Making millions betting on horses

BSD

Veteren member
3,819 985
Sorry for the long copy and paste, but I thought I'd put the entire article up in case Wired should oneday decide to take it off their website.



"Wired.com

The High Tech Trifecta

They've got multimillion-dollar bankrolls, lightning-fast networks, and a probability-crunching system that leaves the odds in the dust. Meet the pari-mutuel fund managers who are redefining horse racing.

By Michael Kaplan

Crisscrossing telephone wires snake along the carpeting of Rod Dufficy's cluttered home office near Hong Kong's Happy Valley racetrack. Dressed down in baggy black velour sweatpants and a matching gym shirt, Dufficy, 32, sits at a large L-shaped desk, rocking back in his chair and eyeing three computer screens crowded with numbers. He is cramming for a race that begins in 22 minutes, calling up information from an online database and sifting it through a betting-analysis program built into his system. The Australian is one of Hong Kong's elite breed of super-successful professional gamblers, computer-assisted horse bettors who work in teams and net millions at the races each year. Tonight, however, is not one of Dufficy's big-money sessions; he is down US$300,000 heading into this race. "I'm going to have a lot of outlay on this next one," he says. "Maybe $550,000."

Three slender Hong Kong sisters face Dufficy, waiting for a printer to spit out a list of a couple hundred bets with potentially big payoffs. One sister grabs the sheets and snips them into strips, which she distributes to the other women. They punch the information into their handheld wagering machines, which transmit it to the track via telephone lines, filling the room with the chirping of outgoing data.

Four minutes and three-quarters of a mile later, Dufficy looks up at a large-screen TV and watches thoroughbreds lunging past the finish line. He scrutinizes a fistful of papers, then scans the race results scrolling across his desktop monitor. "We've got wins - quinellas and a tierce," he says calmly, referring to wagers that required selecting the first two and three finishers. He made $330,000 on this single race. "It'll put me ahead by $30,000 tonight," he says. By week's end, his earnings will add up to a profit of about $130,000 for essentially two days of work - a typical cycle for Dufficy, who, in fact, wagers and wins less than some other computer-assisted bettors in town.

But there's plenty of dough to go around. As Dufficy and members of the half-dozen or so computer teams in Hong Kong will tell you, this city stands as the land of opportunity for tech-inclined handicappers. The allure centers on Hong Kong's massive handle - the total amount of money wagered on each race - which is the highest in the world. It allows the teams to lay hundreds of thousands of dollars on a single race without upsetting the odds. But Hong Kong racing has other attractions as well: Run by the not-for-profit Hong Kong Jockey Club, it is scrupulously honest (fixing would hurt computer bettors' calculations), and there is a pool of only 1,200 horses per season (a manageable number for the teams to track performances). Then there are the extravagantly exotic bets and parlays, comprising a rich smorgasbord of financial opportunities that seems custom-made for the computer teams. One, the Triple Trio, requires picking the top three finishers in three races and routinely pays six-figure dividends.

"Racing is becoming more and more like a stock market model," says one insider. Horses should be thought of as Dell or Microsoft - their past performances are the equivalent of economic charts.

Unlike other sports, in which bookmakers subjectively set the betting odds or point spreads, horse racing is built around a pari-mutuel system. Payouts are based entirely on the public's opinions, expressed by the horses they bet on. Horses that receive the most bets have the shortest odds and pay the smallest dividends; the least popular horses pay best because fewer people need to divvy up the pool of money. In a pari-mutuel system, the house has no edge and no interest in who wins. (At the end of a race, the track earns only the fee charged for handling each bet; in Hong Kong it's 19 percent of the wagers, which total about $10 billion each year.) Therefore, someone with the right research capabilities can easily find the public's miscalculations and exploit them for great financial gain.

Computer teams pick their winners by culling data from past performances. They use custom-tailored software programs to determine their own odds, search for overlays (situations in which their odds - the calculated, objective odds - are more advantageous than the public's typically subjective odds), and place bets that can deliver big dividends for reduced risk. Team leaders provide the multimillion-dollar bankrolls, supplemented with investments from the 30 to 40 other members. Their jobs range from accounting to code writing to placing the bets. Annual salaries start at $50,000 for those who enter the wagers by phone and rise to more than $1 million for chief technology officers.

The teams are usually headed up by Westerners or Australians; insiders speculate that Chinese gamblers are inclined to emphasize fate and numerology and therefore find computers and horses incompatible. These team leaders walk off with what's left after salaries and operating costs. William Ziemba, alumni professor of financial modeling at the University of British Columbia and a longtime observer of the scene, estimates that a top-notch outfit can pull in as much as $100 million in a good season, netting the boss a cool $50 million or more.

"Computer teams are at a terrific advantage," explains Richard W. Munchkin, author of the forthcoming Gambling Wizards. "Imagine if Fidelity were the only professional investing company, and all the other investors were amateurs who chose stocks at random, on the weekends, for entertainment. Fidelity would be making a lot of money at the expense of those less serious investors."


While computer-generated horse picking is not particularly new, it has reached an apex of sophistication in Hong Kong and is spreading beyond China. Teams have recently made inroads in the United States and Japan. You can easily spot tech bettors at the track in Tokyo because they're the ones wheeling suitcases filled with yen. In the US, seven-figure windfalls are unlikely because of small racetrack handles, but pick sixes (choosing the winning horse in six races) paying over $100,000 are possible.

In Hong Kong, computer-assisted teams are not illegal, but the Jockey Club frowns on the practice, and some bettors claim the HKJC has shut down their accounts after it discovered they were connected to teams. "I'm running out of trustworthy people to hold accounts for me," half-gripes, half-brags one Australian bettor. While complaining that his wife's account was canceled, he is well aware of the professional gambler's credo: If they're not throwing you out, you're doing something wrong.



Competition among Hong Kong's computer teams is fierce. Technological secrets are closely guarded, nobody's keen to publicize their betting strategies, and the cagiest players aim to hide their wagers from other teams - all of which monitor the flow of racing money via an independent online service called Telequote, based in Hong Kong. Nobody's more skilled at masking bets than Bill Benter, regarded by many of his peers as the most successful sports bettor in the world: "Normally, you'd see the odds go from 141-1 to 116-1 and know it's got to be a big professional bet," says Dufficy. "But Bill has his betting model set to disguise his action with little $5,000 dribbles. He ultimately puts the right amount on a horse, but he does it over a sequence of time. He leaves no footprints, and that drives other bettors crazy."

The prevailing paranoia is summed up by a rebuffing email from another big player, who refused an on-the-record interview, chiding: "To highlight what I do only INVITES competition, so a high tech magazine is the least desirable place to have an article about me appear. Plus, any publicity is also [very bad] in terms of impact on the Jockey Club. They do not like computer teams, so advertising how much we make [will only hurt us]." Nonetheless, several team leaders agreed to talk about their operations, though not for attribution.

Working from mathematical models that are calculated to deliver a 24 percent return on investments, Hong Kong's most sophisticated computer-assisted bettors operate with long-term certainty of what their profits should be. "Racing is becoming more and more like a stock market model," says Ziemba, who specializes in statistical analysis and edited The Efficiency of Racetrack Betting Markets, a collection of scholarly papers on the mathematics of horse wagering that includes a chapter by Benter outlining the system used in Hong Kong. Horses should be thought of as Microsoft or Dell, Ziemba says, and their past performances are the equivalent of economic charts that provide fodder for the Street's quantitative analysts. "Racing is a financial market catching up with the rest of the world. One big difference, though, between the stock market and a horse race is that you can choose when you want to take your profits from a stock. With horses you must do it at the end of each race. So there is a lot more action."

The bedrock of a predictive betting system resides in a massive collection of data on each horse - including details about the tracks and jockeys. "You massage all of that information into a mathematical equation that can be used for predicting probabilities," he explains. "If you wanted to get started in this, you would spend a year building the probabilities system, and it could cost $1 million to put together." And that data bank needs constant updating.

Benter, for example, has employees whose sole job it is to review race tapes after every meet. They judge each horse on 130 characteristics - attributes like speed during the first third of the race, whether it got bumped coming out of a turn, the quality of its recovery from the bump, and, of course, how it finished - and assign numerical grades. This information goes into the database, where it can be cross-referenced and called up to help predict the outcome of any impending race that particular horse runs in.

The computer essentially simulates the race before it happens, based on what has transpired in the past and any anticipated conditions in the future. The software then determines each horse's likelihood of winning a race. When a horse's computer-generated odds are better than the public's odds, the team slams in its wagers. "You create a model that can analyze each type of bet, judge the conditions [in terms of money in the pool and the associated odds], and tell you when it will be most favorable to bet," explains Ziemba. "You do not necessarily want to bet a ton every time - you only do it when you can find advantages."

One top bettor explains it like this: "Our computer program churns through the history of the horses and adjusts all the probability in a very sophisticated way. Having established the probability of the horses, we feed that into our betting program, which looks at all the odds for the various outcomes. It looks at your true chances of winning with the latest payoff odds and calculates what the best potential bets are, based on the chances of winning and the odds. Then it runs through all the probabilities.

"The mathematical aspect involves [following] a basic formulation that all successful gamblers use - whether they know it or not," the bettor says. "It's having what mathematicians call a positive expectation on the bet. You multiply the probability of winning times the payoff odds of one bet. Let's say the horse is 20-1. If it has a .05 probability of winning, you multiply that by 20-1. You get 1.0 - or 1-1 - and that is a fair payoff bet.

The teams excel at complex bets. The biggest Triple Trio ever, paying $18 million, was snagged by a pair of computer-assisted players who covered 900,000 possibilities with wagers totaling $1.2 million.

"But if that same horse is paying 25-1, then it has a positive expectation. Now it is 1.25 [or 1.25-1]. It gives you a 25 percent edge. Given that you know the true probability of winning, the amount to bet is a closed-form problem based on how much you can lay down without hurting your odds."

Designing the software to do all this is a delicate operation with seemingly endless pitfalls that can disastrously skew the results. "You have to understand," says Ziemba, "that building this system, maintaining it every week, and updating the model once a year is a lot of work." And doing the work does not necessarily guarantee success. Benter went broke at least once before his system was efficient enough to turn a steady profit. "Every year, more and more people come here and leave with their tail between their legs," says Dufficy.

Whoever writes the team's software needs to decide early on which aspects of a horse's performance to take most seriously. For instance, if a debuting horse's odds of winning are 50-1 and it wins its first race, the software will note that - and might be inclined to view untried horses with long odds as good bets. So the system must be tweaked to give little weight to those outcomes.

Other, more ambiguous factors - turf firmness, recent time trials, second-place finishes, and the jockeys' racing styles, to name a few - must also be taken into account. "Memory is another thing," suggests Kelly Busche, an economist who has taught at Hong Kong University and consulted for one of the major teams in town. "How quickly do you discount information? And to what degree? What happened two seasons ago should carry less weight than what happened last season. You need a model and a database that are both agile and robust enough to handle a variety of ever-changing situations."

To build a good horse racing model, teams rely on workers with the skills of hedge fund technicians. Rumor has it that one of the teams has wooed programmers from Fortune 500 companies. "You need a hardcore nerd who is good with numbers and has a mathematical and engineering background," says one team leader. "What we do with computers here is similar to what you see with Deep Blue. It's about attacking problems by fussing around and fine-tuning rather than using intuitive knowledge."

Bettors believe the Jockey Club created big, complex bets like the Triple Trio as a hedge against the computer teams' skill-based advantages. The idea was that such wagers would be impossible to handicap, thus enhancing the luck factor and leveling the field. But things have not worked out that way. The biggest Triple Trio ever, paying a dividend of $18 million, was snagged by a pair of computer-assisted players who covered 900,000 possibilities with bets totaling $1.2 million. The top teams routinely make their fortunes through complicated parlays, quinellas, and exactas.

Never mind that most teams risk huge sums for their reward and shell out an estimated $95 million in commissions. The HKJC remains - at least publicly - unimpressed. "We are worried that if you have the computer people, then your average customer sees himself as having no chance," says Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, the HKJC's executive director of racing. "But they're the bettors who bring us 95 percent of our revenue."



The story of computer-assisted betting in Hong Kong begins with Bill Benter, the US-educated, impeccably dressed technician who developed the first successful program put to use at Happy Valley. The importance of his pioneering work is confirmed by rivals and experts alike. Benter got his start in the mid-1970s, when he discovered Beat the Dealer, a bible for blackjack card counters. He memorized the best-selling book's strategies and hit the casino circuit, where he met his future partner Alan Woods, a former actuary turned counter. It was in Las Vegas that Benter stumbled upon a slender handicapping guide - and turned from casinos to horse racing.

Equipped with a $150,000 bankroll provided mostly by Woods, the two card counters planned to apply the theories of winning at blackjack to winning at the races. Beat the Dealer, after all, had been written with the aid of a computer that analyzed every possible situation at a blackjack table and assigned numerical values based on which cards remained in the deck. The idea, when you follow that best-selling guide, is to rigorously stick to its formula and bet high even when you have only a tiny advantage. In the long run, despite frequent fluctuations and potentially long periods of losing, you will win a prescribed percentage of money. By the time Benter refined his program to the point where it worked consistently, he and Woods had bitterly fallen out over money disputes. But in the end, each wound up with an odds- and probability-crunching machine - both built by Benter.

More than a decade later, Benter seems to have more in mind than just being a racing guru. He's lectured at Hong Kong universities, consulted with internationally known mathematicians, and branched out into other technological endeavors (one is a digitized transcribing system for doctors). He's also served as president of a Hong Kong Rotary Club and made substantial donations to respected charities.

