Prop Betting

One of the most revolutionary changes in sports betting in recent years has been the rise of player props (ie, will this player score? How much of Stat X will this player accomplish in the game? Will the final score be odd or even?) Veteran gambling reporter David Purdum talks about this paradigm shift in an ESPN column. Props began in popular culture as those goofy things they did in the Super Bowl, but have now risen up massively, displacing the old spreads, totals, and moneylines.

Although Purdum’s column talks about the NFL, props are something that can (and have) been done in any sport with a relevant stat. Looking at the upcoming English Premier League matches, I’m seeing between 400 and 550 props on each game. (There are already over 200 props at some books for NFL Week 1 games a month off from the writing of this post). I saw an array of props for an upcoming cricket match. During the dark sports days of Spring 2020, I was both bemused and a little impressed by seeing giant prop menus for Belarusian soccer matches.

Of course props have a downside too from a business perspective, and that’s that they amplify the sharp-soft clash greatly. Traditionally, the few sharp books have had fewer and tamer prop markets than the much larger number of soft ones. It’ll be interesting to see to what extent the player/team prop markets can be “sharpened” the way the main lines have been.

But as of now, it’s a very reasonable question to ask “how can you ensure a house edge on hundreds and hundreds of different markets [things to bet on]?” And the answer is often “you really can’t.” The approaches are frequently blunt: Low limits, high house shares compared to lines, and restricting/limiting people who consistently win.

Still, for better or worse, giant prop bet menus are here to stay and dominate.

From Single To Multi-Talented Athletes

Most athletes are single-focused. When they try to do more advanced sports than what they’re used to, it often doesn’t work. See Herb “I can run fast” Washington. Likewise, when multi-talents go against specialists, unless the physical difference is vast, they can’t compete. But there’s a few who’ve gone the distance. Take Bob Hayes, gold medal sprinter, Super Bowl champion and Pro Football Hall of Famer. Or Mariusz Pudzianowski , a Polish weightlifter and strongman-who became a champion mixed martial artist.

This is of course not true for everyone. Most sprinters couldn’t be wide receivers. Most weightlifters couldn’t handle actual fighting. But there are always outliers like those two. There’s also an interesting number of legendary hockey/soccer crossover players like Lev Yashin (hockey, famous in soccer) and Vsevolod Bobrov (soccer, famous in hockey)

What would be interesting would be multi-sport stars who aren’t physical outliers with an obvious advantage (ie Bo Jackson) or people who can take advantage of playing in a similar sport (some Caribbean baseball players who also played cricket growing up).

The Big Sports Betting Weird Thing

When I wrote The Sure Bet King, I patterned its climax in large part on the Mayweather-McGregor boxing match, especially in how the mixed martial artist who never had a professional boxing match somehow got a gargantuan pile of money wagered on him over the undefeated all-time-great boxer. I thought “that must be the craziest gambling moment, or at least one of them”. Up there with suspicious table tennis matches attracting a bizarrely large amount of handle.

Then this scam involving con artists and farmers in India happened. Locals were hired to put on appropriate kits and pretend to be participants in the Indian Premier League, the world’s most prominent and lucrative cricket competition. Their marks were Russians who apparently knew almost nothing about cricket. If they did, they would have noticed that the real IPL had long since concluded its season.

Somehow the “tournament” got all the way to the “quarterfinals” before it was noticed and shut down. And when I read it, I was like “wow. Truth really can be stranger than fiction.” It was something. And a reminder that while fiction has to make sense, reality does not.

Review: Diggstown

Diggstown

Leonard Wise’s Diggstown is a 1978 novel about a small town in the Deep South that is obsessed with boxing to the point that it’s named after a local who became a world champion. It’s also about an attempted swindle by a scam artist from up north that leads to boxer Honey Roy Palmer having to run a gauntlet of ten Diggstown dwellers in the ring. A colorful sports thriller, it nonetheless works a lot better as a comparably low-stakes sports novel than when it tries to be a serious thriller.

This unsteady wobbling also applies to its treatment of sensitive and difficult topics. For a 1970s book set in the south, I was pleasantly surprised to see it being tasteful and well-handled in terms of race. Yet the same cannot be said about it regarding its sex scenes. Those are not tasteful or well-handled.

The book also tries to be too setting-focused, taking its time before it finally gets to the climactic boxing matches. Yet once it gets there, those are as well-written as any other good sports fiction. You could do a lot worse than this book if you like boxing or old thrillers.

The Poker Boom

As someone very young during the online poker boom of the mid-2000s, I knew it existed but wasn’t anywhere near aware of how insane it got. Looking back and doing research, I can say that for about three years, robbery became legal, as long as you were a good poker player. The excesses of it were sometimes just big, like how pros “multi-table” at several sessions at once, playing thousands upon thousands of hands a day, all while staring at the computer for many hours.

But the most interesting part is the zero-sum nature of poker and how that doomed the bubble to pop as much as anything the government did (after all, laws and court cases didn’t stop offshore sports betting at all). The boom featured sharp sharks dropping the equivalent of nuclear depth charges on poor square fish who’d seen Rounders and Chris Moneymaker living up to his namesake and thought “why not me?”

The problem came when liquidity dried up. Without a stream of new fish to get skewered, many former pros learned that they became the lower ones on the food chain. Many moved on to the similarly zero-sum daily fantasy sports, which popped just in time for sports betting to get legalized and crypto speculation to take off. And if the people complaining about restrictions because they tried to arbitrage off of William Hill got their wish and forced the sportsbooks to sharpen, the same feeding frenzy/market bubble that benefited only a few ultra-sharps would happen. In fact, I’m half-convinced it’s happening already, sportsbook restrictions or not.

