21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on May 17, 2007
This book deserves an immediate place - alongside "The Eudaemonic Pie" and "Bringing Down the House" - in the pantheon of greatest "Geniuses beat Las Vegas" stories ever written. "The Smart Money" is a true, first-hand account of how one of the biggest, most successful, sports-betting syndicates in history beat the Las Vegas sportsbooks out of millions. It turns out that having a math and computer genius crunch every stat imaginable to find algorithms that successfully predict the outcome of sporting events is only half the battle. The other half is actually getting your bets down, in amounts that will make the biggest vegas sportsbooks cringe, and you and your partners wealthy beyond belief. That's where the author, Michael Konick, came in. Michael was hired by the syndicate to place large bets for them, using his professional status as a Hollywood-based, highly successful author and journalist as cover. At first it worked perfectly: with a little help from Michael's acting skills, sportsbooks managers initially thought they had hooked a "whale," a rich sucker with no clue, who would blow a fortune backing his hunches. But when Michael began consistently beating them for huge money they began viewing him with more suspicion, and the game got a lot tougher. Michael's account of his adventures cajoling and conning the Las Vegas sportsbooks into booking his syndicate's bets, while at the same time exploring some of the other pleasures "Sin City" has on offer, makes compelling reading. I highly recommend it.
44 of 52 people found the following review helpful
I have enjoyed Konik's writing on gambling topics for many years, and after all the good I had heard about this book, I was looking forward to a great read about the workings of top sports handicappers and syndicates. Well, he tells an interesting and unusual story, that's for sure, but we learn very very little about how it was all done.
Konik is invited into the Brain Trust, but as a runner, a guy impersonating a high roller playing his own money, placing bets as big as he can get down anywhere where he can get it down. He is not a handicapper, nor was he involved in the money decisions (until very late and then on his own), and for as long as he was associated with the big boys they seem to have done a great job of keeping him out of the real loop.
The story itself is still interesting, and I think is pretty well told. First he tries to get down with various Vegas casino books, for a while successfully, but as his rep spreads, and wise casino people connect him with Big Daddy, he has to find new places to place serious bets. This leads him eventually to a variety of outlets online and in the Caribbean, and his adventures with these folks, full of love while he's losing but ready to stiff him the instant he scores. Getting the money back isn't easy, and the universe of potential outlets to get his bets down shrinks quickly, shortly endangering his career as a gambler. It's a constant game of cat and mouse with the books, with Big Daddy considering how to keep the heat on Konik low, and of course still beating the spread over the course of a couple of years, playing for hair-raising amounts of cash.
Konik eventually meets up with an old college chum, a math genius, who develops a new handicapping program, and so now Konik feels he doesn't have to front for Big Daddy, he can (with the aid of some Hollywood actors who fancy themselves gamblers) compete with him. It works for a few weeks. Then it all falls apart is a pretty ugly way, and Konik wisely decides to retire from sports betting. Konik's description of the stresses involved, and all it cost him in non-financial ways, is instructive.
The story has lots of stuff on the comped meals he ate, about his hot swinger girlfriend, and lots and lots on virtually every bet he made, which tends to become repetitive after a while. The material on the unusual personalities is of greater interest. There is NO material on handicapping, because he doesn't know anything about it. In other words, it's popcorn for the mind, goes down quick and you like it while you read it, but once done you're vaguely disappointed. There will be lots of used copies of this up shortly; if you're still interested in reading the book wait for them and save some money.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on August 6, 2007
An exciting tale of the transformation of a humble author into a major "player" in the alien world of multi-million dollar sports betting. As the author's situations became more surreal and as the money grew to eye-popping amounts, I felt my pulse quicken and palms begin to sweat. I don't know how Michael Konik did it! Just READING about the pressure, money & fear made me dizzy & nauseous (in a good way)!
I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in gambling, sports, probability or (let's face it) money! ;-)
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 2006
The Smart Money is a detailed, accurate, and surprisingly sensitive look deep within the arcane world -- complex, changeable, cutthroat -- of high-stakes sports betting.
The bookies are well aware of the vulnerability of the odds they offer on sporting events and they're hypersensitive to the big money, which can seriously hurt them. Thus, to try to exploit the weakness of those odds, the high rollers have to go to extraordinary lengths. Konik, in his initial capacity as an operative for a heavily financed sports-betting syndicate, and his later capacity as the head of his own syndicate, dives headfirst into this great cat-and-mouse game with guts, gusto, and a glibness so convincing that for four long years, he manages to bluff and outwit some of the most suspicious people on Earth.
