Saturday, 3 October 2020

Professional Gamblers: Barney Curley Interviewed in December, 2016

Professional Gamblers: Barney Curley Interviewed in December, 2016
Interviewed in December, 2016, Bernard Joseph Curley, popularly known as 'Barney', famously said, 'I couldn't tell you when was the last time I had a bet and I don't think I'll ever have another.' Nevertheless, from the mid-Seventies onwards, Curley garnered legendary status in horse racing circles, largely as the result of executing several well-orchestrated betting coups, often months in the making, down the years. 

Born in Irvinestown, Co. Fermanagh, Northern Ireland in 1939, to a devoutly Catholic family, Curley spent four years as a Jesuit seminarian and briefly stood as a bookmaker at Celtic Park, Belfast before becoming 'poacher turned gamekeeper' in his late twenties. Recalling the 1971 Cheltenham Festival, where he turned £700 into £50,000, or more, he said, 'I was so red hot I was in danger of spontaneous combustion'. 

However, it was just over four years later, on June 25, 1975, that Curley first gained notoriety, as the result of an elaborate scheme involving his own horse, Yellow Sam, in the Mount Hanover Amateur Riders' Handicap Hurdle at Bellewstown. Bellewstown is a small, provincial track in Co. Meath and, at the time, staged one, three-day meeting each summer. More importantly, Bellewstown had just one public telephone, which was the only means by which racecourse bookmakers could contact the outside world. Yellow Sam boasted, at best, modest form – so modest, in fact, that even in the hands of leading amateur rider Michael Furlong he was sent off at 20/1 – but had been identified as an improving type by trainer Liam Brennan.

With a game plan worthy of, in his own words, 'a bank robbery', Curley employed associates to back Yellow Sam, at starting price (SP) just before the 'off', at hundreds of betting shops across Ireland. Meanwhile, another associate occupied the public telephone to prevent news of the coup from reaching the course and affecting the odds on offer. Curley won £306,000, or £2.58 million by modern standards. 

Fast forward three-and-a-half decades, to May 10, 2010, and Curley tried again, this time with four of his own horses at three different meetings, which he combined in trebles and accumulators. All four horses were heavily supported and the first three – Agapanthus (2/1 from 25/1), Savaronola (11/10 from 8/1) and Jeu De Roseau (6/4 from 7/2) – all won. 

Sadly, the supposed "coup de grace", Sommersturn, who was sent off at prohibitive odds of 1/3 for an amateur riders' handicap at Wolverhampton, having opened 4/6 course, ran well below expectations and could finish only fifth, beaten 3¾ lengths. Although denied a 'jackpot' payout of approximately £15 million, Curley still reputedly profited to the tune of £4 million. He later said, 'We're very satisfied with the amount we won.' 

Lo and behold, on January 22 2014, a date upon which Curley had decided 'probably at least six months before', four modest horses to which he was connected in some way won, again after being heavily supported, and landed an estimated £2 million in winning bets. The horses involved, Eye Of The Tiger, Seven Summits, Indus Valley and Low Key were either formerly trained by Curley, who did not renew his licence in 2013, or trained by his former employees Des Donovan and John Butler.


Friday, 2 October 2020

Professional Gamblers: The Secret Guide to Phil Bull's Betting Success


Background

Ironically, for a devout, lifelong atheist, Phil Bull once said, ‘I was bred to be a saint, you know’. Born on April 9, 1910, in the small town of Hemsworth, West Yorkshire, Bull was the son of William Osborne Bull, who began his career in the Salvation Army, but later worked as a coal miner and as a sanitation engineer, and Lizzie Jessop Watson, who was a Sunday school teacher. He was educated at Hemsworth Grammar School and at Leeds University, graduating with a modest degree in mathematics in 1931. Bull subsequently taught mathematics in London and did not abandon the teaching profession, at least, not entirely, when he embarked on a career as a professional gambler, which would make him a familiar figure on British racecourses for decades afterward.

Interest in Gambling

Later in life, Phil Bull recounted almost certainly apocryphal stories of how he was taught the rudiments of odds and betting parlance by his mother in early childhood. Nevertheless, Bull started betting, to small stakes, as a schoolboy and, during his studies at Leeds University, his mathematical and research skills, coupled with his abiding interest in horse racing, naturally led to the statistical analysis of race times. Following graduation, Bull continued to develop a unique technique for evaluating horse racing form, based not only on relative finishing positions, as was commonplace, but also on race times. Bull bet on the conclusions of what became ‘Temple Racetime Analysis’ with no little success and, in 1938, starting selling information, by mail order, to the general public. Initially, his teaching job precluded using his own name, so the ‘Temple Time Test’, as the service known, was sold under the pseudonym ‘William K. Temple’. The Temple Time Test proved highly successful, so successful, in fact, that Bull gave up his teaching job to concentrate on gambling for a living.

