Tuesday, February 22, 2011

2011 NBA All Star Weekend Recap + Melo thoughts (sport, gambling)

A quick recap and some thoughts, including thoughts on the Melo trade.

Even though Team Texas couldn't hit the half court shot within the 40+ second cushion, they were still a terrific value bet in my opinion.

Once Curry posted a 34 second time (faster than Derrick Rose's previous winning time) after missing two jump shots, it was pretty clear to me that he rated to be the favorite if he made the finals. There were some pretty good odds to be found on him at some online sportsbooks as people didn't convert the fact that the obstacle course was not about point guard skill but rather about putting the ball through a hole.

I was right to throw out the favorite and the scorers in the 3pt contest, but I guess I should have taken all of the underdogs instead of just two.

The slam dunk contest was a disgrace in my opinion. I understand that the judges' scores are subjective, and that there are many times when they just don't know what's going on. A previous example includes the Dwight Howard sticker dunk, and this year I think the Ibaka free throw dunk was also underrated. That being said, I thought it was quite a "coincidence" that Griffin's not-as-impressive second dunk scored him exactly the number of points to guarantee him into the finals, where he had the most elaborate setup of all the dunks, including a car that had a huge logo of the main sponsor. Oh, and let's not forget that voting for the winner began before the finals even started. Yes, let the fanbases, not the dunks, decide the contest.

I understand that it's a novelty event, but it just seems like there could be so much more that can be done with it, and the more serious the players take the contest, the higher the quality of dunks we'll get. My suggestion would be to have a technical score along with an artistic/"bringing it" score like figure skating. That way dunkers will get rewarded for pushing athletic boundaries like longer hang time or bigger spins, and if they miss a dunk, you deduct accordingly. Whereas right now, it's all hype. The Griffin car dunk was not that impressive in my mind technically, with my favorite being McGee ducking underneath the backboard for a backhanded dunk. The last three winners have all gone first in the final, where the third dunk gets the crowd so ramped up that the last dunker has no chance to catch up.

The All-Star game over came in pretty handily, along with the first half over, although there was a little sweating before that cashed. Actually, by the time the game started, the line had moved 5 whole points to 273. It was a pretty boring All-Star game for the most part. I think this was because even though the teams were completely stacked, they were stacked with winning, competitive players. Just like for the dunk contest, there are impressive in-game dunkers who don't translate well to a showcase for dunking. I think that guys like Vince Carter and Allen Iverson, who weren't consistently winners in the league, brought more excitement to the All-Star game.

So the Knicks finally gave in and gutted practically their entire team for Melo. Aside from the obvious pros and cons that everyone has already talked about, I do think having Melo should help get Amare more rest. That's something he desperately needs given the pace he was playing at earlier in the season combined with the fact that he's not exactly the healthiest player around. I do wonder how Melo will fit in with D'Antoni's offense. Billups will love it as he can continue to jack up whatever shot he wants. I think the key to how well the Knicks play the rest of the season will be whether they can find another shooter, either by rejuvenating Roger Mason or by getting Azubuike healthy and playing.

The main takeaway from all this for me was how much of a player/agent league the NBA continues to be. Melo painted himself into a corner, lost all negotiating leverage, and yet still managed to get the Knicks to give up half their starting roster for him.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

2011 NBA All Star Weekend Preview (sport, gambling)

I have to say that I'm pretty excited about this year's NBA All Star Weekend. The rosters for the main game are completely stacked, and there's a lot of hype about what Blake Griffin will do in the dunk contest. It wasn't always this exciting, though. I was watching a dunk contest marathon on NBATV, and there were some lean years between the epic Vince Carter year and the Dwight Howard Superman year. There are a lot of events throughout the weekend, so I'm going to go through them in order.


Nothing really interesting here, so I didn't bother to preview it. It was obvious Justin Bieber was going to win the celebrity game MVP. I mean, can you even set a line on anything determined by text votes where Bieber is one of the choices? The rookie/sophomore game wasn't much of a game either. They somehow managed to score a staggering 288 points combined in two 20-minute halves.


