Friday, May 19, 2017

In honor of Preakness Weekend: My favorite Afleet Alex (2005)

How this horse managed to win is beyond me.

Top 3 performance that I've seen in my lifetime.  Right behind Arrogate in this year's Dubai World Cup, and Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness herself.

As far as this year's Preakness goes I'm still working on my picks. Here's the post draw and M/L odds.

1 – Multiplier (30-1)
2 – Cloud Computing (12-1)
3 – Hence (20-1)
4 – Always Dreaming (4-5)
5 – Classic Empire (3-1)
6 – Gunnevera (15-1)
7 – Term of Art (30-1)
8 – Senior Investment (30-1)
9 – Lookin at Lee (10-1)
10 – Conquest Mo Money (15-1)

I expect Always Dreaming to go off somewhere around 1/5, the Derby winner almost always does if it's a horse that entered the race well thought of, which Dreaming did. (He was the post time favorite after all).

As is usual in the Preakness the object is to review the numbers, find a horse that's an overlay, and try to beat the favorite.  If the favorite beats you, you accept that and look to the Belmont.

I don't think there's any way Classic Empire gets an awful trip like he did in the Derby, so I'll be using him.  My long-shot play still needs some work however.  Right now I'm leaning toward Cloud Computing, Multiplier and Hence on the inside.

I will use Always Dreaming prominently in my exotics.

Good luck whichever way you go.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Gamble Blogging: A LifeTime of Running Cold (Part VIII): Get on the Roller Coaster!!

We're getting closer to the end of this, so if you're still following along, Congrats!  If you're just now catching up here's a link to the prior posts:

A Lifetime of Running Cold Series

When we last checked in things were not going well. There's running cold and then there's that sub-zero type of cold where nothing is paying out and everything in the world feels like a losing proposition.

I couldn't remember the last time I'd had a winning session at slots, table games or much of anything else. I was even considering moving back to live poker because a.) I could win on that and b.) nothing else seemed to be working.  And I didn't understand it.  I had read gambling books, had studied strategy for my favorite games, but nothing was clicking.  I understood the concept of variance and why it was a bad thing but in order for their to be a low variant their also had to be a high one right?

During the down period of 2015 I had slowly started to add more video poker into my game in an attempt to decrease volatility. It wasn't working.  All I was doing was shoving $20 bills into machines and watching them bleed me dry. I had decided that the problem was I just wasn't playing enough, giving the machines enough time to hit a hot streak.

With that thought in mind I had planned for a big, big Vegas trip with the largest bank-roll I had ever brought, $2500 with the expressed intent of using it all for a huge Video Poker run.  The wife and I were ready, I had the bankroll, the plan, and (most importantly in my mind) I had studied strategy and practiced for hours on end.  I was ready to turn the luck streak around.

Spoiler alert: I got hammered.  In fact, the wife and I both had the worst run of variance that we'd had in our lives.  I lost all of my bank-roll except for $300. The wife lost everything she brought as well.

The trip started off fine. We took advantage of a free stay at Rio, if you gamble much at all at Caesar's properties it's very easy to get comped rooms there. This is due, in large part, to its being located "off-strip".  In fact, the location is a little bothersome and the hotel is dated, but it's not too bad a place to play.  Outside of rotten luck we had fun there.

But I could not win at anything.  Video Poker, despite my best efforts, was a total bust. I didn't get enough 4-of-a-kind hands to allow me to play for any length of time, and the entire experience was disheartening.  We came back from that Vegas trip discouraged, beaten up and very much lighter in the wallet.  We weren't planning on heading back to Vegas until October (this was August) but we seriously considered cancelling that trip altogether.

In September however we decided to take a trip to our "local" casino, L'Auberge du Lac in Lake Charles and get some gaming in there.  And that's when the roller coaster started moving in the "right" (for me, if not for the casino) direction.

That trip was the first one in which I didn't have a loss to show for it. It was a modest win, but a win. It didn't come close to turning it around for the year, but it was at least a sign of a little bit of progress in what had, to date, been a horrible year of gambling.