The blow-by-blow of game after game is gripping and Konik's writing imparts all the sensations he experiences -- plumbing the depths of defeat and scaling the heights of triumph, along the way making a fortune, losing a girlfriend, being lied to, cheated, and stolen from, and scamming the scammers in return.
The ending, given who Konik portrays himself to be, isn't a surprise. But it does make The Smart Money not only enlightening and entertaining, but life-affirming as well. By the time you've finished reading this book -- and you should -- you'll see sports betting in a whole new light.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on January 16, 2007
REVIEW: I bought this book to be told an incredible story, and I was not disappointed. I really have no interest in pointspreads and that kind of thing. I wanted to get a look into the life and lifestyle of big-time professional gamblers, and Michael Konik is probably the best writer out there at taking us outsiders behind the curtain of secrecy and into the hidden realm where the insiders play. Although I myself do not gamble at casinos regularly or bet on sports, I know plenty of people who do, and reading "The Smart Money" was like a revelation. I discovered that this is a very high-stakes, very stressful world, where millions of dollars change hands and lives are changed on the bounce of a ball.
My favorite section of the book was when Konik enlists a bunch of Hollywood movie stars (Captain Beefcake and his friends) to make bets for him. It's hilarious and shocking, and the way it's told I assume it's all true. Any guesses who these celebrities might be?
Like Konik's previous titles, this is not a "how to" book. It's great storytelling. If you want "Football Betting for Dummies" -- you know, how to beat the pointspread, etc. -- this is not the book for you. If you want a fast-paced true-life adventure tale that reads like a spy thriller written by a wonderfully elegant writer, I highly recommend "The Smart Money."
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 12, 2006
Gambling is business. The house provides the games, and the public provides the fuel for those game by playing, that is as long as the public never gets too good at those games the house provides.
Put together a blackjack team, and you could end up in jail. Build a "Brain Trust" and try to beat the casino sports books and offshore bookies at sports handicapping, and going to jail might be the least of your problems.
The Smart Money is the very intriguing, very dramatic, very believable story of just such a "Brain Trust".
Michael Konik tells the story of his 5 year journey into the world of high-stakes, make that ridiculously high-stakes, sports betting. Where betting the farm on a football game is handled with the analysis and execution of a Wall Street investment banking firm. But this isn't Wall Street. It's the somewhat seedy, and seriously unregulated culture of global gaming. A place where you can lose all you want, but any sign of being a winner could leave you unable to get anyone to accept your bet. And, if you do find a "store" that will take your action, getting paid if you win could present an entirely different set of problems.
Konik is the best at bringing the reader to the expert level in any subject, without wasting time in getting you up to speed. The Smart Money gives details of which only a small percentage of the top professional gamblers have knowledge.
If you have ever watched football, basketball, hockey, baseball or golf, and pondered the outcome of the contest, then you'll love this book. If you have ever wondered why others can't seem to watch sports without betting, then you'll love this book. AND, if you have ever cried yourself to sleep because there should have been no way New England would lose by more than 7 ½ to Miami on Monday night, then you may not love this book, but you won't be able to put it down!
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on March 6, 2007
I was trying to complete some continued education courses for my Real Estate license but I couldn't focus on that until I finished this book. It was such a pleasant distraction and so much fun to read that I couldn't put it down and I couldn't go to sleep at night-one more chapter and then I'll sleep...and for an avid gambler and sports fan this would have been a dream come true for me, and to think Michael actually lived it is incredible. To be a part of the most notorious betting syndicate in the world defiantly deserves to be put into print for all of us "normies" out there that only dream of placing $50,000 dollar bets per game..
One note: don't confuse this book with "how to bet on sports" This is a memoir.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2007
I saw this book on the new release table at Barnes and Noble, and snatched it up immediately. I once worked in the exciting and shady world of offshore sports betting and new many of the characters in Mr. Konik's book. It was absolutely fascinating to hear the story from his side of the table....I can honestly say that all the offshores spent a lot of time fretting about Mr. Matthews and his clan. Mr. Konik's experience isn't exaggerated at all - it is a true-to-life, accurate depiction of that world and its dangers and allure. A true must read!!
