Friday, July 03, 2009

My most interesting cab ride ever

Warning: Minimal poker content.

Cardgrrl's scheduled flight out Wednesday night got scrubbed, so she left tonight instead. We had planned for me to drive her to the airport, but my car suffered a serious failure in the afternoon and is now sitting overnight in the shop. So she took a cab to the airport, and I hitched along for the company. I just got home after taking the bus back. (It's only the third time in three years here I've used the city bus system. It's mostly pretty awful in every way, but there's one that runs directly from the airport to a spot about 300 yards from my apartment building's front gate in about 40 minutes, with no transfers, so it's an occasionally useful fallback.)

The ride to the airport was interesting, to say the least. The cabbie quickly asked us the usual basic info--locals or visiting, line of work, etc. That naturally led to the subject of gambling generally, and he mentioned that he aspired to be a professional sports bettor. I told him that I preferred poker, because I had a lot more control over the outcome than with sports betting. He made the rather perplexing remark that sports betting was more of a sure thing, because with poker you don't know how the hand is going to turn out, but with sports, it's right there in the newspaper.

Cardgrrl quipped that, yes, it was easy if you happened to subscribe to the edition of the paper that published the results before the events were played--which is approximately what I had been thinking, too.

This is where it got strange.

The guy said that the results were in the paper before the games were played. You just had to know how to read the clues.

Uh, OK....

He said that, as an example, he got his tip of the day from Doyle Brunson. I naturally assumed that that meant Dolly had taken a ride in his cab, the conversation veered to sports, and Brunson expressed some opinion about a game that the driver thought sounded valid, and put down a bet accordingly. (Cardgrrl later told me that that had been her guess, too.)


The cabbie whips out a copy of USA Today that is sitting on his dashboard, and opens it up. Mind you, he does this while he is driving at full speed down Las Vegas Boulevard, which in itself was more than mildly alarming. He found and showed us the large photo of Brunson that had been in the paper today. "Doyle is from Houston, and you see how he is looking up toward the upper left-hand corner? That means to bet Houston to win." Apparently he did, and they did.

A later conversation confirmed that Cardgrrl was feeling, at this point, about as I was: unsure whether this guy was serious or pulling our legs. (Or, as she subsequently speculated, perhaps an elaborate piece of performance art.) But it soon became clear that he was, in fact, dead serious.

He pulled another section of the same paper off the dashboard, again unfolded it--again while driving through heavy traffic--and showed us the front page. A picture of the Statue of Liberty adorned a feature about the re-opening of the crown to visitors. The story is "Statue of Liberty Gets Her View Back." He said that that obviously referred to New York--and specifically the Mets, because the Yankes are always referred to by something that is about the city, whereas this article was more about New York state; please do not ask me how he inferred that--and the title of the article, being optimistic or positive in tone, clearly meant that the team would win.

He said that he had discovered that the way things in photographs were positioned with respect to corners was key. In particular, he had found a phenomenon he called the "dead corner" that was most telling, though he didn't elaborate on what this was or how it worked. He said that recently he had seen a photograph of a torpedo that looked to him a lot like a Marlin, and it was pointed toward one of the bottom corners of the picture, so he knew to take the under in the Marlins game. (How one distiguishes taking the under versus betting against them to win in a money-line bet was, sadly, not explained to us.)

We were informed that USA Today was a far better source of this information than the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which always led him astray. I was a very, very bad boy here; I suggested to him that this was because the casino industry controls the LVRJ and doesn't want the paper giving out good information that would help people win bets. It seemed that this possibility hadn't occurred to him before, and he liked the theory. If there were a crime for contributing to the delusions of a madman, I'd have been arrested.

At one point, he mentioned in passing that it's the "government" that is responsible for both controlling the outcomes of the games and for planting the clues in newspapers. I told him that I thought that USA Today's headquarters was in Washington, D.C.--a factoid that probably confirmed what he had already figured out about who was behind it all.

Making a living at sports betting, he was certain, was easy, once you knew how to read the clues the government put out.

The man was genuinely convinced that he just needed a big bankroll so that he could make bets big enough to live off of. Why, you might wonder, wouldn't he be able to build a bankroll starting with a single bet, if he has this foolproof system? Good question.