Golden Rules

In 1970, Phil Bull published his ‘Ten Commandments’, which, paraphrased in less ‘Biblical’ language, read more or less as follows: 

1. The selection source is unimportant, but bet only on selections you consider value-for-money; avoid the temptation to bet in every race. (As a side-note, on the subject of value-for-money, Bull was not afraid to bet odds-on).

2. Luck, the law of averages and staking plans are delusional, so place no faith in any of them.

3. Bet according to your means and adjust your stake according to the chance of your selection, as you see it; a selection with a greater chance deserves a higher stake.

4. Do not bet each-way in large fields, unless you are satisfied that the place portion of the bet represents value-for-money.

5. Shop around with bookmakers and the Tote to find the best prices, according to your judgment.

6. Do not bet ante-post unless you know your selection is a definite runner.

7. Do not buy systems; if you come across a profitable system, keep it to yourself.

8. Bet in doubles and trebles if you want to, but not on objections.

9. Make wise, attentive betting decisions and adopt a patient, cautious approach to betting, but do not be afraid to be bold if circumstances dictate.

10. Bet only what you can afford to lose; increasing stakes beyond your means, even in the short-term, can lead to catastrophic losses.

Successes 

Thankfully, from a historical perspective, Phil Bull kept meticulous accounts, just over three decades’ worth, of his ‘serious’ betting activity between 1943 and 1974. However, it is worth noting that, even before the start of that period, Bull had won enough money by backing Pont L’Eveque, winning of the so-called ‘New Derby’ – a wartime substitute for the Derby, run at Newmarket, rather than Epsom – in 1940 to buy a five-bedroom, detached house in Putney, South-West London. In 1944, the year in which he was bombed out of his London home, prompting a return to Yorkshire, Bull had a ‘serious bet’ on Dante, beaten favourite in the 2,000 Guineas and, always one to stand by his judgment invested heavily at 5/1 and again, at 10/1, on the same horse to win the New Derby. At Newmarket, Dante was sent off at 100/30 favourite and won by two lengths; Bull collected £22,000, or in excess of £958,000 in modern terms. In 1952, Bull enjoyed his most profitable season ever, collecting £10,500 for an investment of £1,700, in various bets, on 1,000 Guineas-winner Zabara and £8,000 on Middle Park Stakes-winner Nearula; all told, that season he collected nearly £38,000. Another notable success came in 1963, when, after a series of unfavourable results, Bull staked £1,000 at 20/1 on Ebor-winner Partholon, thereby recouping all his previous losses. According to his own accounts, between 1943 and 1974, Bull made a total profit of just under £296,000 which, even at the most a conservative estimate, is the equivalent of over £3 million in modern terms.

The Mathematics of Betting by Phil Bull pro gambler
Publications

Aside from his early work under the pseudonym William K. Temple, in 1942, Bull published his treatise on betting, entitled ‘The Mathematics of Betting’, under his own name. The following year he published ‘Best Horses of 1942’, the first in a series of annual volumes that would ultimately evolve into the ‘Racehorses’ annual under the ‘Timeform’ banner. Indeed, the first Timeform annual ‘Racehorses of 1947’ followed in 1948, and included an essay and numerical rating for each horse that ran on the Flat in the 1947 season. Remarkably, the four highest-rated horses, according to Timeform, filled the first four places in 2,000 Guineas, in the correct order, and were led home by My Babu, whose entry read ‘should win 2,000 Guineas’. In 1975/76, Bull published the first edition of the Timeform ‘Chasers & Hurdlers’ annual, which extended coverage to the sphere of National Hunt racing.

Summary

In promotional material for ‘Bull: The Biography’, published in 1995, Phil Bull was billed, justifiably, as ‘racing’s most celebrated and successful punter’. Certainly, Bull was one of the most influential figures in the history of horse racing, developing an innovative technique for analysing form by awarding a performance figure to each individual performance by a horse. Nowadays, that practice is part of the official handicappers’ methodology for handicapping horses. However, although he won, and lost, thousands of pounds, Bull was by no means an inveterate gambler. In fact, he once said, ‘I’m not a gambler. Betting as such doesn’t interest me’, although he added, ‘Racing is different; it’s a continuing play with a fresh set of individual characters every year. Not a who-done-it, but a who’ll do it.’


Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Professional Gamblers: J.P. McManus - From Humble Beginnings

Professional Gamblers: JP McManus - From Humble Beginnings
John Patrick McManus
, almost universally known as 'J.P.', was born in Limerick, Republic of Ireland on March 10, 1951. 