The reason being that neither sports betting nor poker are actually that profitable for the house, especially after promotions, but that’s another story for another time. As is the story of poker-the book takes place roughly at the same time as the historical poker boom and one of my Sure Bet King ideas envisioned main character Eddie Ross being a moderately skilled poker who crushed weaker ones during the boom (with obvious effects on his ego), but a combination of the path the novel took and me thinking I didn’t know enough about poker nixed it.

While I don’t regret it, I think the right terms to use is that there was an opportunity that I did not follow. After all, the climax of The Sure Bet King is of a-based-on-a-true-story boxing event where sharps took advantage of squares in massive force. The poker boom was like that, only for years instead of one day.

The Journeyman

In sports, “journeyman” often just means a lower-tier player. This is certainly the case in the individual sport of boxing, where “journeyman” is often a polite way of saying “tomato can”. But in team sports, “journeyman” often means a peculiar kind of athlete.

The two most stereotypical journeymen in baseball were pitchers Bobo Newsom and Mike Morgan.

From their Baseball Reference pages, I can say that that’s a lot of uniform numbers. The baseball player who currently holds the “record” for most teams played with is Edwin Jackson. So this kind of super-journeyman has to have a certain quality. They must not be bad enough that they simply drop out of the big leagues altogether after a comparably short and disappointing career, but they also can’t be good enough to have one team try and hold onto them. On that point, while free agency has allowed journeymen to move elsewhere on their own terms, the shuffled-around player definitely existed long before that-just ask Bobo Newsom himself, or all the other pre-1976 (when free agency began) baseball journeymen.

Some journeymen have unique skill sets. Jesse Orosco is perhaps the best example. With a pitch that was close to unhittable by left-handed batters, he became a “LOOGY” (Left Handed One Out Guy) who pitched into his mid forties as someone who showed up, threw to one or two batters, and then left the game.

To me, the journeyman offers a unique literary opportunity. The character can thrive at their sport and play for champion teams. But they aren’t a dominating superstar and live life on the edge in a way that said dominating superstar doesn’t. And they could go from a winner one day to a loser the next. The possibilities are massive.

WMMA5 Style Archetypes

One of the best things about WMMA5 is that you can credibly make people from many different styles. True, you can make balanced “mixed martial artists” or “freestyle” fighters, but where’s the fun in that? Meanwhile, those with a background in traditional or kick boxing, to say nothing of grapplers/wrestlers, are pretty self-explanatory. And combat sambo, which is very close to MMA already, just means a balanced fighter. But there are some more exotics that I’ve found fun to use.

  • Sumo wrestling. Not just for male heavyweights, the pushing nature of sumo means MMA fighters with a background in it trend towards what’s derogatorily called “wall and stall”, where they try to win decisions by pushing and trapping their opponent against the cage/ropes.
  • Shootfighting/pro wrestling. These I move up the “creative attacks” (punches/kicks, submissions) up a lot, to symbolize their stylistic, showy background. Otherwise they’re grapplers.
  • “Practical Fighters”. A catch-all term for those who’ve trained in legit military/law enforcement unarmed fighting. The opposite of the shoot wrestlers, these have very low “creative attacks” ratings, to symbolize their focus on boring but practical solutions.
  • Brawlers. Untrained goons, I’ve frequently given them “arm choke” ratings slightly higher than ‘normal’, because basic choke submissions are the most intuitive. Their strength often exceeds their skill.
  • Points fighters. Both people from combat disciplines that punish you for hitting too hard and other ones who just go for the “striking decisions”. Usually highly mobile, points fighters have high skill but (comparably) little strength.
  • Hillbilly fighters. I have one creation whose stated style is “Hillbilly Fighting”. The attributes have him being a balanced fighter with a penchant for kicking his opponents in the head.

Baseball Returns

Major League Baseball, after an owners lockout, has returned to being after a new collective bargaining agreement has finally been agreed upon. It’s very hard to sympathize with either side. The owners are what you’d expect from billionaire sports team owners, and the players have been desperately trying to hold onto a classic seniority cartel that has been eroded by analytics and too many bad megadeals.

Now we can actually talk about the game on the field.

The Green Mess

In the 1905 World Series, Giants utilityman Sammy Strang had one plate appearance where he struck out. This entitled him to his complete share of the gate, the equivalent of around $33,000 today. Over a century later, another sportsman would only appear briefly yet cause a great amount of money to shift hands.

On January 9, 2022, in an otherwise undistinguished game between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, an injured Draymond Green made a ceremonial appearance at tipoff to be able to “start” with returning Klay Thompson before immediately fouling an opposing player and leaving. The result was that those who bet the under on his player props triumphed. However, this was not an issue of just him getting hurt quickly. His plan was announced shortly before the game, creating a window for people for hammer said unders.

It was an example of what Jason “Spreadapedia” Weingarten rightfully summed up as “One word: Greed”. And it demonstrates what I consider the odiousness at both sides of the sports betting industry. A big reason for the outsized losses is the presence of the “Single-game parlay”, where you can make parlay/accumulator bets (ie, you get a bigger payout, but they all have to win), on different elements of one game. Parlays are notoriously more profitable for the books overall, which is why they push them. However, the nightmare scenario is that all those blockbuster parlays (usually strings of giant favorites) actually hit. So yes, the books were playing with fire, and got burned.

However, I also have surprisingly little sympathy for the people who tried to take advantage of the error and got restricted for it. One of the secrets that a lot of casual observers don’t know are that many, if not most pro bettors (Protip: DO NOT BE A PRO SPORTS BETTOR) are people who pounce on slow/off/etc… lines instead of being super-handicappers. It’s why their complaints about being constantly restricted have fallen on deaf ears to me. And for something so obvious, I’m extra-uncaring about their “plight”.