Woods is still on the scene, but his working style is described as being completely different from Benter's. He uses off-the-rack Pentium computers, still runs DOS, and employs an out-of-print program called Revelation for his database. At its core, it remains the original system created by his former partner, customized so that Woods can override it with his personal input. Benter now works with Sun Microsystems processors and uses the far more stable Unix operating system. His setup is said to be much more finely tuned than Woods', allowing him to reach conclusions with limited human interface, thus permitting fewer opportunities for subjective opinions to foul up the beautiful mathematics. When Benter's winners cross the finish line, you don't hear so much as a whoop from his crew. As any fan can tell you, the real miracle of this technology is that winning fails to come as much of a surprise.




The Hong Kong model seems to be catching on. Consider that as the horses bolted from the starting gate at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Florida, one day in February last year, the odds for the winning horse suddenly went from 10-1 to 8-1. A gambler reported the shift to Gulfstream's vice president of finance, Bob Zambreny Jr., who did a bit of investigating. He discovered that in a three-second span, 167 exacta wagers were placed from an outfit in Fargo, North Dakota, called Racing Services - a discreet betting parlor that attracts sky-high wagers with low commissions and liberal rules. Further snooping uncovered a computer team operating in the United States using handicapping software similar to the systems used by Hong Kong teams.

Zambreny and Racing Services decline to identify the team leader. But whoever it was had a special interface that allowed him to batch his bets - to place dozens of wagers per second - into the Racing Services system. This allowed the team to lay down a skein of complex exacta wagers after nearly all wagers were in, the odds were practically set, and it was relatively clear as to how much could be staked before upsetting the odds beyond a tolerable degree. The bets, automatically placed by the computer, ultimately paid out $246,020 on a total bet of $25,569. Even more impressive, over a 50-day period, the team had reportedly netted $3.3 million in profits on $12.9 million in bets.

Gulfstream quickly barred the team from using a computer to place bets, asserting that all bettors must have an even chance. But Susan Bala, president of Racing Services, plays down the unique access granted to the team and says she would let any customer place his wagers via computer from her shop. "We haven't had Joe Blow come in off the street and ask us to let him use his computer in here. But if he did, we would talk to him. We're a service company." Computerized betting is giving horse racing a much-needed dose of pizzazz, Bala argues. She hopes that computer-assisted betting will attract the same people to racing who once devoted afternoons to daytrading. "Technology is driving horse racing to new places," she says.

Other racing professionals are beginning to come around. After the Gulfstream incident, US racing executives discussed the possibility of introducing computerized betting. "I can see a future where patrons would be able to plug their laptops into docking stations," acknowledges Zambreny. "They would deliver their bets through computers and the batching of bets would be possible." Barry Schwartz, chair of the New York Racing Association, welcomes high tech action: "Computers are simply another tool for handicapping. There's no guarantee of winning just because you're using one. These bettors are willing to risk money just like everyone else."

No guarantees, but the evidence from Hong Kong suggests it's the closest thing to a sure bet. There, the models have been taken as far as they can go, and it will be up to a new generation of Benters to tweak them for use in other locales. As handicapping systems seep into the mainstream, the innovators anticipate a future involving artificial intelligence - a Kubrickian computer that blends the human sensitivity of the best old-fashioned gamblers with the brute force of a supercomputer. If that day ever comes, traditional horse bettors may really have something to worry about."

http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/10.03/betting.html
 

trendie

Legendary member
6,858 1,416
fantastic! computers, advanced algorithms, computational excellence, savvy bettors.

Keiron Fallon.

OOOOOPS.

(the entire edifice is rendered somewhat skewed by race-fixing by bunging the right jockey a couple of thousand.)

EDIT: sorry! slow day for me at the moment.
 

BSD

Veteren member
3,819 985
Also a good read:

03mag-dahl.2.jpg


"NEW YORK TIMES


The Wizard of Odds

By WILLIAM GRIME

Like many people, Ernie Dahlman shows up at the office around 8:45, switches on his computer and spends the rest of the day making telephone calls. His office is nondescript, and so is he: blandly handsome, of average height, with an open, friendly expression and rimless glasses that give him a mildly intellectual look. He could be a travel agent, or a stockbroker, or perhaps a real-estate agent.
Actually he is one of the biggest horseplayers in the United States. Just how big is anyone's guess. In a busy year, Dahlman might bet as much as $18 million. Mostly he's concerned with races at tracks in New York and California, and he doesn't shy away from the big races. (He took a bath at the Kentucky Derby when Point Given failed, but he figures the horse, which rebounded to win the Preakness, looks good for the Belmont.) Dahlman bets so much money, in fact, that he has to avoid smaller tracks and certain kinds of bets because, in essence, he would be betting against himself.


The Suncoast Hotel and Casino, on the outskirts of Las Vegas, provides Dahlman with an office, and at this moment that's where he is, bearing down hard on the fifth race at Aqueduct. A bank of four television monitors show the action from both coasts, and his desktop computer flashes the probable payoffs on exacta bets, Dahlman's bread and butter. To cash, he must pick the first- and second-place horses in the race, in the exact order (hence the name). It's a high-risk, high-reward bet compared with win-place-or-show wagering. It pays for Dahlman's silver Corvette and his big house with a swimming pool in a gated community near the casino.

"I'm going to put a big box on the five, and do a little bit on the four, because it's a claim by Scott Lake," he says, quickly adding a column of figures with a pencil. The five is Top Bunk, a horse in sharp form that is stepping up in class from slightly softer competition and is the main threat to the horse Dahlman is keen on, Borntoberegal, which, as it happens, he owns a piece of.


A box is a kind of hedge. It's two bets in one (and twice as expensive as a straight exacta), and it lets Dahlman have things both ways. If his horse gets beat by Top Bunk, he still wins, although his net profit will be much less, of course, than if he took the risk of putting all his money on Borntoberegal in the win spot.

And Dahlman is not through. Scott Lake, a very successful trainer from Maryland, has been running horses in New York, at this point without much success. Hemisphere Dancer, which he recently "claimed," or bought out of a claiming race, in which all the horses are for sale, does not look like much. But horses in Lake's hands have been known to experience a religious conversion, and Dahlman does not want to get burned when Lake's horses start firing. (Sure enough, Lake's horses have been winning at a phenomenal rate in recent months.) After placing a $2,400 exacta, Borntoberegal on top of Top Bunk, and a $2,000 exacta the other way around, he constructs a series of defensive bets: a $600 exacta, Borntoberegal over the four horse, Hemisphere Dancer; a $600 exacta, Top Bunk over Hemisphere Dancer; and two $200 exactas, Hemisphere Dancer over those two.

Then he watches the race. Borntoberegal breaks alertly from the gate, sets reasonable fractions and pours it on in the stretch. Top Bunk chases in second. Hemisphere Dancer flattens out in the stretch and finishes sixth. The exacta pays $12, and Dahlman collects $14,000 on a $6,000 bet. It nets him roughly $8,000.

If Dahlman does not look like a gambler, he does not bet like a gambler either. At least not like any gambler I've seen in action, most of them, admittedly, losers. In the two days I watched him bet, he never put serious money on a horse with long odds. Not once did I get the vicarious thrill of seeing him hit a 20-to-1 shot or collect on a $500, $200 or even $50 exacta. He is a plodder. And he talks like one too.

"Winter is is my favorite time of year," he said cheerfully. "It's more predictable. The horses tend to be older, and you know what they're going to do. And out in Northern California it rains, and you get a lot of grass races switched to the main track, resulting in complete mismatches."

Most horseplayers love a contentious 12-horse race with the promise of three-figure exactas and monster trifectas. Not Dahlman. "Anyone who knows anything about gambling will tell you I'm not a great gambler," he says. "What I'm good at is arithmetic. I can add and subtract."

That's the truth, although not the whole truth. Dalhman is in the business of spotting opportunities and minimizing risk. He resembles nothing so much as an arbitrager or commodities trader, only his market is the racetrack and his commodity is Thoroughbreds. His workday is a series of 20-minute market analyses punctuated by 90-second races that yield, when the penciled calculations and racing luck harmonize, a steady profit.

At this point in his career -- he's 58 and has been betting seriously since his teens -- he has amassed the kind of bankroll that allows him to bet very conservatively and still live very well. He compares himself to the early and late Muhammad Ali. In his younger days, Dahlman spent 20 hours a day studying and playing the races, shooting for the moon and hitting phenomenal payoffs. Now, he says, he favors the rope-a-dope approach.

very horseplayer can tell tales of woe. Some of them make you laugh. Read the comment lines in The Daily Racing Form next to the running line for a horse's past races, and you'll get an idea of the strange things that can happen when animals with a brain the size of a prune run at 40 miles per hour around an oval track. My favorites include "stomped duffel bag near line," "savaged foe" and "scattered geese on backstretch." I've seen horses round the far turn and head straight for a parking lot. I held a ticket on a 60-to-1 horse at Belmont that was ahead by seven lengths in midstretch when suddenly, for no reason, it ran right into the rail and sent its jockey sailing into the infield.

The point is, there's no such thing as a sure thing. Favorites win only a third of the time, an immutable racing statistic. Even successful bettors tear up more tickets than they cash. The trick is to cash enough tickets, at the right odds, to offset the losses and turn a profit. That's where addition and subtraction come in.


Of course, the addition and subtraction mean nothing without good information and a refined ability to size up a race and assign probabilities to various outcomes -- the arcane exercise known as handicapping. Dahlman thrives on information. He excels at analyzing a race based on that information, enriched by a lifetime of watching races. It's an art with just enough science to it to make it possible for a very tiny percentage of bettors to take money away from the herd of less intelligent, or less disciplined, bettors.

"I call him the logic doctor," says Chip Taylor, a buddy of Dahlman's and a songwriter whose credits include "Wild Thing" and "Angel of the Morning." Taylor dropped out of the music scene for years to bet on the horses, often with Dahlman. "I was good at analyzing pace and bias" -- the tendency of a racetrack to develop fast or slow areas -- but Ernie picked up on all sorts of things, like when a horse changed from one trainer to another, whether that was a plus or minus, and the answer was not always what you might think."

Dahlman puts it a little differently. "I'm a MOTO player," he says. "Master of the Obvious. It's just that more things are obvious to me than to most people."

Like many other professional horseplayers, Dahlman relies in part on the work of others. The Daily Racing Form gives him a compressed description of the last dozen races run by each horse entered in a race. That merits a quick glance. The more serious numbers come from "the sheets."

Published by a professional horseplayer and Marxist named Len Ragozin, they go a long way toward solving an age-old handicapping problem. By analyzing and quantifying a variety of factors, ranging from track resiliency to wind direction to the distance actually traveled by each horse, they assign a speed rating to a horse's performance.

The Ragozin sheets are shipped to Dahlman every day, overnight, and one of his rare visits to the casino floor is his daily walk past the sports-betting operation on the main floor to a little office that holds his packet of sheets. The raw speed numbers Dahlman accepts as highly accurate. Other assumptions in the sheets he rejects, like Ragozin's opinions about which horses are likely to regress, or bounce, after turning in a stellar performance.

Dahlman also pays close attention to pace, or the time for each quarter mile of a race, which he jots down in one of two fat, spiral-bound notebooks. The other is devoted to his overriding preoccupation, horseshoes. Years ago, Dahlman began noticing something funny about horses equipped with mud calks, cleats that some trainers use for extra traction when rain turns dirt into mud. Dahlman noted that even when rain failed to materialize, a lot of horses seemed to improve several lengths when wearing mud calks for the first time.

He began keeping detailed records, and he now considers it his biggest edge. It's the reason he loves Golden Gate Fields, near San Francisco. It rains a lot there, so plenty of mediocre-seeming horses are switching to mud calks for the first time and then sneaking into exactas at good prices. A second reason for loving Golden Gate is that the track posts very detailed shoe information before each race. Not all mud shoes are created equal, in Dahlman's view. Mud nails, which turn shoes into a kind of hobnailed boot, make no difference, in his opinion. But jar calks, which have a kind of high heel, do. The New York tracks do not provide detailed shoe information, so 10 minutes before every race, the phone in Dahlman's office rings. It's a man named Gene (Dahlman professes not to know his last name), a sharp-eyed informant in New York who stands by the paddock with a pair of binoculars and relays shoe information to Dahlman.

"No one," says Chip Taylor, "has made as much money off shoes as Ernie has."

So why doesn't everyone do the same thing? Because in the handicapping game, not everyone believes the same things. Len Ragozin swears by the bounce. Many handicappers look feverishly for signs of a developing bias. Steven Crist, the editor and publisher of The Daily Racing Form and a big bettor, says that biases are greatly overrated. And so on and so on. Every successful horseplayer has his idiosyncrasies. Dahlman's is horseshoes. And if he's beating the game, who's going to tell him he's wrong?

ahlman grew up in Patchogue, Long Island, where his father, Ernest Sr., owned a delicatessen and spent his free nights betting the trotters at Roosevelt Raceway. Ernest Jr. tagged along. In time he became fascinated by the challenge of finding patterns in the seemingly random circulation of horses around the track. Poring over old programs in his basement, he set about cracking the code.

By the end of high school, Dahlman was hooked. He made a halfhearted attempt at college, enrolling in Alfred University with the object of becoming a ceramics engineer. "It wasn't until I was 40 that I finally found out what a ceramics engineer actually is," he says. He shambled along, then transferred to Wagner College on Staten Island. He dropped out of the economics program when he realized he would eventually have to write a term paper.

His education at the harness tracks was going great, however. In 1964, the summer after he dropped out of Wagner, Dahlman created a stir when he hit a complicated bet at Yonkers Raceway called the twin double -- two linked daily doubles, or four races -- and earned a record payout for the track of $171,084.60. The local press went wild over the whiz kid with the glasses.

