Titanic Thompson is considered one of the greatest gamblers of the past. While his exploits are noteworthy mainly for their ingenuity and flavor, they will do well as tutorials for aspiring players in the digital age.
Alvin “Titanic” Thompson, born in the late 19th century in a sleepy Missouri backwater, started out by tossing a penny on his front porch to become one of the greatest gamblers of all time.
Thompson was an accomplished ambitious golfer, an accomplished poker player, and a master of dice and cards. He has traveled throughout the United States with a bag of golf clubs, as well as a bowling ball, horseshoes, a pistol and a wad of cash, in search of some money.
His target was the rich and famous, or someone stupid enough to play dice, pool, golf, poker with him, flip coins or accept his exotic and outlandish offers.
Another era, the same game
Although Titanic Thompson is not just a legend, but a completely historical person, many stories about his exploits have over time turned into modern myths, as well as the origin of his name. It is said that he was named “Titanic” because he managed to get off the famous sinking ship wearing a woman’s dress.
The truth is that the Titanic earned its name in one of the controversies, after which it acquired scandalous fame. Given his humor and ingenuity, his stories provide an interesting but equally meaningful illustration of what it means to bet with an edge.
In this sense, the Titanic was far ahead of its time. He had no formal education – in fact, he was illiterate – but he had an inner appreciation of how the gambling proposition worked, and he also realized that constant practice and research would bring him knowledge of when odds in his favor were critical to gaining and retention of the advantage. ,
As his ambitions grew, he turned to former Columbia University mathematics professor Patrick McAllie for a crash course in betting mechanics. He was particularly interested in the likelihood of counter-intuitive betting in dice, poker and coin tossing, which he considered to be good bets, especially for side bets.
Unknowingly, Alvin reached the field of behavioral psychology, for which Kahneman and Tversky will receive the Nobel Prize more than fifty years later.
Titanic sinks everyone
After Thompson in 1912, having completed another successful tour, found himself in Joplin, Missouri – around the time when the real “Titanic” was about to go down in history. Here he settled in a billiard room called Snow Clark, where he earned money in a day equivalent to the average annual salary of that time. Legend has it that the Titanic was already leaving when he noticed the sign “$ 200 to anyone who jumps over my new pool table.”
For an ordinary person who went into a billiard room just to have fun, the sign was rhetorical, but for the Titanic it became a challenge to both his wit and his physical prowess. His excellence was in the instant recognition that a proposal like jumping behind a pool table seemed impossible, but when viewed from the other side, it could be tilted in his favor.
“I can do it,” he boasted, taunting the locals. Even if he could somehow achieve the Herculean ability to jump on the table, Snow Clark and his regulars felt that the problem was that possible injuries did not justify the reward – the owner simply did not intend to pay.
Thompson walked out, leaving the doubters to assume that he had been humiliated, and returned 10 minutes later … with a mattress purchased from a nearby motel. He jumped over the table and the mattress cushioned his fall, bringing in $ 200 and a name that will stay with him for life. The Titanic – because, according to regulars at Snow Clark, “it drowns everyone.”
Thompson didn’t drink or smoke, he just lived to play, and the thrill was more important to him than the accumulation of wealth – he died with nothing but $ 400 hidden away. For aspiring gamblers, the lesson here is to appreciate his unique skills, but not overlook his shortcomings.
Math calculation, attention to detail and timing, understanding of body language are all ahead of its time in light of behavioral weaknesses.
Twenty miles to Joplin
Alvin spent most of his time with other players. He was adept at finding opportunities in everyday life. This art of deception, combined with careful preparation, has played a key role in one of his most famous stories.
On their way back to Joplin from a fishing trip one afternoon with a couple of poker players, Beanie Benson and Hickory McCullough, they saw the road crew putting up a new 20 Miles to Joplin road sign.
The next time the group went fishing again, Thompson got them drunk and on the way back noticed that the sign was wrong and the city was never 20 miles away.
