Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Prediction and Preference: stuff

I admit that I am a sucker for the melodrama of those award shows.  I watched the Grammys a couple of weeks ago and, unlike the critics who hammered her, I was touched by Lady Gaga's salute to the late David Bowie; I enjoyed the Kendrick Lamar piece, and I was thrilled to see young (12 years old!) Joey Alexander playing solo jazz piano for the Grammy crowd.

The Oscars often get me worked up, too; the drama of the moment, the emotion (feigned or unfeigned, I often can't tell) of the winners.  Unfortunately, I think this year's Oscars will be one to put on the DVR and fast-forward through.  There may be some good performances, and I will want to see Chris Rock's rant in the first 15 minutes.  I don't think this has been a particularly stellar year, though.  There are worthy performances of various kinds, and the likelihood that the awards could be distributed fairly broadly (instead of concentrated on a single film), is for me a positive.

The big problem is that someone/everyone seems to know the winners of all the big awards, so there won't be much suspense.  I'm not referring to things like short films, or documentaries, which has some mystery because hardly anyone has seen the films.  If one goes to the "betting odds" on (mostly based on the non-US betfair betting site) and considers the 21 awards for feature films, there is one award (Costume Design) for which the betting favorite is at less than 50% likelihood, and three more at less than 65%.  Ten of them are at over 80%, with three of those over 95%.

My suggestion is to watch the first hour, which should have the Chris Rock intro and maybe a musical number, possibly the two supporting acting awards--which are among the most interesting ones--and fast-forward to the very last award, for Best Picture.  That is actually one of the ones for which the betting favorite is 64%, relatively low for this year's probabilities.

In terms of betting, if you are in a small pool, go for the favorites and take your chances with a more-or-less random bet on the documentary and live-action shorts.  In a larger pool, you have to take some chances if you want to win.  I suggest consideration of Rooney Mara, for Supporting Actress in "Carol", and Mark Rylance, for Supporting Actor in "Bridge of Spies".  The favorites are Alicia Wikander and Sylvester Stallone, but I think Mara has paid more dues, while Stallone's Golden Globes acceptance was an embarrassment I think Oscar will choose to avoid, while Rylance was outstanding (as an oddball Communist spy, the kind of performance that wins this award).

With regard to the "major" awards, I accept that this is Leo DiCaprio's year--he certainly went the extra mile for it in "Revenant"--and Oscar will continue the habit of giving Best Actress to a "woman in extreme distress in a nearly unwatchable film"--this year, to Brie Larson in "Room".  I would not quibble with the pick of Alejandro Inarritu for Director (he's an 87% favorite) if he had not won for "Birdman" last year:  maybe the fix is in, but I wouldn't be overly suprised if George Miller pulled an upset for "Mad Max".  Cinematography will indeed be, and should be, the Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki Award for the third year running (94%, for "Revenant"), while the favorites for screenplay, "Spotlight" and "The Big Short", for original and adapted (89% and 85%, respectively), seem correct and likely.

Best Picture:  "Revenant" is "only" a 64% favorite; the other two major alternatives are "Spotlight" (24%) and "The Big Short" (10%).  I can't (or won't) say whether I think there will be an upset here--I wouldn't exclude the possibility--but I will say that my vote would have been for "The Big Short" as Best Picture, for the remarkable achievement of an entertaining film on a very important, but seemingly uninteresting, subject.  Credit goes to the author of the original nonfiction book, Michael Lewis, for the design and research of the case studies which are at the heart of it, and to the director, Adam McKay, and cast, for making it fun.   "Spotlight", for me, was a journalism procedural, a good performance by Mark Rufalo (nominated, but not viewed as a likely winner by the bettors on Supporting Actor), not much suspense, and really not much better than another journalism procedural, "Truth", which got little recognition.

