3 heads

3 heads
The Last Great Prizefight: Jack Johnson, Tex Rickard, Jim Jeffries

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Support for Timothy Bradley

In my last post I supported the judges' decisions in the Bradley - Pacquiao fight. P.H. Burbridge from East Side Boxing posts a similar opinion about the fight and its aftermath.
Once you start peeling this artichoke and get passed the obvious subject matter a number of interesting sub plots emerge at the heart of Saturday nights results which tell a more significant story than the “controversy” or the “outrage”.

Reality check #1, I don’t think the decision was as terrible as some people are making it out to be especially after watching the replay without the benefit of HBO crafting the story line for all us fat, dumb, inebriated boxing fans. If it was robbery then we’ve seen worse. Watching the fight live it was clear that Manny was landing the harder shots but watching the replay minus the HBO script (open love letter) you realize just how much Manny was missing Bradley who amazingly was often times right in his firing range. At times it was clear that Bradley was briefly dictating the pace and controlling the action. Some of his little short combos were discounted amidst all the HBO love vignettes but in my opinion the first 3 rounds were won by Bradley. Manny did too much following and missing in my opinion which was pretty stunning and brings up Reality check #2, the punch stat and the methodology used to collect this data which based on my own non scientific analysis was scoring punches landed for Manny that simply did not land.
In a future article we’ll do a more comprehensive analysis of punch stats but for our purposes here today let it be known that I don’t believe Manny landed at the rate credited. He couldn’t have…. A hundred and ninety POWER shots and Bradley barely had a scratch AND this with a bad ankle hindering his movement? Open your eyes and your minds. How many times have you heard HBO commentator, Jim Lampley gushing that “Manny lands a left” when clearly no shot landed? Bradley is slipping punches and Lampley is saying exactly opposite. I’ve said this before but, TURN THE VOLUME DOWN on HBO and use your own eyes! I know Pacquiao has fast hands and its probably no easy task to accurately tally those numbers but are the compubox folk’s any closer to the action than Jim Lampley?

God can only hope they’re more accurate!
Could I consider myself a boxing person? I'd like to so I could be included in this comment.
There are many credible boxing folk’s who thought Bradley won the fight.(sic)
...including 3 experienced and competent judges.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

HBO Boxing's Groupthink

"Men willingly believe what they wish" - Julius Caesar

Last Saturday night two evenly matched fighters fought 12 close rounds. There was give and take, but neither gave too much injury nor took too much punishment. Never did a knockout or knockdown seem imminent or even likely. In the end both fighters remained relatively undamaged, the requisite sun glasses were absent from the post-fight press conference. Yet the television commentators insisted that one man was dominating the other. That fighter was Manny Pacquiao and while the HBO crew praised his power, on this night it seemed more imaginary then real. Sometimes we see what we want to see not what is there. In our minds eye, visions from the past crowd out the present and blind us what is really happening. When HBO commentators are incapable of watching a fight disinterestedly, there is a problem because fans and press alike become convinced that they speak the truth. The result is a chain-reaction leading to irrational groupthink.

But, you say, even if Harold Lederman were wrong, there is a sophisticated system in place that assures a more accurate result than 3 human judges sitting at ringside. It's called Compubox. Yet the Compubox system is nothing more than 2 human beings counting punches from a location further away from ringside than the judges, determining in fractions of a second whether a punch landed and whether or not it was a "power shot." Not much imagination is required to spot the flaws in this system. Typically, when the press widely disagree with the official decision, they call for an investigation into the judging, as in the case of the Lara v. Williams. Here's an idea, let's investigate Compubox. Doesn't anyone else want to know how they come up with these numbers? It would take a day or more of watching a fight in super slow motion, in HD and 3D, with audio, to come up with an accurate assessment. How can anyone claim that Compubox's numbers are valid when it is nothing more than a rough guess. Compubox stats don't deserve the weight they are given.

In Grantland, Rafe Bartholomew unfairly compares Bradley to Marquez, who many believe defeated Pacquiao twice but lost the decisions. He implies that since Bradley didn't fight like Marquez, he couldn't have won the fight.
...Bradley's performance Saturday night hardly resembled the way Marquez fought in any of his three fights with Pacquiao. For starters, Marquez never ran. He stood a step out of Pacquiao's range, waited for him to attack, and timed his shots to interrupt Pacquiao's barrage.
To assert that Bradley "ran", to call Bradley's movement "running," is ridiculous. What Bradley demonstrated was defensive skill. This is what boxers do. Bradley "ran" less than Ali did when he fought Sonny Liston. He "runs" less than many other fighters. Bobbing, weaving, moving your feet is not "running." Most people call this defense.

