September 2, 2004
On my Occasional Guide to Winning Baseball column in which I advocated "Don't do what your opponent wants you to do," several readers had a reaction similar to this one:
As a decent poker player and huge baseball fan, there's a flaw in your analogy. What if your opponent is an idiot? You're a cautious poker player who rarely enters the pot, and you draw two aces (best possible hand). Your opponent plays somewhat wildly and tries to draw people into the hand in the hopes of catching a big payday. Well, I'm following *his* lead to a tee...
In baseball language, I'm a huge Giants fan. Opposing (all non-La Russa...and it'll change in the playoffs) managers walk Bonds at times that are frankly insane. If I can fall into their trap of walking Barry with 1st and 2nd and one out, well, darn. He got me. If they want to intentionally walk Barry with 1st and 3rd and two out---and a 2-2 count (I swear to God this happened Tuesday against Montreal)--then so be it.
I see your general point, but you have to make allowances for the assumption (easier in baseball than poker, at least for me) that following your opponent's strategy is to your advantage in certain circumstances.
That's a fine point, and I think it's important not to get too complicated. I think there's also a way out of this:
If you know the other manager is smarter than you, don't do what he wants you to do.
Even a dumb manager would be well served by the strategy I propose. The worst traps with the most severe consequences should be obvious to all: The mega-pinch hitter I used as an example is right there on the lineup card at the start of the game--it's hard to miss.
Still, people make huge mistakes all the time, many of them involving cars, injuries, and much property damage, that are obvious to everyone watching, like baseball fans, from the sidelines. In an ideal world, managers who consistently made mistakes like that would be ruthlessly chased out of the game, but just as morons keep getting behind the wheel, what's in the general good of society or baseball often isn't what actually happens.
On my other OgtWB last week, on how an optimal strategy involves unpredictability and sometimes making bad moves (or not making good ones) intentionally:
Oh, if only they did this! Most of the managers I see are like the guy with the iron-clad 'system.' They believe so much in it that you could pick a random season-ticket holder out of the stands, give that person a baseball situation and they could tell you what the manager would do with alarming accuracy.
If you've got one of these managers, and from the number of people who e-mailed me to ask if I was writing about their guy, you probably do, there's an easy way to turn your frustration into a lucrative source of additional income: bet with people around you.
If you're a serious fan of your team, like I unfortunately am, you watch a lot of their games. If you're smart, and since you're reading this I have to believe you're a discriminating baseball fan who knows how to spend your money, you've noticed those patterns. Even advance scouts don't see your team as often as you do.
So say you're watching a game and you know that down by three, one out, runner on first, ninth inning, your manager's going to sacrifice the guy from first to second to get out of the double play.
Quick, say: "I'll bet anyone 5-to-1 he bunts right here. Who wants it?"
Pick odds that are fairly good. Get the money down before the batter squares up. You can pay for your tab at the bar if you're good enough at this, and I'm a man who drinks premium beer in large containers.
Or you can always impress members of the opposite sex. If they're baseball fans. And, uh, are attracted to people who know far too much about their favorite teams.