Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Mediocrity by association (American Football)

I get it that the AFC is much stronger than the NFC. And by this I understand it to mean that the best teams in the AFC are stronger than the best teams in the NFC. But why is it that people tend to feel that mediocre teams in the AFC won't be mediocre in the NFC? Denver was favored by a field goal at home against Green Bay on Monday night, which essentially means that the two teams were viewed as being equal on a neutral site. Is a mediocre AFC team really equivalent to a good NFC team? I don't think so and the results certainly seemed like they played pretty even in Denver (which should mean Green Bay's better, since Denver most definitely has a home field advantage).

Another situation where people assume mediocrity by association is when a team just barely beats or even loses to a clearly inferior team. For that one game, the head coach may have gone with a conservative game plan to guarantee his victory, and end up winning by only a field goal instead of covering the spread. This, however, should not be an indicator of how good the team is. I remember at the beginning of last season when Denver lost their first game at St. Louis and then barely squeaked past a poor Kansas City team in OT at home. People wrote off Denver but they ended up beating both the Patriots and the Ravens in the next few weeks. The reason for the loss in St. Louis was 5 turnovers while in the Kansas City game, Shanahan just went very conservative, thinking his team was the better team and trying not to do anything stupid.

Along this line of reasoning, one must be able to look past certain games where a favored team ended up losing because of turnovers or special teams touchdowns. We can never predict when or how many turnovers will occur in a game, and sometimes it's just bad breaks. Even though a good special teams unit will typically net good starting field position and provide a predictable advantage, we're never sure when someone might break a return for a touchdown. An example of where we can take advantage of this kind of association of mediocrity was in the Pittsburgh at Cincinnati line this past weekend. Pittsburgh was favored by 3.5 the same as the line for their game in Denver from a week before. But with a bad game plan and some costly turnovers, Pittsburgh lost that game in Denver while the Bengals finally managed to score some points against a bad Jets defense. Did people really feel the Bengals were equivalent to the Broncos or did the line also reflect people's incorrect downgrade of Pittsburgh because of that loss?

The point here is that the next time you say "I don't like team X because they barely beat that awful team Y last week", you might want to rethink it. And just because a team beats 3 bad teams and loses to 3 super teams doesn't mean it's better than any other 3-3 team because of how super the teams were that they faced.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Dominance and craziness

After starting the weekend so miserably, came back with 5 straight picks coming in to break even for the week. It was a hard day not to make money in the NFL, with most of the favorites coming in and almost all the teases coming in as well. I guess the only way you could mess it up is if you took the Giants against the spread. The Giants are too undisciplined to take with a big spread. This is a team where the head coach gave up being a strict disciplinarian so that the team could win. Crazy.

Also crazy was the line for the New Mexico State at Hawaii college football game late Saturday night. The over/under was 80.

80!!! Never seen that before. Even the 70's tend to be rare.

In addition to being a weekend of craziness, it's also been a weekend of dominance. With the Pats completely manhandling the first really physical defense they've played against this season and the Colts recovering from their slow start, next week's matchup of Goliath vs. Goliath should live up to its billing.

And let's not forget the dominance the Red Sox showed by sweeping the Rockies. The Rockies just couldn't string together hits while the Red Sox scored a lot of 2-out runs. It's a good time to be a sports fan in Boston right now.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Losing the battle, winning the war

Why does this concept seem to be so hard to grasp in the world of sports?

I think it has to do with a combination of ego and the fact that most experts in sports are too engrossed in the sport itself and have no idea about general game theory and strategies. It seems to me this shortsightedness is most prevalent in baseball (taking one game at a time, not really thinking about the series as a whole). It is the only major US sport decided by a series of contests where major matchup differences come up in every game (the starting pitcher changes every game).

Why must aces go against aces? For example, take this year's world series. Jeff Francis is clearly the ace of the Rockies's staff, but the top three pitchers (Francis, Jimenez, and Fogg) for Colorado are not that far apart. On the other hand, Josh Beckett is by far the man on that Red Sox staff. So why not semi-concede game one at Fenway by pitching Fogg against Beckett, pitch Jimenez against Schilling (the best chance to steal an early game at Fenway), then make sure your ace is there in Game 3 in front of the home crowd to change the momentum of the series? This way, you'll still have your ace pitching again in game 6 at Fenway where you'll need him, but not going up against the unhittable Beckett.