Dahlman went right back to the racetrack and hit the twin double the next night. "Twin Double Winner Does It Again!" shrieked the headline in The Daily News. This time, the national press jumped on the story. Time magazine featured Dahlman in its college-life section, headlining the story "Success on the Oval Campus." The New York Post hired him as its harness handicapper for $50 a week. The world lost a ceramics engineer.

"I didn't want to be a horseplayer," Dahlman says. "I know my mother was upset. But I kept making money at it. It's a ridiculous choice of occupation that's worked -- so far."

In the early 1980's, with harness racing in steep decline, Dahlman shifted his action to the Thoroughbred tracks, where he had to learn a brand-new game, one with many more variables. "It's the difference between checkers and chess," he says. Sometimes he won, sometimes he lost. But mostly he won. Even more surprisingly, in a profession populated by misfits, losers and borderline sociopaths, he managed to live a normal suburban life. He married twice and reared six children, none of them gamblers.


He also diversified his portfolio, so to speak. Dahlman and Eugene Hauman, a childhood friend, started buying and running trotters in the 1960's and 1970's. In the early 1990's, they turned to Thoroughbreds, and in 1993 the two men became the leading owners on the New York Racing Association circuit, winning 55 races. Today, the two men own dozens of horses in partnership with Barry K. Schwartz, the chairman and chief executive officer of Calvin Klein Inc. Dahlman's daughter Jennifer Gurney manages Schwartz's 800-acre horse farm in Westchester. He pays taxes like any self-employed businessman, declaring income (winning bets) and writing off losses (losing bets). He bets somewhere between $10 million and $18 million a year. His actual income depends on racing luck. He has had losing years. But on average, he says, he earns 3 or 4 percent on his investment. In a good year, that would give him a pretax income of about $700,000. That does not include income from the horses he owns.

Dahlman lived on Long Island until the mid-90's, when New York State racing authorities dealt him (and other big horseplayers) a stunning blow. They raised the takeout on exacta bets from 17 percent to 20 percent. Takeout is the amount that a track skims off the top of a betting pool to finance its operations. It's the hurdle that bettors must clear before they can earn a profit. The 3 percent increase represented at least $300,000 a year to Dahlman, who did his betting at a teletheater in Happauge. Dahlman did a little adding and subtracting, then took his money and moved to Las Vegas, where the casinos were famous for striking agreeable deals with big bettors.

Dahlman settled in at the Sands. After the Sands was demolished, he switched to the Suncoast, a casino that caters to locals. His arrival was, to put it mildly, unheralded. One day, when the casino was offering free pastries to customers who signed up for a handicapping contest, Dahlman drifted over and asked if he might have a doughnut, even though he wasn't interested in the contest. No dice. Ernie Dahlman, as high a roller as walks into the casino, could not score a 50-cent freebie.

s it happens, Dahlman was mired in a slump during the two days I spent with him at the Suncoast. Consequently, he was betting light, about $40,000 a day. He lost about $7,000 the first day I watched him, and the second was no better.

There were some tough beats. Rocking Ruby, in the ninth at Aqueduct the second day, got stuck behind tiring horses, had to switch paths and by less than a length missed cracking the exacta at odds of 5 to 1. Another of Dahlman's picks was disqualified from a winning exacta after bumping a rival just steps from the finish line.

Most bettors would be chewing the carpet or throwing heavy objects at the television screen. Dahlman reacts to victory and defeat with Spock-like equanimity. Occasionally he will worry out loud. "I'd like to see the five horse closer up," he might say. Or, "Uh-oh, I'm gonna get beat." After the disqualification, he clenched a fist, glared at the screen and said softly, "Gosh DARN it." Then it was on to the next race.

"If I keep my losses at $7,000, I can sleep easily," Dahlman says. "I can get that back in one race."

The playing field is constantly changing, though. An unidentified man betting through an off-track location in North Dakota uses a computer program that searches betting pools for anomalies, then places hundreds of bets on as many as seven horses in a race in a matter of seconds. The "professor," as Dahlman calls him, places huge bets -- including $215,000 on Monarchos to win the Florida Derby -- and as far as anyone can tell, makes money (as he did on that race with Monarchos). "This guy is good," Dahlman says. "Fortunately he does not seem to bet at the same tracks I do."

A few days after leaving Las Vegas, I called Dahlman to see if he was faring any better. "I'm on fire," he said. He sounded almost apologetic about hitting the Pick Six at Aqueduct, a bet in which players must call the winners of six consecutive races. Dahlman put together a $1,000 ticket and, because the pot had swollen after no one hit the jackpot two days in a row, earned $26,000. More important, his day-in, day-out exactas were coming in. Life was back to normal.

His life, anyway. After watching Dahlman in action, I decided to apply his methods. Like many small-time bettors, I sneer at short prices, scoff at exactas paying less than $50 and never bet on a favorite. But I've been having doubts. Why not try to do it the Ernie way?

I plunked down $35 at the one Manhattan newsstand that sells the Ragozin sheets and set about deciphering the numbers for Aqueduct. The next day, I showed up at the Winner's Circle, a teletheater in Manhattan's garment district, carrying the astronomical sum of $1,000 provided by my naive employers, five times the maximum I would bet with my own money. Just carrying the cash made me nervous.

What followed was a date that will live in infamy. To test the waters,

I organized a bet in the second race focusing on a horse, Supernal, that had scored a good sheets number in its last race, when it had raced very wide and rallied mildly for third place. I bet a $50 box using Supernal and Romantic Novel, a horse that had finished second in its last three races. As a defensive measure, I bet a $20 exacta of Miss Mickey, a horse recently transferred to the trainer James Jerkens -- and, I failed to note, wearing mud calks for the first time -- over Supernal. I also did a $10 box, Miss Mickey and Romantic Novel. Miss Mickey, the favorite at 6 to 5, broke quickly and never looked back. Supernal, at odds of about 5 to 1, closed with painful slowness to get the place spot, and Romantic Novel, as the chart for the race put it, "posed no threat." The exacta paid $18. My $20 saver gave me $180, a $30 profit on a bet of $150. I could live with that.

It was downhill from there. Near misses, wild long shots and strange tactical decisions by a few jockeys played havoc with my conservative betting strategy. Wicklow Warrior, which looked as if it could crush the competition in the fifth race, was rushed to the front and contested a hot pace, for no reason that I could see. It tired and finished next to last, taking my $220 with it. I picked a nice-priced winner in the next race, Worthy Crane, but failed to match it up with the right horse in the No. 2 slot. The exacta paid $89 for a $2 bet. I collected zilch on $250 in bets.

I discovered several things very quickly. First, adding and subtracting two minutes before a race is no small skill. I could not do it fast enough to construct a logical hedge. Second, big bets rattle me. When several hundred dollars go down the drain, I start flailing and stabbing, desperate to pull even. By the ninth and final race, I was down to about $10. The money had disappeared faster than butter hitting a hot frying pan. Third, the Dahlman method is not a method, like counting cards at blackjack. It's a lifetime of racing knowledge. And I'm too old to learn.

There was some consolation. I called Dahlman to describe the debacle. He cheerfully told me that he had lost $30,000 the same day. He could afford to laugh. He's well ahead for the year. "The first two races today," he said, "I lost $12,500, and I thought: What am I doing? Nothing is going right; why am I here?"

Then he hit a $213 exacta at Keeneland in Kentucky that erased the deficit in the blink of an eye. "The winner was 18 to 1," he said. "When that happened, I said to myself: 'Yeah, I'm in the right place. I belong here."' "

http://www.nytimes.com/2001/06/03/magazine/03DAHLMAN.html?ex=1194498000&en=d8b317439cc3b635&ei=5070
 

Jack o'Clubs

Experienced member
1,554 342
fantastic! computers, advanced algorithms, computational excellence, savvy bettors.

Keiron Fallon.

OOOOOPS.

(the entire edifice is rendered somewhat skewed by race-fixing by bunging the right jockey a couple of thousand.)

EDIT: sorry! slow day for me at the moment.

an interesting article BSD. Thanks for posting. But Trendie is right IMO. Contrary to the article's assertion I was under the impression that the HK racing circuit was one of the most bent there is. There is money to be made with horses, but it's not as clean as this article suggests...
 

Profitaker

Established member
773 70
Intersting articles. To quote from the first....

Working from mathematical models that are calculated to deliver a 24 percent return on investments.

Per race ?
 

BSD

Veteren member
3,819 985
Glad you liked these :)

Re: "Working from mathematical models that are calculated to deliver a 24 percent return on investments."

This is my understanding:


..."Bill Benter seems like an unassuming enough guy when you meet him. The well-dressed, soft-spoken computer buff is a Hong Kong Rotary Club member who occasionally lectures university students on subjects like statistics and mathematical probability. But Benter's real job begins in the evening, when his facility for numbers takes a glamorous twist. With the help of 750,000 lines of odds-calculating computer code he's spent years perfecting, the 43-year-old American makes his living as part of a small horse-racing gambling syndicate. And it's a very comfortable living at that.

Benter's software program works so well, it's riled the Hong Kong Jockey Club, the powerful organizer behind Hong Kong's $10.7 billion-a-year horse-racing circuit. The Jockey Club thinks Benter and other professional betting syndicates hold an unfair advantage over casual gamblers. It's closed the accounts of some of the pros in the past because it felt they were "not in the best interest of the general public." While not banned from the track entirely, Benter has not been allowed to place bets over the phone since 1996.

No matter. He and his buddies still usually bet about $260,000 each race, and make an average return of 24%. Let's do the math: There are some 600 races a year at Hong Kong's Sha Tin and Happy Valley racetracks. That means Benter's annual take-home pay amounts to $37 million."...


So that's 24% of his average bet of about $260K per race, which is $62K, multiplied by the 600 races he participates in, which gives him his profits of $37 mill / year.

More coming up:


""HK millionaires show that betting is science, not sport

Sydney Morning Herald

MAX PRESNELL

15 Mar 2002

`Crisscrossing telephone wires snake along the carpeting of Rod Dufficy's
littered home office near Hong Kong's Happy Valley racetrack. Dressed in
baggy sweatpants and a gym shirt, Dufficy, 32, sits at a large L-shaped
desk, rocking on his chair and eyeing three computer screens crowded with
numbers. He is cramming for a race that begins in 22 minutes, calling up
information from an online database and sifting it through a betting
analysis program built into his system. The Australian is one of Hong
Kong's elite breed of super-successful professional gamblers,
computer-assisted horse bettors who work in teams and net millions at the
races each year."

So reports Wired, an influential American magazine.

``Three slender Hong Kong sisters face Dufficy, waiting for a printer to
spit out a list of a couple of hundred bets with potentially big payoffs."
Go back 12 years to the old Sydney Morning Herald bunker at Broadway. A
world weary hack, more comfortable with a quill and ink, toils over a
computer. ``My load is heavy," he says. ``Rod, can you get this ******* of
a thing to work. I've just hit 55##= PC toggle and everything has
disappeared. Pol Pot is right, every computer should be put to the torch."
Young Rod Dufficy, at that stage, is still working on the racing form
cards. He hits a few keys and the screen lights up.

Rod was a form clerk, most racing writers started that way. He wrote the
details of a race onto a large card kept for every horse. It's never been
the same since the cards were replaced by the computer printout. But Rod
doesn't seem to be inconvenienced.

A few years back I was at Honkers for the International meeting and Rod had
reached the greatest goal of all racing writers: he owned a bar.
Perhaps he is only little league as far as Hong Kong high-rollers are
concerned, but is still doing nicely.

As Wired pointed out: ``This city stands as the land of opportunity for
tech-inclined handicappers. The allure centres on Hong Kong's massive
handle the total amount of money wagered on each race which is the highest
in the world. It allows the teams to lay hundreds of thousands of dollars
on a single race without upsetting the odds.

But Hong Kong racing has other attractions as well.

Run by the not-for-profit Hong Kong Jockey Club, it is scrupulously honest
(fixing would hurt computer bettors calculations) and
there is a pool of only 1,200 horses per season (a manageable number for
form students). Then there are extravagant exotic bets and parlays,
comprising a rich smorgasbord of financial opportunities that seems
custom-made for the computer teams. One, the Triple Trio, requires picking
the top three finishers in three races and can pay six-figure dividends.
``Computer teams pick their winners by culling data from past performances.
They use custom-tailored software programs to determine their own odds,
search for overlays (situations in which their odds the calculated,
objective odds are more advantageous than the public's typically subjective
odds) and place bets that can deliver big dividends at a reduced risk. Team
leaders provide the multimillion-dollar bankrolls."

``Jobs with the teams range from accounting, to code writing, to placing
bets. Annual salaries start at $US50,000 for those who enter the wagers by
phone, and rise to more than $1 million for chief technology officers."
Estimates of $100m can be won in a good season, netting the boss $50m or
more. Australians have always played a major role in Hong Kong racing and
the punt is no different. In more recent years the ``Adelaide syndicate",
two brothers, have played the market successfully, as they have at home.

The Christopher Columbus of this land of plenty, discoverer of the mother
lode, is Bill Benter. Apart from producing the right figures, Benter,
US-educated, is regarded as ``more skilled at masking bets than anyone
else. It disguises his action. He leaves no footprints."
Benter has lectured at Hong Kong universities, consulted with
mathematicians, has been president of a Hong Kong Rotary club and is a
generous donor to charity.

According to Wired, Benter has employees whose sole job is to review race
tapes after each meeting. They judge each horse on 130 characteristics
attributes such as speed during the early section of the race, whether it
was bumped coming out of a turn, the quality of its recovery from the bumps
and how it finished.

