The Super Bowl


WHEN YOU BET, THERE IS ALWAYS THE CHANCE YOU CAN LOSE

“I know a joke,” the Degen Market owner said. “It goes something like this. A horse never went broke betting on a human.”

Dead silence.

“So where’s the punch line?” I asked.

“That’s it,” he said, keeping a close eye on a European soccer match playing on the TV over my head. “A horse never went broke betting on a person.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah … I get the saying, but it’s not a joke. It’s more like gambling rhetoric or a philosophical quip from Yogi Berra.”

“Yogi Bear? Is he a jockey?”

“Don’t change the subject,” I warned. “Where’s my money?”

*****

It’s always a pain in the ass to chase down money owed to you. Spend a long weekend slumming it in poker circles and you’ll soon end up in a precarious
relationship where someone owes you a hefty sum of cash. The wise ones maintain Jedi-like discipline to sever their financial lending strings from the outside world, especially to a desperate manipulative layer of faux-friends, by following a popular phrase from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “Never a borrower, nor lender be.”

Veteran poker hacks like myself ignore so-called “pros” wandering around the press box in search of backing. You know a gambler has hit the skids and sunk to a new low of degeneracy when they can’t find anyone on the circuit for a stake, and have therefore resorted to offering “sweat deals” to starry-eyed, min-wage reporters.

The higher up the food chain you go in the murky waters of high-stakes poker, the larger your debt. Make-up amounts often reach as astronomical as eight figures. Those busto-robusto-busto stories have become urban legends in the poker community. David Benyamine’s bloated debt stories are incessant fodder for the forum-tards and gossip queens. I remember sitting at a low-stakes table at Bellagio in 2005 listening to a beer-drenched local in a Hawaiian shirt brag to the dealer that he had inside info that Gus Hansen owed Doyle Brunson a few million after getting his Scandi ass kicked in the Big Game. The dealer smirked and said, “I know. I dealt it last weekend.”

Career earnings on databases like Bluff’s ThePokerDB and Hendon Mob are often deceiving. You don’t really know the exact percentage of earnings that were chopped up among backers and creditors, plus you never know how many buy-ins a player actually burned off during a calendar year. Staking syndicates engage in complicated arrangements, but if a horse gets bogged down in a grotesque cold streak, the backing relationship rarely ends on amicable terms.

During the 2010 November Nine, most TV viewers thought Cliff “Johnny Bax” Josephy was Joe Cada’s father due to ESPN’s propensity for close-ups. The tense, yet boisterous Bax was the centerpiece of Cada’s rail as he kept a keen eye on his investment. Along with his partner Eric “Sheets” Haber, Bax ran one of the most powerful staking syndicates in poker. The highly skilled Cada was one of Bax’s stable of online wunderkinds. With millions on the line, it was nothing personal against Joe Cada, but Bax made sure he walked with Cada to the cashier. Every backer understands the importance of walking to the cage with your winning horse and collecting on the spot.

As they approached the twilight of their careers, the likes of Stu Ungar, T.J. Cloutier, Eskimo Clark, and Vinnie Vinh became carnival acts for the hoi polloi. The scene around their final tables included a pastiche of entertainment-starved malcontents awaiting a train wreck and a cabal of shadowy figures circling like ornery vultures waiting to collect decades-long debts. Those sordid broken-down card slingers attracted ravenous railbirds whenever they embarked on a deep run in a tournament, especially in the digitalized information age when one tweet or 2+2 thread can give relevance to an otherwise innocuous tournament.

*****

The most uninteresting thing in the world, especially to a poker player, is hearing someone else’s bad beat story. I realized that even if I’m not playing poker, I’m bombarded with bad beat stories in the form of different narcissist rants about meaningless crap in life:

“That bitch cut me off on the freeway …”

“The Indian-Icelandic vegan taco truck gave me food poisoning …”

“OMG, my mother kept me on the phone for an hour, and she was drunker than Snooki …”

I stopped sharing tales of my bad beats (completely in poker, but I’m only about 50 percent in real life, some days you just have say to hell with Buddha and rant like a maniac ya know?) mainly because I hated reliving the hand over and over. Some egocentric players crave the attention out of inherent narcissism, while the disgruntled souls love to wallow in their own misery. For the most part you’re wasting someone else’s time by telling them a bad beat story, because you can almost guarantee that they aren’t really listening, and instead thinking about what to have for dinner, or whether or not they paid their cable bill that month, or how much they can’t wait for you to shut the hell up about getting it in good only to get run down by another donk du jour.

