9. ANOTHER DAY AT THE FRONTON

 

To give you the experience of another type of day, let's shift to the World Jai-alai Fronton at Hartford. In this chapter you will see how I handicapped the program on September 10, 1977. It is another Saturday Matinee. The only reason I am illustrating my approach with Saturday Matinees is that it is easier to make notes on the spot during the afternoon programs. At night I don't have the time to write down as much of the thinking that is going on while it is going on.


As you read this chapter, you will have the opportunity to make your own bets. If you choose to do so, don't read past the warning messages until you have made your picks. The warning message is:

GAME x RESULTS FOLLOW - PAUSE HERE, IF YOU WANT TO MAKE PICKS!

Click here to select a specific game

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GAME 1        Click here to view all Team Statistics

The ratings * work out as shown below.

Post Position

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Front Court

7

8

9

10

11

10

8

7
Back Court

11

8

9

12

8

9

11

9
Post Position Adjustment

0

+0.5

-1

-2

-3

-3

-3

-2

Total

18 16.5 17 20 16 16 16 14


* Again I must emphasize that these individual ratings are those I was using on the day under discussion. Any attempt to use them at a later date will lead to serious error. Playing ability changes with time, as do my evaluations.

These ratings are before any bonuses for exceptional records playing as a team. An examination of the team records on the next page shows that Teams 4 and 5 have excellent team playing records. Team 4 (Javy and Urquiaga) seems to be a standout.

I didn't like the way Javy looked in warm-up, but the numbers are so strong that I am not swayed by that factor alone. Geno looked good in practice, but he is so erratic that I won't touch him until I've seen him play for keeps.

So Team 4 it is, with Team 1 next best (based on the mechanical ratings) and Team 5 attractive on the strength of their team performance. Actually, with the exception of Team 8, all the other teams are pretty close together in the ratings. I also eliminate Team 2 on the basis of their poor team playing record. This leaves me with the possibility of coupling my key team (#4) with Teams 1, 3, 5, 6 and 7.

Eliminating the low frequency Perfecta combinations, as previously explained, the following combinations are "playable" in the Perfecta pool:

1-4   4-1   4-3   6-4   7-4

The 7-4 is eliminated due to unacceptably low odds, leaving me with four Perfecta bets ($12), all at odds of at least 30-1.

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The game begins with Team 1 winning twice, then losing to Team 4 which takes three in a row before losing to Bascaran and Ispa. Not a bad start. But Team 8 comes up and throws a perfect game, winning on a hustling play by Geno who is not noted for his speed afoot. The lowest-rated team won!

So I begin $12 in the red, even though my highly favored #4 came in second. I note in my program that Geno and Gonzalez looked sharp, while Urquiaga didn't seem to be throwing with his usual firepower. On to the next game.

 

GAME 2        Click here to view all Team Statistics

The ratings in this game are 19/16.5/18/18/16/14/16/16. Only Team 4 receives a bonus for outstanding team play, and then just a small one. Team 1 has Geno (who played well in Game 1) and Urquiaga (who didn't). Team 3 has Gonzalez who is looking sharp. Only Teams 1, 3 and 4 rate a play, with Team 4 (Eusebio and Sebastian) the slight choice. The other five teams I rate as a cut below.

I consider both Quinielas and Perfectas involving 1-3-4. Playable combinations would be:

1-3   1-4   3-1   4-1   4-3

All offer acceptable Perfecta odds except 4-1 which is only being shown at 16-1. Since the 1-4 Quiniela is only at 10-1 odds, that does not offer enough of a potential payoff to attract me. Although I hate to omit the 4-1 Perfecta, I only bet the four combinations with satisfactory potential payoffs.

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Urquiaga comes out smoking this game. He and Geno get to Game Point in Round 2, but lose it when Geno fails down while back-peddling to get set for a rebote shot. Actually he falls over Eusebio who is bending over, trying to get out of the way.

"Nice block. Smiley, *" calls someone who has bet against Team 1.


* The Hartford fans nave nicknames for most of the players. Eusebio is "Smiley." Guerrica is "Hoppity"; Garita is "Tank"; Elorrio is "Cookie" and Lecue "Turtle." Some of the names are pejorative (e.g., "Mouse"); others are simply descriptive (e.g., "Goldilocks"). It all adds to the color.