There are two common threads tying together the outraged pro-Pacquiao, pro-robbery press. One is Compubox which claims that Pacquiao landed more punches. As noted, I am skeptical. The other is that Pacquiao landed more power punches. Pacquiao did indeed land a few solid shots, but did any of those alleged power shots pose a serious threat to Bradley. If you think so, your imagination is running wild. Try to control it.

Well, the critic might say, even if Bradley was never seriously hurt, you can't deny that Pacquiao landed the harder punches. While this may be true, he didn't land that many, he never hurt Bradley and power punching is not the be all and end all in boxing scoring. If it were, fighters like Devon Alexander and Paul Malignaggi would never win a decision, since between the two of them they couldn't crack an egg.

Some judges give more weight to power punching than others. More often than not, power punching is not as important as most people believe. Boxing commentators could do a better job at conveying this ambiguity. When Harold Lederman gives a round to a fighter, there should be a degree of confidence associated his score. He or another analyst (like there aren't enough already) could add a percentage or an estimation of what the likelihood is that an official judge also gave that round to the same fighter. "Harold, how did you score round three?" "Jim, I gotta tell ya, blah blah blah, I gave that round to Manny Pacquiao, blah blah blah, but I could see how other judges might give this to Bradly, so I'm only 50% confident." At the end of the fight, the percentages could be punched in a computer and the variety of possible results would give a range of likely outcomes. Maybe then the actual decision wouldn't be so shocking. When a fight goes to the scorecards, the question should not be whether the score is right, but whether it is reasonable. Despite the widespread outrage, I believe that the Bradley - Pacquiao decision was reasonable and not the worst decision in boxing history as judged by the Bleacher Report.

One other option, would be to fire the entire HBO crew and go with a single broadcaster. Do we need more than one? Woe to the hapless viewer who has become dependent on HBO's ceaseless blather and who would be forced to form independent thoughts or (heaven forbid) accept the official judges decision. OK. That's not going to happen. It was just a thought.

Friday, June 8, 2012

I'll Have Another Carrot

Celebrity chef and thoroughbred owner Bobby Flay tweeted 
OK everyone, get on board.@Ill_HaveAnother will win the@BelmontStakes. We all need this one...seriously. I'm rooting with both fists!
I'll Have Another may indeed win the Belmont and therefore the Triple Crown, but "we all need this one"? Really? Chef Flay clearly thinks that a Triple Crown winner would be good for the "sport." It would be exciting (maybe) and inspiring to some, like any great sports victory, but I'm more inclined to agree with the sagacious and insightful Frank Deford, who opined on his regular NPR gig:
To be perverse, I'd suggest that for the horse-racing industry, it'd be best that I'll Have Another does not — yes, does not — win the Triple Crown this Saturday.
Listen to the show. It will take just 3:57. Besides referring to horse racing as an "industry" rather than a "sport," Deford makes 2 points. First, having no triple crown winner will generate more interest, not less, and second, I'll Have Another's connections tend toward the unsavory and therefore Frank Deford would prefer that IHA not win this Saturday.
The people in charge of I'll Have Another don't deserve the honor. The trainer is Doug O'Neill, a charming enough character, but a drug cheat nonetheless. In fact, he must start a 45-day suspension on July 1 in California. Illinois has already suspended him. He's been fined nine times for horses testing over the regulatory threshold. Perhaps most grievous, horses he trains break down at twice the normal rate.
I'll Have Another's owner is J. Paul Reddam, who is invariably described as a former philosophy professor — as if he still strolls the hills and dales alone, contemplating his favorite philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein. More recently, though, Reddam is president of CashCall, which refinances dubious mortgages. Three states have challenged him over violations of consumer protecton IHAon IHAon IHAion laws. In West Virginia he's charged with breaking usury laws, assessing annual interest as high as, yes, 99 percent.
All right, no official judgment has yet been rendered against Reddam, but when the ethical standards of both men are taken together, can't we simply say: After 34 years, shouldn't a Triple Crown champion possess a better human pedigree?
It would be touching if a trainer with a spotless record won the Crown, but maybe one of the problems with racing is that there are not a lot of trainers that have spotless records. This isn't a Disney movie. When Big Brown loomed over the Belmont in 2008, nearly a sure thing to win the Crown at odds of 3-10, his connections were trainer Dick Dutrow, who should have been thrown out of racing by now yet still manages to retain a license, and Michael Iavarone whose Wall Street antics bordered on criminal. Even Tommy Smith, trainer of Seabiscuit, was suspended for a year in 1945.