The information goes into the database where it can be cross-referenced and
called up to help predict the outcome of any future event, attempting to
simulate the race before it has been run.

The software then determines each horse's likelihood of winning. When the
horse's computer odds are better than the public's, the message is to bet.
Benter developed the first successful program put into use at Happy Valley.
Later came Sha Tin. Benter got his start in the mid-1970s when he
discovered Beat The Dealer, a bible for blackjack and card counters. It was
during this period he met his future partner, Allan Woods, an actuary
turned counter. Benter stumbled upon a handicapping guide and turned from
casino to horse racing. Woods is said to have bankrolled him but they fell
out. Woods now captains another team.

Like most successful punters the syndicates avoid publicity. Leaks about
them come from AsiaweekCom and Wired. An article titled ``The winning edge"
estimated that Benter's ``take home pay amounts to $37 million a year".
He was winning so much he was kicked out of Las Vegas, and even in Hong
Kong has not been able to place bets over the phone since 1996, as
officials regard the activities as ``not in the best interests of the
general public".

Yet Winfred Englebrecht-Bresges, the Hong Kong Race Club's director of
racing, told Wired: ``We are worried that if you have the computer people
then your average customer sees himself as having no chance. But they're
the bettors who bring us 95 per cent of our revenue."

Apparently Benter likens himself to a professional golfer who participates
in amateur tournaments and wins all the prizes. ``If we do make money, the
money has to come from somewhere. Well, yes, the general public loses at a
somewhat higher ratio," Benter told AsiaweekCom.

Back at Broadway, the hack was whining for coffee. Dufficy riffled for
change and was having trouble making the weight. Old papers and the crust
of a pizza, much of which was eaten for lunch two days earlier, litters a
nearby desk under which a rugby league writer, renowned for computer skill,
has taken refuge. Close by, Peter FitzSimons, shoeless and with socks very
much indicating recent mileage, is tapping on a keyboard, his builder's
hat, worn for show rather than safety, is somewhat askew.
Rod wants a change of scenery. ``I've been offered a job in Hong Kong," he
says.
``You'll end up pulling a rickshaw," warned the hack."
 

rathcoole_exile

Veteren member
3,924 767
Sorry for the long copy and paste, but I thought I'd put the entire article up in case Wired should oneday decide to take it off their website.

" explains Richard W. Munchkin, author of the forthcoming Gambling Wizards.

MUNCHKIN ?????? is someone taking the urine ?
 

BSD

Veteren member
3,819 985
LOL Exile !

One more to go:


"Gambling: The Hundred and Fifty Million Dollar Man

Alan Woods has used computer technology to become one of the world's most successful gamblers. but it isn't always a sure thing.

By Michael Kaplan

It's just two hours before post time at Sha Tin Race Course, a big, modern-looking gambling mecca in the Hong Kong suburbs. Sleek Jaguars pull up to a members-only entrance, elite horseplayers show off custom-tailored finery, and Moët & Chandon flows as the Hong Kong Jockey Club (horse racing's ruling body here) prepares to host one of its richest days of the year.

It would seem to be the ideal place to encounter the world's most successful gamblers. But Australian Alan Woods and his team of high-flying horse bettors are nowhere in sight, even though they'll put millions of dollars into today's betting pools. This discreet bunch shun the track and are scattered across six countries, connected to the action via fiber optics and Instant Messages.

At Sha Tin, thousands of horse-obsessed gamblers crowd the stands and rush the betting windows to make wagers that are primarily based on half-baked hunches and illogical systems. Woods will have no part of that. Inside a small, neat home office, on the second floor of his duplex apartment some 1,500 miles away in a Manila high-rise, Woods is connected via computer to nearly $3 million worth of wagers that will be placed over the course of today's nine races.

These bets are all mathematically sound, divined from modeling software similar to what Wall Street's sophisticated hedge-fund analysts employ. And like the best stock market plays, Woods's wagers are rooted in a computer program that uses past performances and current conditions to find overlays—good-value bets where the odds being offered are longer than those calculated by the software. It's an approach that has revolutionized horse betting and transformed Hong Kong into a lightning rod for professional gamblers.

The 58-year-old Woods has used computer technology to win more than $150 million in Hong Kong racing during the last 16 years. But even Woods, who is well established among the world's top equine gamblers and more than a little jaded, is excited about today's most alluring wager: a Triple Trio. This requires bettors to pick the first three finishers in each of the fourth, fifth and sixth races, with a prize pool of $26 million.

Woods and his team—which include technicians, racing analysts, accountants and money movers—are so intent on snagging this pot of gold that they pursue it in a gargantuan way: betting on 1.77 million combinations, at a cost of $1.88 million. Around 14 percent of the $13 million in new money being wagered on today's Triple Trio will originate with them. Judging by the exclamation-pointed IMs flying between Hong Kong and Manila, however, this is a bigger percentage than would be desirable, coming as a result of overly optimistic expectations in regard to how much money would finally flow into the Triple Trio pool. "Ideally," says Woods, sounding slightly bummed, "we should have a fraction below 10 percent."

Wearing a pair of beaten-up gym shorts and a faded golf shirt, the barefoot and white-haired Woods sits in front of three screens and groans that Hong Kong racing is not what it used to be. "After 56 months of deflation in Hong Kong, the public's no longer so enthusiastic about jumping into these things." The subtext here is that as long as amateur gamblers are more conservative with their betting budgets, there is less for the professionals to win.

Woods sips a banana smoothie from a thermos as his pretty Filipino girlfriend enters the office with sandwiches. He grabs a crab salad croissant and matter of factly says, "Since 1995, the amount of money we bet has been limited only by the size of the pools." (In other words, he and his team are so confident of winning that they will wager as much as they possibly can without betting so much that it tilts the odds against them.)

Heady stuff for a small-town boy who failed to finish college and couldn't hold a job (Woods half-seriously blames the latter on a sleeping disorder, which, he says, made it impossible for him to reach the office by 9 a.m.). What young Woods could do, long before he made it as a horse bettor, was bluff his way around a poker table and play bridge brilliantly.

In 1972, while working at an actuarial firm, Woods became aware of the financial possibilities of card counting from a buddy on the bridge scene. Initially he doubted the viability of card counting because another friend had recently analyzed the house advantage at blackjack for a new casino in the Australian state of Tasmania, and he confirmed that, long term, players did not stand a chance. Nevertheless, Woods found himself intrigued and spent a weekend counting cards in the Wrest Point Casino in Hobart, which was then Tasmania's only legal gambling venue. By Sunday afternoon, he doubled his $500 bankroll and became a believer.

But Woods didn't do much about it until 1979—after fathering two children, divorcing his first wife and having some success in the stock market—when he began to live the life of an itinerant gambler. He operated below casino radar, traveling around the world, backing other card counters, forming teams and playing solo; in his first six months, he earned what most people would consider an impressive income: $100,000.

During his time on the circuit, Woods learned to be emotionless about money. He secured five-figure loans from bare acquaintances, tolerated at least one blackjack partner with suspicious losses (he now figures that the "lost" money had been skimmed off by the dishonest player), and trusted strangers with inappropriately large sums.

"On the way home from a junket in Manila, I walked past airport security with $10,000 in each of my sneakers and another $10,000 down my underpants," remembers Woods, explaining that the Philippines had currency restrictions, which necessitated the subterfuge. "But I had another $20,000 that needed to get through. So I gave it to a guy to carry in his sneakers. I didn't really know the guy—we had just met on this trip—and the doors to the plane were ready to close when he had not yet materialized. I wasn't worried about him robbing me so much as I was concerned he'd miss the plane. It turned out that he had to go to the hotel to get his luggage, and he made the flight, with my money, but at the last possible second." Though Woods sounds pretty cool about the whole thing, you have to wonder what he'd have done if the guy failed to show up. "I would have tried to find him in Sydney. But I don't even know that I had his address."

This casual relationship with cash came in handy in 1984 when Woods and an Australian friend named Malcolm Sims discovered the potential riches of horse racing in Hong Kong. It was a place with huge amounts of money wagered (thus making it possible to lay down enormous bets without hurting your odds), small pools of jockeys and horses (easy to maintain stats), and enough superstitious bettors to make the city into a candy store for savvy gamblers with objectivity.

Ultimately, Sims opted out of the Hong Kong racing venture, but Woods teamed with a fellow card counter named Bill Benter and their Vegas friend Walter Simmons. Benter and Simmons believed that computer technology could be used to find an edge in horse racing. Woods wasn't so sure, but he put up most of the bankroll anyway and did much of the bet placing. Meanwhile, Simmons built the database and Benter wrote a software program designed to find overlays. Years later, this system turned all three of them into multimillionaires.

But it wasn't easy. "The beginning was nightmarish," says Woods, explaining that the software was full of kinks that needed to be worked out. "We started with a $150,000 bankroll and most of it went—on expenses and losses, including blackjack losses. I remember going to Korea on gambling trips and twice losing my bankroll of $10,000 very quickly, as a result of nothing but bad luck. Then I had to spend the rest of those trips not gambling."

Things were so bad that when Benter retreated to Las Vegas, where he hoped to raise additional funds from gambling pals, he was turned down, despite a willingness to give up as much as 70 percent of the group's racing profits. "People had so little faith in the system," says Woods, "that they would not have invested for 100 percent of the profits."

After a few years, however, once the system was up and running, there was plenty of cash to be made. Woods says he had his first winning season in 1986/1987, right around the time when he and Benter parted ways over money disputes. In the end, each wound up with his own number-crunching machine and put together teams.

Woods and Benter saw their profits rise in multiples that usually define bubble economies. Only this was no bubble. The margins kept getting bigger. And bigger. And bigger. "My third year in Hong Kong I won $100,000," remembers Woods. "I would have benefited by not telling anybody about this—thus not tipping off the several other computer teams that have since come in here and made their own millions. "But that is an extremely difficult thing to do. I just could not keep my mouth shut."

The most stunning thing about watching a computer team in action is how little actual handicapping seems to take place on race day. While some adjustments might be made for how a particular horse looks in the paddock and amounts wagered are dictated by monies that flow into particular pools, most of the hard work gets done long before the ponies are led to their starting gate.

As post-time looms, the biggest job centers around printing betting slips and making hundreds of wagers. The actual picking of horses, after all, gets entrusted to a computer system that is regularly updated with fresh information about horses, jockeys, track conditions and hundreds of specifications each week. "The only input that we do is based on the pool sizes," explains Woods. "But there are default values and the variation generally is not very much. Ten years ago Bill [Benter] said he could just switch the computer on and leave it during the race while he has a nap or drinks a beverage. But of course you'd be too scared to actually do that."

The system is so automated that Woods barely pays it any mind on this particular day and, for the first few races at least, he devotes most of his attention to his middle monitor. It is connected to a U.K.-based peer-to-peer wagering service called Betfair.com, which permits him to bet on today's races directly with other gamblers. "The turnover at Betfair is very small, which makes betting there a waste of time," Woods acknowledges, pointing out that it's patronized mostly by professionals and others with smart money, which turns the online wagering site into a more efficient (and tougher to beat) market than the racetrack. "But we do it with the hope that it'll eventually get bigger." Plus, it can be a good gauge as to where the sharp action is going. "Occasionally, we'll adjust what we're doing at the track based on what we see happening with Betfair."

You'd think that somebody who wagers the way Woods does would care deeply about horses and racing. He doesn't. For him it's purely a numbers game, and he brags that the last time he watched a race in person was some 18 years ago. Woods has had a couple misadventures with thoroughbred ownership, but he got into those situations only because friends presented them as sure deals. Not surprisingly, they never came to much.

As for today's races, Woods watches them on a jerry-rigged simulcast that appears, with severe time delays, on the screen of his laptop. Woods dispassionately checks out the races, occasionally eyeing his plus columns as they build during the first few contests. But even as he appears to be nearly $200,000 in the black, Woods shrugs it off: "This money is trivial. I could lose it all in a single race. The real excitement will come with the Triple Trio."

That Woods doesn't allow himself to get worked up by a couple hundred thousand dollars of profit is testament to the swings he's previously experienced. One afternoon in the mid-'90s, Woods did not have a single horse come in and he dropped $3 million, his worst showing ever. Then there's the single race day in 1995 on which he managed to win $8 million even though he was out of town, not monitoring the betting. The year before, he had also won $8 million with a successful run of soccer bets on the World Cup. When Woods mentions that he won "$5 or $6 million on the 1996 European Championship" and that he currently bets $100,000 per game on the National Football League (with the help of a handicapping colleague in the States), it's impossible not to wonder how he strategizes all of these wagers. Woods smiles tightly and replies, "Let's not talk about that."

A friend of Woods's once likened him to Howard Hughes. Though the reference was based on Woods's reclusiveness, it could have just as easily stemmed from his racing riches: $1.5 million, earned in a single session, is where Woods's idea of a good day begins.

He keeps himself holed up in an air-conditioned apartment where the view is sprawling, a pool table dominates the living room, and a downstairs TV spans 48 inches. "I don't leave this apartment during the day, except to go swimming in the rooftop pool, because it's too hot and humid. If I need something from the market, I get my maid or girlfriend to shop for me," says Woods, adding that he prefers to eat dinner in front of the television or computer and that his leisure time is fairly regimented. "I like going to the seedy girlie bars in Makati [an upscale neighborhood of Manila, where hookers are a main attraction for some Westerners]. I go out only a few nights per month, but on those nights, I tend to come home with two girls, or, usually, more."