The fans are furious that there was no interference call by the referee, but Geno had tried to make the shot. The rule is that you can't call interference if you go for the ball.

Eusebio and Sebastian use the break to launch an offensive which wins the game for them. The Perfecta is 4-1. I am sick. But I remind myself that you can't win over the long term if you bet Perfectas at low odds. This one pays $60.90, a little better than when I checked the board before betting, but not enough to justify the bet.

So, although I am now out $24 after two games, I know I have done the right thing. (If you still disagree, I've failed in my mission to explain successful gambling to you.) I turn the page in my program and go on to Game 3.

 

GAME 3        Click here to view all Team Statistics

Although none of the teams in this game have exceptional team records, the regular ratings turn up Team 2 (Eusebio and Gonzalez) as the strong choice. Teams 1 and 5 are the only other two with high ratings. The playable Perfecta combinations involving Team 2 are:

1-2   2-1   2-5   5-2

All four have marginally acceptable odds (and the Quiniela pool doesn't offer anything better), but the #2 Team looks so good that I bet another $12 in Perfectas.

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The game starts with our key Team 2 losing their first point. This is not a disaster when you are betting one of the early teams. They will be back again early in Round 2.

Unfortunately Eusebio and Gonzalez fare no better in Round 2. I am beginning to feel a little disgusted. But the fortunes of war change quickly in jai-alai. In Round 3 they get another chance. This time they fire, with Gonzalez playing particularly well, at one point making three straight forearm rebotes white pinned to the side wall.

They make it to Game Point against Team 1, which is also at Game Point. Either way the point breaks, I am in Fat City. Romo and Leonet (Team 1) win it. That makes three games in a row that my key team has finished second. But this time I have the Perfecta. It only pays $68.70, but in this case it was a "good" bet. Through three games I am ahead $32.70.

 

GAME 4        Click here to view all Team Statistics

In this first singles game on the program, the two strongest players are Renedo and Durango, but both are in tough post positions.

Of the rest, Geno is the weakest. In post 5, I am not interested in him. Bascaran is in a slump in singles play, so I eliminate him.

I rate Arri and Javy about equal at singles, but I like Arri's chances of getting the serve before he has to play Renedo and Durango, whereas Javy is likely to come up against one of those two in a receiving rather than a serving position.

Randy doesn't stand out in singles, but is a threat in post position 1. Sebastian is a devastating singles player when he is in the groove, but he is erratic. I decide that Arri's combination of consistency, post position, and first round competition make him the reasonable selection.

I bet the four playable Perfectas involving #4:

1-4   2-4   4-1   4-2

I might have chosen to couple him with the two strong entries (6 and 7) but then the only playable Perfecta combinations would have been:

6-4   7-4

I prefer to have some money on Arri to win. Since the Perfecta odds are better than the Quiniela odds, I make another $12 worth of bets on the four Perfecta combinations mentioned.

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In Round 1 Arri beats Bascaran and Geno as I expected, but loses to Durango. In Round 2, Randy gets to Game Point against Geno (which would give me a 1-4 Perfecta), but drops an easy shot at the 5-line. Since it was a virtually sure putaway with Geno in the backcourt, Randy is roasted by the crowd.

The game goes on ... and on. In fact it takes 25 separate points to decide the winner, one of the longest games I've seen where Spectacular Seven scoring is used. Six of the eight players reach Game Point one or more times.

On the 25th point, Randy faces Sebastian, both at Game Point. Arri and Javy are tied for second with 6 points each. No matter who wins the game, if Arri can beat Javy in the playoff for second, I will have the Perfecta.

Randy maneuvers in front of Sebastian and looks like a sure winner. Sebastian makes an "impossible" save on a chula, but just floats the ball up to the front wall. Randy races in and grabs the ball at the 5-line. Sebastian is just getting to his feet, deep in the backcourt. Sure point for Randy, but again he drops it!

It is a long walk back to the players' cage for Randy. Most fans don't realize that catching and holding a "bullet" is easier than handling a soft shot sometimes. It depends on the spin. The fans see speed, but spin is often hard to spot. Poor Randy! The howling mob has no mercy on him.