The October Vegas trip was back on, and it was where I got my first hand pay.  We were staying at Bally's (again, on a CET "free room" stay) and had decided to spend a day downtown. For lunch we went over to Grotto. (I don't care what people say, that's a solid Italian restaurant) We ate at the bar and then decided to "try out" the new Billion Dollar Buyer machines that Golden Nugget had just installed.

They were dollar machines at five dollars max spin.  My plan was to put $20 in one of the machines, and play until it was gone.  I was expecting 4-spins and done. The machines are a bank of 4 that are right across from the entrance to Grotto.  As we walked up I told my wife to "pick a machine" and we'd go from there. She selected the 2nd machine from the left.  I put in my twenty and started to spin away.

1st spin - Blank.
2nd spin - Won $10 dollars!  Yay! Two more spins.
3rd spin - Blank.
4th spin - Blank.
5th spin - Blank.
6th (and last) spin - I turned around to my wife and said "Oh well, at least we had one hit.  Here's it goes" and hit the button.

My first hand-pay ever.

Needless to say I was ecstatic.  We collected our cash, caught an Uber back to Bally's and locked the money up in the room safe.  Add to that several four-of-a-kinds and some straight flushes later, and this was our second winning trip in a row.  Yes, we were still down for the year but we had clawed some of it back.  Variance was finally turning our way.

After Vegas we shut it down for the year and took our losses that were partially offset by a big win.  This was the 2nd time that I had to declare gambling winnings on my tax form. Fortunately, unlike last time, I had good records of the prior year's losses so I could claim them as an offset.

2017 was on the horizon, and that's the subject of the last part of this series.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The NFL Draft: Hopes, dreams and way too much coverage.

For fans of the NFL, today starts the best/worst weekend in sports.

It's NFL draft time and you're about to be subjected to some of the best the NFL has to offer presented through one of the worst media filters of the year.

It's the time of year that ESPN rolls out and dusts off Mel Kiper to tell teams how they should do things, in many ways just so he and Todd McShay can argue back and forth. It's time for the NFL Network to turn Michael Irvin loose butchering the English language and acting as if his hair is perpetually on fire.

At least we're going to be spared having to endure Chris Berman for the first round. Trey Wingo is far superior (at this point) as an anchor.  Rich Eisen is good, he's a Michigan Man, but he has an annoying tendency of narrating events as if each and every pick is the football equivalent of the cure for cancer. Way too much gravitas.

Then we come to the worst of all the draft day traditions: The draft grade. At this point trying to put a grade on a draft is somewhat ridiculous.  If anything, it's time to grade the 2012 draft, not the one we're about to witness for which none of the draftees has played in an NFL game,.

Back to this year's draft though.

And the Browns.  Yes, the Cleveland Browns.  Who happen to control the entire first round due to them having both the first and 12th picks. If the Browns pick Myles Garrett, then the drama will be much less than if they take a Browns flyer and select North Carolina QB Mitch Tribusky as their face of the future.

As a 49ers fan, I hope they go the QB route.  Because that means that Garrett falls to San Fran and there's even a good possibility this team, that needs so many pieces, can trade down and grab more draft picks. I can't believe I'm saying that after the abundance of riches the team amassed during the Harbaugh era.  Regardless, the first pick of the Kyle Shanahan era will be closely monitored by fans.

Since I live in Houston I'll also mention the Texans here. The consensus is that they will pick a QB in the first round and the two most prominently mentioned are Texas Tech's Pat Mahomes, and California's Webb Davis. Were I a member of team Toro I would hope they pass on those two. If you wonder why take a look at Jared Goff's NFL experience to date and remember that both QB's come from the same system.

Besides, for the Texans, and every other team, the first round is the sizzle but the 2nd, 3rd and 4th rounds are the steak.  Show me a consistently winning team in the NFL and I'll show you a team that's nailing those picks year after year after year with few exceptions. Free agency can get you one or two years, but sustained winning requires hitting the NFL Draft equivalent of the flop.

