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Keeping Score

Keeping Score: Odds breakers

Good morning!

Most harness horse players bet to win, place and show, but there are those who get their kicks from off-the-wall strategies that Bill McQuiston has seen his share of at the Saratoga Casino and Raceway.

The affable 64-year-old McQuiston is the harness track’s mutuels manager and says that “bridge jumping” is a successful but highly nerve-wracking way to make a few quick dollars. “We’ve limited their action to $5,000 or we’ll take too much of a hit in the minus pool.”

(A minus pool occurs when there’s not enough money in the pari-mutuel pool to cover the payout, leaving the track to pay the balance).

Bettors look for a 1-to-9 favorite, preferably ridden by leading driver Billy Dobson, to make their score. On Sunday, Dobson drove a 3-year-old trotter named MACH TO THE MAX to an easy win in the eighth race and the horse paid $2.10 to show — a nickel on the dollar is the lowest it goes.

A $5,000 show bet would’ve yielded a $250 net profit, but if MACH TO THE MAX had broken stride and finished worse than third, the bettor would have been off to find the nearest bridge.

Saratoga’s harness track opened in 1941, and McQuiston said that in the days when bookies took action on heavy favorites to win they’d put their customers’ money to show, not to win. “It’s going to pay $2.10 across the board anyway, and if the horse doesn’t win they get their customers’ money plus the show winnings.”

“The first person who set rudimentary odds did it for racing,” said McQuiston, who was raised in northwestern Pennsylvania and worked in upstate New York as a school teacher until he became director of the Cultural Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y.

After retiring from RPI he was hired to be Saratoga’s full-time mutuels manager. “I’ve always been in racing, in the money end except for a short shift down in the casino. Cage work was great fun, hectic, always on our feet. I did the main banking.”

Although bridge-jumping is a popular ploy, McQuiston said bettors are continually finding new ways to game the system.

“We have bettors who will manipulate the odds,” said McQuiston. “One way’s to make a decent-size wager on a horse that has no chance of winning. It skews the pool by lowering the odds. In a small betting pool a $100 win bet can lower the odds to 6-to-5 and bump up the real favorite’s odds to 3-to-1 or more. Then he goes to his offshore account and wagers on the legitimate favorite for bigger money. The manipulator may lose the wager he placed at the track but make up for it with higher odds off shore.”

Yet another way, he said, is to make a big bet on a long shot but cancel the bet just before the gates open. “They’re hoping that the betting public jumps on that horse before they realize the wager’s been canceled. Again, the odds become unrealistic for both the contenders and non-contenders.”

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Longtime Recorder sports staffer Mark Durant has a flight from Albany to Las Vegas early Monday morning to play in the opening tournament of what will be 65 main events that comprise the World Series of Poker (WSOP) at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino.

“Event 1” is a $500 buy-in event played over two days and will draw between 850 and 1,000 entrants playing No-Limit Texas Hold’em, the most popular form of poker since Chris Moneymaker made his improbable run to win the 2003 WSOP Main Event.

Durant said approximately 10 percent of the field will win prize money. Last year’s champion Chad Holloway won $85,000, less taxes.

“My goal is to make it to Day 2 and hopefully get in the money,” he said.

That tournament kicks off what Durant characterized as “seven straight weeks of degenerate heaven,” referring to over 300 tournaments and around-the-clock cash games that will take place during the WSOP’s 49-day run through July 14.

Durant said this year’s Main Event (a $10,000 buy-in) could attract as many as 10,000 entrants because the top prize will be at least $10 million guaranteed. “Everybody wants to play in the Main Event, but I saw how overwhelming it was when my friend Dustin Pros qualified in 2011,” said Durant. “He faced some tough pros on Day 2 and really struggled against them.”

Poker is Durant’s passion. He moonlights for a poker website and plays in smaller tournaments throughout the Northeast. “In Vegas, I’ll be facing a lot of accomplished players,” he said, “so this will be a much better gauge of where I am in terms of my level of play.”

Penn & Teller perform at the Rio, and Penn Gillette is a Greenfield High School grad, so perhaps he’ll throw a few aces Durant’s way.

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Turners Falls football coach Chris Lapointe has graduated from the Mass. State Police Academy and is a State Trooper assigned to the Chesire barracks. Asked if he’ll be able to continue his coaching duties on the Indians’ sideline this fall, all he can say is, “I hope so.”

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Alex Guerrero didn’t expect to lose half an ear after he defected from Cuba and signed with the L.A. Dodgers for $28 million last year. Playing for the Dodgers’ Triple-A farm team on Tuesday, he got into a dugout fight with catcher Miguel Oliva, who bit off Guerrero’s ear, a la Mike Tyson. Doctors performed plastic surgery but aren’t sure if Guerrero will be able to wear a normal batting helmet. The fight wasn’t over a woman or because of an unpaid loan. Oliva was angry because Guerrero had failed to tag out a base stealer, a reason that’s really sort of refreshing.

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Squibbers: Eighty-seven-year-old rock n’ roll maestro Chuck Berry threw out the first pitch at Wednesday’s Cards-Diamondbacks game at Busch Stadium. ... Dennis Eckersley wasn’t mincing words on NESN after Boston’s sixth straight loss on Wednesday: “It’s just a mess, all the way around.” . ... “All my home runs come from telling myself, ‘Base hit up the middle’,” Angels superstar Mike Trout told Sports Illustrated. The 22-year-old superstar has 70 home runs in 381 games and his autographed baseballs are already selling for between $300 and $400 on the Internet. ... Bullpen Burnout: Eight relievers combined to throw 210 pitches during Cleveland’s 13-inning win versus Detroit on Wednesday. ... The Red Sox signed Stephen Drew for $10 million because he had eight errors all last season and Xander Bogaerts already has six this season. ... Because of the way teams are using shifts for hitters, baseball host Jim Bowden says it’s time to hire full time defensive coordinators. ... What a pleasure to watch the Red Sox on Sunday night baseball on ESPN and not suffer through all the Wally fluff on the NESN broadcasts. ... The great thinkers of Yawkey Way have rolled out a dating site for Red Sox fans. What’s next, Ashley Madison for pink hats? ... Jonny Gomes batting cleanup harkens back to the days of Jim Pagliaroni in the four spot and 76-86 seasons. ... Nasal strips? The New York Racing Association would’ve let California Chrome have a monkey in the saddle if it meant keeping him in the Belmont Stakes. The carnival barking on NBC has already begun: “Destiny!” “First in 36 Years!” We’ll see about that, won’t we Mr. Dobrydnio?

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.

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