About once a week, a person whom I had no previous reason to suspect was an idiot will utter the following words, or a variation thereof: “Did you know that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results?! It’s true — Albert Einstein said it!”
And in an instant, all my respect for that person will suddenly vanish. That person is usually someone in the media, so clearly no real harm is done, but it’s still upsetting for a couple of reasons, chief among them being that Albert Einstein’s good name is smeared by an army of simpletons, a group so dull-headed that they can’t even be bothered to test their hypothesis by flipping a coin a couple of times. It’s a small step from there to wondering why Einstein would have said something so idiotic, then wondering if he even said it at all, and then (with the help of some basic Googling) discovering that he said no such thing. The quote has been variously attributed to such diverse figures as Benjamin Franklin, Rita Mae Brown, and Fred Zamberletti, but in fact seems to have originated in a 1981 pamphlet from Narcotics Anonymous.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying: I’m running bad. So bad, in fact, that I’m starting to wonder whether Narcotics Anonymous was on to something (and not just on something). My record of picking winners on Grantland now stands at 1 out of 11, and although four of those bets have been at decent odds, I have picked seven NFL spread bets — coin flips, in other words — and all seven of them have failed to cover. Achieving the same record with seven actual coin flips, using real coins (not that I have any of those left), would be a 128-1 shot from a standing start. However, if I flip a coin 150 times, I’ve got a 44 percent chance of seeing a seven-tail or seven-head streak! Therefore, logic dictates that I should attempt to pick another 145 winners, to allow the odds the chance to even themselves out. Some people would describe this as chasing. I’d say that it’s science.
Now, were I a lesser fool, I would probably stick to tipping cowardly NFL spread-bet coin flips, but I am a Greater Fool, and these bets no longer interest me. With only two possible outcomes, there are too few ways for me to lose. Instead, I’m going to focus my attention on my gambling wheelhouse; European club football, which offers a far wider range of possible failures. And it’s only right and proper that we kick things off with a juicy bet at long odds.
Arsenal vs. Chelsea, (7:45 a.m. EDT, Saturday) to finish 0-0 @ +1150
The two tightest defenses in the Premier League come together, and it’s not hard to see this ending goalless, especially as the wafer-thin confidence of Fernando Torres has been dealt another blow with the news that Chelsea are searching their pockets for a spare £45 million to bring the magnificent Radamel Falcao to West London in January. Or failing that, £40 million for the exceptional Edinson Cavani. Or failing that, name your price for anyone who isn’t Fernando Torres. Arsenal aren't exactly prolific at the other end, either, so expect to see a lot of aesthetically pleasing football from the glittering array of midfield talent in North London on Saturday, or, if you’re watching a highlights package, plenty of adverts.
Manchester United vs. Tottenham (12:30 p.m. EDT, Saturday) under 2.5 goals @ 2.26
The punters on the over/under market seem to have placed a lot of emphasis on United’s form this season; their last four Premier League games have had three or more goals, and there appears to be an assumption that their injury-hit defense will concede to Spurs, which means either United fail to win (unlikely) or this match goes over 2.5 goals. I’m unconvinced, largely because they’re playing Tottenham, who are a team in recovery following a traumatic summer and a hair-raising start to the season. A Liverpool-style panic looked to be setting in as new manager Andre Villas-Boas presided over a hugely unconvincing start, but successive wins against Reading and QPR will have calmed the nerves at White Hart Lane, and Tottenham will be delighted if they can pick up another point with a draw on Saturday. To aggressively pursue three points would be more foolhardy than ambitious; they’ve only won nine of their 75 league games at Old Trafford, and scored just one goal in their last four visits ... or six in their last 12, unless you count this somewhat marginal refereeing decision:
A classic double-save there. God help us if we ever have a referee strike in England.
Juventus to beat Roma (2:45 p.m. EDT Saturday) @ -141
Juve haven’t lost a Serie A game at home in 18 months, and while Roma can match their impressive scoring record this season (both teams have scored 11 in their five Serie A matches to date), Juventus have a far superior defense, and should be comfortable winners at home. Of course, if Juventus were to fail to win thanks to a refereeing decision like the one above, they’d declare that it didn’t happen and insist that everyone agree that they won the match “on the pitch”: I’m not sure how the bookmakers would feel about this, but it’s definitely something for Tottenham Hotspur to bear in mind for future reference.
Galatasaray to beat Braga (2:45 p.m. EDT, Tuesday) @ -109
To the Champions League, and probably my favorite bet of the week. Galatasaray are in tremendous form, and were extremely unlucky not to get a better result last time out at Manchester United, where they hit the woodwork three times and were denied an obvious penalty in a 1-0 defeat. Meanwhile, over in Portugal, Braga’s defense were being flattered by a 0-2 scoreline against CFR Cluj, who could easily have scored more. Braga are stuttering in their domestic league, and they won’t be relishing a 1,900-mile journey to visit one of the most intimidating stadiums on the planet, a place where visiting teams are greeted at the airport by locals holding up signs reading "welcome to Hell”.
So! A goalless draw at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday morning and I’ll have a winning record as a tipster again, irrespective of results elsewhere. Also, I would like it noted that I came this close to picking Deportivo La Coruna to win at Real Madrid at odds of +2900 (probably the longest price I’ve ever seen on a top-flight league match), but caution has prevailed. For once.
Dermot Hunt (@dermoth) is a poker player and sports bettor who lives in North London.