GETTING THE BEST OF IT
New documentary focusing on what it takes to be a professional gambler
By Tim Wassberg
The new documentary The Best Of It examines the existence of the professional sports gambler – the stamina it takes, the changing playing field and the intensity of numbers versus intuition that populate every waking moment of their reality. Casino Player sat down with two of the subjects of the film: pro gamblers Alan “Dink” Denkenson and Alan “Boston” Dvorkis to discuss their past experience, instinct versus logic and practical applications and perceptions of sports betting.
Casino Player: How do you have to look at stamina and structure in terms of the mindset of managing this lifestyle?
Alan Denkenson: Kind of like work. You put the hours you are supposed to put in. I get up. I go to the computer. I do my morning betting. I get some food. I come back. I look at other things. I plan my evening. I usually work until 5 p.m. If it’s hockey season, I’ll watch games at night. It’s just a job. It’s the way most gamblers approach it. Every day is another day except that it is a seven day a week job and you can take off whenever you want. It’s work. But work gets the money so you plan on working as much as you can.
Alan Boston: I definitely had a routine, even as we got bigger in our approach. I would wake up at 4:30 in the morning. I had an internal clock. I would read every preview, every game on the computer. The lines would come out and we would have certain people we were able to bet first with. We’d wait about 3 1/2 hours and then I would go to breakfast. I would think about the games by myself and I would call up my partner and say “Here’s what I’m thinking about and here’s why”. And as I talked, if it made sense as I gave my reasons, we would go “all in” on it. If what I was saying had a little horseshit to it or didn’t ring true, [we’d leave it]. Around 11:30 a.m. I would get back from the gym and then we would make our bets around noon. I couldn’t wait for Mr. [Billy] Walters to bet. Once he bet, the line was gone. His stuff was very good. That was our routine every day and it was wildly successful.
CP: From your perspective is it all about numbers or does a good amount of instinct enter into the equation with sports betting?
AD: There is certainly some instinct involved. In hockey [for example] you’re visualizing a lot based on looking at “control of play.” But it is more numbers because you don’t want to use your emotions. You want numbers to be your guide… but there’s [always] a little bit of emotion in it. Sometimes you look at the numbers after you watch something and you go “Boy, it’s hard to believe those numbers are accurate” because, say the Penguins look better than the Caps. But the numbers shows them close. You have to go to the numbers and say “Well, the Caps were losing and they got most of their shots in the 3rd period”. [It would be] different if it was a tight game situation. So you need to look at and analyze the numbers with logic. It is not about playing numbers all the time. When a number shows up that you think is not correct, you can usually be surprised. I think the best example of that is football. If a team is down 21 points in the 4th quarter, they can pass all they want for seven yards every play. [But] if the other team is playing a prevent defense, it will distort the final numbers of the game. Numbers come first and then you adjust them using logic and a little bit of instinct. You can’t just say “I feel like this is going to happen.” Other people approach gambling different; everyone has their own approach. Eventually you’ll get something that works for you and you go with it. You just make slight adjustments to it.
AB: When I started, from day one, I always created power ratings [for my college teams]. So I always had a number that I could reference at all times. That matters a lot. It matters close to 100 percent. For instance, if I think a game should be 3 but my instinct thinks the team is going to blow them out… if the game’s at 3 1/2, I’m not betting it. I’m not going to lay 3 1/2 points because my power rating says the number should be 3. I know I have an edge at minus 3 but anything more than that I am being overcharged for what my feeling might be. The number supersets all [but only] as a reference. In situations where my instinct or my logic wants to overrule the power rating, the power rating still matters in that I would use that for a basis to try to get a fair price [where I could] bet the game at.
CP: Do you think the psychology of a modern gambler has changed since the 80s when the computer systems were first introduced?
AD: I think in the early 80s you didn’t have to do nearly as much work to succeed. Basically gamblers are playing against each other. The cut is what the house keeps. I just think having a college education in the early 80s made you a big favorite to actually make money [but] that is certainly not true anymore. You have to have an unbelievably hard work ethic and be pretty skilled at math… and be very logical. I don’t think my math skills are on par with so many of them but my logic skills are pretty good. I think that is what gets me by. Plus I am willing to sit in the chair for 10 hours a day, seven days a week.
CP: How are the lines as dictated now completely different from your perspective from years past?
