Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Pool Talk

I haven’t been writing much about the NFL pool this season because it’s mostly been a sad, slow descent to the bottom of the rankings for my team, More Cowbell. Actually to be more accurate it was a sharp drop during the first few weeks and a lot of floundering afterwards, putting me an unthinkable 15 games behind the leader heading into last weekend.

But yet, I write about the pool today, which signals something good must have happened to mark Week 10. Yes, I am once again illustrating that maxim regarding poker players and gamblers that they are always more likely to want to share their stories when it involves them winning than when it involves them losing.

The stories themselves can be equally dubious. Winners might well exaggerate the amount of their winnings. Or minimize them. “Beware, above all, the man who simply tells you he broke even,” writes Anthony Holden in Big Deal. “He is the big winner.”

Of course, losers will also make false claims about “breaking even,” with some qualifier (e.g., “just about,” “more or less”) generally operating as a tell introducing a hint of doubt regarding their accuracy. Some will exaggerate their losses, too, or at least the degree of unfairness they endured in order to have ended up a loser.

I have been guilty of all such disingenuous self-assessments. However, my picks this year have been so consistently poor I generally haven’t been able to muster enough energy to build any arguments about how Fortune and its whims have been unreasonably biased against me.

But as I say, this week something changed. Hitting 10 of 14 picks during another week full of NFL head-scratchers meant I’d somehow made more correct picks than anyone in the pool for Week 10. Sure, I missed four games, but that included two that absolutely none of us -- a group of 50-plus -- got right. No one chose Jacksonville to beat Tennessee, and no one took St. Louis over Indianapolis.

Speaking of the entire pool going in one direction with regard to picking certain games, I’ll admit with a few of my picks I deliberately chose to go against the grain, if only because being so far out of the money has made it all but necessary to do so.

I had three such picks this week, the most foolhardy being Dallas to beat New Orleans, which wasn’t going to happen in a 100 hundred tries. But I also took the 0-8 Tampa Bay Bucs to win their first last night (they did). And I’m most proud of taking my Panthers to top San Fran, a game I knew they had a legitimate chance to win. Of course, they had to recover a couple of their own fumbles late to make it happen, but thankfully the ball bounced favorably (for once... or twice).

A couple of years ago I wrote happily here about winning the pool and how in the final week I’d avoided thinking about which way others were picking when making my final week’s selections. Playing from way, way behind, it now seems impossible to make picks without thinking of everyone else. I suppose the dynamic vaguely resembles a table full of tight players and me being as loose as can be, free and willing to try plays others cannot.

But being so short-stacked in terms of correct picks notched thus far, I’m mostly just playing for pride now. And for the stories, true and embellished.

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