From humble beginnings, McManus rose to become a horse racing tycoon – at the last count, he had a net worth of €2.2 billion – with hundreds of horses in training on both sides of the Irish Sea. He became tax-resident in Switzerland in the Nineties but, while he conducts the lion's share of his currency dealing operation from Geneva, he owns Martinstown Stud in Kilmallock, Co. Limerick, which acts as his base on his frequent visits to the Emerald Isle.

McManus' racing colours, adorned in recent years by retained jockeys Sir Anthony McCoy and Barry Geraghty, were originally 'borrowed' from his cherished South Liberties Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) club. Nevertheless, since he bought his first horse, Cill Dara, in 1976, his distinctive green and gold hooped silks have become synonymous with National Hunt racing in Britain and, in particular, with the Cheltenham Festival. Indeed, McManus is the most successful owner in the history of the March showpiece with 66 winners, including seven during the four-day event in 2020. 

Nicknamed the 'Sundance Kid' is his early years, McManus is also one of the greatest professional gamblers of modern times. At the Cheltenham Festival, two early gambles, on Jack Of Trumps and Deep Gale in the National Hunt Chase in 1978 and 1979, respectively, went awry when both horses came to grief, but McManus finally opened his account with Mister Donovan in the Sun Alliance Novices' Hurdle in 1982. Trained, like Jack Of Trumps and Deep Gale, by Edward O'Grady in Co. Tipperary, Mister Donovan was, as O'Grady later fondly remembered, 'a maiden with a heart murmur'. Nevertheless, having been bought by McManus just a month before the Festival, he duly prevailed at odds of 9/2, landing bets worth £250,000 in the process and offsetting what his owner described as a 'distastrous first day'. 

Down the years, McManus has been the architect of several more notable betting coups at the Cheltenham Festival. 

In 2002, his unbeaten Like-A-Butterfly was sent off at prohibitive odds of 7/4 to win the Supreme Novices' Hurdle and had just been headed by Adamant Approach, who looked the likely winner, at the final flight; the latter parted company with his jockey, Ruby Walsh, leaving Like-A-Butterfly to pick up the pieces. 

Thursday, March 16, 2006 was another red-letter day for McManus, when he won £600,000 in one hit from legendary bookmaker 'Fearless' Freddie Williams, courtesy of Reveillez in the Jewson Novices' Handicap Chase, and a further £312,500, courtesy of Kadoun in the Pertemps Final later the same afternoon. 

More recently, in 2013, McManus landed another Cheltenham Festival gamble with Alderwood in the Grand Annual Handicap Chase, which, since 2009, had been the 'getting out stakes' for the week. Already a Cheltenham Festival winner, having won the Vincent O'Brien County Handicap Hurdle, all out, in 2012, the nine-year-old was having just his fifth start over fences and, consequently, lined up just 1lb higher in the weights than the previous year. Backed at all odds from 6/1 to 3/1 favourite throughout the day, Alderwood took over from Kid Cassidy, also owned by McManus, at the bypassed final fence and drew away in the final hundred yards to win, comfortably, by 3¼ lengths. Kid Cassidy finished second to give McManus a 1-2 in the race, in the right order, while Alderwood chalked up win number fourteen for Irish-trained horses during the week. 

Nowadays, McManus makes fewer excursions to the betting ring than was once the case and appears to be in no desperate hurry to announce a successor to Barry Geraghty, who retired in July, 2020, as his new retained rider in Britain. Nevertheless, with the likes of Epatante, Champ and Easysland, to name but three, at or towards the head of the antepost markets for their likely engagements, in the Champion Hurdle, Cheltenham Gold Cup and Cross Country Chase, respectively, at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival, he has plenty to look forward to.


Author: David Dunning

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Terry Ramsden - The True Story of a Man Who Broke his Bond

Terry Ramsden - The True Story of a Man Whose Broke his Bond
In his heyday, in the Eighties, Terry Ramsden was the quintessential self-made Essex man of the Thatcherite era. A diminutive 5'4" tall and sporting the mullet hairstyle that was ubiquitous at the time, Ramsden once declared, in distinctive cockney tone: 'I'm a stockbroker from Enfield. I've got long hair and I like a bet.' 

Born in Enfield, North London on January 19, 1952, Terry Ramsden proved financially astute, at least in his early years. By trading bonds on the Japanese stock market and gambling on horse racing, by 1984, he had raised sufficient capital to purchase the Edinburgh-based Glen International Financial Services Company. By 1987, he had increased the turnover of the company to £3.5 billion and his own net worth to £150 million. 