Haier Shooting Stars

Team Texas is the deserving favorite here (+175) when you consider that their current player Dirk Nowitzki is one of the best shooters in the league right now, and their legend Kenny Smith was a shooter back in his playing days. This event, however, essentially comes down to the half-court shot, which is more or less a crapshoot. If you're a real degenerate who needs some action here, I would say that Team Texas is actually very good value compared to the other teams (ranging from +180 to +200), as I expect that they will get through the other shots in a much quicker time.

Taco Bell Skills Challenge

I actually like the concept of this event, although I wish they could do more with it. Perhaps an obstacle where they have to dribble two balls, one in each hand. The preliminary lines set at Bodog were much more generous than the lines at the sportsbook I have access to, which are Chris Paul (+200), Derrick Rose (+200), John Wall (+250), Russell Westbrook (+200), and Stephen Curry (+250).

My recommendation would be to take two horses in this race. I would choose the proven Derrick Rose (2009 winner) and the young shooter Stephen Curry. First, a look back at previous winners shows that except for Steve Nash, all of them were strong, driving guard types such as Dwyane Wade and Deron Williams. Because of the zigzag obstacle course, pure speed is pretty useless, as evidenced by Tony Parker's dismal showings the two years that he participated. So picking based on physical strength, I choose Derrick Rose. The other thing that's important is actually making the "passes" and the shot. Because there are no defenders or any decision-making processes involved in this, making a "pass" is essentially putting a ball through a hole. On that front, Stephen Curry is the best of this group at doing that, despite not being a point guard.

Foot Locker 3 Pt Contest

The lines are Daniel Gibson (+300), Dorell Wright (+400), James Jones (+450), Kevin Durant (+250), Paul Pierce (+350), and Ray Allen (+165). I believe there's often very good value in the lines for this event, and I remember picking Daequan Cook a couple years back as a value pick at over +300. Except for last year's win by Paul Pierce (which I consider a fluke), this contest has typically been for shooters and not scorers. So I would immediately throw out KD and Pierce. Ray Allen won this event 10(!) years ago, but I think he's more of a catch-and-shoot rhythm shooter now, and offers little value at that price. I think Jones belongs in that same category, so I'm not interested. That leaves Gibson, a terrific value for the only shooter in this event with a career 3P% > .425. I think Gibson is the money play here, but I also wouldn't mind piecing off some of that action to Wright at the big odds.

Sprite Slam Dunk Contest

My favorite slam dunk contest performances in the new millenium are, in order, Vince Carter's epic performance in the 2000 contest (which actually overshadowed two impressive performances by T-Mac and Steve Francis), Dwight Howard's Superman year, Gerald Green's performance that same year (overshadowed by Howard, but he did the candle-blowing dunk and a between-the-legs shoeless dunk), and Dwight Howard's elevated rim dunk the year he lost to Nate Robinson. I really don't think Nate should have won that year, but that's what happens when we move to an age where fan voting dominates everything. If people could vote for Bieber, they'd probably name him the dunk contest winner too.

The fan voting plays a major factor in the lines, making Blake Griffin a prohibitive favorite at -500. Not only because of what he might do in the dunk contest, but because he has the largest fanbase by far compared to the other contestants such as Demar DeRozan (+400), JaVale McGee (+650), and Serge Ibaka (+800). No play here. Just sit back and enjoy.


This is quite a main event. So many quality guys were snubbed. The starting rosters may contain some of the best talent ever assembled. Both sides are actually pretty even. There's a lot to look forward to in this showcase, but there are also a couple of interesting lines to look at.

Full game o/u 268. Historically the line has been in the 262-265 range, but with all the big names this year, the line has been bumped up. Given that the rookie/sophomore game resulted in 288 with only 40 minutes of game time, one would think that this would be an easy over bet.

Indeed, my pick is the over, and my only concern is that this game doesn't really have too many deadeye shooters, especially from beyond the three. However, that should be offset by the fact that every player on both rosters is capable of playing well in the open court, and I expect just a ridiculous pace of fast break opportunities. There are no Shaqs on this roster. Nobody is going to post up. If you take a drink for every dunk, you will die of alcohol poisoning.

