This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Lessons From a Nevada Weekend

            When I was young and westerns ruled television, one of the more popular ones was Maverick. It featured James Garner and Jack Kelly as two brothers who were professional gamblers traveling around the old west, catching a bad guy here and there.
            The concept of product alliances was in its infancy back then, but nonetheless someone came up with the idea of a how-to book based on the show. It was called, if memory serves, The Maverick Guide to Playing Poker.
            One of the running gags of the TV show was Garner recalling bits of wisdom that his “pappy” had shared with him. At the beginning of the book, purportedly written by the Maverick brothers, there’s a story about pappy taking them to a casino and pointing out the roulette wheels, dice games and blackjack tables. “Boys,” he said, “that’s gambling. Don’t never gamble. Play poker instead.”

Gambling Without Gambling

            Pappy’s point was that poker is to some degree a game of skill. Knowing the odds and observing the other players to see who can be bluffed can give a good player an edge. You can’t control the hands you’re dealt, but if you play them well, you can outperform your cards.
            In a similar vein, when I visit a casino (which has been twice in the past 11 years), I don’t gamble. I bet pro football instead.
            The NFL is a small enough league that you can get to know all the teams and develop a sense of how the game works. That, in turn, enables you to place an intelligent bet, which, I hasten to point out, is not necessarily the same thing as a winning bet.
            It’s one thing to determine which team has the better chance of winning (and never mind the spread for now), but that team still has to go out and play the game, with all its turnovers, penalties, dropped passes and injuries. Not to mention the defensive coordinator with the new scheme, the journeyman player who goes out-of-his-mind great for one game, and so on.
            Nevertheless, the intelligent bet remains a possibility, and one that offers satisfaction. Not only is there a slightly better (emphasis on the slightly) chance of winning, but you don’t lose any sleep over losing since you at least played smart.

Now That’s Gambling!

            This past weekend my buddy John and I played some football (in the betting sense) at Lakeside Casino in Stateline, Nevada. It was a hoot. A lot of locals play there, and the sports area was full of people looking around for hours at two dozen television screens showing all the games. The last of the second-hand cigarette smoke I inhaled should be out of my lungs by Christmas.
            Looking at the NFL matchups, I picked out five games where I felt I could see an advantage for one team and bet on that team with no regard for the point spread. At the end of the day, I’d won four out of five against the spread, and my winnings covered our cheap motel room and the gas for the drive up. Saturday night I even placed a very small bet on Boston College plus 20 over Notre Dame, just to put some interest into an unwatchable game, and won that one as well, going five for six overall.
            Some day I may do it again, but at least I have the sense to know three things: Don’t bet on the 49ers; Really, really don’t bet on the Raiders; and don’t think you can go back next weekend and win five of six again. To that, I’d add one more: Don’t bet on college football. That’s gambling.