Monday, July 27, 2009

TC: Domestic Turf


File:Del Mar Horse Racing.jpeg

Last time out
Anger and Estrangement (9-2) was nipped in the stretch
by Tears and Reconciliation
I don't like his chances

Big Suspicion goes out at 7-2
after a trouble-filled layoff
whereas New Moon Fancy (15-1)
has been disappointing in her new barn

I could get to like
Stillness (5-1) yet wonder if
Emotional Snow (20-1) might not
sneak up late outside -- worth a shot?

Irresolution (8-1) almost destroys me
at which point thinking of you
I decide instead to take a chance
on Terrific Dream (8-1) despite her last showing

Horse-racing at Del Mar: photo by Jon Sullivan, 2005


Mariana Soffer said...

Hi tom how are you doing? I like t his a lot, cool. Have you read bucosky poem about the hipodrome? He says things like for example amability pays 1 to 100, being nice ...

the poem from him is amazing and he is such a sad and depressing being.

TC said...


Thanks for addressing my little betting joke.

I have never been a gambler, perhaps because as a young man I worked as a racetrack usher and thus was continually surrounded by gamblers--who, I came to learn, were perpetually involved in an intense form of game theory which, I later learned, amounted to ambiguity aversion systems based primarily on superstition and "hunches". Every bettor seemed to have his or her "system" for "beating the odds".

The horses would be under the starter's orders, the start given, and the race begun. The stall gates would open and the thoroughbreds would shoot out like arrows, on their backs the jockeys, `little devils in shiny silks' as Bukowski once called them. A roar would rise from the stands, everyone cheering a favourite horse and jockey.. . the pandemonium continuing until the horses disappeared from view around the curve. Then all thoughts would turn to winning and losing money.

I later wrote a book about a writer named Damon Runyon who had likewise been around racetracks enough to be wise to the fact that the house always wins, so betting is ultimately a loser's game. And not only in horseracing.

As Damon Runyon put it in ‘A Nice Price’: “‘In fact’ Sam the Gonoph says ‘I long ago came to the conclusion that all life is 6 to 5 against’” (Collier’s, September 8th 1934).

Now 6 to 5 are not bad odds. The bettor risks 6 against the house’s 5. He wins just often enough to be enticed into staying in the game. In the long run, of course, he goes broke.

At least in life, though, there's no vigorish—-the 6-5 (or in the case of football betting,11-to-10) odds a bookie gets on each bet, which constitutes his edge.

Have you ever heard the term "Dutch book"?

A person who has set prices on an array of wagers in such a way that he or she will suffer a net loss regardless of which outcome eventuates is said to have made a Dutch book.

When game theory and decision theory are transferred to the orders of human behaviour, it is too often a Dutch book.

At the time of the first Iraq war, I did an interview with Daniel Ellsberg.

Ellsberg had done his Harvard Ph D economics dissertation on decision theory. It was for his expertise in this area that he was hired by the Rand Corporation; and then soon afterwards brought in by the Pentagon as a consultant on probability scenarios at the time of the Cuban missile crisis.

Ellsberg told me that the epigraph to his dissertation had been:

"All life is 6 to 5 against"--Damon Runyon

Ellsberg's thesis is now credited as the source of a paradox in decision theory and experimental economics in which people's choices violate the expected utility hypothesis. It is generally taken to be evidence for ambiguity aversion. Evidence of the irrational in human decision making: preferring the apparently known to the apparently unknown.

You'd think that understanding this paradox would help bettors save their money... but no. It's still the thrill of the uncertainty followed in the end by empty pockets.

And as to the larger arena of life, there is to my knowledge as yet no recorded instance of anyone having beaten the odds stated in Runyon's First Law.

Mariana Soffer said...

Thank you very much for all of our explanation, I did not kow at all the term dutch book. Do you know that I worked in a horse track for a long time? it was a wierd job I can tell you one of this days.
I wanted to write to you so I can recomend a guy that talks about the irrationality that you also do

Predictably Irrational, is my attempt to take research findings in behavioral economics and describe them in non academic terms so that more people will learn about this type of research, discover the excitement of this field, and possibly use some of the insights to enrich their own lives. In terms of official positions,"

here is a talk he gives:

Joe Safdie said...

Tom, one of the things Ed said that's somehow always in my mind (was it in an interview with you?) is that he liked going to the ponies because it was a mixed crowd -- rich people and poor people -- as most respectable middle class citizens are working. Living about five minutes from Del Mar now, I constantly check the racing forms (much more information than the poetry blogs) -- but (of course?) opening day was marred by tragedy: a horse came up lame, kicked a jockey in the head as he was going down, "euthanized" . . . it's a cruel world, "where the surf meets the turf."

On another note, Arthur's death has moved the stones, and we're now in contact with the Cinnamon Girl and Simone for the first time in, what, 15 years? I think this is what Eleusis might have been about . . .

TC said...

Mariana, Joe,

Of course we know that in life there are no sure things, but it's hard not to like the nice odds on Friendship.

Del Mar

Del Mar was the favorite track of J. Edgar
And he used to take along his buddy, Clyde
One can see the golden ring glint wahoo
On the snowy Pullman napkin and african waiters
Serving ham and eggs, walkin with the car

They'd be put up in a mansion
Over by the water and their every wish
Taken care of with a catering snap.
Del Mar is a serious track: maybe too serious.

-- E. Dorn

Joe Safdie said...

One of my favorites . . . I also love this one:

An Unusual Accounting Treatment

We live in what is by definition
A slave society*
And this would include
most of the spread
We've always lived down the road
And have received or taken what we got.

Some of us have had a close practice
With the master
But whatever was gained there
would be only clearer
Certainly nothing more
And it will definitely be seen
By Kennecott's auditors
As of no consequence to the main facts.**

* Relative freedom, illegal liberty.
** It is too easy to see strictly industrialism in this model. Observational evidence indicates both these roles are loosely assigned and actively sought.

(also from Hello La Jolla, just down the road . . .)