I was outside awhile back and noticed some kids playing with the pigskin. They flipped me the ball and I sent one kid on a fly pattern. I gave it a heave and two things happened: one, my arm hurt, and two the ball landed five yards short. Getting old totally sucks.
One thing about getting old (I started this blog when I was around 38), though, is that you get to talk to a lot of people and learn a lot of things about this maddening game we play. And that’s been a blessing.
It amazes me that many people who play this game, or gamble, can do a lot of things differently to succeed, and this lesson never ceases to resonate with me, especially after all these years.
I speak of twitter’s good friend Dink, who cut his teeth gambling at Roosevelt, and having the street smarts to decide to be on the house side of the equation. Then, recognizing an edge with his pen and paper to excel at the sport of hockey, he did just that. Dink has done it his way and won for years and years.
Others who cross our paths use a new pen and paper – computer modeling. This modeling is beyond looking at numbers on a spreadsheet. In a world where a python is not a snake and a poisson is not a French word for fish, people like Tony Zhou and Rob Pizzola strike at their pursuits in a "Benter-like" mathematical way.
Rob applies his modeling and stresses the importance of edges, getting the best price, and capitalizing on them – things that many think less important than being “right or wrong” but are vital to have more money at the end of the year than at the start. No, it’s not sexy, it’s not an angle, and it might not play well on tout twitter, but it works.
Meanwhile, as most of you know, Tony is an incredible guy. He can write code that spits out horses who win at 22% that the odds say will win at 20%, and act on it in mathematically sound ways.
I spent some time “handicapping” with Tony. One race he gave me a horse, and I noted to him that there was a negative rider switch. He simply replied, “I don’t really know any of the riders.” He proves you don’t have to.
I remember this year’s Derby when Rich Strike won and paid a million as the 21 horse. A professional gambling friend texted me about using the horse, because there’s a built-in edge. Ten minutes after the race, Tony pinged me saying he bet the horse to win. Both of these guys didn’t even look at the PP’s. It’s just a known element. There’s a specialness to it.
Speaking of special, we have a twitter favorite (or block, depending on your point of view), Inside the Pylons, probably the most misunderstood man on the medium.
I remember chatting with ITP years ago. He was entering a live cash tournament with all these top handicappers and tourney players. He said to me that he just had to find a way to out gamble them, because he sure as hell wasn't going to outhandicap them. He did for the most part, coming at or near the top.
ITP sees things better than most – I’d offer almost all - horse gamblers do. When he talks about ticket construction, he’s seeing things that are basic to him in his mind, and he thinks it should be easy for us. This can come off the wrong way to some.
What he talks about is not simple, of course. We don’t look up at night and see a super or pick 6 array with the pieces in the right places like he does. Most of us see the ceiling, or if we're struggling, sheep.
I saw this ability during a number of his hits. There would be a horse with something dirty – a bad line, or whatever – that everyone was talking down about. ITP usually sniffed out that the horse would be fifth choice in the pick 5 pools, but may be second choice on the board, because they have him ready to return to form. He'd have the horse keyed, while others were spreading away their edge.
ITP computes game theory, edges, and the gamble like Tony does with his models, but he does it in his own head. In fact, if I have a technical or edge gambling question I can ask Tony, who I think has a Masters' in math and comp-sci from NYU, or ITP who went to The University of Santa Anita, and they both arrive at the same answer. The man is a freak, and if anyone tells you differently, with all due respect, they have no idea what they're talking about.
Another gentleman I learn from is Garett Skiba. Garett has won numerous tournaments and has made more than one or two hits in pick fives and sixes using some great tactical thinking. Garett processes game theory and “ownership” numbers in a way I completely understand just fine reading it in a textbook, but rarely am able to put into practice. It’s an art and he can paint the type of picture that wins $1 million golf DFS tournaments. He's a real talent at what he does, and deserves a special mention for the quote, "ITP has the bedside manner of Dr. Kevorkian".
Flipping over to the pure handicapping side of the sport, examples are plentiful.
Mike Maloney is not only one of the nicest people you’ll meet, he’s also razor sharp, seeing and processing things in a way a lot cannot. His eye for track bias is very good. Mike also has a humility about him that I can’t help but think aids him in becoming a better player. Like Inside the Pylons, Mike doesn’t use a fancy computer program, but he respects their potential edges and is always open to new ways to do things. Mike works hard, and he teaches us that when smart people work hard, good things can happen, even in this high rake, brutally tough game.
Others, like Paul Matties and his brother Duke, Nick Tammaro and Chris Larmey are at times, in my view, other worldly at their craft. Paul will come up with obscure angles that work and it illustrates how hard he thinks about the game. Chris comes up with some horses I could not find in a million years, simply because of the way they move, cover ground, or galloped out; or some nuance with a work. They all prove that handicapping and winning in 2022 is more than a speed figure. This too is an absolute art and I’ve learned a great deal from them.
Over in harness racing, it’s been fun chatting with Ryan Willis. He’s a great kid and an excellent handicapper who too has some qualities of seeing things many of us don’t.
I remember this conversation about a horse at the Meadowlands.
“I’m keying the six”
“The horse was 9th by 19 and looked horrible”
“That horse has bad feet, watch the driver last time. They’ll block his feet and he’ll be good”
“You’re keying a 12-1 morning line shot who got beaten by a football field because you think he has bad feet and they're going to work on them for this start?”
“Ya, this is a great play”
After he wins by a widening four and I get the pick 4 and pick 6 because I listened to this nonsense, Ryan gets it like 6X more, so the kid admonishes me.
“You just needed to key the horse and press.”, he says. “Why do you want favorites on your ticket against the best bet of the night?”
He’s not only sharp, he’s learned his ITP math lessons well. And he's only like 30.
I remember watching the Golf Channel years ago and one of the guests shared a Michael Jordan story. During the Kapalua event, they were watching highlights at a bar and the television was far away. Jordan talked about what was on the screen like it was right in front of them. “You don’t see that?”, he asked. No one could. The guy just sees better than your average person.
Some people just see better than others, whether finding an open man, or handicapping and wagering. Most of the above do just that.
Perhaps you might think that’s a negative because we have to compete against them. I guess that’s partially correct, but the simple fact is: These people are right in front of us. They are on podcasts, they are sharing their views on twitter. Mike Maloney even has a book you can buy. Rob Pizzola runs Betstamp.com that helps us become better at sports betting. We can ask them questions anytime on the web and they reply. For free, wanting zero in return.
And, probably the wildest thing - I could've made this post 10,000 words because I left so many of you like CJ, and Aragona, and Platt and Marcus and Serling and Beer and Patterson and Shapiro and a dozen or so others who made me think, off.
I love the topic of gambling, whether it be football, or craps, or slot machines, or horse racing. And it's been a joy to learn from and meet people - virtually or in person - who take pleasure in the craft. The web allows us to do that. Each and every one of us.
I can't throw a football worth a damn anymore; I have hit 8 irons that I think are going 150 that land 30 yards short, right into the lake. But there are benefits to getting older. I've got to learn lessons from some incredible people.
Have a great Wednesday everyone.