"Wasn't your number on the ball this time. Goldilocks?" roars one irate bettor, alluding to the persistent myth that the players are instructed who is to win each point by means of numbers written on the ball.

Oh well. Arri doesn't win the playoff for second, so I just groan and go on to Game 5, still ahead $20.70 on the day.

 

GAME 5        Click here to view all Team Statistics

In this game there is another standout, Javy and Leonet in post position 3. Actually, Teams 1 and 2 are higher rated, but Javy and Leonet's team record is one of the best on the World Jai-alai roster. In 50 games together they have 7 wins and 11 seconds.

In post 8, however, Randy and Urquiaga have an even more impressive team record. In 36 starts they have a remarkable 10 wins and 5 seconds. But Randy's play thus far on the program has been less than inspiring, while Urquiaga's has been spotty at best.

I decide to stay with Team 3 as my key team. With 3 on top, the only playable Perfectas are 3-1 and 3-2 as they account for almost half of the Perfectas when the winning team Number 3. To cover, I also look at 1-3, 2-3 and 8-3 Perfectas. The 1-3 is eliminated because of low odds, so I wind up with four Perfecta bets ($12) again. (3-1, 3-2, 2-3 and 8-3)

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My confidence in Javy and Leonet was well founded, as they win with panache. Javy scoring on outside placements and Leonet with long picadas. Unfortunately, Team 4 managed to win twice, just enough to get second place. My so-called "unplayable" combinations do come in sometimes. This was one of those times. My profits on the day have dwindled to $8.70.

 

GAME 6        Click here to view all Team Statistics

This game introduces the top players on the Hartford roster. My rating calculations look like this.

Post Position

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Front Court

13

11

11

13

16

13

12

14
Back Court

12

15

13

13

9

11

13

1-
Post Position Adjustment

0

+0.5

-1

-2

-3

-3

-3

-2

Total

25 26.5 23 24 22 21 22 22

On this basis, Team 2 (Oregui and Javier) sticks out. While their team record is only fair, they still rank significantly above the rest. Only Teams 3 and 4 have above average team statistics. While Team 1 has the second highest numerical rating, their team record is a dismal one win in 33 tries. Also, both Echeva and Lecue are the type of player who exhibits extreme fluctuations in playing strength from day to day. I like to see which extreme they are at before I commit funds to them.

So I settle on Team 2, to be coupled with Teams 3 and 4. The 3-2 Perfecta combination offers poor odds, so I buy just three Perfecta tickets ($9) as follows: 2-3, 2-4 and 4-2. I don't have a chance to compare Perfecta odds to Quiniela odds this time since the Hartford Fronton only displays the Perfecta odds during the final two minutes of betting. At Hartford I find that I often just bet Perfectas since, frankly, running back and forth to compare odds which are displayed in different locations has resulted in my getting shut out of the betting just once too often.

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Oregui and Javier reward me with three points in round 1. Durango and Soroa (Team 3) win twice in Round 2 (giving them 4 points), then lose to Oregui and Javier who are coming up for their second try. They win their next point also, ending the game. Team 3 scored enough for place, so the Perfecta is 2-3. I collect $153.60, putting me ahead $153.30 on the day.

 

GAME 7        Click here to view all Team Statistics

Game 7 is the middle singles game in Hartford. The players are generally stronger singles players than those in Game 4, but not as strong as those in Game 10. What you have to be careful to note is which players, if any, are moving up or down in class.

In this game, Romo and Eusebio are Game 4-class singles players. Echeva plays sometimes in Game 10, although not regularly. Still, in post 3 he merits strong consideration. The rest of the players are Game 7 "regulars."

I eliminate Pierre on the simple fact that Echeva in post 3 is stronger than Pierre in post 4.

I eliminate Gonzalez because I have not seen him play well in singles all season. His record is not bad, but he just doesn't seem to be able to put his opponents away as authoritatively as he did a year ago. I cannot explain it, but I know I am not going to play him, even though he's been having a good day in the doubles games.

As I am crossing out Gonzalez' name on my program, the gentleman next to me comments "Don't pass him by. He's the only guy I've seen who could beat Churruca." * I thank him for this valuable insight, but skip Gonzalez anyway as I stifle a grin


* One of jai-alai's all-time greats.

