FanPost

Win more ducats in football pools & other BS

I like to write about gambling not because I want people to go out and lay dime bets on the Steelers - Seahawks but because there are numerous life lessons to be learned from gambling and football pools. Life is often about the odds and seeing the patterns that are hiding right under your nose. Often, it take years to see them, "if I only knew then what I know now" (5020).

 "Youth is wasted on the young"  George Bernard Shaw.

Thanks to John Stephens, he started a spread football pool on cbssports.com which is a regular season pool (winner determined at end of season).  As I write this post, I am currently leading with 11 of 14 games correct. I may regret passing along this info but I am doing this for the greater good and to help you with your office football pools (maybe fantasy football too).  And if there are some young ones willing to learn, maybe I can help birth a few hustlers here. I am going to let you read my playbook, the one I penned off of my own beats. And it’s not only about football pools or gambling, these simple ideas work with your investments and life decisions too.

 "listen, here's the thing. If you can't spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker"   Mike McDermott, Rounders.

I believe Mr. Bean noticed my writing because I use statistics and data analysis to find patterns and/or make predictions. I know he can’t be in love with my player analysis because it sucks:) That’s not my strength, so I rarely give my opinion, I play to my strengths: Things like Salary cap, team finances, wagering these are the things I know and care about.  Am I always right?  Hell no! But professionals ("sharps") only win 55-56% of their bets to make a living handicapping full-time. Stock trading works the same way, you don’t have to be right all the time (never happens) but any slight edge will almost always lead to success. 

So, how am I leading this football pool?  Well, there is mostly luck but many of my picks were based on logic, if-then analysis as well as gut roll. Below are the people who won 9 or more games in the BTSC pickem pool. Home team are listed with a negative number indicating they were giving points while a positive means they were getting points. Most office pools do not have 109 players so you rarely have this much competition.  An office pool this big would almost certainly come down to the tie-breakers especially if it done straight-up (without spreads).

GB

CLE

TB

KC

CHI

STL

BAL

HOU

JAC

ARI

SF

WAS

SD

NYJ

MIA

DEN

-4.5

-6.5

-2.5

-6.5

+2.5

+-4.5

-2.5

-1.5

-2.5

-6.5

-6.5

+2.5

-8.5

-4.5

+6.5

-2.5

GB

CLE

DET

BUF

ATL

PHI

BAL

HOU

TEN

ARI

SEA

WAS

MIN

DAL

MIA

DEN

GB

CIN

DET

BUF

ATL

PHI

PIT

HOU

TEN

ARI

SF

WAS

SD

NYJ

NE

DEN

GB

CIN

DET

BUF

ATL

PHI

PIT

HOU

JAC

ARI

SEA

WAS

SD

DAL

NE

OAK

NO

CLE

TB

BUF

CHI

PHI

PIT

HOU

TEN

ARI

SF

WAS

SD

DAL

NE

DEN

GB

CLE

DET

BUF

ATL

PHI

BAL

HOU

TEN

CAR

SEA

WAS

SD

DAL

NE

OAK

GB

CLE

TB

BUF

ATL

PHI

PIT

HOU

TEN

ARI

SF

WAS

SD

DAL

NE

OAK

-

CLE

DET

BUF

CHI

PHI

BAL

HOU

JAC

CAR

SF

WAS

SD

DAL

NE

DEN

GB

CLE

TB

BUF

CHI

PHI

PIT

HOU

TEN

ARI

SF

WAS

SD

NYJ

NE

OAK

GB

CIN

DET

KC

CHI

PHI

PIT

HOU

TEN

CAR

SEA

NYG

MIN

DAL

NE

OAK

GB

CLE

DET

BUF

CHI

STL

PIT

HOU

JAC

CAR

SF

WAS

MIN

DAL

NE

OAK

NO

CIN

DET

BUF

ATL

STL

PIT

HOU

TEN

ARI

SEA

WAS

MIN

DAL

MIA

OAK

GB

CIN

DET

KC

ATL

PHI

PIT

HOU

TEN

ARI

SF

NYG

SD

DAL

NE

DEN

GB

CIN

DET

BUF

ATL

PHI

PIT

HOU

TEN

ARI

SEA

NYG

SD

DAL

NE

DEN

GB

CLE

DET

BUF

ATL

PHI

PIT

HOU

TEN

ARI

SF

NYG

SD

DAL

NE

DEN

GB

CLE

DET

KC

CHI

PHI

PIT

HOU

TEN

ARI

SEA

NYG

MIN

DAL

NE

DEN

GB

CLE

DET

KC

ATL

PHI

PIT

HOU

TEN

ARI

SEA

WAS

MIN

DAL

NE

DEN

What jumps out here? Well, for one only 5 of 109 picked the Colts and none who did finished with nine or more wins. This is what we call herd behavior, and in this case the herd was right, it was also a lot easier in our pool b/c once the news came out that Peyton was sitting the real line on Houston was (-9) not the measly (-1.5) line we had (note: the spreads are fixed in on weds in cbssports.com and don't move after that). I would have been tempted to take the Colts (+9) but luckily I did not have to make that choice because the Colts came nowhere near covering that spread.  Notice also that all the spreads in our league are fractions thus avoiding all ties or "pushes" in gambler's parlance.

