I have been working hard at what’s turning out to be a total rewrite of the WIP (Work In Progress). I hope to have it out for an outside read soon …. Nevertheless, the pages keep needing to be re-written.
It’s been fun learning about boxing in the Regency. It’s not been so fun learning about how wagers work. It’s slightly more complicated than I wanted it to be. Lay down money! Lose money/Win money! But now, I hope, I don’t have an egregiously wrong/hopelessly vague scene(s) involving money and betting and such.
My brain hurts. And no effing wonder some of these guys lost fortunes!
An Iniquitous Past
In a previous job, I ran the office football pool. I had all the games, the spread, the actual points scored by quarter etc. in a database and I used to slice and dice the results. This was long enough ago that Joe Montana was the 49ers new QB and it looked like maybe he was a better player than anyone expected… and here’s what I learned:
1. The 49ers ALWAYS beat the spread, even when they lost. There was no point EVER not taking the 49ers. Long before any of the papers were writing about the 49er defense, I could see from the mid-season numbers that there was no team even close to as good as the 49ers D. They were the #1 defense across all teams — that is, basically, almost no one scored against the 49ers D, and if they did, it usually didn’t happen in the 2nd half.
2. There were several teams that were consistently favored to win by large spreads and they almost never did. By mid-season, the numbers simply did not support ever picking those teams. The same was true of a couple of other teams, who were doing consistently better than the spreads would imply.
3. I issued a mid-season report to the office so that everyone had the same data I did. Despite the overwhelming numerical evidence, some people continued to pick teams based on their personal biases and gut feelings.
4. The people who were setting the spreads could not possibly have been looking at the same numbers I was. If they had been, they would have been setting different spreads.
5. I won the end of season pool that year. (There was a weekly pool, but a percentage went toward the end of season pool).
6. The 49ers won the Superbowl.
Yes, it’s true that on any given day, any team can win or lose, but the fact was that there was data in those numbers that predicted with a high degree of certainty the outcome of future games. There’s no question that Joe Montana was magic on the football field. But the 49er defense was completely underrated for three seasons, and the odds makers took a strangely long time to adjust to the facts/data.
The Bill Walsh era transformed football in ways that I think still aren’t entirely recognized. I could see from watching my data and from watching the games that the West Coast Offense (led by one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play the game) and what I will call the West Coast Defense (paid for by a very rich owner, Eddie DeBartelo) was essentially not beatable in the long run — until other teams got faster, bigger players (who were in better shape) and learned how to read offenses and defenses more quickly.
5 superbowls people. The 49ers won three superbowls pretty close together because it took about that long for other teams to understand they needed to play a different game and then acquire and train the coaching and athletic talent necessary to do that. The NFL made some rule changes that affected talent acquisition, so Walsh had to tweak his game, as it were. Boom. Two more superbowls.
Magic happens here.
Now watch me tie this into the Regency:
People gamble with their guts. And they do it in the face of mathematical evidence that their gut is wrong. Anyone who is at all interested in gathering information and looking at it over time will have an advantage, in a sport, in the long run, over someone who goes with their guts. You will take a few losses, but in the long run, you will be ahead of everyone who contaminates their picks with emotion.
The math is more like arithmetic, really. It’s not hard. You just assemble your numbers and let them tell the story. Even in the Regency, there just had to have been people who were geekish enough about some sport — like boxing –to do that sort of thing.
Yes, this is a cool tie-in. Love that sort of thing.
Also sympathies on the rewriting but I’m a little glad I’m not the only one. Sometimes it seems everyone else gets their stories right the first time.
The Montana-Rice 49ers were the source of many points when I was in a fantasy league. What a wonderful team (and I know a guy who once literally bumped into Mr. Montana in a grocery store, so I have played softball with someone who touched greatness).
Nate Silver says this year’s Super Bowl™ is too close to call, and if anyone knows numbers, it’s him.
As a Denver Broncos fan, I’m sorry to hear that Nate Silver said that. I trust his numbers.
Great post, Carolyn. I have to believe that in EVERY era, there have been geeky people able and willing to profit from the activities of the athletic types.
Karenmc: Ah, that brush with greatness… Some time after Montana retired at one of the home games they did a halftime tribute to former 49ers. Montana was there, and there were tears in the stadium. We were all beside ourselves. There’s lots of love for that man.
Nate Silver is da bomb!