First Thoughts

I’m a writer, not a gambler. The two thoughts that triggered everything to follow crept in no differently than writing ideas do; I was killing time on BART, eyes out to the giant row of harbor cranes looming over freighters as the doors shut on West Oakland, and there they were. The train rumbled under the bay, and two stops later, I was on Montgomery, preoccupied.

The first thought was simply of the magic of powers of two on a small, unbroken string of winning double-or-nothing bets. Five straight wins turned a $1 stake into $32. Ten in a row meant $1024 for each dollar wagered.

Yes, I know. On its own, it’s the dull math of a throwaway notion. How to put together a run of wins without a stake-erasing loss between them…

Hang on. It’s coming.

Four weeks before boarding that train, on a whim, I had begun placing small, imaginary bets on a handful of NFL games against the spread, in an attempt to grow a hypothetical stake of $300. I’d had a coinflipper’s success in that time, going 5-5–the kind of mediocrity that gradually loses money if all the bets are equal, because of the vig. But I also┬ánoticed a handful of NFL games ended in blowout territory each week (one team winning by 15 points or more), even though no oddsmaker I could find ever posted a line that high.

It turns out that during the slate of the NFL’s 2010-2011 regular season, 83 of 256 contests ended in a winning margin of 15 points or more. And yet no oddsmaker posted a line above 14.5 all year.

There it was. A gap between prognostication and reality. One third of all games zipped past the largest spread. An average of 5 opportunities, week in, week out, four months a year.

BART train thought number two: seek blowouts.

I could say I spent the next thirteen weeks placing escalating imaginary bets on 18 NFL games, winning 16 and growing my hypothetical stake from $280 to $42,000. I could say the only two losses I incurred during that time came in the only two wagers that departed from my basic theory. I could say that in two weeks with the same premise, I’ve won 6 of 7 NBA wagers, including the last 5 in a row.

But you don’t know me from Adam, and anyone can say anything at any time.

Unless, of course, they’re on record predicting a future you’ll soon be able to check.

I’m a writer; I’m interested in what happens when betting theory meets reality. I’m going to learn how to bet on the NBA as I go in this blog, with a hypothetical stake of $500 to begin. I’ll make calls on games using Yahoo’s list of odds put out by offshore bookmakers, so you’ll be able to nod or scoff at my decisions while there’s still time to act. I’ll do the same when the NFL season rolls around.

I’ll write about guessing, winning, losing, brick walls, breakthroughs, marvels, disasters and lessons learned. Whatever happens, it’s official: I’m on the hook.

See you around.