Next I eliminate Guernica. Although he is a solid singles player, in post position 6 he is sandwiched between several other players of equal ability, a tough spot to be in.

That leaves me Alberto (#7) and Guerrica (#8). I rate them about equal in singles skill, although their styles are different. Alberto has the best falling-down rebote on the World Jai-alai roster, but sometimes has trouble with stand-up rebotes near the right side of the court. Guerrica is not as smooth as Alberto, but is a great competitor who gives 101% on every play. I finally choose Alberto on the grounds that he's looked sharper the last few times I've seen him play singles.

This puts me in a quandary. Echeva (#3) is my top choice. I can bet a 7-3 Perfecta, but the 3-7 is a low frequency combination and, in this case, the odds are much too low. I want to bet something with Echeva on top. 3-1 and 3-2 are the most frequent Perfectas when post 3 wins. Eusebio (#2) is having a good night; Romo (#1) is not. Therefore. I come down on 3-2. The odds are satisfactory.

My bets are confined to the 7-3 and 3-2 Perfectas, $6 in total.

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Echeva wins his first three points, but when Guerrica (#8) comes up he uncorks a perfect game. The 8-3 Perfecta pays $124.80. I review why I selected 7 over 8. It was a pretty flimsy reason. I should have considered an 8-3 Perfecta along with the 7-3, rather than restricting myself to one or the other, especially since I wound up betting only $6 on the game. Mental lapse on my part!

Mental lapses can kill you. Betting a fast action game like jai-alai requires fast thinking and decision-making under pressure. You can't afford many mistakes. Not only are they expensive, but also they can upset your psychological balance. One time I realty liked a 6-3 Perfecta and decided to buy two tickets. I went to the window and asked for "6-2, three times." instead of "6-3, two times."

I didn't realize my slip of the tongue until I got back to my seat and the game was starting. When Team 3 scored three points and lost to Team 6 which threw a perfect game, I felt like I was being pulled apart. The $202 Perfecta payoff made me sick. I was so unnerved by this that I wound up not cashing a single ticket all day. My concentration had been destroyed.

Enough of excuses. After 7 games I am still ahead $147.30.

 

GAME 8        Click here to view all Team Statistics

In this game Team 3 (Rufino and Alberto) is another standout. The most unusual thing about this program is the number of games with selections which are clearly superior from my perspective. This is the result of good partners and good post positions. Usually the best teams are in the bad posts.

Of course when you get a standout team in a good post position, what frequently happens is that everyone bets them, and the odds are unacceptably low. That has not been the case this particular day, however.

In Game 8, I couple the 3 in several Perfectas, playing 3-2 (twice), 2-3 and 6-3, a total of $12. This is strictly a mechanical play using the ratings and the Perfecta frequency table. Most of the teams are bunched, although Team 6 has a slightly better team record than the others. (Lecue was injured earlier and has been replaced by Soroa.) Also Durango and Soroa played together in Game 6, coming in second.

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Team 1 (Mendi and Asis II) wins the game, in an upset. Asis II is an early game player. I figured he would be outclassed in this company, but he played well enough to support Mendi's sharp play. Team 6 came in second; the 2 finished third. Our key Team 3 did nothing, as Rufino threw two remate shots too low in bids for quick points. It is a game of inches, and this time we missed by inches. Net profit remaining: $135.30.

 

GAME 9        Click here to view all Team Statistics

In this game, I zero in on #4. Mendi looked sharp last game and Guerrica (substituting for Lecue in this game) has looked good in each game he's played thus far. Mendi and Guerrica's team record is 5 wins and 5 places in 21 starts, an outstanding set of statistics.

The rest are all bunched in the ratings and team records, so I confine myself to looking at the three playable Perfectas: 4-1, 4-2 and 4-3. The 4-2 and 4-3 combinations offer poor odds, so I focus in on the 4-1. The 1-4 Quiniela offers a better relative payoff than the 1-4 and 4-1 Perfectas, and I believe that the 1 has a chance to win since Javier must always be considered a major threat in post 1, so I make just one bet: a $10 Quiniela on 1-4.

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The great Bolivar upsets all my plans as he comes out of the 8 hole on top of his game and, ably partnered by Ecenarro, never loses a point. Our Team 4 only scores one point.