And "Revenant"?  A very intense, moral movie; I respect it, and admire the film-making technique, which I would describe as one part "The Master" (Paul Thomas Anderson's movie about a Scientology-type cult), one part "The New World" (Terence Malick's 1600's-Virginia story, cinematography by Lubezki), and one part "Unforgiven".   I think viewers in general will be more shocked by the violence than impressed by the message.  It is a historical fiction piece, from a period most would rather not think too much about (1823), due to the injustices of the time (quite evident in the movie).  There is a true incident that the "novel" which inspired the movie is based upon--my conclusion is that the movie is 95% invention, and my reaction to much of it was like the classic line of The Chief in "Get Smart":  "I find that hard to believe."  "Revenant" has the chance for a huge night, with 12 nominations, but it is favored for only four.  I'd say it is more likely that it will get five or six than only two or three.

Sports: Parity Makes for Interesting Gaming
First, I should mention NCAA basketball, for which I will not quote any betting odds--you must go to Las Vegas to bet legally.  The point is that this year will be one of the best ever for March Madness, because there is not a single, dominant team.   The top five spots in the polls have been shifting around continuously among 10-15 teams; they have been knocking each other off, and there have been a lot of games in which teams who are more like #50-150 have been beating teams in the top 10. As of today, there are two Division I teams with less than four losses (#5 Xavier, 24-3, and #1 Villanova), and they are playing each other tonight.   I would go with Kansas, Villanova, Oklahoma, and North Carolina as the most consistent teams with the best NCAA chances, but there at least 10 more who could win it--and don't forget last year's top team, Kentucky (no losses until the NCAA semifinal) and champion (Duke)--both were decimated by the NCAA draft, rebuilt with strong but overrated freshman recruiting, suffered early, but are now coming on strong.

Next, the NBA.  Golden State's regular-season has been record-making, and they are sitting at a shockingly good 50-5 mark, but San Antonio is only 3 1/2 games behind them in the West, and Cleveland has been dominant in the East (though Toronto is giving them a surprisingly good run in the standings, now only three games behind).  Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Clippers are also conceded to have the potential to run the table in the West, but you have to hope for a Spurs-Warriors Western Conference final, which could be a classic.  In the East, Cleveland is the odds-on pick, but if I had to go for a darkhorse pick, though, I would go with Indiana, which is about 100-1 on predictwise to win the title, but they could pull a surprise against the Cavaliers in the second round.  (Predictwise's quoted probabilities for the title:  GSW 45%; Cleveland 24%, S. Antonio 16%; OKC 4%; Raptors and Clippers 2% each; "the field" 7%.)

It's early for baseball, as teams have just reported, but after a busy offseason there appears to be some significant realignment vs. last year (to refresh your memory, Royals defeated Mets in the World Series).  The long-suffering Chicago Cubs are the actual favorite, at 10%, to win the World Series--the outcome of the short series in the playoffs and W.S. being something of a crapshoot which levels the odds among the teams favored to make the playoffs (the NBA, though it has the same format, is much less likely to have significant surprises).   After that, it is quote close for teams two through twelve, all at 5-6% (rounded).   The teams currently second and third in the betting did not make the playoffs last year (Washington Nationals and Boston Red Sox), while the fourth, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Cubs were eliminated in the first round.  The Royals and Mets are at 7th and 8th, while 5th is the Giants, who have won the championship in the last three even-numbered years, and 6th is the Astros, who many see as the AL's rising powerhouse team.

Finally, the English Premier League is having its most interesting and competitive race for the title in a decade, due primarily to the weakness of last year's champion, Chelsea, and that of usual contenders Manchester United and Liverpool. Leicester City (pronounced "Lester"), which barely avoided being sent down (as one of the three worst teams) last year, has a two-point lead in the league over London teams Tottenham and Arsenal, with Manchester City (the 2014 champion) now fourth and barely in serious contention.  I think it will come down to the final weeks and the top three--Man City seems content for fourth and is focused on its chances in the Champions League, while the other three do not/will not have that as a distraction, after Barcelona completes its elimination of Arsenal in a couple of weeks--with Chelsea and the two Manchester teams having home games which may allow them to serve as potential spoilers down the stretch. My guess for the title winner would be Tottenham, which has looked the most consistent in recent weeks.  The oddsmakers currently favor Arsenal (41%) over Tottenham (25%) and Leicester (22%), but don't forget that the big-city bettors may favor the London teams unequally.