By that stage, his royal blue and white hooped colours had become a familiar sight on British racecourses – at one point, he had 76 horses in training – and he had won, and lost, some eye-watering sums of money. 

In May, 1984, for example, just days before the Irish 1,000 Guineas, Ramsden bought the filly Katies, unseen, for £500,000, but reputedly profited to the tune of £2.5 million when she won the Irish 1000 Guineas at odds of 20/1. 

In 1986, on the Wednesday of the Cheltenham Festival he reputedly won in the region of £1 million when Motivator landed what is now the Pertemps Final and would have won a further £6 million if another of his horses, Brunico – an "immensely strong finisher" according to commentator Sir Peter O'Sullevan – had managed to overhaul Solar Cloud in the Triumph Hurdle the following day. 

Ramsden had apparently been backing Brunico in doubles with Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Dawn Run for some time beforehand. 

Shortly afterwards, Ramsden acquired Mr. Snugfit, who had finished second in the 1985 Grand National, and bet £50,000 each-way at 8/1 on his purchase for the 1986 renewal. Almost single-handedly, he ensured Mr. Snugfit was sent off 13/2 clear favourite for the National; the nine-year-old could manage no better than a distant fourth place, but Ramsden still collected £150,000 on the place portion of his bet. 

Many years later, Ramsden claimed: 'The truth is I had half a million quid each way, quote, unquote. Anything else you hear is bullshit.' 

Further high-profile successes followed, including Not So Silly in the Ayr Gold Cup in 1987, but his 'biggest single losing bet' – £1 million on another of his horses, Below Zero – and the sudden expected stock market crash, a.k.a. 'Black Monday', in October that year, effectively sounded the death knell for the Ramsden fortunes. Glen International collapsed and, in 1988, indebted to Ladbrokes to the tune of £2 million, Ramsden was 'warned off' by the Jockey Club for non-payment of the debt, thereby ending his interest in racehorse ownership. 

Three years later, in 1991, Ramsden was arrested in Los Angeles at the behest of the Serious Fraud Office and imprisoned for six months, pending extradition back to Britain. On his return to home soil in 1992, he was declared bankrupt with debts of £100 million. The following year he escaped with a two-year suspended sentence after pleading guilty to recklessly inducing fresh investment in Glen International but, in 1997, was prosecuted again, at the Old Bailey, for failing to disclose assets worth £300,000; he was sentenced to 21 months' imprisonment, of which he served ten. 

Following his release from prison in 1999, Ramsden went back to working in the financial industry, but could not return to racehorse ownership until 2003, when cleared to do so by the Jockey Club. His first winner as an owner since the halcyon days of the Eighties was the two-year-old Jake The Snake, bought for a modest 17,000 guineas, who landed a gamble when winning a maiden stakes race at Lingfield in November, 2003.

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Professional Gamblers: Patrick Veitch – Enemy Number One

Professional Gamblers: Patrick Veitch – Enemy Number One
Once dubbed 'The Baby-Faced Assassin of the Betting Ring' by the tabloid press, Patrick Veitch is one of the most successful punters of modern times. As detailed in his autobiography, 'Enemy Number One: The Secrets of the UK's Most Feared Professional Punter', first published in 2009, in an eight-year period from 1999 he recorded profits in excess of £10 million. 

Notoriously reticent to reveal any details of his personal life, Veitch was a mathematics prodigy and not only applied to, but was accepted by, Cambridge University at the age of just 15. Unsurprisingly, he read mathematics at Trinity College, but soon launched a premium-rate telephone tipping service, operating under the moniker of 'The Professional', and recruited from the student body to man the telephones. Heading into his third year, his service was realising over £10,000 and, eventually, he abandoned his studies altogether. 

Veitch attracted the attention of leading owner Michael Tabor, one of the richest men in the country and a shrewd, unflinching punter, who paid him a seasonal retainer for his tips. Once, and only once, in a three-year period did Veitch tip what he considered a 'certainty' and, unafraid of 'putting his money with mouth was', invested £20,000 of his own cash. His selection, Blue Goblin, in the Coral Sprint Handicap at Newmarket on May 31, 1997, was sent off a heavily-backed 11/10 favourite and duly quickened clear to win, easily, by two-and-a-half lengths. 

Everything appeared to be set fair for Veitch, but the following June his association with Tabor, his career and his life, as he knew it, was brought to a shuddering halt. Faced by a disgruntled local businessman demanding money with menaces, Veitch refused to pay the stipulated £70,000, but contacted the police and, on their advice, immediately went into hiding for a period of nine months.