Over the years Woods has earned enough money from racing that he was able to withstand a $100 million hit when he attempted to short the NASDAQ, a year too early. And while one of his more memorable stock investments involved shorting the Hang Seng Index in 1987—perfectly timed and bringing him a $1 million windfall in a single day when the stock market crashed—he has no problem in making distinctions between gambling and investing. "When you look at how much money I have consistently made from the horses, from 1987 onward, compared to what I've done in the market, horses would seem to be a far safer investment than stocks," says Woods, adding that he's not the only one who's benefited from his horse sense. "Outside investors [who put money into Woods's horse betting syndicate] normally get 100 percent returns on their money each year. The downside for them is that I can take it away whenever I want. There's no permanence."

Back at the races, a chunk of Woods's wagers is still above water as we head into the sixth event and the final leg of the Triple Trio with the 26 million up for grabs. But Woods and company are not going in with the sort of advantage that makes them comfortable. As he relates in an IM to his partners in Hong Kong: "We outlaid 13.8 percent of the TT [Triple Trio] pool and are alive for only 12 percent. If we miss, lose heaps." This is punctuated by the unspoken reality that for all of their computer technology and prep work and financial risk, the team is disappointingly underlaid as this next race gets set to go off.

For Team Woods to have a good chance at realizing its big payday, the No. 1 horse in the sixth race needs to finish in the running. But it is a favorite, so the team does have a chance, though Woods is quick to point out that it's less than 50 percent. He watches this race intently, but even judging by the choppy feed that comes in from Hong Kong, things seem less than ideal. Long before horses are shown crossing the finish line, Woods sighs deeply and says, "Oh, dear." He turns to me and adds, "I'm guessing we haven't got this." Then, right on cue, comes an e-mail from Hong Kong, punctuated with a frowning face: "No good."

Woods appears disappointed but not the least bit angry. He taps his index finger up and down, checks the screen layered with spreadsheets, looks at a scrap of paper in front of him, scribbles numbers and punches some information into a calculator at his side. The audio feed from Sha Tin resonates with all the emotion Woods lacks—"Somebody has won a hat-load of money," enthuses a British-sounding announcer—and it almost seems like taunting. Seeming to ignore it, Woods glances up from his work and says, "We lost $1.6 million on the TT."

The news is delivered in a neutral tone and followed by a moment of silence before things start to heat up for the next race. In no time Woods is back to work, monitoring Betfair, IM-ing with Hong Kong, momentarily resembling a teenager lost in death-match nirvana as he resumes finding an edge and winning money.

Michael Kaplan is Cigar Aficionado's gambling columnist."

http://www.cigaraficionado.com/Cigar/CA_Archives/CA_Show_Article/0,2322,1413,00.html
 

BSD

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3,819 985
And another one:

""LAS VEGAS HIGHROLLERS

Hits and Runs

Many wish to win in Vegas, few have the brass it takes to score big

By Michael Kaplan

Most people enter a Las Vegas casino with the hope of winning enough money to pay for dinner and a show. Get onto a real big run, and maybe you can rack up a few thousand dollars in casino chips. This is not what Archie Karas had in mind when he entered the casino of Binion's Horseshoe back in 1993. The dapper, well-groomed gambler, who's famous for flashing his $20,000 Rolex, had already turned a $10,000 loan into more than $1 million in winnings. He had started by playing high-stakes pool in a little hall across the street from the Liberace Museum. Now he was going in for the kill.

In the Horseshoe's poker room, Karas began playing heads up with the biggest gamblers in town. Becky Binion Behnen, who now owns the

Horseshoe, remembers that big-money players were lining up to take a crack at the guy with all the dough. But he seemed impossible to beat. Poker gods like Puggy Pearson, Chip Reese and the late, great Stu Ungar all tried to take him down. They all failed.

Following marathon poker sessions of super high-stakes hold'em and razz, Karas proceeded to the craps table with a $10 million bankroll and--through skilled, lucky, daredevil play--he spent the next year or so running that up to $26 million. Jack Binion, who oversaw the Horseshoe at the time, feared that Karas's ultimate goal was to play long enough and high enough to win the casino. Mike Sexton, a gambler who chronicles Las Vegas's high-stakes world, says, "It wasn't about the money. Archie's mission was to become known as the biggest gambler of all time."

And for a while he was. "He had all of our $5,000 chips," recalls Behnen. "I had to buy them back from him."

Karas plowed some of his winnings into a Mercedes-Benz and a van. Ultimately, however, most of it wound up back in the Horseshoe's coffers. Karas went bust, blowing through the $26 million stake with the same breathtaking consistency that went into building it up. Behnen figures that once the smoke cleared, the casino lost $1.3 million to Karas (a sum that he unsuccessfully wagered elsewhere around town). But, between the international publicity that his run generated and the reality of how crippling the eight-figure beating could have been, she felt like a winner.

Considering how things wound up for Karas--he even lost the couple million dollars that he had stashed away in his home country of Greece--it's easy to wonder why he didn't take a chunk of the dough and, say, invest it in real estate. "That would have been the worst thing he could have done," Sexton says with a wave of his hand. "As soon as he got broke he would have sold the land for half of what it was worth, just to get back in the action. I've seen that happen to people."

Karas and everyone else who's had an exceptionally big haul in Las Vegas is living out a well-publicized dream that draws people to America's city of light. The allure--or at least the fantasy--of making a big score is sufficiently strong that Las Vegas is perennially in competition with Orlando, Florida, for the title of the nation's top tourist attraction. But for all the promise that exists on the green felt tables, those who are in the know realize that most people don't give themselves a fair chance to hit it really big. "Most players are happy to make any kind of score," says Sexton, pointing out that this is what makes a run like Karas's all the more remarkable.

"The big edge for casinos is that losers go off for huge amounts of money, trying to catch up, while winners are happy to walk away with small profits. There are only a few exceptions who are not afraid to gamble when they are ahead. So it's hard for a normal person who has to work for his money to understand the mind-set of a high-stakes gambler. You can't think of every roll of the dice or turn of the card as representing a house or a boat." Indeed, it's the kind of mentality that allows somebody like the lanky 1996 World Series of Poker champion Huck Seed to casually bet $100,000 that he could do a back flip and land on his feet. He spent six months perfecting the stunt and collected his six-figure payout from several astonished poker players who were on the other side of the wager.

While you'd be hard-pressed to find somebody who played high stakes as consistently as Karas did, he is by no means the only gambler to walk into Binion's Horseshoe and risk a fortune on a game of chance. Though the downtown hotel--currently looking a bit tatty and rumored to be lurching toward bankruptcy--lacks the glitz and flash of bigger operations on the Strip, it has long had a reputation as the place where there was no limit to the money one could wager.

This was so clear that the Desert Inn used to limo its highest rollers to the Horseshoe so that they could place the big bets that the D.I. wasn't game enough to cover. For anybody who wanted to see how it felt to win or lose a half million dollars on a single roll of the dice, the Horseshoe, founded in the 1950s by Texas-based gambler Benny Binion, was really the only game in town.

Las Vegas has never suffered a shortage of whales. (A few years ago enough of them got lucky at the Las Vegas Hilton that the chain's quarterly profits were off by 19 percent as a result.) The biggest whale of them all, right now, seems to be the Australian media mogul Kerry Packer. Though he recently set a record by losing nearly $27 million playing blackjack at the elegant London casino Crockford's, he's had extraordinary luck in Las Vegas. Packer reportedly won $31 million in the MGM Grand's blackjack pit, and he has been known to share the wealth with those who inadvertently help to make him richer: following a multimillion dollar run at the Mirage, Packer added $1 million to the dealers' tip pool.

He displays far less generosity toward showy Americans who like to brag about their wealth. When a Texas oilman once sidled up to him in a Vegas casino and bragged about being worth $100 million, Packer considered that for a moment before replying, "Are you really worth $100 million? Tell you what, I'll toss you for it."

Considering that Packer is said to be worth $3.6 billion, that's a bet he could lose without forsaking too much sleep. In light of that, even his biggest casino wagers are the relative equivalent of pocket change. Maybe for that reason, the real high-stakes heroes are anonymous rich guys who willingly put good chunks of their money on the line, amounts of cash that have real meaning and real consequence for them.

Such was the case with Bill Bergstrom, a diminutive fellow in his 20s who came into money via the gold and silver boom of 20 years ago. He sauntered into the Horseshoe wearing Western duds and a cowboy hat, carrying a pair of suitcases--one empty, the other loaded with $777,000. He placed it all on the "don't pass" (a craps wager in which you bet that the seven will come up before the point number). He made that single bet, won, and left the casino with two suitcases full of hundred dollar bills.

Soon after Bergstrom's big score, a call came in to the bedside phone of Benny Binion. It was Bergstrom on the line. He wanted to know if he could pop by Becky Binion Behnen's home--where Benny, whose health was failing, had been convalescing--for a visit. Benny OK'd it. While at the house Bergstrom proved to have a bit of a Binion obsession. The hat he wore during his visit had once belonged to Benny, and the three sevens in his craps wager corresponded to the phone number of Benny's ranch in Montana. Despite the creepiness of all that--Benny, after all, had seen far weirder--the visit went fine.

When Bergstrom called again, it was to inquire about making another big bet. "He came to my house, laid $540,000 on the kitchen table, and wanted to bet that money," says Behnen, recalling that Benny OK'd the wager, and Bergstrom once again cleaned up on the "don't pass."

For Benny's 80th birthday, Bergstrom had something special in mind. "He plopped down $1 million on the 'don't pass,'" remembers Behnen. "But this time we won, so he ended up $300,000 ahead, and that was the end of the story." But it really wasn't the end of the story. "He had a complex emotional life," Behnen continues. "I know that he had a male companion, but I don't know if he was 100 percent gay. And a couple years later he committed suicide. In his note he said that he wanted to be cremated and to have his ashes put in an urn that would be displayed at the Horseshoe. On the urn he wanted a plaque that said 'The Million Dollar Kid.' His parents wound up burying him in a cemetery, and I'm really not sure whether or not we would have put the urn in the Horseshoe anyway."

Those who were at the Horseshoe when Bergstrom raked in his craps winnings remember that he took it in stride and left the casino alone, his money in hand. Others, though, treat their big wins in more celebratory fashion. For instance, on the night Stu Ungar hit a pick-6 horse race for $870,000, he packed his friends off to the Olympic Garden, a topless bar where the VIP room happened to be having its grand opening. "We went in there and Stuey ordered Cristal champagne," recounts Mike Sexton. "He asked for them to send in the prettiest girls, and he immediately slipped a $100 bill into each of their G-strings. We drank so much Cristal that the bar ran out and Stuey had to slum down to Dom Perignon. I remember him being furious about that."

Nobody else really seemed to mind. "The girls," continues Sexton, "who were usually happy if you bought them a beer, that night they drank Dom like it was water. The bar tab came to $9,600 and there's no telling how much Stuey spent on the girls. I think you can say it was a career night for each of them. For me it was one of those nights that you put in a frame and hang on the wall."

Another memorable evening was a New Year's Eve back in the '80s, when Ungar and Chip Reese aimed to turn a profit as they rang in the year. They each put up $5,000 and began playing blackjack with the agreement that they would get it up to a million or go bust. They didn't quite hit their target, but they did manage to clear $500,000 before deciding to divide the proceeds.

For Ungar, though, wins like that one quickly slid through his fingers. He was a notorious sucker when it came to sports betting and golf. From his very first day on the golf courses of Las Vegas, he provided serious windfalls for his fellow gamblers. It all began when one of them, a high-stakes poker player named Jack Strauss, convinced Ungar that the really big action was at the Las Vegas Country Club. "But," he warned Ungar, who was New York?bred and a total stranger to the game, "before you bet anything, get a fundamental skill level and practice a little bit."

He began by taking Ungar to the LVCC's putting green and showing him how to hone a short game. "Next thing you know," remembers Sexton, "Jack's giving him a stroke a hole on the putting green and they're betting $200 on each putt. Then they went from $200 to $500 to $1,000. In two hours' time Stu Ungar lost $78,000 without even getting onto the regular golf course. In the history of America, I guarantee you, that has not happened before or since."

One of the most notorious gold mines for golfers was a huge-stakes player named Jimmy Chagra. Texas based, Chagra was a high-rolling drug dealer who liked to recklessly wager his ill-gotten gains. He was famous for showing up at the Las Vegas Country Club carrying two shopping bags full of cash and being flanked by bodyguards.

In the casinos he was known as a lavish tipper. Following a sky-high run at a Caesars Palace craps table, he tipped the croupier $600,000. In his locker there, he routinely stashed $900,000 in cash. "He'd go into gambling situations with $1 million or $2 million on him," remembers a Vegas-based career gambler. "It was possible that he could win, but usually it was a question of how much you could take from him. If he lost $200,000 or $300,000 to a couple of us, well, that was a pretty good day for Jimmy Chagra."

Though Chagra was indicted on conspiracy charges for the murder of a Texas judge and is serving a life sentence in federal prison on related charges, he was loved in Las Vegas. Then again, anybody who went through money as quickly as he did would be absolutely adored in Vegas. "I beat him and I beat him and I beat him; I probably won $600,000 from him," says Puggy Pearson, most likely lowballing the true figure. "He tried to play a lot of everything. He was in the dope business and he wanted to look like a gambler. I beat him at poker and golf and I might have played some bumper pool with him. He lost a lot of money to those of us who were in Vegas at the time. He lost well into the millions for sure. Then the gamblers would take their winnings from him and lose it at the race book or craps. Hell, they got to get rid of their money one way or the other." Puggy looks momentarily wistful, probably missing the big hauls that Chagra made possible. Then he adds, "Yeah, Jimmy was a good boy."