With that said: Here's my 1st round Mock, guaranteed to be mostly incorrect.

(note: for simplicity's sake I've omitted trades. I'm sure some will happen but I'm not going to try and predict which ones.)

1. Cleveland Browns - Myles Garrett EDGE/Texas A&M. - The desire to draft Trubisky is strong, but Garrett has Clowney-type athleticism and you can't pass that up.

2. San Francisco 49ers. - Solomon Thomas DE/Stanford - I wouldn't be surprised if the Niners traded down. But Thomas is a versatile guy from the local area.

3. Chicago Bears - Marshon Lattimore CB/Ohio State.Some people like Jamal Adams here, but I think the Bears need a CB worse than a Safety.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars. - Leonard Fournette. RB/LSU - Normally I wouldn't tag a RB this high, but Fournette has generational player talent and the Jags need someone to take the pressure off of Bortles.

5. Tennessee Titans - Corey Davis WR/Western Michigan - The Titans are building something in Tennessee, and Mariota needs weapons. Davis is certainly that.

6. NY Jets - Mitch Trubisky QB/North Carolina - Outside of Cleveland (and the Texans) they are the team with the most glaring need at this position.

7. San Diego Chargers - Jamal Adams S/LSU - The Chargers will be running to the podium to grab a player who I consider to be the best defensive athlete in the draft.

8. Carolina Panthers. - Christian McCaffrey RB/WR Stanford. Cam gets a dual threat weapon to play with.

9. Cincinnati Bengals - Jonathan Allen  DE/Albama Will be a force for years to come and could be a joy to watch next to the Bengals strong DT pair.

10. Buffalo Bills - Rueben Foster. LB/Alabama. - Some call him the "Next Ray Lewis" and while I think that's a little optimistic I do think he's the best LB in the draft this year. Should help the Bills defense immediately.

11. New Orleans Saints - Marlon Humphrey CB/Alabama - This team needs defense desperately. Humphrey reminds me a lot of Texans CB Kareem Jackson.

12. Cleveland Browns - Deshon Kizer QB/Notre Dame - I just have the feeling the Browns are going to mess this one up.

13. Arizona Cardinals - Haason Reddick LB/Temple. This will be an underrated pick that I think is going to turn out OK for Arizona.

14. Philadelphia Eagles - Mike Williams WR/Clemson - A weapon for Wentz. (Spoiler: Philly fans will boo)

15. Indianapolis Colts - Charles Harris OLB/Mizzou - The Colts need muscle in the front seven. Harris gives them that.

16. Baltimore Ravens - John Ross WR/Washington - I could see them trading down here because most of their top targets are gone.  But they need help at WR. If they're not scared off by Ross' medicals they could go this way.

17. Washington - Dalvin Cook RB/Florida State. - Behind Fournette, the most talented RB in the draft. They'll be lucky to get him here.

18. Tennessee Titans - Adoree Jackson CB/USC - A ball hawking playmaker with shutdown corner potential.  Sign me up.

19. Tampa Bay - O.J. Howard TE/Alabama - Yes, I think Howard falls to here. I also think Tampa Bay is pinching themselves tonight and cannot believe their luck.

20. Denver Broncos - Ryan Ramczyk OT/Wisconsin - Much needed infusion of talent for an O-line that was a sieve last year.

21. Detroit Lions - Jerrad Davis LB/Florida - Kind of a "best player available pick" but one that should help their defense.

22. Miami Dolphins - T. J. Watt OLB/Wisconsin - Gives the Fins an upgrade at PR and a high motor guy that their defense is lacking.

23. NY Giants - Garrett Bolles OT/Utah - Some protection for Eli who's had happy pocket feet the last few years.

24. Oakland (Las Vegas) Raiders - Cam Robinson OT/Alabama - Some needed protection for Derek Carr.

25. Houston Texans - Deshaun Watson QB/Clemson - O'Brien rolls the bones in search of a QB who can play average NFL level football. They would like an O-tackle, but all of the 1st round ones are gone.