But in the "herd mentality" you can often find an advantage or a good risk/reward proposition. In our pool the best way to take advantage of the "herd mentality" was to pick Baltimore. I knew everyone would pick the Steelers so I went with Baltimore, at first I had the Steelers but changed my mind after seeing the number of entrants go over fifty. With over 100 players I knew there was near zero chance to come out on top if I picked Pittsburgh. This is peer pressure as well as herd mentality because no one wants to be thought of as jinxing the Steelers on this fine BTSC Blog. But I want to win and at the end of the day I don’t give a f*ck what anyone thinks. 

I also sensed a lot of overconfidence, because the Steelers re-signed a bunch of veterans to long-term contracts. I guess that meant we were destined for greatness this year? The Steelers are the most winning franchise since the AFL-NFL Merger but what the f*ck does that have to do with yesterday’s game? Well, as we rudely learned, jack shit. This year has nothing to do with the Steel Curtain Era nor the fact that we recently went to 3 Super Bowls. And pre-season means nothing too. Right before the start of the regular season every year the slate is wiped clean. To me that meant Joe Flacco had about a 58% chance to beat Big Ben yesterday because the Ravens were at home. Just because Flacco was 0-6 previously means bupkis, this is a common mistake in making predictions and it also referred to as the "Gambler's Fallacy."  

The Gambler's Fallacy, aka the Monte Carlo Fallacy, is the belief that if deviations from expected behaviour are observed in repeated independent trials of some random process and thus inferred to affect future events.

With enough entrants in a non-spread pool there will even be a few who run the table. In these online challenges with millions entered there are probably thousands going 16-0 with the spreads. In the ESPN contest, I was in the 91st percentile with 8121 others winning 11 of 14 spread  picked games. With big numbers it invariably comes down to luck, like a lottery ticket.

Since the AFL-NFL merger, Steelers have the highest winning percentage. I like to look at it by decade, from 1971 thru today we won 61.4% of our games. But all-time (since 1933), Steelers won only 51.1% of their games (1933-1970 only won 36.7%). In other words, with big numbers or long time periods things will revert back to the mean (like a coin flip). If Steelers play for another thousand years, their average winning percentage is likely to be at or very near 50%. I don't know why certain things are random, not sure anyone truly knows. Some have speculated that there are alternate universes very near us where the rules of math we live by do not apply. That is too much for me to comprehend, so I defer to prophets I can understand: 

"Don't ask me cause I don't know why

but it's like that and that's the way it is"   RUN-DMC

So if you want to win an office pool and you can predict your opponent’s choices then you can give yourself an edge. Can you still lose? Of course, but often times you will either be at the top or the bottom, not stuck in the "safe middle." If you want to win as opposed to coming close or always being int the middle, think & live "carpe diem!" I mean if there are 16 games and everyone picks Houston, then there are really only 15 games, making your odds of winning that much worse. Imagine if everyone picked  the same teams for 14 games, you’d have like 50 winners out of 100 tied with one win. But it can also be very risky to pick against "the herd" if you are wrong you are often screwed. Two wrong bets and you probably need to take your beating and move on. In other words, going against the grain is a high risk, high reward strategy. But if you study statistics it is often the only way to consistently win a pool without going to the tie-breaker points and avoiding a coin toss scenario.

In the BTSC pool, I am guaranteed a tie this week with the winner decided by the points, there is no prize so it's just for bragging rights. If Miami wins tonight, I win outright and no one can catch me. You may say "are you straight-up stupid! Why would anyone in their right mind pick Miami against the Patriots? Well, here are a few of my crazy reasons:

  • The consensus or "herd mentality" is they will be a Pats blowout based on the pre-season, Brady/Belichick and their always potent offense. And this is true but it is still historical data.
  • This is a divisional game, Miami often plays the Pats very tough.
  • Miami is hot and humid, Wilfork, Ellis, Carter & Haynesworth will not be fresh for too long.
  • Miami has a good defense, their offense is the problem. But just throw a lot of screen passes to Reggie Bush and let the Pats chase. Miami has like 99% humidity so fat linemen cannot pursue the whole game.  In Haynesworth case he is likely to pass out jogging onto the field:)
  • Miami is getting 6.5 points and for a home team that is a huge amount of points. Notice only 4 home teams were getting points MIA, STL, WASH & CHI. Only Miami was getting the most points with St. Louis getting only 4.5 points.