But an even better bet might be the first half over 134.5. Just a half point premium for the first half, when legs are fresher and the game outcome is far from being relevant. If the game is close, there's always a possibility that the teams slow down and tighten up in the 4th quarter.

I'm looking forward to an entertaining weekend of "basketball", but I'm also here to remind everyone that when the bookies are faced with setting lines for events like these, they tend to be cautious with the favorites and leave some good value sitting around on some of the underdogs.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Return to Kajitsu (food)

After having a delightful Xmas dinner there a while back, I was eager to revisit Kajitsu, and went with friends SM and TF. We sat at the chef's counter last time, and discovered that the counter didn't really have much to offer. You get to see the chef plating and making matcha, but no cooking gets done in front of you and he's not free to be chatty like most sushi chefs. So this time we booked a table in the back area for 9pm.

I usually don't start dinner that late, but they only do two seatings for the tables, one at 6pm and one at 9pm. The only problem was, when we got to the restaurant, the customers from the 6pm seating still weren't done. And they still weren't done after we waited twenty minutes and the hostess asked if we wanted to wait at the counter and order some drinks. Finally, after a good 40+minutes after our reservation, we were seated. I know there are plenty of hotspots in NYC where people wait well over an hour, but that's why I don't go to those places. The worst offender is Ippudo, where the food is not anywhere near being worth the wait.

I guess I just expected more from the front of house of a (vegetarian) kaiseki restaurant with two Michelin stars. Also, from a practical standpoint, I don't understand why they couldn't have whisked the diners to the counter to finish their meal and sat us. I'm probably biased because I was the one kept waiting, but they already got their money out of those diners. If we ended up leaving because we didn't want to wait any longer, that's a whole table of lost revenue.

Enough ranting. I could go on and on, but the food was really good so let's focus on that. They serve two menus every month. A $50 4 course menu and a $70 menu that adds a course of assorted tastings and dessert to the 4 course menu. The menu changes every month, and in the two years Kajitsu has been in business, the chef has not repeated a single dish, which is a truly impressive feat. The presentations are beautiful, but sometimes there are garnishes that are just for decorative purposes only. If you're not sure about something, make sure to ask if it's edible!

BRAISED BAMBOO SHOOTS WITH GRATED CELERY ROOT and arugula, mitsuba, phyllo dough, butterbur puree, edamame shoots, baby celery root, wasabi. This was a truly spectacular first course. The top layer of celery root and puree had a subtle earthy flavor and covered a thin layer of phyllo dough underneath which were the bamboo shoots and edamame. A wonderful construction of textures from soft to crunchy. The wasabi added a nice gentle kick that managed to help bring out the subtle flavors.

CLEAR SOUP WITH YOMOGI-FU AND SOFT BRAISED KABU TURNIP with lotus root and yuzu zest. This was my least favorite dish of the night, even though it was beautifully presented with the lotus snowflakes and the tiny yuzu zest squares. I would think that many people who don't regularly eat as light as I do would consider the soup downright bland, and I continue to not be a fan of the texture of the yomogi flavored nama-fu.

There's a lot going on here with this trio of tastings. In the dish was GRILLED SOY BEANS AND STEAMED SPINACH WITH SAKE-KASU TOFU SAUCE with carrot, burdock root, baby breakfast radish, and sesame paste. Another wonderful combination of textures, and I actually liked the flavors of all the individual components. The sauce was ok, and I'm not really sure how necessary it was to the dish. In the corn husk was STUFFED POLENTA WITH MOCHI AND CORN MISO with yellow bell pepper. An interesting play of textures, with the featured flavor being the sweetness of the corn. The sweetness is evident yet manages not to overpower. This came with some truffle salt to dip in and the combination of the sweetness with the salt and truffle flavor was fantastic. On the upper right was DRIED PERSIMMON WITH BALSAMIC VINEGAR AND GRILLED WALNUT. Just ingenious. Another great play on sweet with savory, but this time with a third component of just a hint of lime. The leaves on the bottom left were not to be eaten. Again, remember to ask!