Veitch eventually testified against his would-be extortionist, Calvin Hall, an infamous and, as time would tell, highly dangerous criminal in open court, wearing a bulletproof vest. Hall was sentenced to five years' imprisonment in November, 1998 and subsequently received a much longer jail term after being convicted of the attempted murder of a police officer. The extortion episode took its toll, emotionally and financially, and by late 1998 Veitch was, by his own admission, 'at rock bottom'. However, in typically industrious, single-minded and self-confident fashion, he set about redressing the balance. 

In 'Enemy Number One', Veitch writes that his success essentially boils down to 'finding a bet where the odds are greater than the true chance of that event happening.' However, he does concede that any successful punter must possess the characteristics of a 'brain surgeon', when studying form and assessing odds, and of a 'mad axeman', when actually placing a bet. Nevertheless, such is his belief in his own ability, he once said, 'The chance of me having a losing year is basically zero.' Indeed, the main inconvenience that Veitch faces is placing bets with bookmakers; such is his notoriety that he cannot do so himself, so he employs a network of associates to wager money on his behalf. 

Veitch apparently makes most of his profits from his own hard work, rather than being 'privy' to inside information. However, Veitch and his partners, collectively known as 'The Exponential Partnership', did pull off a major betting coup with their own horse, Exponential, in the Wright Brothers Maiden Auction Stakes at Nottingham on August 16, 2004. 

The two-year-old son of Namid, a good source of useful juveniles, had made an unispiring debut for trainer Stuart Williams when last of 13, beaten 17 lengths, in a slightly better maiden race at Beverley the previous month, having weakened just after halfway. At Nottingham, Exponential opened at 100/1 but, having shown improved form at home, was backed into 8/1 joint-fourth favourite. Once underway, Exponential raced prominently and, once ridden into the lead a furlong-and-a-half from home, kept on to win by a length; Veitch landed winning bets worth in excess of £235,000. The racecourse stewards understandably questioned Williams regarding the improved form shown by Exponential, but accepted his explanation that the gelding had strengthened physically since his debut and benefited from the experience of his previous outing.

Sunday, 20 September 2020

Dave Nevison Professional Gambler Books – 'A Bloody Good Winner' & 'No Easy Money'

Dave Nevison Professional Gambler Books – 'A Bloody Good Winner' & 'No Easy Money'
Although, in recent years, he has backed away from putting his 'head on the block' in favour of less erratic employment, including as a horse racing presenter and pundit on Racing TV, Dave Nevison if a former full-time professional punter. Originally from Halifax, West Yorkshire, Nevison inherited his lifelong obsession with horse racing from his grandfather, but forsook a lowly-paid job in racing to become, as they used to say, 'something in the City'. However, in 1993, after a decade as foreign exchange trader, which he apparently loathed, Nevison was made redundant when his employer, Credit Lyonnais, closed its London operation.

Encouraged by his then wife, Lotte, Nevison left the City behind and, with his redundancy settlement, established a betting bank of £50,000. Initially, he adopted the 'traditional' approach of taking a view on which horse would win a race and attempted to identify one or two selections on the card. However, Nevison soon became disillusioned with travelling back and forth to racecourses as far afield as Sedgefield, County Durham from his home in Sevenoaks, Kent, for the sake of just a couple of bets, with no guarantee of success, and sought a more worthwhile modus operandi. 

Taking a leaf out of the book of his fellow professional punter, and mentor, Eddie 'The Shoe' Fremantle – erstwhile racing correspondent for 'The Observer' – Nevison started compiling his own odds representing the chance of each horse in each race or, in other words, his own 'betting tissue'. Thus, by comparing the available odds with his own calculation, he could identify horses that were overpriced by the bookmakers and back them accordingly. Of course, he did not know which horses he would back until he saw the odds available, but he could bet in most, if not all, races on the card, often with multiple selections in a single race.

Backing multiple selections – possibly up to four or five in a race, according to the market – inevitably led to a modest strike rate, but by focusing on value, rather than finding a winner per se, Nevison guaranteed decent long-term profits. He made mistakes, but within four years of embarking on his new career was earning £50,000 a year, tax free. His methodology was fundamentally sound, but resilience was, nevertheless, the key to his success. Typically betting around £2,000 race, he reportedly won £60,000 in six months during 2008 but, in the same period, lost £140,000 on Tote Jackpot and Scoop6 bets. 

In the early Noughties, Nevison owned a string of horses trained by local trainer John Best, to whom he was also form advisor, and was privy to 'inside' information. However, on the whole, he remains indifferent to racecourse 'whispers' or anything else that distracts him from the business at hand. 