The reason noone does this is because it is against conventional beliefs to "concede" a game and there are also ego issues at stake. Another example where baseball managers do not concede a game that drives me nuts is when they use perfectly good relievers in games where they're down 8+ runs. Sure you don't want to give up the chance of coming back by putting in someone who's more likely to give up more runs, but why waste a possible shut-down reliever to salvage an 8 run deficit? To me, when you have Tim Wakefield, you throw him into those games because he can give you many innings, come back on short rest and do it again, and you don't have to waste your other relievers where you need them to come in and shut down one or two batters later in the series.

The lack of proper game strategy and game management also shows up a lot in american football. I remember a few years back when Belicheck's NE Patriots took an intentional safety deep in their own territory down by 1 with little time left. Of course that was clearly the only thing to do, and even though the commentators kept saying how ingenious that move was on Belicheck's part, it wasn't that hard to come up with. But you know what? My guess is more than half the head coaches in the NFL wouldn't know to make that call. Look at Herm Edwards' clock management. Look at Wade Philips a few weeks ago going for a field goal with 8 minutes left down by 14 and his defense not coming close to stopping the Patriots.

I'm not saying all these head coaches/managers are dumb, but clearly their expertise is very specific to the sport and not with game theory. So why can't teams hire a game theorist/strategist consultant to help? One of my favorite writers (Bill Simmons aka The Sports Guy on ESPN) constantly talks about how teams need to hire a VP of common sense because most of the higher-up people in sports don't have common sense. And after all, game theory, like most economic subjects, is just about logic and common sense.

Now, I'm glad that the only real team I root for any more is the Patriots, so I don't have to worry about this happening with Belicheck at the helm. But considering how many of these horrible game managers I have monetary interests with, it's enough to drive a guy to rant on his blog.

Betting slump

Lost my first 6 picks of the week, giving back everything that I had won the previous two weeks, before finally hitting one. Tough stretch and hopefully tomorrow will be better.

Although I only watched two of the Breeders' Cup races live, here are a few of my comments:

1. About an hour before post time, I decided not to place a wager on Dylan Thomas. With the odds down to 4-5, the soggy ground which he doesn't like, and all the other normal negatives for an Arc winner, I decided it was just not a value bet. Good thing.

2. English Channel got the best seat in the race, seemed to like the give in the ground, and had a good record on that track. Is he really that many lengths better than those horses? Of course not.

3. Another horse with a great trip was Curlin in the BC Classic. If you had told me beforehand that they would go at that clip early AND Diamond Stripes would press onto the lead as well and box Lawyer Ron, I would have been all over Curlin. I seriously predicted Curlin to win as soon as the first quarter mile was run. Which brings me to this question. Why can't we have real time interactive betting in the middle of a horserace (or any race for that matter)? That would be so awesome to be able to make bets as you see how the horses are racing.

4. Poor George Washington. A four time G1 winner who had originally retired to stud, came back to racing because of fertility issues. Then he gets thrown into a mildly unsuitable BC Classic race because his trainer clearly favored two other horses in the other two perhaps more suitable races (Excellent Art in the Mile and Dylan Thomas in the Turf). To top it all off, he gets hurt and has to be euthanized. What would be the human equivalent for everything he went through?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Breeders' Cup

And now time for one of my favorite sports, horse racing.

I'm usually not too excited about the Breeders' Cup because I'm more a fan of international horse racing and it seems to me that only in the Americas do they primarily race on dirt. That being said, the Classic looks to be an intriguing race this year with a bunch of smart 3 year olds from this year's Triple Crown season all contending. With regards to looking to make a bet however, I usually look to the Mile or the Turf.

The reason is simple. The turf horses in the US suck. It's not even close. I thought it was fascinating when I watched the US odds for US horses in the turf races on the Dubai World Cup card earlier in the year. Obviously most US punters don't know any better, but the result was pretty clear when all their favorite horses ended up at the rear of their respective fields. So while Ouija Board last year was a clear bet as the best horse in the filly and mare turf field by far, she ended up with good value on the US tote.

Whether that will be the case this year with Dylan Thomas in the BC Turf I'm not sure. I've heard starting quotes ranging from 7-5 to 4-5 at different books, and I can only imagine that the odds will get worse as we approach post time. Not only did Dylan Thomas win the L'Arc de Triomphe, but he has been a very consistent horse, going either first or second in his last 5 races. This is a true world class group 1 turf horse, while the US contenders (Red Rocks, Better Talk Now, English Channel, etc.) all seem to be within 2 lengths of each other and I'm not even sure any one of them could win a second tier group 1 race like the Baden Baden, let alone come close to an Arc winner.