26. Seattle Seahawks - Forrest Lamp OG/Western Kentucky - Need pick. And I'm rarely thrilled about those.  This one is OK IMO however.

27. Kansas City Chiefs - Chidobe Awuze CB/Colorado - Some are saying RB, but I don't see it. They need help at CB more and you can get solid RB's later in the draft.

28. Dallas Cowboys - Kevin King CB/Washington - the run on solid CB's begins.

29. Green Bay Packers - Tre'Davius White CB/LSU - They need DB help in the worst way, they also need a RB but I think they wait on the latter.

30. Pittsburgh Steelers - Evan Engram TE/Mississippi - The Steelers have a need, Engram fills the hole.

31. Atlanta Falcons - Taco Charlton DE/Michigan - I had Peppers in this slot until his "diluted sample" now I think the Falcons take a pass-rusher in Charlton.

32. New Orleans Sains - Patrick Mahomes QB/Texas Tech - They have the luxury of sitting him behind Brees for a year or two so he can learn how to play in the NFL, something poor Goff wasn't given.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Dubai World Cup

The former "Richest horse race in the world" (Prior to the Pegasus Cup) is going to be ran Saturday morning and there's very little buzz around it.

That's too bad.  Because the Dubai World Cup is, on paper, a very entertaining race and will be featuring what I think is a very special horse in Arrogate, the 1-3 Morning Line favorite.  Running against him is a pretty strong field including Gun Runner,  a talented horse that hasn't lived up to his potential in big races, Hopportunity, a horse that's scored some big, big wins in the past over good horses, Keen Ice, who is "gritty" in horse terms, and Mubtaajij, a horse from Ireland who always seems to be in with a chance.

None of these horses are as strong, on paper, as Arrogate however. The late-blooming Bob Baffert horse who has made a mockery of the field in every race he's ran.  Most recently you saw him beat the great California Chrome in the Pegasus, and he won the Breeder's Cup as well.  In fact, had he not developed so late he might have been a Triple Crown winner in 2016.  He's that good.

Locally, Sam Houston Race Park is opening their doors at 6:30 AM to allow for simulcast betting.

I'll be there.  Look for the guy wearing throwback checkerboard Vans.

Let's talk ponies.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Houston Texans: Is it time to question O'Brien?

Stories like this make you wonder.

The fact is that Bill O'Brien is not the "quarterback whisperer" that he's been advertised to be. In fact, most of the quarterbacks who have left the Texans, Hoyer, the Fitz, etc. have played BETTER with their new teams than with Houston's professional football team.

For a supposed "offensive guru" O'Brien's offenses have been a consistent embarrassment during his tenure. On any team serious about winning he'd be on a seat so hot you'd feel the warmth in Beaumont.

But these are the Texans, owned by Crazy Bob McNair who is seemingly content to have the team win the pathetic AFC South some seasons and exit meekly in either the first or second round. He can afford to do this because he has one of the bat-shit craziest fan bases in the country, who continually sell out NRG stadium despite having a product that can only be defined as mediocre.

The reality that is starting to emerge is that, unless something changes, O'Brien's best work as coach of the Texans will be some funny monologues in Hard Knocks.

We all know that the Texans are lacking quality in the front office.  GM Rick Smith appears over-matched by his peers, but this trade (undoubtedly dreamed up by an increasingly clever looking Browns team) probably gives him something to point to for years now as evidence of his brilliance.

The question is whether or not the dysfunction at NRG has pervaded the entire team?  We know what the owner's priorities are, and it doesn't seem like anyone on Kirby has a real plan on how to win, and win big.

MAYBE the Texans don't get taken advantage of by Jerry Jones and the Cowboys in their pursuit of Tony Romo but the odds are not in favor.  And MAYBE the team starts 2017 with someone other than "Tom Savage" penciled in as the starter at quarterback.

But, if it IS Tom Savage and hope time for the team then the fans should riot.