HOUSE-MADE HOUTOU NOODLES AND STEWED WINTER VEGETABLES IN MISO BROTH with nappa cabbage, taro, shimeji, enoki, kabocha, carrot, snow pea, shiratama-fu, and shichimi. The main course consisted of this wonderful and earthy stew of vegetables in a flavorful miso broth. The wide flat udon noodles worked well with the broth that had some grittiness from the cooking down of the taro and other root vegetables. There were also large pieces of leek tempura which was a definite winner.

Our individual servings. We each had seconds, but my friends soon regretted that decision as this course was very filling.

CHILLED NAGA-IMO WITH MOZUKU SEAWEED and ginger and yuzu vinegar. This was a welcome palate cleanser, considering there was still another savory course while we had just finished the heaviest course of the night. It was refreshing and tart with a nice crunchy texture. It reminded me of the first course I had at Masa, without the addition of crab. In fact, I could see either crab or uni working very well with this to create a wonderful first course.

STEAMED RICE WITH FRIED TOFU AND TEA INFUSED SOY SAUCE with grated daikon and scallion AND HOUSE-MADE PICKLES. This was tasty and satisfying, but I wasn't convinced that it was anything special. The pickles were good, but the tofu did not have a standout house-made flavor, and I couldn't really discern the tea flavor in the soy sauce.

STEAMED MANJU with white bean paste, japanese sweet potato. Another lovely presentation, with the dotting of the eyes to resemble a rabbit, since it is the year of the rabbit after all. Another well crafted dessert that wasn't too sweet or too sticky in texture.

MATCHA TEA WITH CANDIES BY SHIOYOSHIKEN. The sugar/meringue-like candies were ordinary. The matcha was a good way to end the meal.

Except that the meal wasn't over. Mixed berry ice cream with a rice wafer was sent over by the chef because we'd waited so long. The fruit was fresh while the ice cream was nice in that it was less creamy than regular ice cream while being creamier than a sorbet.

Some more candies shaped like rabbits to take home.

The gesture by the chef was nice, although it would have been better if he'd sent out something earlier in the meal, before we had stuffed and contented ourselves that the meal was over. The food was again very good, beautifully presented, and a good value. However, this is not a restaurant suitable for all palates. If you add salt to your french fries, you will definitely find this food bland. Or if you're really used to chemically created flavors, you might find it bland as most of the flavors are quite subtle.

Monday, February 7, 2011

2010-2011 NFL Superbowl Recap (sport, gambling, food)

PIT 26 GB 31

First, please allow me to give myself a little pat on the back. After a brutal postseason of picks, I think I nailed this game pretty good. Not only the picks, but the props and the general flow of the game as well.

The game:

"I expect a high scoring game" - 57 combined points well over the 44.5 total.

"I expect the teams to score in streaks" - GB jumped out to a 21-3 lead, then Pitt cut it back to 21-17 before both sides exchanged scores in the 4th quarter.

"I think turnovers will play a huge role in this game" - GB won the turnover battle 3-0, including a defensive score.

"I think once Pittsburgh gains momentum, they cannot let go or else they won't be able to recover" - Pitt got on a roll, but couldn't get over the hump and overtake GB, and GB held on.

The props:

Heath Miller yards 38.5 - 12 yards on two receptions
"I think at this point, getting even money for under 38.5 isn't bad"

Three consecutive scores - had two chances at it, but didn't come in
"I expect the teams to score in streaks, so I would choose yes"

Largest lead 13.5 - turned out to be 18
"In all, I think taking the over here is a very good bet"

Who gets the ball first - who knew Green Bay would be the team to defer?

MVP Aaron Rodgers EV - It seems that Aaron Rodgers stayed at around +175 at most sportsbooks, just not the one I was looking at. Much more reasonable odds.

Christina Aguilera holding "brave" - I don't know the official number, but I had her clocked over 7s. In retrospect, if she averaged 6s in previous outings, she was probably going to step it up for the Superbowl. But then again... actually, we'll get to that in a bit.

Ok, enough with the self congratulating. Let's review some other aspects of the game experience.