High-stakes golf is a funny game in Las Vegas. It's one of the few wagers in which the better man does not always walk away with the lion's share of the money. Usually when golf is being played for high stakes, the winner is the person who can negotiate to receive the most advantageous number of strokes. Sometimes the looks of a player can be deceiving. Such was the case when poker studs Jimmy McHugh and Chuck Sharp were approached by an acquaintance who offered to make a substantial wager on 18 holes of golf.

Being good players and high-stakes gamblers, they were interested. But they needed to see the second guy they would be up against. "It turned out that the fourth member of the group was a guy named No Arms George," remembers Russ Hamilton, who hosts The Gambler's Golf Tournament and is about to launch a Web site for online gaming. "They called him that because he had no arms. Of course Chuck and Jimmy were only too eager to make the bet. Well, it turns out that this guy has got special attachments for his stubs, and he chips and putts like God. Chuck and Jimmy wound up losing $80,000 to a golfer with no arms."

It's the kind of loss that the big players, the ones who put themselves into positions to snag truly major hauls, must learn to take in stride. They know how to win and lose mind-boggling sums without seeing the money as a retirement fund or a mortgage payment. One of the finest illustrations of this can be seen in how Archie Karas dealt with a terrifically bad stretch of luck at the craps table that intersected his $26 million run. "I saw him lose $1 million in 10 minutes," remembers Sexton, still marveling at the display of insane, breakneck gambling. "In less than a minute $330,000 was gone with a few rolls. Then I saw him do it two more consecutive times. Finally he put up the last $10,000 and lost again. I watched that with my own eyes and it was pretty fascinating. But he took it very well. He simply shrugged and walked away from the table. Like he was having a moderately bad day.""
 

BSD

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3,819 985
Glad you liked that, Sim :)

And one more:


""Tribute: Remembering the Worlds Greatest Gambler

Billionaire Kerry Packer was a Las Vegas fixture, gambling millions on every visit

Kerry Packer was a larger-than-life gambler, a mogul who signed $1 million markers as if they were checks to Con Ed. He gambled for the kinds of stakes that kick-started the adrenal glands of even the most jaded casino executives. They all knew better than to keep him waiting when he wanted to lay down a bet. But one night, in the fall of 1989, after Packer blew into Las Vegas and found his way to the newly opened Mirage, the baccarat crew was not quite ready for him. A graveyard-shift pit boss couldn't find the key to unlock the game at a table that had been reserved for Australia's most notorious billionaire. There was only one sensible option: grab a crystal ashtray, smash open the baccarat setup and begin dealing. Famously sporty Packer appreciated the effort. After getting ahead a couple million dollars, he made a $100,000 bet on behalf of the dealers.

Sixteen years and many outrageous nights later, Packer found himself in a far more precarious situation. He was at home in Australia, lying in bed suffering from a weak heart and kidney ailments. "I'm running out of petrol and I'm ready to die," he told his doctor before drawing his last breath. No doubt, as the 68-year-old mogul expired on December 26, 2005, the casino industry mourned the death of a man, but also the passing of Las Vegas's splashiest player. He loved nothing more than being in action for sums of money that few people could conceptualize. As one former Vegas casino executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity, conservatively estimates, during the last 15 or so years, the wildly swinging Packer had blithely endured a net loss of more than $20 million on the Strip.

Additionally, it is believed that he dropped many more millions to the casino operators in London, largely because he spent extended periods there, taking several suites at the Savoy Hotel. To quote the Vegas casino executive, who considered the business baron a friend, "Packer needed something to do with his days and nights. You can only have so many great meals."

Gambling was Kerry Packer's passion in the way that other men of great means develop big-budget obsessions with yacht racing or art collecting. Fitting for one with enough cash to roll as high as the moon, Packer wagered at the largest stakes the casinos would allow. But because he gambled for so much money-and had a tendency to quit while he was ahead, garnering the reputation on the Strip for being a "hit and run player"-the timing of Packer's passing brought some relief: he did not die on the heels of a big Vegas score, which would have suddenly been unrecoupable by the casinos. After all, following one of the Aussie billionaire's eight-figure wins, a gaming corporation's quarterly numbers sometimes ended up in the toilet.

That Kerry Packer, a brilliant entrepreneur, an astute stock market investor (he managed to liquidate his Wall Street holdings just prior to the big crash of 1987) and one of the world's great tokers (after experiencing a close brush with death in 1990, he tipped his lifesaving ambulance drivers and EMS workers a million dollars each), would eventually find his way to Vegas almost seemed inevitable. Having beaten polio as a boy, the pugnacious Packer grew up with an ingrained hunger for wagering. After young Kerry found himself with $10,000 of gambling debts, his father, Frank, a multimillionaire many times over, tried teaching his son a lesson by making him sell his car to pay off the tab. It may have been the right thing to do, but it failed to douse the burgeoning player's enthusiasm for high-wire propositions and his respect for gamblers with the guts to risk it all. Years later, Packer enjoyed telling people that his grandfather, Robert Clyde Packer, went to the races in the Tasmanian city of Hobart, found $10 on the ground, bet it on a 10-to-1 long-shot, and the horse won in glorious fashion. "He bought a ticket to Sydney and went into the newspaper industry and did quite well," Packer would grossly understate. "That's where my family started from: 10-bob on a race course."

By 1974, when Packer officially took control of his family's print- and broadcast-media empire, Consolidated Press Holdings, he was already regarded as one of the richest men in Australia. With extreme wealth and a craving for chest-thumping action, Packer quickly found himself frustrated by the modest betting limits offered in Aussie casinos. But that never stopped him from toying with the managers and owners of local gambling halls. "He liked to fly over Darwin and call down to the casino there, asking how much money they had in their cage," remembers the casino executive. "If they told him that they had $300,000, Packer kept flying. But if there was $800,000 or more, he'd touch down and gamble. He's a man who liked to make people sweat. And it quickly became clear to casino managers that the sooner you showed him you were sweating, the better off you'd be."
By all accounts, Packer was a ruthless and aggressive negotiator who commanded extraordinary respect and loyalty from his employees and the many hangers-on with whom he traveled around the world, terrorizing casinos and betting heavily but astutely on thoroughbreds: in 1997, Packer and a partner shared $6 million after successfully wagering on Might and Power to win the Melbourne Cup. Three years later, however, he reportedly dumped $28.2 million in blackjack losses to a London casino. Later that year, the Bellagio raked in $33.3 million in Packer cash. Even more stunning, back in 1994, just one day after a new owner took control of elegant Crockford's Casino in London, Packer lost $7 million there.

How did Packer handle those financial beatings? "Pretty well," remembers the casino executive. "He would get quiet and not be too happy about it; he'd start moaning and groaning about the lights being too bright, but he didn't act like a maniac or anything. The good thing was that a couple days after he left, you'd get a call from his secretary so she could make arrangements to settle up the markers. With a lot of big players, you need to go to them in order to get your money. Not so with Packer. He was a very desirable gambler."

Unlike high rollers who make casino bosses jump through hoops with outrageous demands, Packer's requests were minimal: he wanted nice rooms for himself and his entourage (which often included renowned golf coach Butch Harmon, actor Anthony Perkins and a clutch of polo players and cricketers), an on-call masseuse and, most critical of all, monstrously high limits and a guarantee that a vacant table would be waiting for him to gamble at. "Usually, Kerry would start out betting in the $500 range; he wasn't always pushing in money with both fists," remembers the casino executive. "But, if he began winning, it could quickly ramp up to $300,000 per hand at baccarat. When he played blackjack, I tried limiting him to $50,000 per spot, per hand. He played decent basic strategy, and there was a fear that he was getting better and better."

Partly for that reason, casino managers worked hard to rein in Packer, and, to varying degrees, they succeeded, executing a delicate balancing act that reduced their downside but didn't give him an excuse to take his business elsewhere. Impossible to control was the nonwagering largesse of this whale's whale. On a rush, he'd give members of his entourage $100,000 bankrolls before turning his free-spending sights on casino employees, who made it their business not to call in sick when the big-betting media magnate was in town. Probably the most extravagant toker Vegas has ever known, Packer routinely doled out six-figure gratuities that would be pooled among the dealers. "When Packer was in town, you could count on splitting $1 million 20 ways," says the former casino executive.

On one memorable occasion, Packer paid off a waitress's mortgage. Another time, after noticing that a blackjack dealer had been moved from the high-limit area to the regular pit, he placed $20,000 bets on each spot and told the dealer that he could keep all winnings from that round. Casino executives silently cringed at these shows of generosity because they knew the money he tipped would never make it back to the house's coffers. No doubt, Packer took some pleasure in stressing them out.
However, all the worry and hand-wringing was not without warrant. One New Year's Eve in the mid-1990s, Packer was betting $150,000 per hand at the Las Vegas Hilton. "I was in line to get a $40,000 bonus because we had cleared the $50 million mark in winnings," remembers veteran casino host Steve Cyr. "Going into that night we were at $58 million. But then Packer won $9 million and we got no bonus. He tipped $1.3 million to the dealers and gave $100,000 to the lounge singer."

Packer was less lucky on September 11, 2001. That day, after Al Qaeda terrorists struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Packer was ahead millions of dollars and poised to leave Las Vegas with a tidy profit. Just one problem: air traffic was temporarily grounded and so was Packer. He stayed in town and his luck went south, transforming his winnings into a $6 million-plus loss.

More recently, following a particularly brutal cash-grabbing rage through Vegas-which, according to Cyr, "ended with [Packer] winning $20 million at four joints and $13 million at another one"-several casino bosses tried to minimize the danger of going up against an inveterate gambler who seemed to have bottomless resources, no qualms about dropping millions of dollars, and an understanding of variance swings. "Everyone finally said, ‘To hell with this guy,'" recalls Cyr. "And they decided to keep him at 25 grand per bet."

Whether the casinos were successful in leashing Kerry to that relatively paltry limit remains highly doubtful. Undeniable is that he did not let anybody get between him and his God-given right to wager mind-boggling sums of money. When a member of Australia's Parliament, onetime Labor Party leader Mark Latham, described one of Packer's big casino losses (thought to be around $25 million) as "morally offensive," the billionaire became incensed. First, he pointed out, the losses were actually only about $7.5 million, an amount that was less than his annual contribution to just one children's hospital. Then Packer tersely added, "This is not someone else's money. This is my money. I am entitled to spend it in any way."

He did. And he did it with the kind of exuberant gumption and panache that will surely be missed from one end of the Las Vegas Strip to the other.""
 

BSD

Veteren member
3,819 985
"LAS VEGAS HIGHROLLERS

Hits and Runs

Many wish to win in Vegas, few have the brass it takes to score big

By Michael Kaplan

Most people enter a Las Vegas casino with the hope of winning enough money to pay for dinner and a show. Get onto a real big run, and maybe you can rack up a few thousand dollars in casino chips. This is not what Archie Karas had in mind when he entered the casino of Binion's Horseshoe back in 1993. The dapper, well-groomed gambler, who's famous for flashing his $20,000 Rolex, had already turned a $10,000 loan into more than $1 million in winnings. He had started by playing high-stakes pool in a little hall across the street from the Liberace Museum. Now he was going in for the kill.

In the Horseshoe's poker room, Karas began playing heads up with the biggest gamblers in town. Becky Binion Behnen, who now owns the

Horseshoe, remembers that big-money players were lining up to take a crack at the guy with all the dough. But he seemed impossible to beat. Poker gods like Puggy Pearson, Chip Reese and the late, great Stu Ungar all tried to take him down. They all failed.

Following marathon poker sessions of super high-stakes hold'em and razz, Karas proceeded to the craps table with a $10 million bankroll and--through skilled, lucky, daredevil play--he spent the next year or so running that up to $26 million. Jack Binion, who oversaw the Horseshoe at the time, feared that Karas's ultimate goal was to play long enough and high enough to win the casino. Mike Sexton, a gambler who chronicles Las Vegas's high-stakes world, says, "It wasn't about the money. Archie's mission was to become known as the biggest gambler of all time."

And for a while he was. "He had all of our $5,000 chips," recalls Behnen. "I had to buy them back from him."

Karas plowed some of his winnings into a Mercedes-Benz and a van. Ultimately, however, most of it wound up back in the Horseshoe's coffers. Karas went bust, blowing through the $26 million stake with the same breathtaking consistency that went into building it up. Behnen figures that once the smoke cleared, the casino lost $1.3 million to Karas (a sum that he unsuccessfully wagered elsewhere around town). But, between the international publicity that his run generated and the reality of how crippling the eight-figure beating could have been, she felt like a winner.

Considering how things wound up for Karas--he even lost the couple million dollars that he had stashed away in his home country of Greece--it's easy to wonder why he didn't take a chunk of the dough and, say, invest it in real estate. "That would have been the worst thing he could have done," Sexton says with a wave of his hand. "As soon as he got broke he would have sold the land for half of what it was worth, just to get back in the action. I've seen that happen to people."

Karas and everyone else who's had an exceptionally big haul in Las Vegas is living out a well-publicized dream that draws people to America's city of light. The allure--or at least the fantasy--of making a big score is sufficiently strong that Las Vegas is perennially in competition with Orlando, Florida, for the title of the nation's top tourist attraction. But for all the promise that exists on the green felt tables, those who are in the know realize that most people don't give themselves a fair chance to hit it really big. "Most players are happy to make any kind of score," says Sexton, pointing out that this is what makes a run like Karas's all the more remarkable.

"The big edge for casinos is that losers go off for huge amounts of money, trying to catch up, while winners are happy to walk away with small profits. There are only a few exceptions who are not afraid to gamble when they are ahead. So it's hard for a normal person who has to work for his money to understand the mind-set of a high-stakes gambler. You can't think of every roll of the dice or turn of the card as representing a house or a boat." Indeed, it's the kind of mentality that allows somebody like the lanky 1996 World Series of Poker champion Huck Seed to casually bet $100,000 that he could do a back flip and land on his feet. He spent six months perfecting the stunt and collected his six-figure payout from several astonished poker players who were on the other side of the wager.