Whether we have a Triple Crown winner this weekend or not, racing won't be saved. The combination of the oversupply of races and the worst wagering system ever created have locked racing into an asymptotic decline. The "industry" will shrink and shrink and shrink until horsemen finally realize what a lousy system they have or regulators decide to stop subsidizing racing with slot machine lucre. If you think daily betting into parimutuel pools on cheap horses is a sport that can thrive, or a sport at all, think again. What racing needs is fewer races and a more fair gambling system. However, what the industry prefers is more subsidies, a continuation of the same old parimutuel wagering rip-off and a Triple Crown winner.

Speaking of getting ripped-off, I haven't decided on whom I'll wager in the Belmont, but I can say with near certainty that it won't be IHA. True, IHA has been impressive and he galloped out well after winning the Preakness, but I'm not inclined to bet a 3 to 5 shot. (The morning line is 4/5) I might back wheel him in the exacta, but more likely I'll throw him out altogether. My philosophy of parimutuel betting is that you must try to beat the odds-on favorite or pass the race.

And for what it's worth, I'll Have Another is a horse. He doesn't care if he wins the Belmont. He won't be offended if you bet on another colt. Winning will not change his life, merely his stud fee. Given a choice, IHA would probably prefer 3 fewer lashes of the whip and a bouquet of carrots over the antique Tiffany Silver Bowl awarded to the winning owner.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night.

One of the arguments for government regulation of online gambling is to protect consumers. A month ago the Bodog domain was seized by the federal government. More recently, the Commonwealth of Kentucky achieved a legal victory in its effort to seize other gambling domain names.
The judge overseeing the case has issued an order of forfeiture, transferring 132 online gambling domains to state control.
Judge Wingate has ordered a copy of the ruling to be served to the .com/.net domain registry Verisign and each individual domain registrar, who will then be made responsible for transferring control of the 132 domains to the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Gambling online is becoming a little worrisome, not because of unscrupulous operators, but because of government attacks. If one day online gamblers can no longer log on and can no longer access their funds, the loss will not be due to fraud, the loss will be thanks to the government that purports to be protecting them.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Beauty of Early Parimutuel Action

Loiter in a racebook or watch horseracing on TV and you will undoubtedly hear talk that a horse has been "bet down." But, to say that a horse was bet down is almost meaningless when you consider how parimutuel wagering works. Bet down from what? The morning line? The morning line is nothing more than the track handicapper's (educated) guess as to what the odds should be. The real odds are determined by the betting public and finalized after the pool closes, which is when the gates open on the track. For example, to say that a horse has been bet down to 2-1 from a morning line of 6-1, just means that the betting public had a different opinion of the horse's chance to win as compared to the opinion of the track handicapper. In which case that may mean nothing if you don't respect the morning line or it may mean something if you do. Some oddsmakers are good, some not so good. And some races are more difficult to handicap than others. And sometimes, even the track handicappers math is bad. When the calculated theoretical hold on a track handicapper's odds come out to 40%, at a track where the take is 16%, then there is a problem. Throw in a few scratches and you can just as well fugetaboutit.

Rather than saying a horse has been bet down, a more accurate description would be that a horse took early money or late money. If I see a horse that is getting early money, I will take a closer look at that horse. The reason is that any gambler who wants to bet heavy, maybe one who has inside information, needs to bet early, not late. That might seem counter intuitive, but high rollers can't wait until just before post to see if the odds are satisfactory and then dump a boat load of cash on the horse they like without killing the odds (unless it's a big race, like the Derby). If you fancy a horse, you'll want to get your cash into the pool first, or as soon as possible. Other bettors will then stay clear of your horse because the odds are too low. To a certain extent, the odds congeal in the collective mind of the betting public before they settle on the toteboard. If the gamblers' consensus is that a horse should be 5-1 or 6-1, but the first flash of the tote says 6/5, then they will stay away and the odds will drift up, allowing the big bettor to capture more of the pool.

Maybe a hypothetical example will help explain the point I'm trying to get across. Suppose we have a race between 5 horses that appears evenly matched, but for whatever reason I happen to know that horse #1 is in supreme condition and will win the race easily. I want to bet $5000 to win on #1. To make this easy, we'll ignore the track's take. The betting public and the track handicapper think that each horse should be 4-1. One minute before post, the pool looks like this:

#1    4-1    $5000
#2    4-1    $5000
#3    4-1    $5000
#4    4-1    $5000
#5    4-1    $5000

If I go to the window now and plunk down $5k on #1, here's what happens to the odds.