Before the game started:

My food for the day was this sushi platter. It's the Superbowl, so gotta go big. I've mentioned before that I prefer my sushi to be either really cheap or really expensive, and this was definitely on the cheap side. $30+tax got me a combination of

small rolls (6pcs): cucumber, Japanese pickle, salmon, tuna, yellowtail scallion medium rolls (6pcs): california, eel avocado, spicy tuna, alaska (salmon, avocado, tobiko)
large rolls (5pcs): shrimp tempura, futo maki (imitation crab, Japanese pickle, egg, cucumber, avocado)

Not bad.

Ok, so seriously, how do you mess up the national anthem on the biggest stage in television? Talk about epic fail. It also caused a stir amongst bettors, who wondered what Aguilera's real time would've been if she got the lyrics right.

During the game:

Just an awful collection of commercials. Nothing new, nothing memorable, nothing really funny. My top three would probably be the Faith Hill teleflora commercial, the doritos finger licking commercial, and the cram it in the boot mini cooper commercial. Speaking of car commercials, was it just me or did it seem like all the American car commercials were about eco-friendly and hybrids (except for the eminem one about Detroit), while all the foreign ones were much more "we're awesome and this is our new car".

The commercial spacing seemed weird too. Two doritos commercials early, and then I didn't see another one. Oh, and finally, how much money does godaddy have/make? How can they afford these stupid, expensive commercials every year?

Half time:

I think this half time show almost broke twitter. So many people absolutely hated it, and had a venue to let the world know. I thought it was overproduced and over-autotuned. The light show aspect of it overshadowed the energy that I think the show is supposed to bring. I liked how the performers this year were more relevant, but hated them singing other people's songs, especially the wreckage of Sweet Child O' Mine.

The more interesting thing at halftime was the halftime line. The line opened at Pit-2.5 which I thought was a complete bargain, and it closed at 3. I thought it was a good deal because Pit was only down 11 despite being down 2-0 in turnovers and had at least shaken up two GB defensive backs towards the end of the first half. Add that to the fact that both teams were rated pretty close to start with, and I thought it was a mandatory hedge/middle attempt if you had GB-2.5/-3 to start the game.

After the game:

Aaron Rodgers was a very deserving MVP. Imagine what the game would've been like if his receivers didn't keep having balls go through their hands and bouncing off of them. I liked Tomlin's post-game interview. Very professional without being too cliched during an emotional time. I hope the Superbowl loser's curse doesn't get to Pittsburgh, because they have a dangerous looking team for next season, with Aaron Smith back on defense, a healthier offensive line, and more time for their young receivers to develop.

That's assuming, of course, that there is a next season. I expect this to be a hard-fought, drawn-out negotiation. I hate the NFLPA's ads though. Let us/them play? The owners are all for that, really. In fact, the owners want you to play more. Two more games to be exact. Just doesn't seem like a well thought out slogan.

And so we enter the black hole of the sports calendar. A time so devoid of meaningful sports that the XFL came into existence. At least there's February sweeps.

Friday, February 4, 2011

2010-2011 NFL Superbowl Thoughts (sport, gambling)

Line: anywhere from GB-2.5 to GB-3 with all kinds of different vigorish
O/U: 44.5

About as much of a toss up as I've seen in recent Superbowl history, but with a strange twist. This Superbowl matchup is one of the more polarizing ones in recent memory. With possibly the first line to close under a field goal since 1982, one would think that there's just a lot of wishy-washy sentiment about not being able to pick between the two teams. Instead, it seems like there's a lot of conviction on both sides. There's a good balance between the large number of people who believe that Green Bay is a bargain giving less than a field goal and the large number of people who believe Pittsburgh getting points is great value.

I think this is largely due to the contrast of styles. Pittsburgh represents the experienced veteran team that knows how to win ugly, plays hard hitting defense, and has performed consistently throughout the season. Green Bay represents the young team that can be explosive on offense, has playmakers stepping up on both sides of the ball, and seems to be peaking at just the right time.

I expect a high scoring game where both sides will go through hot and cold streaks. Both offenses are well suited to taking advantage of their opponents' defense. Green Bay, with their speedy and sure-handed receivers, can torch the Steelers deep like other teams have, or go with lots of quick slants and short passes like when the Patriots beat the Steelers. The dome/turf environment should help them tremendously. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has a big strong tight end that can go through Green Bay's coverage, a quarterback who is tough to bring down, and a much stronger grinding running attack than anything the Packers have faced so far this postseason. Add to that two defenses that create turnovers and generate three and outs as opposed to bend but don't break defenses, I expect both teams to begin a lot of drives with tremendous field position.