While you'd be hard-pressed to find somebody who played high stakes as consistently as Karas did, he is by no means the only gambler to walk into Binion's Horseshoe and risk a fortune on a game of chance. Though the downtown hotel--currently looking a bit tatty and rumored to be lurching toward bankruptcy--lacks the glitz and flash of bigger operations on the Strip, it has long had a reputation as the place where there was no limit to the money one could wager.

This was so clear that the Desert Inn used to limo its highest rollers to the Horseshoe so that they could place the big bets that the D.I. wasn't game enough to cover. For anybody who wanted to see how it felt to win or lose a half million dollars on a single roll of the dice, the Horseshoe, founded in the 1950s by Texas-based gambler Benny Binion, was really the only game in town.

Las Vegas has never suffered a shortage of whales. (A few years ago enough of them got lucky at the Las Vegas Hilton that the chain's quarterly profits were off by 19 percent as a result.) The biggest whale of them all, right now, seems to be the Australian media mogul Kerry Packer. Though he recently set a record by losing nearly $27 million playing blackjack at the elegant London casino Crockford's, he's had extraordinary luck in Las Vegas. Packer reportedly won $31 million in the MGM Grand's blackjack pit, and he has been known to share the wealth with those who inadvertently help to make him richer: following a multimillion dollar run at the Mirage, Packer added $1 million to the dealers' tip pool.

He displays far less generosity toward showy Americans who like to brag about their wealth. When a Texas oilman once sidled up to him in a Vegas casino and bragged about being worth $100 million, Packer considered that for a moment before replying, "Are you really worth $100 million? Tell you what, I'll toss you for it."

Considering that Packer is said to be worth $3.6 billion, that's a bet he could lose without forsaking too much sleep. In light of that, even his biggest casino wagers are the relative equivalent of pocket change. Maybe for that reason, the real high-stakes heroes are anonymous rich guys who willingly put good chunks of their money on the line, amounts of cash that have real meaning and real consequence for them.

Such was the case with Bill Bergstrom, a diminutive fellow in his 20s who came into money via the gold and silver boom of 20 years ago. He sauntered into the Horseshoe wearing Western duds and a cowboy hat, carrying a pair of suitcases--one empty, the other loaded with $777,000. He placed it all on the "don't pass" (a craps wager in which you bet that the seven will come up before the point number). He made that single bet, won, and left the casino with two suitcases full of hundred dollar bills.

Soon after Bergstrom's big score, a call came in to the bedside phone of Benny Binion. It was Bergstrom on the line. He wanted to know if he could pop by Becky Binion Behnen's home--where Benny, whose health was failing, had been convalescing--for a visit. Benny OK'd it. While at the house Bergstrom proved to have a bit of a Binion obsession. The hat he wore during his visit had once belonged to Benny, and the three sevens in his craps wager corresponded to the phone number of Benny's ranch in Montana. Despite the creepiness of all that--Benny, after all, had seen far weirder--the visit went fine.

When Bergstrom called again, it was to inquire about making another big bet. "He came to my house, laid $540,000 on the kitchen table, and wanted to bet that money," says Behnen, recalling that Benny OK'd the wager, and Bergstrom once again cleaned up on the "don't pass."

For Benny's 80th birthday, Bergstrom had something special in mind. "He plopped down $1 million on the 'don't pass,'" remembers Behnen. "But this time we won, so he ended up $300,000 ahead, and that was the end of the story." But it really wasn't the end of the story. "He had a complex emotional life," Behnen continues. "I know that he had a male companion, but I don't know if he was 100 percent gay. And a couple years later he committed suicide. In his note he said that he wanted to be cremated and to have his ashes put in an urn that would be displayed at the Horseshoe. On the urn he wanted a plaque that said 'The Million Dollar Kid.' His parents wound up burying him in a cemetery, and I'm really not sure whether or not we would have put the urn in the Horseshoe anyway."

Those who were at the Horseshoe when Bergstrom raked in his craps winnings remember that he took it in stride and left the casino alone, his money in hand. Others, though, treat their big wins in more celebratory fashion. For instance, on the night Stu Ungar hit a pick-6 horse race for $870,000, he packed his friends off to the Olympic Garden, a topless bar where the VIP room happened to be having its grand opening. "We went in there and Stuey ordered Cristal champagne," recounts Mike Sexton. "He asked for them to send in the prettiest girls, and he immediately slipped a $100 bill into each of their G-strings. We drank so much Cristal that the bar ran out and Stuey had to slum down to Dom Perignon. I remember him being furious about that."

Nobody else really seemed to mind. "The girls," continues Sexton, "who were usually happy if you bought them a beer, that night they drank Dom like it was water. The bar tab came to $9,600 and there's no telling how much Stuey spent on the girls. I think you can say it was a career night for each of them. For me it was one of those nights that you put in a frame and hang on the wall."

Another memorable evening was a New Year's Eve back in the '80s, when Ungar and Chip Reese aimed to turn a profit as they rang in the year. They each put up $5,000 and began playing blackjack with the agreement that they would get it up to a million or go bust. They didn't quite hit their target, but they did manage to clear $500,000 before deciding to divide the proceeds.

For Ungar, though, wins like that one quickly slid through his fingers. He was a notorious sucker when it came to sports betting and golf. From his very first day on the golf courses of Las Vegas, he provided serious windfalls for his fellow gamblers. It all began when one of them, a high-stakes poker player named Jack Strauss, convinced Ungar that the really big action was at the Las Vegas Country Club. "But," he warned Ungar, who was New York�bred and a total stranger to the game, "before you bet anything, get a fundamental skill level and practice a little bit."

He began by taking Ungar to the LVCC's putting green and showing him how to hone a short game. "Next thing you know," remembers Sexton, "Jack's giving him a stroke a hole on the putting green and they're betting $200 on each putt. Then they went from $200 to $500 to $1,000. In two hours' time Stu Ungar lost $78,000 without even getting onto the regular golf course. In the history of America, I guarantee you, that has not happened before or since."

One of the most notorious gold mines for golfers was a huge-stakes player named Jimmy Chagra. Texas based, Chagra was a high-rolling drug dealer who liked to recklessly wager his ill-gotten gains. He was famous for showing up at the Las Vegas Country Club carrying two shopping bags full of cash and being flanked by bodyguards.

In the casinos he was known as a lavish tipper. Following a sky-high run at a Caesars Palace craps table, he tipped the croupier $600,000. In his locker there, he routinely stashed $900,000 in cash. "He'd go into gambling situations with $1 million or $2 million on him," remembers a Vegas-based career gambler. "It was possible that he could win, but usually it was a question of how much you could take from him. If he lost $200,000 or $300,000 to a couple of us, well, that was a pretty good day for Jimmy Chagra."

Though Chagra was indicted on conspiracy charges for the murder of a Texas judge and is serving a life sentence in federal prison on related charges, he was loved in Las Vegas. Then again, anybody who went through money as quickly as he did would be absolutely adored in Vegas. "I beat him and I beat him and I beat him; I probably won $600,000 from him," says Puggy Pearson, most likely lowballing the true figure. "He tried to play a lot of everything. He was in the dope business and he wanted to look like a gambler. I beat him at poker and golf and I might have played some bumper pool with him. He lost a lot of money to those of us who were in Vegas at the time. He lost well into the millions for sure. Then the gamblers would take their winnings from him and lose it at the race book or craps. Hell, they got to get rid of their money one way or the other." Puggy looks momentarily wistful, probably missing the big hauls that Chagra made possible. Then he adds, "Yeah, Jimmy was a good boy."

High-stakes golf is a funny game in Las Vegas. It's one of the few wagers in which the better man does not always walk away with the lion's share of the money. Usually when golf is being played for high stakes, the winner is the person who can negotiate to receive the most advantageous number of strokes. Sometimes the looks of a player can be deceiving. Such was the case when poker studs Jimmy McHugh and Chuck Sharp were approached by an acquaintance who offered to make a substantial wager on 18 holes of golf.

Being good players and high-stakes gamblers, they were interested. But they needed to see the second guy they would be up against. "It turned out that the fourth member of the group was a guy named No Arms George," remembers Russ Hamilton, who hosts The Gambler's Golf Tournament and is about to launch a Web site for online gaming. "They called him that because he had no arms. Of course Chuck and Jimmy were only too eager to make the bet. Well, it turns out that this guy has got special attachments for his stubs, and he chips and putts like God. Chuck and Jimmy wound up losing $80,000 to a golfer with no arms."

It's the kind of loss that the big players, the ones who put themselves into positions to snag truly major hauls, must learn to take in stride. They know how to win and lose mind-boggling sums without seeing the money as a retirement fund or a mortgage payment. One of the finest illustrations of this can be seen in how Archie Karas dealt with a terrifically bad stretch of luck at the craps table that intersected his $26 million run. "I saw him lose $1 million in 10 minutes," remembers Sexton, still marveling at the display of insane, breakneck gambling. "In less than a minute $330,000 was gone with a few rolls. Then I saw him do it two more consecutive times. Finally he put up the last $10,000 and lost again. I watched that with my own eyes and it was pretty fascinating. But he took it very well. He simply shrugged and walked away from the table. Like he was having a moderately bad day."
 

BSD

Veteren member
3,819 985
"The Poker Ace

For Greg Raymer, winning the world series of poker took knowledge, skill and a little luck
On a Saturday afternoon at a back table in Foxwoods Casino's sprawling poker room, Greg "Fossilman" Raymer steps up and sets down his blue nylon gym bag. He reaches inside the bag, past the fossils, "Tower of Terror" sunglasses and aspirin, and fishes out a wad of hundred-dollar bills rubber-banded into a tight roll. He drops his money upon the green felt and it lands with a satisfying thud. Raymer then announces that he needs chips so that he can play in the $75/$150 game of Omaha (a variation of Texas Hold'em, in which you get four down cards and must use two of them along with three of five community cards).

"Get some chips for me," one guy quips as he mucks his cards. Another player asks Raymer if he's bought himself a new car yet. Someone else remarks that he's waiting to see Raymer on TV. A fourth player jumps up from the table and waylays Raymer to tell him that he has a great idea in need of a patent. Raymer, a patent attorney by trade, listens politely, then informs him, "I'm no longer in that business."

Who could blame him? The day he won the 2004 World Series of Poker in May, beating out 2,575 players and pulling down $5 million, Greg Raymer instantly ceased being a lawyer and became a professional world champion poker player. These days the burly, bald, big-faced Raymer, who turned 40 in June, is traveling the world, entering poker tournaments in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Dublin and Paris, getting backed by online site PokerStars.com and loving his new life.

But here in rural Connecticut, Raymer is not exactly treated like high-stakes royalty. Since he has been competing with some of these guys for five years, he feels as comfortable here as in any home game (Foxwoods is located only six miles from Raymer's house). He gets his chips, takes his seat and plays poker. After losing a bunch of hands and dropping $1,000 or so, Raymer packs up his remaining chips so that he can grab some lunch. Then he playfully announces, "I'm out. You guys are too good for me."

The line gets a couple grunts of acknowledgment as Raymer reaches for a pocket-sized loose-leaf notebook and carefully jots down some information: the amount lost, the date, the place where he played.

Greg Raymer may be a World Series of Poker millionaire, but he has not lost the careful, calculating ways that got him there. "Maybe I pay more attention than other people," he says, trying to determine what makes him better than the average medium- to high-stakes player. "I don't go on tilt too easily. I take short stack factors into account, recognizing that people can make desperation calls without even looking at their cards and be big favorites. It sounds obvious, but a lot of people ignore that one."

Raymer estimates that he has played in 500 tournaments—live and online—and 2004 marked his third year competing in the World Series. Two years ago he lost $30,000 at the Binion's Horseshoe classic. "After that I was so sick of this game," admits Raymer. "I never wanted to play again. Then a few days passed and I went to Foxwoods."

He laughs and adds, "I wanted to win my money back."

Despite the financial hit and an 80th-place finish out of 600-some-odd players in 2002, he made an important discovery: "I was up against the best players and felt that I could control them to some degree," he says, adding that he went out of the tournament after correctly calling a stone-cold bluff from Tam "Tony D" Duong. "I was a three-to-one favorite; he had 10-4 offsuit and made a straight. He got to the final table that year and I got knocked out of the event. But with that hand, and with every one leading up to it, I felt like I had been making good decisions. I knew that I would have to play in every World Series tournament from then on. Clearly I was capable."

Raymer was hardly born with a deck of cards in his hand. His mother, a homemaker, frowned upon gambling and, as Raymer says, "My dad hates losing money. I'm cheap, but he makes me look frivolous."

The elder Raymer marketed mainframe computers, and the family moved several times due to his job. Greg Raymer was born in Lansing, Michigan, attended middle school in Clearwater, Florida, and graduated from high school in Manchester, Missouri. While he was attending graduate school at the University of Minnesota, an aunt presented him with an unusual Christmas gift: The World's Greatest Blackjack Book, by Lance Humble and Carl Cooper. That title's veracity is up for debate, but it did teach Raymer the basics of card counting and led to him hitting the Indian casinos near his school where he won at blackjack. He had a small bankroll, which allowed him to spread only $5 to $25 per hand, but it provided him with a steady income of $7 per hour or so, and he was happy.

After graduating from the University of Minnesota law school in 1992, he worked as an attorney in Chicago, where he wandered from a blackjack table to the poker room. He was instantly hooked. "First I played poker for fun, then I decided to get into it," says Raymer, remembering that he went to a used bookstore where he unwittingly stumbled across David Sklansky's Theory of Poker, a tome many gamblers view as indispensable. "The book taught me what to think. It brings to light the concepts you need to consider when making decisions."