In 2007, Nevison published his highly successful autobiography, entitled, 'A Bloody Good Winner: Life as a Professional Gambler'. Of his attitude to winning, Nevison once said, 'I’m not a bad loser but I’m a bloody good winner and if a big ship comes in I like people to know about it.' The book offers a frank, honest, often brutally honest, account of how Nevison has fared over the years. As might be expected, his story is often exhilarating, sometimes depressing, but makes for essential reading, not just by dyed-in-the-wool punters, but by anyone with a passing interest in horse racing. Nevison is particularly scathing in his appraisal of certain jockeys and trainers, some of whom are household names but, on the whole, 'A Bloody Good Winner' is a amusing, enlightening and entertaining read. 

In 2008, Nevison followed on with his second title, 'No Easy Money: A Gambler's Diary', which chronicles his quest to win £1 million between the Cheltenham Festival in March, 2008 and the St. Leger Festival at Doncaster the following September. Nevison provides a blow-by-blow commentary on his methodology, his bets and his results, good or bad. Inevitably, winning and losing creates emotional turmoil but, typical of an author who enjoys betting, especially winning, 'No Easy Money' is a good-natured, upbeat account of life on the road.

On Thursday, January 15, 2009, Nevison and his business partner, Mark Smith, came within a whisker, or twenty yards to be precise, of winning £360,000 at Taunton Racecourse. Having invested in 42 lines, at £2 per line, on the Tote Super7 bet, the pair selected the first six winners, including four 'bankers' and pinned their hopes on 9/2 chance Topless in the crucial seventh and final leg, the Carlsberg UK Handicap Chase. According to the 'Racing Post', Topless was 'well in command' on the run-in, but jinked right towards the finish and unseated jockey Jamies Davies with the race at her mercy, leaving Pangbourne, who had been matched at 999/1 in running on Betfair, to saunter home by thirty lengths. Reflecting on that fateful day, Nevison said: 'it put me off betting for quite a long time and made me question what I was doing.'


Interview on Racing TV - My Life Racing


Thursday, 3 September 2020

Who is Stanford Wong?

Stanford Wong was one of the seven inaugural inductees to the Blackjack Hall of Fame, founded at the Barona Casino Resort in San Diego in 2002, at the behest of celebrated analyst and commentator Max Rubin, to honour the leading lights in the history of the game. However, revered though it may be, Standford Wong is not the name of a real person, but rather the nom de guerre, or assumed name, of Georgia-born author and professional player John Ferguson. 

Born on April 3, 1943, Ferguson was introduced to playing blackjack after learning the '10 Count' method of card counting from the book 'Beat The Dealer', written by Edward Thorp and first published in 1962. Still only twenty, and an undergraduate student at Oregon State University, he practised card counting in his spare time until he was of legal age to play blackjack in a casino. Shortly after his twenty-first birthday, Ferguson made the first of numerous, successful visits to the casinos of Reno and Lake Tahoe. His first experience of Las Vegas casinos, though, was a short, abortive affair, lasting only three days, because of the blatant dishonesty which appeared to be innate among blackjack dealers in 'Sin City'. 

It would not be until 1970 that Ferguson would return to Las Vegas but, when he did, was delighted by the new-found integrity of the dealing fraternity. By that stage, he had completed Master of Business Administration (MBA) at Oregon State, taught mathematics classes for two years and served in the United States Army for two years, including a twelve-moth tour of duty in Vietnam. Prior to being drafted, Ferguson has continued to play blackjack in Renoe and Lake Tahoe as often as his academic commitments allowed. Following demobilisation, he carried on in similar vein, pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) in Finance at Stanford University, playing blackjack occasionally and working on the material that would become his first book, 'Professional Blackjack'

The relative proximity of the Las Vegas Strip to Stanford University and San Francisco State University, where Ferguson began teaching finance classes, full-time, in 1974, proved an obvious attraction. In fact, by 1976, he was earning more money from playing blackjack than from his 'day job'. In a compromise with university authorities, Ferguson agreed to teach classes in the final term of what he later described as his 'last real job' for a nominal salary of $1, on the understanding that he did not have to attend faculty meetings. In so doing, he created free time to play blackjack in Las Vegas. 

By his own admission, Ferguson did not make a conscious decision to write 'Professional Blackjack', but rather realised that, between them, his paper calculations and instructional paper on blackjack – which, itself, evolved over time in response to questions from would-be card counters – were enough to constitute a book. Having verifed that the calculations presented in 'Beat The Dealer' were, in fact, correct, Ferguson prepared his own tables for scenarios, such as the dealer standing on 'soft' seventeen, which Edward Thorp did not cover. 