The BC mile is more interesting because while the European horses still tend to be better than the US horses, they're not that much better. The best turf sprinter-milers in the world are in Australasia and I'm pretty sure the third or fourth best miler from either Hong Kong or Japan would be able to win this race. Japanese horses are probably some of the best in the world, but the prizemoney in Japan is so lucrative they rarely venture out to conquer the world. When they do, the results have tended to be good, but probably not as dominant as they should be. The reason is simple. Japanese jockeys absolutely suck. Not even close. Yutaka Take, who's been heralded as Japan's best jockey, is no better than perhaps the second or third best Hong Kong jockey (I think Eddie WM Lai is comparable). Japanese jockeys have no judge of pace, and just don't ride hard to the line down the stretch. For example, you can take a look at that abysmal ride he gave Deep Impact in last year's Arc, or any other clips of Japan's G1 races (I think there are links to video clips at which is a great source of up-to-date information about Japanese horseracing). My favorite Japanese jockey is actually Masayoshi Ebina, who rode El Condor Pasa some years back.

That being said, I'd still go with the two European horses, Excellent Art and Jeremy, and of the US bunch I like Trippi's Storm as a longshot pick. The horse has come a long way since losing a $32k maiden claimer race in January, but I love good horses who can race at middle distances coming back to a mile. In horse racing, if horses have similar accomplishments at different distances, the horses who are successful at the middle to classic distances tend to be better horses.

One last note since I rarely talk about horse racing. Back in April in the US telecast of the Dubai World Cup, there was one female reporter (I guess the horse racing version of the sideline reporter) who went up to Sheik Mohammed (ruler of Dubai) and asked him if he had any side bet with his brother on the outcome of the Dubai World Cup (they each owned the favorite and second favorite of the race). When the Sheik said no the reporter actually asked again, saying, "not even just a little?" You moron, muslims don't (or at least shouldn't) gamble. I know sideline reporters pretty much know nothing, but this was ridiculous.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Staying on a Diet

It's been a little over 3 and a half weeks since I started my most recent diet, and while there's less enthusiasm (and more drinking and eating out) now than at the start, I've managed to stay the course fairly well. So here are my opinions on what makes a diet sustainable.

Day-to-day ease

One of the reasons systems like nutrisystem are so popular is that all the food is prepackaged for convenience. Whether you cook for your diet or get food from restaurants/eateries like I do, it is much easier if you cook/buy a batch and refrigerate for a couple days' use. Sure it might not be as fresh as can be and for those days there's less variety, but it's much easier to reach that long term goal if the day-to-day preparation is made as effortless as possible.

Week-to-week ease

When I buy my food for a diet routine, it usually lasts 4 days. This way, if I know I have plans to go out drinking/eating on the weekends, I can fit a full diet routine in on the weekdays. Similarly, if I have to go out to dinner on a Tuesday night, but feel like having wings and beer for watching football on Sunday, I can squeeze in a diet routine Wed-Sat. What I mean by this is that even though I recommend preparing food in batches for day-to-day ease, if your food is intended to last too long of a time it'll be harder to fit your diet with your other scheduled events.
Every day that you choose to diet (under whatever guidelines it may be), you will be consuming less calories (or else you need to change that diet). So being able to squeeze in a diet routine/regimen for some number of days in between going out will help you stay on track.

Days off

I am not a fan of lifetime diets. By those I mean Atkins, South Beach, or whatever, where you're expected to follow those dietary guidelines every meal of every day of your life. I also don't like the idea of eating whatever you want, and then crash dieting every time your weight goes too high. I believe the right mix is important. You should not feel compelled to diet, but should try to squeeze the diet in every now and then as mentioned above. So for every 4-5 days of dieting, you take a day or two off. Nothing need be rigid, but the idea is to squeeze in those diet routines here and there.
Days off mean eating normally, not going crazy. If you eat twice as much as normal on your day off, then there's really no point. On your day off, eat normally and eat what you've been depriving yourself of. But don't eat too much of it. In another few days you can eat it again.

Eat what you like, not what you crave

I am not a fan of eating small portions of your favorite foods. To me that's masochism. You're tempting your palate and then cutting yourself off cold turkey. Instead, I recommend that when you do diet, you eat things that you like, but that you can stop eating when you're full. Too much of the food we overeat nowadays comes from us not being able to stop because of cravings.
Sure, you might start off eating more of that food to compensate, but soon your appetite will slow down because you're not craving that food. When your appetite and cravings slow down you can later reintroduce those special foods after your body has learned moderation from other foods.

Don't classify foods by mealtimes

What I mean by this is don't restrict yourself to certain foods because of the time of day. It's okay to eat a turkey sandwich at 8 in the morning and it's okay to have an omelette (hopefully egg white) at night. That way you can eat healthier at different times of the day with more variety.