#1    2-1    $10,000
#2    5-1    $5000
#3    5-1   $5000
#4    5-1   $5000
#5    5-1   $5000

That's not what I want. If instead I put down $5k a half hour before post time, there is a good chance that I'll capture more of the pool. Those who like #1 at 4-1, will have to wait until the odds drift back up and #1 may end up going off at 4-1 as expected.

In a real-world example, this is what happened in a maiden, turf route last Saturday at Gulfstream Park. Kitty Wine was 6-1 on the morning line after a dismal, but troubled, debut in a dirt sprint, but the first flash of the toteboard showed her at 6/5. Here is a snippet of the PPs from Brisnet's Premium Plus Past Performances (with the markings I made that morning).
Kitty Wine had a lot going for her; the early action just reinforced my opinion that she had a good chance. The odds drifted up, closing at 5.3-1, near the morning line. Kitty Wine won and paid $12.60.
That doesn't mean you should blindly play horses that get early action, but it does mean you should take a close look.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Bring Back the Newspaper Decision

On Saturday night Gabriel Campillo put on a show, but it did not start out that way. It would be an understatement to say the first round did not go well for Campillo; the show opened poorly and looked like it might close early. He was knocked down twice by the powerful and undefeated Tavoris Cloud whom the oddsmakers had made a heavy favorite. Campillo's record showed no meaningful wins or I should say, no wins over anybody most American boxing fans know anything about and so his performance in the first round seemed to confirm the view that Campillo could not handle the step up in class. But as the fight progressed, it became obvious that the fighter stepping up in class was not Campillo, but Cloud. Perhaps because Campillo is from Spain and those European fights and fighters don't show up on our radar, we assume that those fights are against lesser opponents. Campillo dismissed that notion.

After surviving the first round, Campillo dominated the rest of the fight. For boxing fans capable of distinguishing between the skill of a master and crude bludgeoning, Campillo's performance was a magnum opus. And yet, after 11 rounds of playing the matador to the out-witted bull, 2 of the judges did not see fit to give him the victory. It's not as if this should come as a surprise, least of all to Campillo. In fact, I was tempted to tweet Showtime (the network was displaying selected tweets on the screen during the bout) during round 12 that I expected a robbery. Why? Because I had seen Campillo's fight against Shumenov, which he also won in the ring but lost on the scorecards due to absurd scoring; and because Campillo came into the fight with 3 losses and a draw, which according to Jim Lampley, should all have been wins; and because this fight was in Texas and I don't trust the Texas commission.

When the scores were announced, it was a replay of the Campillo - Shumenov bout: split decision, one for Cloud, one for Campillo, a ludicrous score for Cloud, and Campillo looking away in disbelief and disgust. The editors at Showtime could have spliced in the announcement of the decision from the Shumenov bout; it played out in exactly the same way.

Lou Dibella, Campillo's promoter, reacted to the news of the decision by demonstrating his proficiency with the f-bomb as reported in theboxingscene.com
This is a f**king disgrace. I'm sitting there at [Muhammad] Ali's birthday party dinner, watching this. He was dominating the fight, it wasn't even close. The fight was was eight [rounds] to four or nine to three....it was a f**king disgrace. How could it be that everyone watching the fight sees it the same way but the judges? We wonder why we are so self destructive as an industry. I've had enough of this f**king sh*t. These f**king judges should be put to task. There should be a competency test and if they can't pass it - they should be out.
Competency test? Does anyone seriously think that these judges are not at least as competent as Joe Fan watching in the arena? Everyone in the arena knew who won the fight. Boxing decisions like this have nothing to do with competence and everything to do with who picked the officials. The responsibility for assuring honest and competent officiating, for protecting their fighter from being robbed, belongs to the fighter's manager and promoter. The promoters pay the officials. For Campillo to be "robbed" so often, means that his management team is letting him down. A fighter prepares for the fight in the ring. His management negotiates the details: ring size, judges, referee, purses, etc. In this case, it is quite clear that Tavoris Cloud's promoter, Don King, did a better job finding officials amenable to his fighter.

