The esteemed racing commentator brings us his latest words of wisdom.
The psychology of betting has always fascinated me.
Whilst the mechanics of placing a bet are straightforward the decisions as to when to press, chase or walk away can cause a lifetime of euphoria or frustration. The line between a respected ‘fearless’ punter and a dangerous ‘reckless’ one has always been narrow and with the range of betting types multiplying all the time, how to play a certain angle can become as important as deciding on the angle in the first place.
Poker is a good example of this. It is one thing to get dealt aces, another to maximise the opportunity they provide to collect chips without allowing your opponents too great a chance of busting them.
Visiting Las Vegas for the first time last week provided me with the first prolonged opportunity to play poker live, as opposed to on the net. Both myself and my wife Sarah are competent internet players but how we would react to the decisions needed when confronted by a seemingly confident opponent in a pair of sunglasses, and an I-Pod scrutinising your features for any ‘tell’ ?
The bare stats were these.
Between us we played twelve $50-$80 dollar no limit tournaments, never making any re-buys if knocked out early.
The field sizes ranged from 25 to 45, with one of 85 giving an average of about 36.
Of those twelve tournaments we made seven final tables and four collects though none higher than third place (once each). This limited the returns to only a slight overall profit but it was the consistency which provided most encouragement.
Analysing why we had surpassed our expectations on the way home we both agreed that it was ‘focus’ that was the biggest factor. At home it is too easy to play whilst doing other things at the same time, checking e-mails, surfing the net, printing off my commentary sheets etc. Playing live however meant we were constantly sizing up opponents and their personalities even when not involved in the hand itself, whereas on line this requires far more discipline when you are seated with inanimate cyber competitors.
Memories of hands played are much sharper, the good and bad decisions, the bad beats ( for me AK losing to K7 when busting me out in 3rd when looking set to take a decent chip lead !) and the lucky hits.
The long plane trips also provide good reading opportunities. One of the books I happily devoured was ‘The Man Behind the Shades’ a biography of Stu ‘The Kid’ Ungar.
Ungar was by some way the greatest gin rummy player ever but an inability to hustle, (he detested losing even a single game), meant he had soon played and thumped all the top players and there were no more games in town. Switching to poker he became the first back to back winner of the World Series Of Poker Main Event at the Horseshoe in the early 80’s before going on to an unprecedented ‘threepeat’ nearly two decades later after an ultimately lost battle with many addictions, gambling included. That was the message of the Ungar story. A man who had made millions at the tables would often just hours later have done the lot back on either the horses, golf or other games where the house edge would always prevail.
Walk through any of the Vegas casinos and the foundation of their opulence is obvious by the groups of cheering ‘craps’ players, or the number poring over roulette tables putting their trust not in a calculated edge but simply ‘lady luck’. In those circumstances there can only be one winner.
I deliberately left blackjack out as there are some who have beaten the system with their astonishing mathematical abilities. Several of those behind Hong Kong horse racing betting syndicates had made their fortunes, and scars, card counting. Being taught the basics by them was a fascinating experience, though with the changes the casinos implemented it is now all but impossible to achieve. For those interested ‘Bringing Down The House’ by Ben Mezrich is a great read.
So my lessons from Vegas is to play to your strengths and when playing give it your undivided attention.
This can be dissecting a string of six furlong handicaps, constructing tissues or trading on the exchanges. So often success can be diluted by short cuts through feeling that you have the game cracked or less researched ‘fun’ bets in other areas.
I have yet to find many losing bets that are fun in any walk of life. That AK certainly wasn’t.
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