Poker, PokerStars, Poker Night in America, or any of several other gambling giants and entities which for whatever reason thought my rare talents were worthy of generously steady compensation.  Winning and losing a football bet over the weekend might have indeed determined if I’d be tilting Gevrey Chambertin or Gnarly Head toward my lips the following week, but I’d still drink my wine, bad beats be damned.  With rare exceptions, like when I blasted off the princely sum of $39,000 on the disastrous 2008 Super Bowl game, gambling outcomes and even the grind of being in action almost every single day rarely impacted my financial bottom line or altered my lifestyle.  The mortgage got paid — sometimes even on time.  Gambling outcomes rarely affected my psyche, except when I lost.

All that was about to change — in a big way.

***

Hunter S. Thompson, the dead writer, was a sports fanatic and passionate gambler.  He once wrote he hated the Dallas Cowboys so much that he unfailingly bet against them every single week for a whole couple of seasons.  That wasn’t a very smart thing to do in the 1970’s, which were glory years for Tom Landry and Roger Staubach.  So, famished and eventually flummoxed, Hunter flip-flopped over the dark side of the silver star, started betting with his head over his heart, and ended up loving the devil Cowboys — but only when they covered.

I’m not sure why, but most writers seem to think we have all the answers to everything and can figure out anything, from solving the world’s problems, to how to profitably handicap a professional football game.  Between snorting fat lines of coke, guzzling fifths of Chivas Regal, and popping enough quaaludes to fell an wild elephant, beastly Hunter even quasi-authored a rather shitty book on the subject if I do say so myself, a rambling collection of sometimes incomprehensible essays, really, a maniacal bitch fest about the crookedness of the NFL, the hypocritical league, the ghastly owners, and effervescent frustration with his inability to pick steady football winners, despite being smarter and more ballsy than just about anyone else on the planet.

I feel Hunter’s pain.  Pass the Chivas.

***

I can’t explain why I picked baseball, really.  When it comes to gambling on ball games, “biesball has not been bery, bery good to me.”  Frankly, I don’t even like the fucking game.  I don’t watch it.  I won’t watch it.  I refuse to watch it.  I don’t enjoy it, even on the startling occasion when I manage to pick a winner.  I spent Game 7, yes that game 7 with the Cubs beating some underdog team from the American League, of last years riveting World Series of Baseball championship dining in my favorite restaurant, where I received impeccable service since the joint was empty.  I hold no rooting interests, other than cheering for whichever team happens to be playing versus the evil Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, or Dodgers.  When the Yankees play the Red Sox I root for rain, or a stadium collapse.  That’s the extent of my interest in major league baseball.  Give me a rain out in Boston, a stadium collapse in New York, and a winning day betting baseball elsewhere, and I’m bouncing off the wall in ecstasy.

But for the next four months, at least, that late spring to midsummer lull when all the sports that really matter are on break, baseball was going to be my total focus and (help to) pay my bills.  And falling short of that lofty ambition, if I lost money betting on baseball, why then I’d hate it even more so than before.  So, this was a sort of sadistic win-win for me.  Baseball was like the homely girl everyone avoided in high school.  I wasn’t just asking her out to the prom.  I was proposing to go steady.  But I wanted no piece of her.

***

Two prior periods of my long life shoved me into the wolf’s den of full-time gambling and both were spin-offs of unemployment and laziness, in roughly equal parts, with a slight lean in percentage toward being lazy.

Thirty years ago, fresh out of university with a worthless college degree that fortunately didn’t leave me bankrupt because I attended a state school (thanks, Socialism), playing underground poker six days and nights a week became not so much a passion as a reaction to the blunt realities of the times and the accidental trips and falls of aimlessness.  It wasn’t that I was a good poker player.  No, not at all.  But unlike those around me, burned out lives stoked with dangling cigarettes from their mouths,who had never even heard the name David Sklansky nor had read Mike Caro’s groundbreaking Hold’em Report which first came out around that time, I read their ideas and studied and digested every word.  Lucky for me, my opponents in those bottom-feeder low-stakes games were so horrifically awful that just about anyone who was patient and knew hand rankings could grind out just enough to stay ahead of the bill collectors, even without an answering machine screening the calls.  Despite steady losses, still they could always afford cigarettes and another buy in.  I never did figure out where they got their money.