As to which team will come out on top, I must admit that I'm one of the wishy washy punters. I think turnovers will play a huge role in this game, but when and where they occur is so random, it makes it really difficult to predict the outcome of the game. However, I think there is a slight edge for Green Bay in that even if they gameplan poorly, and start by constantly running into the brick wall that is Pittsburgh's run defense, they can still recover because they can score quickly in bunches. In a game where I expect flurries of scoring, I think once Pittsburgh gains momentum, they cannot let go or else they won't be able to recover.

Pick: Green Bay -2.5, Over 44.5

But the Superbowl isn't just about the main event. So much of the action goes through proposition bets and everybody's favorite Superbowl party gambling game of squares. So I picked out a couple of interesting prop bets that I noticed.

The sharp bettors' bandwagon prop:
Heath Miller total receiving yards 38.5 -130/ev

What opened at around 36.5 has been bet up to almost 39 at some places. A healthy Miller becomes as dependable a target as Hines Ward for that offense, although he isn't as useful when Big Ben scrambles. The main reason for the money flowing into this one is that many people believe the main weakness in Green Bay's defense is against tight ends, where they ranked in the bottom third of the NFL. However, Brent Celek, Tony Gonzalez, and Greg Olsen each had 30 or fewer yards against the Packers this postseason. I think at this point, getting even money for under 38.5 isn't bad, but I'd be going against a lot of sharps and wiseguys.

The bookmaker's moneymaker prop:
Will there be three consecutive scores by a team yes-180/no+150

This is one of the props that makes the books the most money, because people both underestimate how easy it is for this to happen and want to root for a close tit for tat game. I mentioned earlier that I expect the teams to score in streaks, so I would choose yes, and I think this is better odds than this prop usually offers, probably because of the close spread between the two teams.

The follow up prop:
Largest lead in the game 13.5 -130/ev

Obviously if one team scores three or more consecutive times, the chances of a 14 or more point lead increases in likelihood. There are two small stats in support of each side. For the over, we have the fact that in all the playoff games played by both these teams this postseason, there has been at least a 14 point lead or deficit in all of them. For the under, we have the fact that Green Bay has not trailed by more than 7 points through all 19 games they have played, which kills half the action. Two more factors affecting how big leads are built are how often these teams score touchdowns as opposed to field goals, and the defenses' ability to score. The TD conversion rate has seemed pretty high to me so far this postseason, and we know both teams' defenses are very capable of scoring. In all, I think taking the over here is a very good bet, and is consistent with my belief that this will be a high scoring streaky game.

The random interesting prop:
Which side will get the ball first Pitt+105, GB-130

I found this one very interesting. At heart, it's the equivalent of a coin toss prop. But the market action seems to indicate that there is belief that Tomlin is more likely to defer. Would Tomlin really defer to that explosive Green Bay offense? Also, I don't think any environmental factors play into this. I expect Tomlin will have made up his mind on what to do if they win the coin toss well before game time. An interesting wrinkle to a 50-50 coin toss.

The ridiculously priced prop:
MVP Aaron Rodgers EV

Even money for Aaron Rodgers to win the MVP? Seems a little extreme to me. I think the line opened around +175, and people were using it as a proxy for betting on the Packers to win, so they had to pull it back in line with the game line. I think if Rodgers wins the MVP, Pittsburgh's defense will have failed and the Packers will have won by a wide margin, and since winning margin is a bettable prop too, it would probably offer better returns. Note that this prop and the following one are not allowed in Nevada, where the regulations insist that it must be something that can be seen from the box score and not vote-based.

The talked-about non-fan researchable prop:
How long will Christina Aguilera hold the "brave" in the national anthem:
6 seconds

Part of the fun of the Superbowl is being able to bet on all kinds of things. People actually research this by going on youtube to watch her previous national anthem performances at big events. But of course the linesmakers know what they're doing, as it supposedly has ranged from 5 to 7 seconds.