They won't though, which is why their team is allowed to continue to court mediocrity on the backs of their unfailing loyalty.  Find something else to do on Sundays Texans fans, until the team gives you reason not to.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Gamble Blogging: A lifetime of running cold (Part VII) Vegas is a cruel, cruel mistress.

It's been a while since I added to this series but a lot has changed since I wrote this:

A lifetime of running cold series.

For one, I now have a hand-pay to brag about (later) but no Royal Flush yet.  I also have a ton of tales and some new locations to add to the story.

But first, let's pick up where we left off.

After my last trip to Vegas (in 2014) the wife and I started 2015 planning to hit Vegas several times.  We visited in March, June, August and December right after Christmas.  We stayed at TI, Mandalay Bay (again), NY/NY and Excalibur.

The first trip, in March, was going to be the trip where I finally got to do some serious sports betting for March Madness.  I had also decided to dip my toes back in the live poker well and play in one of their $40 buy-in daily tournaments for fun.

As is our custom, we arrived on a Thursday evening, ate dinner, hit the bar hard, lost just a little bit playing video poker and went to be somewhere around 2AM.  The next morning I was up and about early (around 8AM) I went and ate breakfast and settled down at a slot machine to play a little prior to the tournament starting.

It was at this time I ordered a cup of coffee with creamer from a cocktail waitress, sipped it, thought it tasted funny, but finished it regardless.  This, as it turned out, was a huge mistake that pretty much cost me the trip.

Thinking back I'm not sure if it was the coffee, but I'm pretty certain it was.  Because 1/2 way through the poker tournament I started feeling ill.  Very ill.  My vision was blurring, I was dizzy and my stomach was doing it's best impression of an over baked pretzel.  I wouldn't tell you anything about the last three hands I played in the tournament but it was pretty bad.  I started walking away from the table before the last card came out because I knew that something was wrong.

What was wrong was food poisoning.  A fairly hideous case of it.

For the next 38 hours I was confined to either bed or the restroom on the occasions that I needed to puke. I was also cold. So cold that my wife set the room temperature at 75 and still had to go down to the gift shop to by me a pair of sweat pants and a zip up hoodie.

All day Friday and all day Saturday I laid in the bed in the room half sleeping and half getting up to the bathroom.  My poor wife, who hates college basketball, stuck by my side in the room with nothing to do but watch March Madness while I came in and out of sleep.

This was, without a doubt, the worst trip to Las Vegas that we have ever experienced.

On Sunday I was finally feeling marginally better, at least enough to get out of bed, so our last day was spent slowly walking around the Strip.  At this point I was pretty much limited to drinking Pedialyte and eating some saltine crackers that we got from Walgreen's.

I didn't gamble, I didn't watch much of March Madness, we didn't see any shows.  It was all around just a horrid trip.

The remaining trips in 2015 were better, no one got sick, but nothing to brag about.  I was scared to drink coffee now but I did gamble and we had 3 trips with a succession of small wins and small losses that pretty much made gambling in Las Vegas just about a wash.

We didn't gamble much however because my wife was on a horrid losing streak and would just clam up and stop gambling after $20 or so. Then she'd get in a bad mood and so we'd just walk from casino to casino doing not much of anything but just ambling around.  We spent all of 2015 in this funk, a funk brought on by extreme sickness and some pretty rotten action.

Because our gambling had dropped, so did our comp offers.  We needed something to get us back on the beam and we needed it quickly because our Vegas passion was flailing and we really didn't know how to get it back.

About the only saving grace for this period of time were the shows that we saw.  We saw Penn & Teller and loved it, Zarkana before it went away, Mystere, a show at the Venetian called "Panda" and the Dancing with the Stars road show at the Tropicana.  We also dined well, when we ate, eating at all of Wolfgang Puck's places, Mesa grill, Gordon Ramsay's Steak and Pub, and we discovered the Crown and Anchor Pub for the first time.

The irony of the year was this:  In 2015 we spent more time in Las Vegas than in any year prior, we also gambled a hell of a lot less.

In 2016 that would change, not always for the better.

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