The Political Game
My strategy on since the real electoral contests began has changed: I have completely dropped buying any shares on outcomes of polls and of debate-related questions. With regard to short-term trading, my strategy has been to buy on Clinton, Kasich, and Rubio when the odds have been favorable and short Trump, Cruz, and Sanders, when the money was too much in their favor, hedging when appropriate and when markets have provided opportunities.    So, for example, I have been buying or selling Clinton Yes on the final Presidency and Yes on "Female elected President" when the prices have diverged; I lost some on Trump winning New Hampshire and South Carolina, but won on Kasich and Rubio finishing second (and on Cruz to finish 3rd in SC).  In Nevada's Republican caucus, I got cheap prices early on each of the Big Three; I sold off the Trump shares for profits and took small losses on the other two.

In the next round of primaries, after the South Carolina Democratic one, for which the outcome is a foregone conclusion (Clinton is now at 98%), there is an abundance of choice, but little to choose from.  On the Republican side, with the exception of Texas, where Cruz is favored slightly in the market (and by me), Trump is an odds-on favorite in all the Super Tuesday states (the markets on Florida, and on Ohio, which are the two most interesting March primary states, are not yet opened). Betting against him on all is a loser, and betting for Trump to win them is not interesting in most of them (it ties up money with little to gain when the odds are 80/90% favorable)--the key is to pick a few where an upset is a live possibility and try to get a good payoff.   I have gone with Cruz in Oklahoma and Arkansas, with Rubio in Georgia, and with Rubio and Kasich in Minnesota, Virginia, and Vermont.  Clearly, not all these will pay out, but if half of them do (including either Rubio or Kasich in the last three) I will profit.

On the Democratic side, I have made some gains from bets on Hillary I have made on some of the upcoming states when Bernie was riding higher, before the Nevada voting; however, I am not putting much in for now.  I am looking to build up a little more to see if it makes sense to make a little larger play on some particular Stop Trump movement on the Republican side; so far, I am not impressed by the division of efforts among his rivals in upcoming states.

Rubio would do well to swear off Texas, for example, to give Cruz a clear shot there, and Kasich and Cruz should acknowledge that Rubio will need to stop Trump in Florida.  Rubio should sound out Kasich to see if he will commit to staying in for the Ohio primary on March 15 and hold him to it (and stay out); if he won't, he's got to go in there, too. The smart play is not to abandon the race to one rival, as that eliminates all chance for those who give up; it is to keep as many delegates as possible away from Trump and go for a contested convention.  I just don't think--based on the evidence so far--the Republicans are smart enough to see the danger and take the appropriate gaming maneuvers, whereas Trump's strategy is simple and effective enough:  attack anyone who gets in his way.

Update:  I have been tracking the post-mortem of the Spanish parliamentary elections held in December of last year, as they try to form a new government (they have not yet done so).  I have participated at a fairly low level in the markets for the next Prime Minister.  My approach has been to avoid the previous incumbent and his party (Mariano Rajoy, and the PP, which translates as "Popular Party"), as his party was reduced in its share--though it is still the largest single party--and all the other parties have announced they would not join with them in a coalition.  That strategy is working so far; I have made some money on the leader of his chief historical rival, the Socialist party, and then have reinvested it when the price came down.  I've also got some of the alternatives covered.  The main question is whether it will ever be resolved.  The market has been a great one for prices bouncing up and down with the latest stories, with multiple sides, and thin trading.  

1 comment:

Chin Shih Tang said...

Sure enough, the Xavier Musketeers pulled off the big win (at home, mind you) against the #1 Villanova Wildcats, 90-83. This should ensure it stays in the discussion for one of the top eight seeds in the tournament. Arguably, though, all of the top sixteen seeds will be possible contenders, and with the parity present, all will be vulnerable to elimination after the first round, or even sooner.