In fact, of 256 games last year only 11 home teams got 7 or more points. Of those 11 games, with the points added, home teams won 7 of the 11 for a 63.64% winning percentage. If the teams are evenly matched, Vegas automatically gives the away team 3 points. Remember, 58% of all NFL games ever played were won by the home team. So if you added 6.5 points to all these scores I am certain this number jumps to mid 60% or possibly above 70%. So I like my chances... but.....I could still lose. At worse, I am tied with 7 others for 11 wins or one other for 12 wins.

If tonight’s games weren’t locked in yesterday, I might hedge by taking the Patriots tonight. I couldn’t guarantee a win but only one other person with 9 or more wins picked Miami, so I could narrow the odds. However, if I am right on Miami tonight, I am guaranteed to lead the pool because myself and second place both have Denver, I will finish with 12 wins and best anyone can do is get to 11. Some office pools let you lock into a game any time prior to kickoff so if I had that option I might take the Pats (depends upon the $ at stake), that way only one guy can tie me. Right now 7 people could tie me if I lose the last two games. So, if you can see the picks "or predict consensus" and make changes on the fly that could give you the edge you need. But at the end of the day, I usually go balls out in a situation like this. Miami is the three-point shot you take on the road down by two. Yea, maybe it's safer to go into overtime even on the road; but where's the fun in that?

This week my against the grain picks were Baltimore & Miami, if I hit on both my insights will have worked and I lead the pool. However, make too many picks like this and you will inevitably fail. You gotta pick your spots, know when to roll and when to hold. I like to have two to three "outlier picks" because there seems to be about two games every week that turn out to be "surprises." This week I think the surprises were Atlanta, Pittsburgh & Buffalo.

Use the spreads to your advantage, Jets win a lot of close games coming from behind, especially last year. Cowboys should be improved coming into this season (can’t get any worse) especially with Rob Ryan as their new defensive coordinator. High profile games  often end up very close (think Packers/Saints last Thursday & 9/11 NY tribute last night) because both teams are psyched up for a big nationally televised game. Monday night & playoff football also have a slightly higher than 58% home field advantage, keep that in the back of your mind for future reference.

This post is getting too long, so I will end it with the herd mentality in investments. Right now people are fleeing the stock market and reducing risk. This is a good idea if you are older and nearing retirement as you cannot stomach the volatility. However, with the 10 year Bond yielding 1.9% retirees may have no choice but to take on risk. If they can't find higher yielding dividend stocks or junk bonds many will outlive their money.  We were in a credit bubble, now we are in a de-leveraging environment which could take years to solve and possibly lead to deflation. FYI, Japan has been going thru deflation for the last 15-20 years and it has devastated many parts of their society.

European banks are in serious trouble too because they hold too much sovereign debt like Greece, Ireland, Spain & Italy. Greece will default sooner or later, many are running for the hills. For young people with very long time horizons, this may turn out to be a once in a lifetime opportunity. If the troubles in Europe get worse, it is quite possible the Dow & S&P test their lows during the Lehman crisis. There is no way to know how far the markets could fall but if you are young and you have $ on the sidelines you start buying in now. Put a percentage say 20% into some quality companies, when it falls further put more in or set a time frame to invest every 4 months. Whatever, just get your money in and leave it in. Trust me, Warren Buffet didn’t get $50 billion by following the herd. He bought quality and as long as it was a well run company he never wavered. Now if this is college tuition obviously that is a no-no, risk only your long-term savings (nothing you need in less than 5 years) but keep it diversified even if it means some $ stays stuck at 1% in a CD or savings account.

See the time to go balls out is not when everyone is high on stocks like they were during the dot.com bubble. The real time to buy is when everyone is selling, when there is real deep fear, "when there is blood in the street." Everyone wants in when it is easy, the real players are in when everyone is scared sh*tless.

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too -  Kipling

We can all take this advice, especially the Steeler organization after yesterday’s debacle.

 

P.S. As I write this, Patriots are ahead 38-24 with 2:32 leftl. So much for my percentages, I was right on one thing the defense would get tired, problem is it was Miami's D that was exhausted. Brady is a home field advantage killer:) aint that some shit! WELL, I always got Denver & 35 points, come on Denver, Brady already got me tonight! At least give me a kiss:) [Note by kk99, 09/13/11 10:19 AM PDT ] Sadly neither Miami nor Denver covered last night. Oh well, that brought me back to average, i reverted to the mean:)

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