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2007
I love Vegas, and I hate Vegas. I love the exotic glitz, the happy people everywhere, and hanging by the pool in the dry heat of the desert. I hate the gambling. Why? You can't win. We all know it.
But what if you could win? What if you had the advantage instead of the house? This is exactly what happens in Mike Konik's book, The Smart Money. Through his connections as a gambling writer, Konik gets a line on "Big Daddy", the man with the golden computer algorithm that can isolate weaknesses in the point spreads for various sporting events, primarily football. Konik places the bets for Big Daddy and gets a cut of the action.
Guess what? The casinos don't like this. So you have to be clever. The book takes the reader through the highs of winning over one hundred thousand dollars in a weekend to the lows of wondering if there might be a guy waiting outside your door to break a few bones or worse.
The Smart Money is about what it really feels like to beat Vegas at its own game, and it's a page turner. As with Konik's other excellent gambling books, highly recommended.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 6, 2007
Followers of Michael Konik's gambling books will recognize a familiar theme in The Smart Money, a page-turner memoir of his brush with the up-and-down world of high-stakes sports betting. His readers know by now that Konik, crowned "the dean of the world's gambling writers" by The Detroit Free Press, is too smart to bother with a mere casino game unless the game offers a skilled player some chance to win. He has written before about the odds underlying all of the games in the casino. Yes, yes, he knows you know a friend of a co-worker who once put a dollar in a slot machine and hit it big, but he also knows the casinos make millions, year after year, on the suckers who fill the slot machines every hour with little reward. Konik is nobody's sucker, and he doesn't want any of his readers to be a sucker either.
But if a smart player can beat the casino's inherent edge (as he can by calmly sticking to by-the-book strategy at some blackjack tables) or, better yet, if he can pit himself directly against others, with the casino essentially out of the way (as he can in poker tournaments), Konik usually wants in. And when he is in, he wants desperately to win.
Too often, however, Konik has learned that the casinos will not let the smart player win. As he has written in his earlier collections of gambling stories, both in The Man With 100,000 Breasts and Telling Lies and Getting Paid, the casinos actually do hold the cards, so to speak. They reduce betting limits, shuffle blackjack decks to thwart card-counting, or simply decline to take the skilled player's "action" altogether. This angers Mr. Konik.
So we are not surprised to find Konik, writing here in a crisp, present-tense first person, falling hard when a round of golf puts him in touch with Rick "Big Daddy" Matthews, the mastermind of a shadowy network of highly-successful sports bettors known as "The Brain Trust." In Matthews Konik finds a hero, a very smart player who not only picks winners, over the long run, better than the best Vegas bookies can, but who also shares Konik's disdain for the hypocrisy ("We Love Winners!") of the gambling establishment. Big Daddy has proven himself too smart, and the bookies will no longer let him play.
Matthews enlists Konik to bet large sums of Brain Trust money in the Las Vegas sports books. Konik agrees, and when a Brain Trust lieutenant arrives in Konik's hotel room with a handgun and a duffle bag full of "bricks" of hundred-dollar bills, the wild, vicarious ride begins. Over several NFL seasons, Konik meticulously recounts his wins and losses and the brazen acting required to pull it all off. If Big Daddy is the brain of the Brain Trust, (cranking sports data through unseen computer processes), Konik is the face, voice, and legs of part of it, the courier who must keep the point spreads in his head and keep his cool in the face of the increasingly suspicious bookies. The job requires flat-out guts, a bold, continuous bluff, and Konik delivers.
But as Konik himself could have predicted, the casinos are not in the business of giving away money, and so begins a game within the game, the sport of merely getting the bets made (getting the money "down.") The pace of the story picks up, moving from Vegas to off-shore sports books, aliases, and disguised phone voices, and it eventually draws in an somewhat rag-tag group of Hollywood-movie-star-gambling aficionados and a surprise twist from Konik's past.
Through it all, Konik brings us along, capturing the language (we learn about the "vig," the "juice," and the "steam") and the characters (we meet Brother Herbie, Stevie the Pencil, and Gino the Suit). Also, somehow, he pauses for enough breath to note the toll the enterprise extracts from his life. Like the smart writer he is, Konik gives us a taste of what it was like to have lived the ride, but he allows us to be glad we didn't have to live it ourselves.