“Of course they know what the distance is,” Beanie said.
“I’ll bet $ 100 that it’s no more than 15 miles,” Thompson replied.
“I bet you $ 500, you’re wrong,” Beanie replied, $ 500 was more than a decent monthly salary at the time.
“I bet 500 on 20 miles too,” Hickory said.
“Guys, let’s go,” and the bets were placed.
The Trinity silently watched the car’s odometer as they returned to the city, which eventually showed that the path was no more than 15 miles. Cursing the Highway Department, the couple paid and vowed never to wager the Titanic again.
Of course, Benson and McCullough did not know that when the Titanic first saw the installed sign, he paid a friend, and he drove it back from Joplin so he could dig the sign and move it five miles closer to the city. The legend perfectly captures Thompson’s talent for creating advantage – his motivation was money, his ingenuity was just waiting for the opportunity to prove himself. And over the next 50 years, there were many more such opportunities, which will be discussed later.
Other Thompson features
One day, hearing about the $ 10,000 prize being played by checkers champion Lok Renfro in Kansas for everyone who dares to beat him, the Titanic agreed, despite the fact that his playing experience was limited to his school years. Sitting opposite the champion, the Titanic was nervous and, as if in confusion, looked up, praying to higher powers, thus tightening the game. Unbeknownst to Renfro, U.S. Chess Champion Harry Lieberman was giving precise advice to the Titanic through a peephole in the ceiling with a hammer attached to its leg.
Horseshoe throwing was one of the entertainment in the countryside in the late 19th – early 20th centuries. Thompson heard that a famous thrower named Frank Jackson made an open challenge for everyone, for any amount. Thompson did not have much experience in the sport, although he knew that the movement of the hands here was similar to bowling. Then he drove to Des Moines, Iowa, set up a court in an alley near his hotel, and started training.
After several demonstrative unsuccessful throws, the Titanic convinced Jackson to bet $ 10,000. While the Titanic did metal the horseshoe for sure, the champion was often missing one foot. When he gave the money, he had no idea that during training, the Titanic set a target at 41 feet, and not at the standard 40 feet.
One of the Titanic’s most beloved and bizarre activities was tossing a nut or fruit across a building. Prominent gangster Al Capone was understandably skeptical of Thompson’s accomplishments and accepted his challenge. Thompson paid a fruit vendor to hand him a lemon with a lead inside, giving him enough weight to win. Capone warily insisted on crushing the lemon, so the Titanic had to demonstrate all his sleight of hand to keep his trick from being discovered.
While at a hotel in the exotic-named city of French Lick, he met a famous boxer during a break from a poker game. He argued with a $ 1,000 boxer that he would not be able to knock him out when both were on the same newspaper. It turned out to be an easy win in the end – Thompson put the Spring Valley Herald over the threshold of the door, standing face to face with the boxer, then stepped off the newspaper to close the door and returned to its original position.
Seeking an advantage
When Titanic was born, there were only 10 miles of paved roads in the United States. By the time his career ended in the 1970s, he was already recognized in Las Vegas, which effectively deprived him of most of the benefits. As gambling has become a common pastime, the gimmicks have become more complex. And yet, the search for benefits remains the same, it’s just that the methods have changed.
Titanic Thompson would probably have applauded the Romanian mathematician Stefan Mandrel, who bought every combination of tickets in rollover lotteries in the 1970s, where the jackpot represented a unique situation of positive expected value versus spending. He is retired as a millionaire living on a Pacific island.
In the 1990s in the UK, a group of shrewd gamblers took advantage of the independent bookmakers’ poor understanding of the chances of success in televised golf tournaments. They were issuing ridiculous quotes far exceeding the true baseline probability and were duly punished.
It turns out that players still have the opportunity to make a profit, if your goal, of course, is not related to digging out road signs, but requires as much conviction and dedication as possible and, above all, an understanding of when the chances grow in your benefit.