The problem is that it isn't foolproof. Like a crossword puzzle (a truly excellent analogy that he had thought up all on his own), sometimes you think you know what the answer is and fill it in and it fits, but you later discover, once more is filled in, that it was wrong. Reading the sports clues planted in the newspaper and on TV news (which he scoffed at as being right about half the time but misleading the other half, and therefore pretty much worthless) was like that--sometimes you interpret them incorrectly, and only figure out what the clue-planters were trying to tell you after the fact, when you go back and look at them in retrospect, knowing how the game turned out.*

About this time, he decided to stop chatting about sports betting and instead took the topic back to poker. He said that he doesn't play much anymore because he always loses. He occasionally plays at the Sahara and Excalibur, but "I haven't won a pot in 15 years." All of you who think you run bad, try topping that cold streak! He said that in his most recent serious poker attempt, he had played $2/4 limit hold'em for three days and lost $300.

Toward the end of our journey, he again expressed his hope that he would soon hit it big in sports betting. This was especially urgent since he thought he was about to get fired as a cab driver. "I'm not cutting it," he frankly admitted. Cardgrrl and I didn't press him for information on what the problem might be, but both thought privately that it might have something to do with customers complaining about him driving while his eyes, attention, and both hands were on a fully spread-out newspaper that he was holding up between his face and the windshield.

He finally mentioned that on Monday he is starting poker dealer school at a place that is literally a stone's throw from my apartment building--just on the diagonally opposite corner of the same intersection. Maybe that will tide him over between being fired as a taxi driver and taking the world of sports betting by storm. (Oh, he also said that picking winners in horse races was easy, though there wasn't time left on the ride for him to explain how that worked.)

The guy was extremely nice and pleasant. He seemed like a perfectly decent human being, but lost in a world of his own imagination. I found it simultaneously amusing, sad, and scary.

I don't have any big point to be made from it. It was simply a surprising, interesting, and weird encounter that I thought readers might enjoy. People--and in particular, Las Vegas people--are a continual source of fascination to me.

Hey, Cardgrrl, if you feel like it, can you give me an amen on this story, lest people think I am making it up, exaggerating, or misinterpreting what was said?

*Speaking of crossword puzzles, here's another recent story, apropos of nothing, that I found amusing. Cardgrrl and I were trying to work our second old Sunday New York Times puzzle from a book I have. The clue was something like, "What's lacking in pernicious anemia." She and I each have our areas of fairly useless, arcane knowledge--which is why we seem to do well tackling the puzzles jointly--and this one was clearly in my ballpark. She was giving me just a bit of the stinkeye when I was taking quite a while to come up with the answer. Finally it dawned on me, and I filled in "BTWELVE." Sensing that she was wondering what the delay was, I told her, honestly, "I was trying to figure out how to fit 'cyanocobalamin' into that space." She burst out laughing, and, when she stopped, said something about me possibly being slightly overeducated.

I think I'm going to miss that grrl.


Anonymous said...

And this is why it is possible to make a profit playing poker... people like this do play the game from time to time.

Cardgrrl said...

Amen to the cab ride story. It was amazing & disconcerting. The man suffered from a grievous case of pattern-recognition and -making gone wild.

"Boo" to the 'stinkeye' comment. I would never give you a stinkeye over a crossword puzzle clue. However, I did think it was in your bailiwick (not your ballpark).

Anonymous said...

I think you're focusing on the wrong issue here - the fact that this man is able to DRIVE FULL SPEED DOWN LAS VEGAS BLVD is of way more significance. When has anyone ever been able to do that?

The Vegas Flea said...

The gentleman was obviously disturbed.

But, as an occasional sports better (I'm sure I'll regret this), I will make a simple comparison.

Handicapping (as opposed to referencing photo positioning on the pages of the USA Today) a sporting event is not a coin flip as many situations in poker can be.

Similar to poker, if I lose, I can look back and see where I went wrong. The difference is, I can look back and see that the defense didn't play as expected or the quarterback got hurt early in the game. As opposed to poker, were one can play a hand perfectly but still get beat by a one outer.

Believe it or not, that rarely happens in sports. Occasionally there's the fumble at the end of the game or some other odd, crazy turn of events. But part of sports betting is also knowing when to pick your spots, as in, know what games to bet on or not. If you think it's going to be a close, hard fought game, where a field goal at the very end of the game will determine the outcome, you probably shouldn't have been betting that game in the first place.

Or maybe I just suck at poker. :)

Mike G said...

I'd be careful with that tangent regarding the cabby's inability to build a bankroll with his foolproof sports betting "system" - someone might apply it to the poker "pro" who can't afford a working vehicle ;)

Mrs. L said...

Kinda sounds like the premise for a sequel to A Beautiful Mind.