Try different ethnic cuisines

Every cuisine has healthy options and different ethnic cuisines use different spices and flavors so you can continually challenge your palate. This allows variety and promotes enthusiasm while staying the course by choosing the healthier options. Right now the main staple of my diet is Turkish, but I throw in Japanese, Korean, Italian, Thai, and meals from other backgrounds to help round out the diet.

Get as much information as you can

There are so many diet books out there now it's unwise to just pick one and follow as gospel. I believe in doing research and reading from sites that are willing to post controversial or contradictory information. Sites that I've mentioned before include and . The following are just a sample of things I've taken from these and other sources and try to implement in my own diet routine.

1. More frequent smaller meals.
2. Eat "good" or "better" carbs as much as possible.
3. Eat more carbs early in the day and more protein at night OR eat very balanced meals with a bit of lean protein with each meal. I try to do both in the two stages of my diet.
4. Watch portions when eating out or taking home food from restaurants. They're usually double the size of a suitable portion.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Strengths and Weaknesses (American Football)

This is mostly a comment about American football, but there's a pretty interesting comment about strengths and weaknesses that I'll throw in at the end except that I forgot where I heard it from.

After watching two terrible performances by two supposedly good teams in Pittsburgh and Jacksonville, I think NFL coaches are overthinking too much. For both Pittsburgh and Jacksonville, they came in with acclaimed running games against suspect run defenses, and decided to throw the ball early. Yes, you can say that Denver and Indy were both expecting power running and stacked 8 in the box. But as we could see throughout the game, that didn't stop either offense when they decided to run. Too bad they both found themselves in holes because they started off by passing the ball. Who cares if they're expecting what's coming? Do what you do best and you'll get the best result you can. That's why Belicheck is so good, he doesn't care if he throws the ball 20 plays in a row and the opposing team knows it. It's what works and he'll keep doing it till you can stop him.

Which brings us to this insight that I heard once that I think applies to life as well as football. "On offense, you're as strong as your strongest link. On defense, you're no stronger than your weakest link" - I forgot

When you're attacking, you're going to keep going to your strengths. If you have a great running game and a weak passing game, you should still stick with your running game even if there's no element of surprise. When you're on defense, the opponent will keep attacking your weakest point. Whichever side of your defense is more inexperienced, that's probably where the opponent will direct their attack.

I think this quote is fascinating because people often use the phrase "a chain is no stronger than its weakest link" (or some variation) but don't realize the importance of distinguishing between the two scenarios.

Friday, October 19, 2007

More TV

My previous list only showed the stuff I watch on regular TV and online. I forgot about my favorite shows on HBO and SHOtime. Since I catch them whenever I want through HBO/SHO on demand, I don't follow them as closely.

Right now I watch Weeds (just the most outrageous and unbelievable plot twists), Californication (I was gonna comment on how they stopped the gratuitous nudity after the first 5 episodes until I saw this past week's episode with the weird menage a trois with the squirter), and Dexter (it's still intriguing but this whole Dexter with emotions thing is not as cool as the way he was at the beginning of last season) on SHOtime and only Curb Your Enthusiasm (the only show that makes me cringe watching every episode, and yet I can't stop watching it) on HBO.

Of course the flagship shows on HBO were always Sex in the City and the Sopranos both of which I loved, and there's also a following for Entourage which I could never really get into. But I still think the best show they've ever put out was The Wire and I can't wait for the final season to come up. For those who've never seen it, it is just an amazing drama (with some comic relief on occasion) in which all the characters feel so real and developed. Right now on HBO on demand I think you can access the whole first season so please try to catch it and see if you're hooked like me.

RDT (Random daily thought)

I always thought there was some truth to the following two grossly exaggerated generalizations.

Every restaurant you go to in the US your food is cooked by Mexicans, and every asian restaurant whether it's Chinese, Japanese, Thai, etc. is owned and operated by a chinese person.

But here in Sunnyside Queens I've found the ultimate version of these sayings. Within a 5 block walking distance from where I'm living now, there are 3 taco takeout places, that either advertise as tex-mex or fresh tacos, burritos etc. All three are run by asians. Everyone at the counter is asian. One of them is even named China One Taco. WTF???? China One Taco???? Because China is famous for its tacos of course.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Maybe I should write a diet book too

It seems there are way too many diet books out there right now and they all pretty much spew the same information. More smaller meals, good carbs, lean proteins, and go to the gym. Since my most recent diet has been working, maybe I should try to document it.