He played in a $3/$6 Omaha game and learned the beauty of competing against soft players. "Sometimes, for six hours, I would be the only one to fold before the flop," says Raymer. "The hand selection in that game was terrible."

It turned Raymer into a winning small-stakes poker player.

He moved from the law firm in Chicago to one in Milwaukee. There he found a $10/$20 Texas Hold'em home game, where there was a $500 buy-in and as many as 13 people crammed around the card table. By the time he took his next job at a law firm in San Diego, Raymer was a decent poker player and quickly became a regular at the Oceanside Card Club, where he won $2,500 playing in a $2/$5 blind pot limit Hold'em game.

He got married soon after and learned the complications that come with being a good, honest husband who gambles with an upside. "I won the $2,500 on a Saturday," Raymer recalls. "Then I went back on Sunday and lost $500. It was the most I had ever won and the most I had ever lost. And when I came home to tell my wife [Cheryl] what had happened, she became furious. She told me that 'we can't afford to lose that kind of money.' I said, 'What about the $2,500 I won?' She said, 'You brought that home. It's our money now.' I heard about guys who never tell their wives the real numbers. They always say they win less. That way they have extra money to compensate for the losses."

Did Raymer ever employ that tactic? He hesitates for a beat, then diplomatically says, "It was tempting."

What Raymer did do to appease his concerned wife was agree to put a cap on any potential gambling debits. "She was afraid that I would become addicted to gambling and lose all our money," he says. "So I made an agreement: I would have a bankroll of $1,000. If it's gone, then I'm done playing poker."

Fortunately for Raymer, it was plenty of money, and he supplemented the grand by selling fossils to poker players. Raymer, who first got turned on to fossils by his wife, promoted the products by using a long black fossil to guard his cards when he turned up their corners to look. Now Raymer never plays without fossils in front of him and often wears a lovebead-style string of semiprecious gemstone chips around his neck.

In late 1998, yet another job beckoned, this one with the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, and the Raymers made a final relocation to Connecticut. They wanted to buy a house but had only 5 percent of the required down payment. They needed twice that. "We were trying to figure out what to do," says Raymer, "when I won $22,000 in a tournament. Suddenly we had down-payment money. That was when my wife's opinion about poker began to change."

By the time he moved to Connecticut, Raymer was a fully formed poker player. He regularly posted on the player bulletin boards, rec.gambling.poker and twoplustwo.com (a poker-oriented bulletin board monitored by the book publisher of the same name), where people would seek advice on how various hands could have or should have been played. Raymer became a star contributor, posting opinions on strategies and settling feuds. Ever the good student, participating on the boards allowed him to exercise his poker mind and develop various moves that came in handy at the tables.

On-screen, Raymer evolved into a successful Internet player without picking up any of the bad habits that betray online specialists when they play in live games. Raymer, a veteran of both worlds, sees Internet players showing a level of impatience at live tables, telegraphing that they will fold or bet before the action comes to them—probably because nobody can read your tells in cyberspace. And, he adds, "During no-limit Hold'em tournaments, I see poorly calculated bet sizes from Internet players. They make a lot of mini-bets. That's probably because online you can click a button real quickly for a standard bet rather than adjusting a sliding scale or typing in a number for a larger bet."

It's easier to make the small bet, and slowly, right or wrong, that becomes the ingrained thing to do. Conversely, says Raymer, "They also go all-in way more than they should. They get used to doing it during the low buy-in tournaments online."

In 1999, Raymer entered the New England Poker Classic, a no-limit Texas Hold'em tournament, and managed to increase his chip stack 15 times within the first couple hours of play. "We got a lot of weak players back then," he says, sounding a little nostalgic. "While playing in that tournament, I happened to run into a guy I had met the previous winter at the World Poker Finals. He was a decent player but not a winning player. About half an hour into it, he came over and whispered in my ear: 'Can you believe these guys we're playing against. They make me look like Johnny Chan.' I thought it was funny because he made me look like Johnny Chan."

Raymer's not kidding. The action at Foxwoods was so suitably soft that he'd win six out of 45 weekly no-limit tournaments over the course of a year. With up to 150 players and a first prize of $10,000 to $15,000, the money began to add up. It wasn't Chan-size money, but it was plenty for a straight-laced family man like Raymer (he and his wife have one daughter, Sophie). Poker evolved into a financial keystone for the Raymer family. Besides supplementing their down payment with poker winnings, he used the extra money to pay for landscaping, for a vacation and for an upgrade on his wife's engagement ring.

Even after those splurges, poker was so consistently profitable that Raymer was able to maintain a bankroll of $50,000 or so, which was critical for him since he's the kind of gunslinger who requires lots of bullets. "When I play cash games, I usually play deep money, meaning I have well over 100 times the big blind," explains Raymer. "I want to make significant decisions all through the hands."

Often that will necessitate throwing around lots of chips. "I'm most skillful with a big stack, meaning that I'm not afraid of risking some of that stack when I think it's appropriate."

It is an approach that can be extremely volatile, and Raymer experienced the downside a couple years ago when his bankroll dipped to $15,000 or so. Looking back, he doesn't think he played bad so much as he ran bad. Cards stopped coming his way, and moves that should have paid off suddenly didn't. "I wanted to keep playing in a $150/$300 game at Foxwoods, which was surprisingly easy, but with a $15,000 bankroll I couldn't do it," says Raymer. "I needed to raise money."

He turned to the online bulletin boards and offered to sell shares of himself for $500 apiece. He received plenty of flames—why should I invest in you if you've become a losing player?—but had built up enough of a reputation in the online communities that people were willing to take a shot. Many of the investors were friends, but a number of outsiders stepped up as well. "One investor contacted me from Poland," says Raymer. "[But] my biggest investor was a poker player from the Bay Area. He bought 10 shares for $5,000."

Raymer originally raised a total of about $30,000 from investors, put in about $13,000 of his own money and received an extra 35 percent for the time and effort of playing. Travel expenses came off the top, and he ended up with 57 percent of all profits. The deals were structured in six-month periods and the World Series of Poker's final day marked the end of the fiscal year.

During the first six months, investors lost $12 per share. In the second six-month period the value of Raymer's stock went to $555, and in the third period it rose to $601. "After I won the World Series," says Raymer, "each share hit $36,300. My major investor got a check for $363,000, and I paid out a total of $2.1 million to shareholders."

Asked if he regrets having taken them on, Raymer answers without a moment of hesitation: "I'm happy. Without the backers I might not have been able to play in the Series."

When Greg Raymer arrived in Las Vegas for the 2004 World Series of Poker, he was coming in as a bit of a loser. Though he won his seat via a satellite tournament on PokerStars.com, between late February and May he was $45,000 in the hole. Then he dropped an additional $15,000 during the days before the World Series—never mind that he got to Vegas early with the intention of winning money.

However, on the Saturday night before his first day of Series play, Raymer won $5,000 in a satellite tournament at the Horseshoe. "I decided there would be no more poker till the big game," he says. "I wanted to go into the World Series on a win. I'm not superstitious, but it helps to be in a positive frame of mind. Otherwise you might not be making your best decisions."

That did not seem to be Raymer's problem on Sunday, the first day of the Series. He pulled cards when he needed them—flopping a set of 8s, then going all-in against an opponent with two kings—and played loose enough to negotiate some fancy moves, like a reverse bluff against the talented Marcel Luske. "He was under the gun [first to act] and made a raise that was three or four times the big blind—relatively standard. Three or four people needed to act before me. I quickly decided that when it came to me, I would look at my cards and, if I had aces or kings, I would push all-in and grunt. I wanted to do it in a real macho, caveman style, so he'd think I was bluffing. I looked at my cards, I saw aces, and instantly said, 'All-in!' Figuring that I had a bad, no-pair hand, he called me with ace-king, and I picked up more than half of his stack."

Raymer spent the day knocking out players and vacuuming stakes and wound up among the tournament's top 15 chip leaders. On the second day he continued playing gangbusters poker and began the third day, Tuesday, with $297,000. Ironically, despite starting the day in sixth place, he came close to getting knocked out of the Series by Michael "Mike the Mouth" Matusow, a highly emotional professional who finished sixth in the 2001 World Series.

The two players had been mixing it up a bit, and when Matusow raised Raymer in the big blind, Raymer called with jack-ace of diamonds. After the flop came 10-9-3 with two diamonds, Raymer made an unconventional bet: he went all-in, hoping to catch a straight or a flush, realizing that if he made a medium-sized bet, Matusow (who had more chips) would be likely to put him all-in anyway. Raymer hoped that the large bet would induce Matusow to fold.

Matusow became theatrical, begging, "God, this one time, let the good guy win."

He insisted that Raymer had to be on a bluff. After minutes of internal and external debate, Matusow decided to call. "We showed our cards, he had 9-7 for two 9s and jumped up from his seat, thrilled," remembers Raymer. "I asked him why he was so happy, since I was a 60 percent favorite with so many outs. I caught a diamond on the turn, and he kept trying to convince people that I would have made the same call if I had hearts in my hand instead of diamonds. But that was his mistake. I wouldn't have."

The clash with Matusow typified the day that Raymer characterizes as "a real roller coaster."

Within 20 minutes of starting, his $297,000 in chips was down to $200,000. "I put a guy all-in in a spot where I thought I had the best of it and was wrong," Raymer says in explaining how his chip stack decreased by nearly one-third. "But 40 minutes after that I was up to $350,000. I was not making big hands that day and not getting them paid off. I did a lot of stealing and bluffing. It was up and down all day. I finished at $466,000, but that was blind luck because of when the day ended."

For each day of the World Series, Raymer fell into a comfortable routine: rising early in the morning, eating a lunch of beef teriyaki at the California Hotel (across from Binion's Horseshoe), filling a 48-ounce cup with Diet Coke and topping it off with Cherry Coke during every break. He ate a tuna sandwich and shrimp cocktail for dinner every night and wound down with two cans of caffeine-free Diet Coke.

By Wednesday he was settled in and showed his table superiority by garnering respect from very solid player Josh Arieh. Before the flop, Raymer made a $40,000 bet. Arieh called. After 8 of diamonds–10 of diamonds–queen of clubs came on the flop, a flurry of back-and-forth betting ensued before Raymer went all-in and forced Arieh to fold. It added a quick $500,000 or so to his quickly rising chip stack, which closed out the day at $1,807,000.

On Thursday morning, after going through his pre-tournament ritual, Raymer walked into the Horseshoe and discovered that he was the World Series chip leader. Others noticed as well. Suddenly people were asking this hulking guy with funky glasses and fossil for his autograph. While it was too soon to predict that he'd win the World Series, Raymer realized that another, more modest goal was within reach: "I figured that if I could win enough money from the tournament, I'd be able to quit my job and open a solo practice. With that in mind, even if I didn't finish first, it could have been fine."

He started the day with nearly $2 million and played solid poker throughout, taking advantage of his position and using his chip lead to dominate his tables. He pulled off a neat bluff against young John Murphy, who showed up late with bed-head, insisting his alarm clock failed to go off. "I raised him with 10-8, just to steal the blind," says Raymer. "He raised me back, and I pushed all-in with 10-8."

Raymer laughs and says, "I didn't think he was bluffing so much as I figured he had a decent hand but not a great one. He threw his hand away and I showed him my 10-8."

It felt good for Raymer, who had been bluffed out by Murphy earlier in the tournament when Murphy had 2-3 and a gut-shot straight. "He looked at my 10-8 and I told John, 'That's for the deuce-three.' He smiled and tapped the table."

After the dinner break, Raymer stepped up with two queens to knock out a player who seemed a bit reckless with the all-in moves (in this case he had only a king-queen).

But Raymer's really smart playing didn't come till the tournament was down to 10 players, nine of whom would make the final table. That was when Raymer noticed some of his opponents suddenly becoming risk-averse. "A lot of decisions in poker are very marginal," Raymer says. "When some other factor comes into play—like being on the bubble of making the final table and appearing on television—that often tips the decision to the safe one: folding. I sized up who was playing it safe and took advantage of that. In about two hours I went from $5 million to $8 million by pushing people around and stealing blinds and antes. I cared about being on TV, but not so much that I would let it affect my winning the tournament."

The final day of the World Series of Poker was strangely uneventful. Raymer came in the chip leader and went out the chip leader. Early on, he caught a third 10 to knock out Michael McClain, who squeaked into the final table with $885,000. After catching a straight on the river, Raymer did in a young Swede named Mattias Andersson.

Although his chip stack got shaved down a bit—he was bet out by Arieh and beaten on the river by Al Krux—Raymer never relinquished his lead. He came close after losing a large pot to fourth-place finisher Dan Harrington. Harrington made a $900,000 all-in bet after the flop. Raymer called with the top pair of jacks to Harrington's 9s. But this time it was Harrington's turn to get lucky on the river, and he wound up winning the hand with three 9s.

In the end, however, Raymer needed only 14 hands to knock out the last two players. Arieh bit the dust when two queens came on the flop, giving Raymer a set to Arieh's pair of 9s. Just six hands later, Raymer won the tournament with an unexpectedly superior hand: both he and David Williams had full houses after the flop, but Raymer's pair of pocket 8s beat Williams's pair of 4s. "During the instant after he called my all-in bet, I felt he had to have me beat," says Raymer. "Then he turned his hand over and I tried to figure out how he won."

A split second later, Raymer realized that Williams hadn't won. Raymer had the best of it. He raised his fists, raked in the piles of cash and made poker history."
 
 
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