Indeed, it was the publication of 'Professional Blackjack', in 1975, which led Ferguson to decide that he needed a pseudonym to protect his real identity. At the age of thirty-two, he was playing blackjack under his real name in Nevada casinos and did not want to draw attention to himself. Seeking a complicated first name and simple last name, Ferguson liked the sound of 'Nevada Smith' – a fictional character from the movies 'The Carpetbaggers' and 'Nevada Smith' – but eventually settled on 'Stanford Wong' on the suggestion of fellow Ph.D student Denny Draper. Ferguson said of his sobriquet, 'I thought it was perfect. It had an academic ring to it and the mystique of the Orient.' 

Professional Blackjack by Stanford Wong
Aside from 'Professional Blackjack', Ferguson also published several other celebrated blackjack titles, including 'Tournament Blackjack' in 1987, 'Basic Blackjack' in 1992 and 'Blackjack Secrets', which was originally part of 'Professional Blackjack', in 1993. In 1996, as soon as message board software became widely available, Ferguson founded the website 'BJ21.com', one of the principal aims of which was to allow like-minded blackjack players, intent on beating the game, to contact each other and exchange information. Ferguson sold 'BJ21.com' to LCB, an award-winning gambling information site, in March, 2016 and, interviewed in October that year, revealed that he had no plans for future involvement with the website, books or any other active engagement with the public. 

Ferguson, or rather Stanford Wong, was also responsible, albeit indirectly, for introducing the term 'Wong', used as a verb, to gambling parlance. Although he neither invented the technique, nor referred to it by the now commonly-used name in any of his books, Ferguson was an advocate and early practioner of back-counting. Back-counting essentially involves counting cards, as a spectator, until the count becomes strongly positive or, in other words, the deck is rich in aces and tens, to the advantage of the player. When it is, the card counter enters the game – provided, of course, mid-shoe entry is permitted – and places one or more bets at, or around, the table maximum. The term 'Wonging' was coined by blackjack players in Atlantic City in the late Seventies to describe this playing style.

Thursday, 20 August 2020

Fond Memories of the Grand National back in the Day

One of the first horse races I can remember was the Grand National. 

Being a 70s child I grew up with the greatest steeplechase in the world on the TV. Every April, we were glued to the box, come rain or shine. 

In fact, it was one of the reasons I grew up to have an interest in horse racing although these days I am more of a flat racing man that the National Hunt, although I do appreciate both. 

I've been the Huntingdon and Fakenham racecourse for the National Hunt and enjoyed the meetings. I think 90% of the racegoers were local if not regulars. It was nice to see they allowed patrons to take their pet dogs as long as they were kept on a lead. I think I had as much fun watching a selection of pooches, some wearing little jackets to keep them warm, on what was a truly bitter-cold day. There is something about being on a racecourse in the middle of winter which gets to the bones of young and old alike. I guess I had got used to enjoying summer days at Great Yarmouth although I have been caught in a storm or two there. As they say in the UK, we have four seasons in a day and that is what makes it special in its own way.  

I enjoyed my day at Fakenham, which is located in the county of Norfolk, as it had a very traditional feel about it.

My Dad loved his racing. I'm not sure if his father enjoyed it or not. I know his brother, Keith, did as do many of my cousins and Uncle Fred was a keen racing man as they all enjoyed the Eastern Festival at Great Yarmouth, which takes place every September. 

Our summer holidays always coincided with the Eastern Festival and we loved our family holidays. The worst part was coming home because the school had started the week before and it was a nightmare trying to get a timetable or work out where to go. I remember this especially well when starting our secondary school. It was a return I would rather have forgotten.    

I think every race fan has fond memories betting on the Grand National. My brother followed a horse called Classified who never fell in his life but was tarnished with that tag when his jockey was unseated. I remember another fan writing to the Racing Post to display their utter disdain at this slight. 

We all have our favourite horses and that's what makes it special. You could pick a 100/1 shot and no one can say your horse is a loser until after the race - and even then, sometimes, you will be correct. 

Classified never won the Grand National but was remarkably consistent either placed or in the first five for a number of years. 

I was lucky enough to pick Aldaniti (pictured) who won the big race on the 4th of April 1981. It was a truly remarkable story for both horse and jockey. Many gave up hope on both steely characters who said: ''Just you wait and see.''

Bob Champion rode the race of his life and successfully battled against cancer and raised millions of pounds for charity in the process. 

The Grand National has always been a race where dreams are made, built on blood, sweat, and tears (and a glimmer of hope). 

For many, Red Rum is the greatest Grand National winner of them all. 

He won an unprecedented three times: 1973, 1974 & 1977. 

In truth, every winner of the Grand National tells a story few would ever believe. 

Whether, horse, trainer, owner, jockey, even commentator, or lucky punter down the road. Those who would never bet in all their life are ready to put the cash down and hope it is their lucky day.

