Why wiseguys seem to know everything 

November, 23, 2010

I am renaming this day in the blog Super Tuesday for the duration of the football season. This will be the spot for stats, links and stories related to the Hilton Supercontest. Any thoughts on what might be useful that isn't here, let me know. But largely, we'll see who won each week, who's winning for the season and learn about the trends making the contest go.

I want to talk about gambler's math for a second. Any pro will tell you that if they win 54 percent of their games over the course of any season they will be dancing a jig like Bruce Willis in "The Last Boy Scout." I've been hearing that for years. Of course, lacking any curiosity whatsoever, I never bothered to ask anyone how the numbers break down on that formula. At least until yesterday. And it evolved from my desire to better explain how difficult it is to do well in a handicapping contest. Which is something else a lot of guys tell me.

Take, for instance, the Hilton Supercontest. The past couple of years Fezzik has won the contest -- the first back-to-back and two-time champ in two decades of competition -- with around 53 wins. Over the course of 17 NFL weeks, that works out to 3.1 wins per week. Each week, contestants are required to pick five games. So winning 3.1 of them means whoever wins the contest has to choose more than 60 percent of his games right over the course of a season.

"If I win 58 percent of my games in a season I feel like I have achieved something phenomenal," Dr. Bob has told me.

"Sixty percent is an insanely high number," Geoff Kulesa of wunderdogsports.com told me yesterday. This is coming from someone who is winning at a 65 percent clip this season. I know, because he sends me his picks newsletter every week.

The perception of squares is that wiseguys know everything. They way they split stats, break down games and find angles is something mystical, that leads to boatloads of money and unmatched success every Sunday. They know something, we don't. The fact that knowing something means they are right only slightly more often than they are wrong is often lost. But it's the truth. If sharps are right 5.4 times out of every 10 bets, they are winning pretty big.

I was doing a podcast with Kulesa yesterday and when we were discussing the magic number wiseguys always cite -- 54 percent -- as needing to hit to win, I asked him to break it down for me.