I never beat those games big.  But, I beat them for enough.  Just enough to get by.  And that’s really saying something.

Still, none of this skip down memory lane mattered now, not now in March 2016 with a much bigger monthly financial nut to crack and a different kind of poker game that might as well be speed chess to checkers in a nursing home.  Beating poker a couple years back in the ancient ’80’s and trying to compete today were disparate pursuits.  One simply had nothing to do with the other.  Even a few years later, starting in 1993, when poker was legalized at casinos in New Jersey, I played Atlantic City’s juice fest on weekends for nearly a decade during the fasten-your-seat belt 90’s, a winning pedigree back then is meaningless now.  The games and its players are just way too different, certainly much better, today than back then.  Besides, who wants to spend 60 hours a week trapped inside a poker room hunched over a table in backbreaking convention-style metal chairs?  Even if I could beat the game, and that’s a big if, I don’t even think I’d want to try.  Life’s too short to return to the assembly line.

That pretty much left me with just one option to make a living — sports betting.  Yes, there was a time, 17 years ago, when I lost my job and then spent two whole years without a steady paycheck.  That’s when I first moved out to Las Vegas to bet sports.  And the rest, as they say, is history.  Things didn’t exactly go according to plan, of course, but I have no complaints.

None of this matters now.  I bring up past gambling experience not to establish street cred, which I may or may not have, but as veritable evidence that I was acutely aware of the weight of my challenge ahead.  Winning consistently at something that was difficult to beat two decades ago doesn’t translate into the modern era.  Moreover, now that I need to make even more money than way back then, the task was even more perilous.  It’s one thing to win at gambling when you’re single living in a $600-a-month apartment back in the 1980’s and walking around with more money in your pocket than your car’s worth.  It’s quite different with a family and a mortgage and a health insurance premium due each month, and nothing to fall back on when the inevitable cold streak rears its ugly head and breaths dragon fire.

***

The image of the professional gambler is just about total bullshit.

Gambling for a living isn’t glamorous.  It’s not even fun, not most of the time.  Hell, it’s hardly the least bit interesting after you’ve done it for a while.  The routine becomes a grind.  A bore.  Wins, when they happen, bring no genuine joy because every gambler, even very successful gamblers who do this over many years, know the gremlin of a cold streak is just around the next corner, ready to pounce and mind fuck your head and strip you of your bankroll like a thief lurking in a back alley.

But the biggest misnomer of all about successful gambling are the betting amounts attached to what defines being a winner.  Non-gamblers often mistakenly believe gambling requires big bets and vast sums of money.  To the contrary, the majority of people I know who gamble for a living, especially over very long periods of time, earn what would be considered very average incomes.  Earning $60,000 a year at the poker table or even half that betting on sports is nothing to sneeze out.  Even modest returns place the rare winner into an elite top few percent.  While the tales of nosebleed poker games happening in big casinos might capture the public’s attention, the far more steady performers are those remarkably talented and disciplined individuals who quietly grind out a living day in and day out for years, and decades.  That’s professional gambling.  That’s the majority of successful gamblers.

Golfer great Lee Trevino said it best.  About gambling, he said, “pressure isn’t measured in dollar amounts, it’s betting $10 on a match when you only have $5 in your pocket — now, that’s pressure.”  Accordingly, I never quite got the fascination with high-stakes poker games or tournaments filled with billionaire businessmen or sponsored poker pros.  So, one mega-rich guy beats another mega-rich out of a million dollar pot?  Who cares?  I want to watch the game where the loser can’t afford to eat the next week and has to go live under a bridge.  Now, that’s exciting.