 

GAME 10        Click here to view all Team Statistics

The feature singles game is dominated by the presence of the man they call "The Spider." Bolivar has total control of the Hartford court in singles. "He rarely gets out of the brown shirt" is the way someone summed it up. In this game he is in the black shirt of post 5, hardly a big improvement.

Look at his record: 28 wins in 101 starts, always heavily handicapped by post position. Any analysis of the 10th Game must start and end with Bolivar. He has a big following and is always heavily bet in all the pools. It is hard to find a "bargain" bet involving Bolivar, but we must try.

Let's look at the other players.

Elorrio is a good singles player, always a threat in post 1, but is playing below par thus far in the program. Pass Elorrio.

Soroa is outclassed in this company. Pass Soroa.

Jesus belongs in Game 7. Pass Jesus.

Gorrono is tough, and he is often overlooked in the betting.

Mendi is having a good night, but I don't see him winning in Round 1 against either Gorrono or Bolivar, his likely opponents, particularly since they will have the serve. In post 6, if you don't win in Round 1 you are in big trouble. Pass Mendi.

Javier is a superb singles player.

Rufino is a good-if-erratic-singles player. His play thus far has been sharp, even if he blew those two remates earlier.

So, in addition to #5 (Bolivar), I am considering #4 (Gorrono), #7 (Javier) and #8 (Rufino). There are no playable combinations with #5 on top, so I settle in on #5 in second position. After all Bolivar loses over 70% of his games (a fact which makes the 9-5 odds he goes off at in the Win Pool ridiculous).

Playable combinations are 7-5 and 8-5. The Perfecta odds on 7-5 are too low, leaving me with 8-5. I bet two Perfectas on 8-5 and another on 7-4. I consider, but reject, a possible 8-4 also, since the odds on that combination are also unacceptably low. In total I bet $9 on the game.

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Gorrono loses his first point to Jesus, which eliminates my chances in the event Bolivar throws a perfect game. Bolivar toys with Jesus, then nails him with a perfectly thrown dos paredes rebote from the contracancha.

Up comes Mendi. He plays his heart out, but Bolivar methodically edges in front of him, flicking the bait from the tip of his cesta, high off the front wall.

"CHULA!" roars the crowd.

Mendi makes a miraculous save. Bolivar doesn't bat an eye. He hammers the ball towards the back wall again. This time Mendi has no chance. It hits the crack between the rear wall and floor, about two inches from the side wall, sliding out along the floor as though it had been rolled.

"CHULA!" scream the fans, loving every minute of it. You don't have to be a long time aficionado to appreciate that kind of shot.

Next comes Javier, a player with a rubber wrist and a picture-book style. Bolivar regards him slyly, then serves. Javier gambles. He too can throw the chula, but he needs to get position on Bolivar. Javier charges the serve, booming a backhand shot over Bolivar's head.

Bolivar calmly returns the rebote on a line drive, straight to the crack in the back wall! The roar goes up: "CHULA!" But Javier digs it out, staying alive. There follows a long volley. Finally Javier forces Bolivar into a difficult forearm rebote shot from deep on the right side of the court.

Off balance, Bolivar returns it, not only safely, but with great power. It carries all the way to the back wall. Chula! Point to Bolivar. Javier shakes his head. A chula off a forearm rebote from the backcourt ... something to tell your grandchildren about.

Rufino is next. The crowd is going wild now, chanting "BO-li-VAR! BO-li-VAR!" as they sometimes do when their hero starts stringing sensational points. If you think this isn't an inspiration to a player, think about the effect of those home crowd chants of "DEE-FENSE!" on goal line stands in football.

At this point Bolivar looks invincible, and I begin daydreaming about how he might do against the other great singles players I've seen, like Miami's Asis or Bridgeport's Ondarres. How could anyone beat him when he's playing like this?

While I am thus engaged, Rufino - unintimidated by the crowd's partisanship - figures out how. He returns the serve backhand, a carambola actually. It hits the front wall, side wall, and bounces once in the backcourt before skipping off the court and into the players' cage. Bolivar never had a chance at it.

