It’s Up To You, San Antonio

Wager Number Two, on Friday night:

$110 to win $100 on San Antonio giving 11.5 at home against New Jersey

On a rainy downtown Berkeley afternoon, I jumped on the first odds posted; I think the spread will increase as the game approaches.

I was tempted to stay in Florida for a second bet, with Miami giving 14.5 to hope/hap/helpless Washington, but the Heat will be coming off what ought to be a tough game against the Bulls tonight, and Wizards garbage time might be too plentiful to save the spread.

So I’m going with the Spurs to roll over a rejiggered Nets squad that hasn’t played since February 16, brand new Nyet Deron Williams, Beyonce’s significant other and tall, suspicious Russian billionaires notwithstanding. Plenty of teams stumbled out of the gate in their first game back since the All Star break; here’s hoping New Jersey joins the crowd.

I’d say more, but I only have a day to paint my living room silver and black.

Punched in the South

Sacramento 111 Orlando 105

Oh, come on—it’s funny.

I’m fine with yesterday’s wager. I’m also down to $225 after debuting with a loss.

My second choice for a bet (Chicago over Toronto) didn’t pan out either (though my third, Philly over Washington, did), and now I’m two small wagers from oblivion. Of course I need a winner; I just bet heavily against Jermaine Taylor on the greatest day in the history of Jermaine Taylor.

But I also put as much money down as I dared yesterday—55% of my stake. I imagined a victory column today, but I also considered what The Morning After would look like on the off chance that for one star-crossed night, Jermaine Taylor wasn’t Jermaine Taylor.

No one you’d like to know actually embraces duality, but it’s possible to price bets so you don’t lose sleep either way. It stinks to lose right off the bat, and it will force me to be more conservative on my next few wagers, but I’m glad I was aggressive, glad enough to cope with the mysteries of Jermaine Taylor.

Besides, with only $500 and the vig to consider, I started this blog only four small bets from oblivion.

So onward and sideways, for a while.

There are only two NBA games tonight—Miami at Chicago and Boston at Denver. Neither is tempting; the first is unpredictable (two very good, healthy, motivated teams) and the second is a Celtics squad with a key injury (Kendrick Perkins, again) facing a reconfigured franchise that’s suddenly a cypher. It might have a deep bench. It might have a chip on its shoulder. It might be a harmonic convergence of mismatched players. Pass.

In meantime, I’ll be waiting for Friday’s lines.

Final Horns and Revelations

  • Boston 115 Golden State 93
  • Oklahoma City 111 LA Clippers 88
  • Miami 117 Sacramento 97

Three blowouts, three covers, no candy.

So much for discretion.

I take minor solace in targeting three of last night’s four 20+ margins of victory. My only omission—the Lakers thumping Atlanta at Staples—may have been predictable, but the game seemed unattractive for wagering, simply because it featured two good teams. With the spread, I tend to have a coinflipper’s success in that kind of matchup.

If wishes were horses. I missed getting paid off for routs I’d circled, so one day in, I’m still sitting with my original hypothetical $500 stake and a 0-0 wagering record.

That changes tonight.

Wager Number One is $275 to win $250 on Orlando covering the 14 points they’re giving by doing terrible things to Sacramento.  That’s the spread according to here, at half past nine on an overcast, undercaffeinated Rockridge morning.

Why? Because it’s a rested, healthy home team facing an opponent that

  1. has lost twice as many games as the Magic thus far,
  2. was demolished by Miami last night, and
  3. can’t score without Tyreke Evans.

When the irresistible force meets the impeachable object, I’m in as far as I dare. My only caution is the trade rumors swirling around Orlando as the league’s deadline approaches. But I’m betting on Sacramento’s adolescence overcoming all.

Should I lose, I’ll regret overlooking Washington’s road to nowhere winding through Philly, and Chicago at Toronto. But I’m passing on Philly because it’s still an also-ran facing an also-ran (a departure from the good vs. bad baseline for rout-hunting), and on Chicago because it remains a young team on the road. Chicago is the more tempting option; I suspect the Bulls will cruise and the Sixers will cover, but the money is on Sacto’s ineptitude.

We’ll see. Go Magic.

Discretion is the Better Part of Cash

I begin with a hypothetical stake of $500, and tonight’s slate of NBA games, the first after the league’s All Star weekend, features three candidates for bets: 

  • Boston giving 6 on the road against Golden State,
  • Oklahoma City giving 8.5 at home against the Los Angeles Clippers, and
  • Miami hosting Sacramento and giving 13,

or so it says here at a quarter to one in Berkeley on a brisk, sunny afternoon.

On most days, I would have focused on this trio until I felt I could select one to bet. Not this time. I’m waiting for tomorrow’s games.

Why? Because, for the first time since opening night of the NBA’s 2010-11 season, all the teams are equally rested. Not good if you’re hunting for odds-obliterating blowouts, as I am. The ideal is a good team with a day’s rest at home and healthy, hosting a bad, battered squad that despises its coach and is still reeling from a clobbering the night before. No team is tired tonight, no beatdown clouds anyone’s recent memory, and five days off is enough for all kinds of game-warping developments to emerge. Sudden health. Proper sleep. Carmelo.

So it’s no use pondering Boston’s size advantage and defensive acumen increasing the likelihood of a spread-covering win over thrilling but erratic Golden State, nor fretting over Dwyane Wade’s ankle versus the enduring disarray of Sacramento’s personnel, nor closing one’s eyes and imagining a spry, deep, collegial Oklahoma City squad trampling the Clips, whose lone star far outshines the capabilities of his team.

No, all bets are off until tomorrow night, when Sacto slouches towards Orlando for a second away game in two nights against a rested, superior squad.  And Washington, Earth’s Worst Road Show, careens into Philly. And imploding Utah visits explosive Dallas. And Chicago looks for more in horrid Toronto. I’ll be waiting on the odds and counting the hours.

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 noticed 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.