We all remember the year we had a winner on the greatest race of them all. 

The Grand National. 

Friday, 31 July 2020

Which Racecourse is your Nemesis to Bet?

 I am coming out in a cold sweat just thinking about this question. 

Perhaps I should just run my fingernails up a rubber boot, or chalkboard or jump in a vat of fermenting horse shit.

In truth, I don't think I would take any of those options in favour of betting at my nemesis course. 

Although, give me a year or two and you may find me standing on the edge of a highrise car park in Milton Keynes. I'll be babbling on about Brighton and holding a tuft of luscious, green grass in one hand and a losing betting slip in the other as I take flight plummeting like a stone. 

I really do paint a rosy picture, hey. As dark as blood. 

So, on a lighter more jovial thought, which racecourse do you just dread to bet? 

Even if you have been following a horse, it's primed to win and even the trainer's wife gave you the wink as she breezed through the paddock in a flowing summer dress, you start to question the double gamble which you know is wrestling within the brain. Like a devil and angel on either shoulder, a tug-of-war where the rope enters your left ear and exits the right and the friction from all the pulling too and throw carves your grey matter like a pork cheese. 

Betting on the said horse is a gamble but the fact it is running at your nemesis course is the kiss of death. 

Now, for no particular reason, your despicable course may be different from mine. You may say Chester and I'm almost mocking you with the fact that I'm like a winning machine there.

Don't talk to me about Epsom Downs, I've never backed a loser. 

It's so easy. 

But Brighton...

I mean, I love the Royal Crescent. 

But ask me to bet at Brighton racecourse and I go quiet. You can see my brain working overtime trying to resolve some crazy equation that even Isaac Newton would run from. 

But you know what it's like...

I really fancy that horse today. 

Trying not to think about the last twenty-five bets that went south. Trying to convince myself that some old, ghostly witch that had been following me around the course for years had finally died or given up the ghost (so to speak).

Let's face it, even the bubonic plague died off in the end. 

So I chance my luck with a bet. I'm sure it will be ok. Just take a few deep breaths of the beautiful sea air and think pretty thoughts. 

As soon as the stalls open I realise the old witch has climbed on my back, whispering words of death and pointing me in the direction of Milton Keynes. 

I wonder, which course do you fear to bet?

Sunday, 5 July 2020

It's a Classic Tactical Affair

As a follower of two-year-old horse racing, I don't take much interest in the three-year-old Classics: 1000 Guineas, 2000 Guineas, Epsom Derby, Oaks & St Leger.  

Perhaps I should.

I was going to say it's a time thing, but thinking about it, that can't be the case as it doesn't take any longer than a few minutes. I guess I'm just not that interested which is a shame as these should be races to savour. 

I'm sure many race fans enjoyed the Oaks and the Epsom Derby. 

As it happened, I intended to watch the Derby but got carried away with work and then the next thing it had come and gone. 

I checked the result to see big-priced horses filled the frame. 

I still haven't watched the race. 

However, my good friend Eric Winner asked: ''Did you watch the Oaks?''

An hour or so later, I watched it. I knew what he was referring to because we had a conversation about pacemakers. 

I wonder what is your opinion about pacemakers in high-class races? I guess they are there for a reason. Strangely, trainers would, I imagine, say they have a pacemaker so it is a truly run race. Using tactics so it isn't a tactical affair. It doesn't sound very logical to me. 

The way the Aidan O'Brien and John Gosden horse stormed to the front, to me, made the race a ridiculous sight. It took away from the atmosphere and spectacle. Should these horses even be in the race? 

The pacemakers were ridden in splendid isolation. Then dropped back. The race was won easily by Love. 

A brilliant horse. 

I wondered what I was watching. The circus of the pacemakers. Any form of manipulation brings about problems if not ethical issues. Something very honest and true is tainted. 

To me, there's something wrong with this whole approach.

I guess pacemakers are needed?

A trainer, I guess, can instruct his rider to run any way they wish, as long as they are trying.

However, I wonder if these high-profile races are lessened by such tactics. If a horse is a champion then I'm sure it will win. To challenge adversity and win whether than is being held up or being brave enough to lead from the front.

That is a champion.

Isn't that the truth of the story and the one we want to watch and read about?

Whether a pacemaker or not any horse has the right under the present regulations to lead. So we may be questioning is a front runner simply a horse that leads or is it a pacemaker? 

But the whole premise of the argument is the intention. Clearly, the respective trainers made the decision to have pacemakers and I think it undermines everything good about horse racing. 

The Oaks wasn't the race it should have been. 

A superb winning performance was made to look poorer for the tactics employed by those so wanting to win.

No wonder I stick to my run-of-the-mill two-year-old racing.