I loathe bad beat stories in general principle, but I get particularly tilted
when bastards who owe me money spout off bad beat stories. If you can’t handle the beats like a professional, then you have to quit. This mantra goes for poker, real estate investing, the stock market, and innocuous bets on professional football.

“I had your money,” the Degen Market owner said, “But I lost it at Lucky Chances when I got a set cracked by a runner-runner flush.”

If you have read my column in the past, then you know about the owner of the “Degen Market” in my hipster-riddled neighborhood in San Francisco. The owner has an unfortunate penchant for hold’em and nonstop sports betting, which explains why he was constantly cash poor. He’s so broke he jacks up prices on cigarettes and beer, and forces his elderly mother work the register at the bodega six days a week. He always gambles away the store’s daily profits and owed me a few dimes after a disastrous run during the NFL playoffs.

“It’s Tim Tebow’s fault,” cried the owner, trying to pass the blame on the God-fearing quarterback from the Denver Broncos. “Like I needed another reason to hate Tebow.”

“Don’t blame the Jesus Freak,” I said. “Sure, he saved your ass at the end of the season, but you were foolish to think he could catch fire in the playoffs. No way, Tebow was going to pull a miraculous victory out of the ass of a choir of seraphims against the Patriots.”

The Degen Market owner was on the ropes; he couldn’t catch any cards in cash games and he was getting murdered betting on football. He hoped his luck would change with the Super Bowl. He wanted me to book two wagers — a big bet on the total final score of the game, and a smaller bet on the length of the National Anthem.

My girlfriend only bets on sports once a year and it’s on one of those silly Super Bowl prop bets. The past few years she cleaned up by betting on the Over/Under of the length of the national anthem. The singer slated for this year’s honor was Kelly Clarkson from “American Idol” fame. My girlfriend is a diehard fan of the show and diligently studied every possible video on YouTube of Kelly belting out the anthem, particularly her most recent rendition during the 2011 NBA Finals. Once the bookies released prop bet info, and set the line at 92 seconds, we jumped at the over. The line eventually moved to 94 seconds and that’s what I offered the Degen Market owner. He wanted the over.

The official time for Kelly’s Super Bowl performance? It clocked in at 93 seconds.

I was surprised with his request on the Super Bowl itself. He wasn’t interested in either the Giants or Patriots, rather he wanted to bet the over for the total score. The line had eventually settled at 55 and he agreed on the over after he lectured me for 20 minutes on how Tom Brady was going to throw five TDs, and how Eli Manning was going to throw four in a wild comeback.

“It will be an offensive explosion.”

“Not worried about Gronk’s bum ankle?”

“Not worried. Your CIA gave him special injection of … um … how do you say … DNA from dead babies?”

“You mean stem cells?”

“Yes! The CIA gave Gronk stem cells and he grew a new ankle.”

“What the hell have you been smoking, Aziz? Have you been dipping your cigarettes in formaldehyde again?”

“Don’t forget about Señor Ocho Cinco. He’s Belichick’s secret weapon.”

“Yeah, I’m scared of a guy who had his worst season in 11 years as a pro,” I taunted. “It’s like they’ve been purposely holding Ocho back all season and saving him for this special moment.”

“You watch and see. I will win with lots of points scored and I won’t have you bothering me.”

“Enjoy the Super Bowl and don’t forget to watch the commercials.”

“Your glorious Super Bowl is corporate-sponsored violence which I don’t care for.”

“God bless America!” I screamed. “We’re a country fueled by casino capitalism and our dumb-ass citizens always confuse ideology with propaganda.”

“I know it’s all bullshit,” the Degen Market owner said. “But I still want to bet on it.”

“Action is action,” I said. “Oh, and I’ll see you on Tuesday when I return to collect my money, otherwise, the juice starts running.”  

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May 2012