AB: [I was in Las Vegas] in 1985 and I was hanging out with a friend. He put plus 4 against Holy Cross. [Then] we went over to Caesars and found 4 1/2. I think we bet $1,500 each [on that]. That’s what they took. And that was like a big bet for me back then. It might have been all the money I had? Who knows? I was much younger. The game ended up closing at 4 1/2 and we ended as a 1 point favorite. When you looked at the seat at the Stardust where they had the opening lines, the game packed it open at 15. So the game moved 16 points. And, as the years went along, obviously the Stardust got better at making [the] lines but they still made a lot of mistakes. I used to go there early and pick them off. They [obviously started] taking much bigger bets [over the years] and making their lines a lot tighter. As the years went on, their lines got better and better. Now obviously when you’re the linemaker, you have a line in every game so you’re going to make a mistake or two. It’s just the way it is. But given the technology that is available now, I am told, the simplest of computer programs can get you a line that is very close.
CP: From your perspective Dink, have those advantages of moving the line disappeared with new technologies?
AD: Yah. All those things are kind of gone. Although someone always opens someplace new and then there is a mad rush to get in and do the first numbers. I sometimes do that with hockey. I want to bet as early as possible. Most times [it] will go my way. Sometimes, I see things wrong. Now, in baseball, sometimes I like to wait [to bet]… because you don’t get the line ups the day before for the next day’s game. As a result, you’re betting on speculation of who’s going to play. In hockey, you can pretty much anticipate the line ups straight through the playoffs. They only might tinker around the 4th line. It is not as relevant to that game but for baseball it definitely is.
CP: What about you Boston?
AB: I was at a poker tournament back in the 80s, I walked into Churchill Downs [Sports Book], which is where the Paris now is. It was a strip mall. They took big bets. And they had great coffee too. So I have Seattle at 1. I walk around the corner to Bally’s which is a real short walk from the Paris, and they are just hanging the line as I walk in. I had the timing that day. They open the line at Houston 3. Now remember I was just two blocks away at Churchill and they have Seattle 1. And here was this place right around the corner at Houston 3. So [at Ballys] I took Seattle plus 3 for $3,000. That’s what they took. And, I remember, I wanted to do it again. But I was afraid. I didn’t want to get in trouble. I walked out and I left. Seattle won the game. You’ll never see that again. Not ever again. Because the computer era is here. Believe me, if Bally’s knew Churchill had Seattle at 1, they wouldn’t have had Houston at 3. The numbers have tightened up everywhere. In the 80s, you would either get a good number when they opened the line or, sometimes, just walking around they would have a strange line. A lot of guys ran around and did a lot of legwork in the 80s/90s. When Don’s Best first came to be, that kind of ended all that where people could look and see what other places had.
CP: Has your approach to the play changed with all your experience?
AD: You learn as you go and you make judgments. At the beginning I was a novice 20-year-old going to the race track. I thought so many wrong things. But you whittle out the wrong things and add the right things that work. Things will start making sense to you. It is very hard. Even if you started tomorrow, you would improve so much in the next four years because you learn what is misleading and what is relevant. But you still have to learn the market. It’s a whole learning process. Most people quit before they learn what it takes to be a profitable gambler. Games change. They always change.
CP: All said, there was nothing like the energy of the sportsbooks on The Strip in the 80s. Especially the Stardust.
AB: When I first was in Vegas, we used to go to the Stardust. Scott Schettler, who ran the Stardust Sports Book, was one of the great innovators of the whole gambling industry. He doesn’t get enough credit for it but he was one of the first to do many things including using computers, using phone betting, having his own schedule. He was the first to book the added games. He did a lot of stuff first. He was putting the first lines up for a reason, and he had people behind the counter who knew what they were doing. We would get there, there was a whole group of us, every morning and sign up for the lottery. We’d start at 8 a.m. And they did it in a fair way. They’d throw numbers and names in a hat. They’d draw a name and they’d draw a number. Then another number. I tried to be the name “AD” but they already had an “AD”, Alan D’Andria. That is how my nickname came to be. I said “OK. How about ‘Alan from Boston. AB’” And that eventually just became “Boston.” So my nickname started because of the Stardust lottery.
My spot would be like number three at window two. There was 21 people and they’d all be excited…7 a line…3 lines of 7. The first person obviously got first crack at the line. You could make three bets and then you had to go to the back of the line. That’s how we did it. They took $2,000 on a game which was a fair bet. And, obviously there were some big holes in the lines. It was a picnic actually. But they wanted us there. They wanted people who could move the lines aggressively off our bets and get the price point to where they could book the game fairly. So we would go there, make our bets and leave for the day.