Suddenly everything is turned upside down. If Rufino can streak, I'll have my 8-5 Perfecta; and he is facing the three weakest guys in the lineup with points doubled.

Of course, it doesn't work out that way. Rufino hits the ceiling with a back-hand shot, and that is the last chance he has. Gorrono goes on to win. Bolivar never gets up again. The Perfecta is the quite rare 4-5 combination which prior to this day has come in only eight times in 1,308 games in Hartford in 1977. It only pays $141.90 (odds of 46-1), a most unsatisfactory payoff for a combination that has scored on the average of but once per 163+ games.

 

GAME 11        Click here to view all Team Statistics

In Game 11, Zoqui substitutes for Lecue. Including team bonus points, the ratings come out this way.

#1 = 30       #5 = 24
#2 = 25.5
     #6 = 25
#3 = 22
      #7 = 25
#4 = 26
      #8 = 21

Once again there is a standout team (#1 - Rufino and Guerrica). Both are playing well thus far on the program, and their team record is 7 wins, 6 seconds in 30 games, remarkably consistent. Despite their skills, record and most favorable post position, the crowd is betting Team 7 down to a 2-1 favorite. This is due to Bolivar's great performance in the last two games.

The 1 looks like one of the best bets of the day to me, so I couple them in both first and second place in Perfectas with every combination except those involving 3 and 8 (the two low rated teams), 7 (due to low odds), and 2 (since Durango is both outclassed and having a poor day-even though he's placed twice). This leaves me with six Perfectas ($18).

1-4    1-5    1-6
4-1    5-1    6-1

Since the Quiniela board shows no better odds, relatively, than the Perfecta board, I stay with the Perfectas again.

GAME 11 RESULTS FOLLOW - PAUSE HERE, IF YOU WANT TO MAKE PICKS!

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Rufino and Guerrica lose in Round 1, but take four in a row in Round 2 (at two points each) to win. Team 4 finishes second. The Perfecta only pays $91.80 as the odds dropped quite a bit right at the end. But it is still a fair price for such a standout selection. Through 11 games this win puts me ahead $190.10.

 

GAME 12        Click here to view all Team Statistics

This is a more normal game with no "sure thing" in the ratings. Team 8 (Echeva and Javier) is the highest rated, but doesn't have a particularly good team record. Team 3 (Mendi and Guerrica) is second high-rated, and has an excellent team record. I decide that the 3 will be my key team, largely because both Mendi and Guerrica have been playing to their full capabilities today.

I don't like the 3-1 or 3-2 Perfectas because the players on Teams 1 and 2 are having sub-par days. So I just bet 3-8 and 8-3 Perfectas (for $6). Although I usually don't play the 3-8 combination, the 90-1 odds more than compensate for the low frequency (1 in 65) with which this combination has been coming in during the 1977 Hartford season.

GAME 12 RESULTS FOLLOW - PAUSE HERE, IF YOU WANT TO MAKE PICKS!

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The 3 reaches Game Point but loses when Mendi throws a cortada too low, hitting the red foul area. Team 7 goes on to win as Rufino scores his second victory in a row. Team 3 comes in second.

On the day, I netted $184.10 profit on $130 in bets. My minimum bet was $6; my maximum was $18. I hit three Perfectas and passed up one other where the odds were too low.

This was not a typical day. In 12 games my top team won 3, placed 6 times, and came in third once. They won an extraordinary 66% of the points they played.

Over a season my top selections come in first or second an average of about 3.5-4 times per program, not 9 times as was the case this particular day. Normally, my top ranked teams win 55% of the points they play, not 66%.

There are days like the one described. They are exhilarating. There are also days when your selections play miserably all day, but you catch a fat Perfecta in the last game, go home a nice winner, and don't feel like you've had a good day. And then there are the days when you don't win anything. I've gone as long as 40 straight games without cashing a ticket. That is rough.

It is all part of the exciting world of jai-alai. Gambling successfully is a business of dealing in averages. There will be good days like the one I've described and bad ones I haven't described because they make boring reading. At the end of the year when you average them all together, what is your profit margin? If there is one, you are a winner. If there isn't, you're a loser. I hope that what you've learned in this book will keep you from being a loser and help you become a winner. It isn't easy. Success seldom is easy. But in jai-alai getting there is a lot of fun!