Based on the fact that Gabriel Campillo is not listed on Lou Dibella's website (as of Feb 21, 2012) as one of his "athletes," Dibella probably didn't play much of a role in negotiating this fight. I'm not sure what service he provided as co-promoter of Campillo with Sampson Boxing, LLC, but considering how often Campillo gets screwed, Sampson Boxing isn't doing a very good job. 

For bettors and bookmakers, the scoring of boxing matches is frustrating, but there is no reason that bookies need to rely on the official scorecards; they can set their own rules. Early in the 20th century, most jurisdictions prohibited decisions so newspapers decided the winner. The point of this was not merely informational entertainment, it was a serious financial responsibility. In the absence of official decisions, newspapers decided who the winner was for betting purposes. As boxing evolved, the referee and then judges were empowered to render decisions, but maybe newspapers had done a better job in the first place and were less likely to be influenced by the promoters. Maybe bookies could go back to those days by basing their payoffs on the decision of (mostly) disinterested 3rd parties. For HBO, they could use Harold Lederman's card and for Showtime, Chuck Giampa's. Or they could use some other collection of boxing writers to decide the betting winner. I'd agree to that. Probably Campillo would agree to that, too. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Money (Mayweather) Makes the World Go 'Round

Floyd Mayweather likes to show off his money, so much so that his fight nickname, "Pretty Boy" has been supplanted by "Money." "Money" carries a wad so large that it's difficult to get ahold of and a few years ago he joyfully showered $100 bills from the mezzanine of the Hard Rock Casino on to the little people below. His twitter posts boast of his sports betting acumen and the size of his wagers. This one, the 49ers -1.5 -115 at the Seahawks on Christmas eve is interesting for several reasons, besides the fact "Money" bet $400k.

At most sports books, the line on this game was 2 except for a couple of hours around the time this bet was made when, at some casinos, (including, obviously, M resort)  the line dipped to 1.5 before moving back up and closing at 2.5. As it turned out, "Money" Mayweather got an excellent number. The final score of the game: Niners 19 - Hawks 17. Cha ching! for those who laid SFO -1.5. Push for those who laid or took 2, but also, cha ching! for those who took Seattle +2.5. There is a good chance the sports book got middled. That means, not only did they lose the wagers on SFO -1.5, but in all likelyhood, the also lost on Seattle +2.5. Granted, it is possible that the books were out on SFO at 1.5 and 2.5, in which case the book would have won from bettors who laid SFO -2.5, but I doubt that was the case. That's the risk books take when the move they pointspread too aggressively.

Some gamblers try to middle games. They are called, appropriately enough, middlers. Most of the time they end up winning one side and losing the other and the bet costs them the juice. But sometimes they win one side and push the other, or even better, they win both sides.

The other thing I'm wondering is how "Money" Mayweather paid for his wager. The obvious way to  pay for a bet this large is with a marker. A marker is essentially just a check, which the house will hold until you buy it back with your winnings. Or the house will cash it later, sometimes at a much later date if you are a good customer. But "Money" doesn't seem like a marker kind of guy; he enjoys carrying wads of cash. But $400k! That's a duffle bag full of $100 bills. I wouldn't want to count that. Probably he just rolled over some of his smaller, more manageable, $50,000 bets. Still, at some point he gets paid in cash. For people like him, it's a shame that the largest denomination is $100. Even for small bettors, the $100 bill is sometimes too small. What a hassle. $500 and $1000 bills would be convenient. Unfortunately, Uncle Sam is opposed for reasons concerning money laundering. Digital currency would also be convenient. I don't mean ATM or credit cards, I mean digital cash. That, apparently, is out of the question, too.

However, just because the U.S. Treasury doesn't print big bills doesn't mean the casino couldn't. Many big sports bettors carry casino chips with which to wager. It's sometimes easier to bet using $1000 chips than to use cash and it eliminates some of the cash tracking paperwork that casinos need to deal with. The problem is the shape. Naturally, casino chips are in the shape of chips: not the best shape to carry around in your pocket, they're kind of heavy, and you can't put them in your billfold. But, who's to say (besides the gaming control board) that casinos can't make "chips" in the shape of bills, just for sports bettors. Then Floyd Mayweather could carry 400 x $1000 casino bill-chips in his pocket, or better yet, 40 x $10,000 bill-chips.

It's curious how your perspective of cash changes when it comes to betting. In the real world, when you get cash back at the grocery store, the biggest bill you can get is a twenty. I got excited while getting cash back at the Raley's checkout counter when the cashier asked if I wanted big bills. Sweet, I'm thinking I can get a couple of hundreds. No such luck, he meant twenties. Ha. Big bills? Indeed!