In 2 and a half weeks, I've lost most of the weight that I gained after going back to Hong Kong. My program has two phases that last about a week each, with about 1-2 days a week where I don't have to diet. Since it's too much of a hassle to cook, I buy all my food from restaurants or supermarkets.

I agree with the more frequent smaller meals theory about dieting, so I try my best to have 2 lunches, 1 snack, and 1 dinner a day. By separating normal meals into 2, it helps me to eat less per meal. One rule of thumb that I've been using is that if the meat entree from the restaurant (or pizzeria or whatever) costs more than $7.50 from a normal neighborhood place, then the contents should be split into two dinner meals. This is because the portions everywhere in the US are so big, we really don't need to finish the entire thing. The problem is that when I eat out, I always feel compelled to clean the plate, so I make sure to take home all my diet food. Also, when I eat out at a nice sit down restaurant, not only are the entrees themselves too much as it is, I often find myself tempted to make it a full 3 course meal (might as well since I'm already out). So one of the things I've had to give up for this diet has been eating out, but at least I haven't been forced to completely cook all my meals yet.

The first phase/week separates carbs and proteins. I tend to eat most of my carbs and fiber in the daytime and only protein at night. Right now I eat a salad (tomatoes, cucumber, a little onion, baby spinach or lettuce) with either some rice or bread (Turkish pide) for my two lunches. Some days I'll have a fresh fruit/vegetable juice in place of one lunch. This is followed by a snack that introduces some nonmeat protein. Right now I have some hummus with the bread, but I think a nice miso soup with tofu and seaweed will work well and be nutritious too. For dinner, I eat just meat. On some nights I'll get a skewer of chicken chunks from the Turkish place while on others I'll buy some sashimi from the supermarket (cheaper that way).

After this first phase/week, the second week consists of very balanced meals. It'll basically consist of two lunches and two dinners where I just split a normal lunch/dinner portion into two. I try to get some vegetable, protein, and grains into every meal. Right now the meals I've had include a Korean soft tofu soup with vegetables and rice, a lamachun (Turkish flatbread with ground lamb, kind of like a pizza) with some veggies, pasta in garlic and olive oil with chicken or anchovies and broccoli. Other options I plan to eat include club sandwiches (no bacon), egg white omelettes with spinach and mushrooms and toast, and saag paneer (Indian cheese in a spinach curry) with rice. Again, the portions tend to be half of what the restaurant ends up giving me.

During these diet days, I get my sugar from taking occasional sips of vitamin water. At least this way I get some vitamins when getting my sugar fix. I tend to finish a large bottle in about 3 days. On my rest days, I pretty much will eat whatever I like, but try my best to keep the food somewhat healthy and again split the meals into more frequent smaller meals.

So far the weight has come off, and I do not feel hungry or have cravings. The price of the food adds up quickly, but it's mostly manageable. I'll try to stay on this for another month and by then I'll probably have a much better idea how successful this would be. I feel the key to any diet lies in how long one can happily stay on it.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

My life, my TV

Can't believe that I haven't written anything for two weeks. It's not like I really have anything to do. I'm still without a job, so my day basically consists of working on my diet, going to the gym 2-3 times a week, and playing online poker. I guess that's kind of like a job too since I end up putting in 6-8 hours a day. Oh, then there's the new fall season of TV.

Here's what I watch on TV during the week...
Monday Night Football (ESPN)
House (FOX) and Boston Legal (ABC) Fabulous Tuesday 9-11pm block
Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares (FOX) Just as good as the British version, but more graphic
Dirty Sexy Money (ABC) It's not great, but it's amusing
30 Rock (NBC) Bought the first season for my video ipod, absolutely fell in love with the show
Big Shots (ABC) Also in the not great but amusing category

There's no good TV on Fridays, though I used to watch both Monk and Psych (USA) when they had new episodes. Both are great.

I also watch these shows but usually catch them online because it's easier that way:

Chuck (NBC)
Rules of Engagement (CBS)
Carpoolers (ABC)
Back to You (FOX)
Till Death (FOX)
Gossip Girl (CW) Who knew? Likeable characters, and only one of the main girls is under 18.
I wish CW had Reaper available to watch online too.

Most of the weekend shows I watch are available online also, including the Simpsons (FOX), Family Guy (FOX), and Desperate Housewives (ABC). I tried to start on the first season of Brothers and Sisters (ABC) and I think I'd like it, but I don't think I can devote 20+ hours to catch up so I'm going to give up on it.

So yea, right now TV takes up a good chunk of my time along with my diet and poker. Tomorrow I'll write a post about my diet and my progress.