While I doubt I’ll end up under any expressway if I lose, indeed, if I do lose — the bills don’t get paid.  Bill collectors call.  When you lose, especially when you lose a lot, the world pretty much sucks.  Everything about the world just flat out stinks.  While it might have been more fun, relaxing even, firing $39,000 on a Super Bowl game when I had $50,000 in stray chips parked inside a drawer somewhere in the house and bet $1,000 on halftimes for shits and giggles, the thought of betting ball games with my case money is far more riveting, and excruciating.

That’s pressure.

***

Early season Major League Baseball starts out well.

I make absolutely no claims to having any expertise on this subject.  But I do understand contrarianism and the very crucial concept of mean regression.  I’ll avoid a lengthy tutorial on early season baseball betting because you just want to enjoy my aches and pains, although I’ve penned plenty of research in the topic.  However, let’s just say there’s some value in fading last year’s win-loss results, betting against the so-called “hot” pitchers, and wagering against popular public teams expected to perform well in the regular season.  I’ll leave it at that, unless someone wants to stake me in the upcoming baseball season.  They, you get all my secrets for free.  E-mail me offline for details.

Betting no more than $100 a game, that’s right, a hundred measly bucks, but often betting 8-10 games a day, I manage to run my account up $1,500 to the good during the first month of my new full-time career as a professional sports bettor.  No worries that I’ve fallen about $4,000 short of what I need to cut it each month, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 to 6 K.  But, I can honestly report that sports gambling moved me closer to my goal than I would have been otherwise had I just sat around and typed blog posts and bitched about Donald Trump’s alarming rise on the polls.  Besides, beating sports comes as a nice diversion from the looming reality that the end of Western Civilization may be near.

It remains to be seen if this gambling thing will continue to work out.  But my modest ambition was a success, so far.  That said, I’ll have to step up the size of my bets at some point if I really intend to make a living at this.  in the meantime, just avoid the gremlin.

 

Coming Next:  Gambling for a Living — Part 2 (Not Just Another WSOP)

 

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Posted by on Jun 10, 2016 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, World Series of Poker | 2 comments

Why I’m Cheering for Ron Elkins at the 2016 WSOP

 

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All friendships begin among strangers.

Just moments ago, a stranger came up to me at the Rio, here at the 2016 World Series of Poker.  He said some nice things and after exchanging a few pleasantries, I assumed the short conversation had run its course.

Then, right as he was about to leave, he pulled a small piece of paper out of his pocket and showed me something that I found quite inspiring.  The man’s name is Ron Elkins.

Now before going much further with the story, let me make it clear that I have no aspirations of winning a bundle of money at the WSOP.  I work on the house side.  So, I have to live my dreams vicariously through others.  Yes, I’m impartial in my writings and coverage.  But like anyone, I also cheer for my friends and the people I like.

Ron showed me a piece of paper, perhaps 2 inches by 3 inches.  What captured my attention were the words written on the back side of a worn out business card.

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Posted by on May 31, 2016 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Las Vegas, Personal, World Series of Poker | 4 comments

Shuffling Up at the 2016 World Series of Poker

 

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Another World Series of Poker begins tomorrow.

Out of the 47 series which have taken place since the first small gathering at the old Binion’s Horseshoe back in 1970, I’ve attended about half of them — at least in some capacity as either a player, writer, or executive.  My first WSOP was in 1985.

For the past 15 years, I’ve worked under the official title of “Media Director,” which has in recent years become something of a nom de plume.  Let’s face it.  The media can’t be directed.  The last thing I have is any control over the media.  It’s like herding cats.

I think most of us would agree this is a transitional time for poker, as well as for the WSOP.  Then again, the game is always in a state of transition.  Everything’s changing constantly.  No two years, nor two series, nor two tournaments are ever comparable.

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