Thursday, March 21, 2013

Why I Hate March Madness

With another incarnation of college basketball’s championship tournament upon us, I am once again reminded of the season nearly everything went right for me, until it all went wrong. 
It was a different era for college basketball. Ruled by Duke, the reigning two time champions, and its prodigies Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley, the face of the league was shifted by a brash group from Michigan, dubbed “The Fab Five.” ESPN has created a film documenting how Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson came together for two magical seasons to transform the direction of college basketball forever.

In 1993, I was a sophomore in high school and decided to, once again, participate in a March Madness bracket pool. It was the last season I would ever do so.

To this day, I remember filling out the empty sheet. It was early morning, before classes, and I was seated on a leather couch, beside a friend that was a big Michigan fan. One by one, I selected teams and, guided by the hand of fate, I magically picked winner after winner. Ultimately, that morning I predicted seven of the Elite Eight, all of the Final Four, and both finalists correctly. Stuck with indecision, I mulled over the matchup for awhile and then leaned over to my friend and joked “I know I’ll regret this,” as I fatefully wrote “Michigan” into the final space.

Before the championship game I was so far ahead in points that my win was a virtual certainty. As the tournament played out, my friends cursed my luck and lamented their own. I was in line to see a $150 profit, still a nice win today, especially considering the $5 investment, but in those days, this was a mountain of cash.
On April 5th, 1993, Michigan met North Carolina in New Orleans for one of the most memorable NCAA Championship games ever. The Fab Five had once again battled in exciting fashion, finding themselves down by two points in the waning seconds. I crawled closer and closer to the television as Chris Webber eluded a double dribble call and raced up the court. Pressed into the corner by a vicious double team, Webber made one of the most infamous gaffes in the history of sports; he called a timeout when his team had none remaining. Awarded a technical foul, North Carolina cruised to victory.

The Michigan loss was a double tragedy. First, because of the heavy weight the championship held in scoring the pool, my enormous lead instantly evaporated and I finished short of the paying spots. The second curse came to light almost ten years later. It was discovered that Webber had received improper benefits from booster Ed Martin. Michigan vacated both of Webber’s Final Four appearances and The Fab Five were barred from any association with the university for many years. Their meteoric assent, like my own fortune that year, had washed away under the current of history.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Keno: The True Junkie’s Choice

When I’m browsing the gambling titles in the bookstore, sometimes I come across general copy on basic strategy for all the modern, common casino games. I typically judge this type of material on one factor alone: comments on the game of keno. The very best advice I’ve ever seen was very straightforward; it was one sentence and it simply read “never, ever play keno.” Next chapter, thanks. Any other keno “strategy” is completely asinine.
Keno is the ugly, bastard child of the lottery. Players pick a few numbers, 1 through 80, and if their numbers come in, they win. It’s simple and fast. However, no casino game gives up more of an edge to the house than keno. Contrary to games like craps and blackjack, where the house edge is under 2%, the juice for keno is as high as 25%. It is gambling suicide.
I first encountered keno as it spread throughout bars on the east coast, offering self-loathing drunks a way to piss their money away even faster. When I started visiting casinos, I was amazed by the existence of keno parlors. Inside, hoards of degenerates crawled, hands and knees, down towards inevitable bankruptcy.
My favorite keno memory (pretty much my only keno memory, hence my “favorite”) comes from years back, when I was drinking with a buddy at a local watering hole. He was bored and kept bugging me about keno, begging me to pick some numbers. Finally, after an hour of his badgering, in order to shut him up, I picked four numbers: 7, 13, 27, and 77. Then, pain in the butt that he is, he didn’t even use my numbers! He picked four other spots and submitted his ticket to the bartender. Well, we proceeded to watch as my numbers hit one by one, game after game, racking up over $900 in theoretical profit! Ugh…beer please.
Do you enjoy keno? Congratulations, I can unequivocally state that you have a gambling problem. Seek help immediately.