01 Feb 14

Ville Wahlbeck's $200,000 basketball prop bet [Interview]

We chat to Finnish PokerStars Pro Ville Wahlbeck about a recent basketball bet he made despite never having played the game.

"If I missed every shot I'd lose $100,000"

http://resources.pokerstrategy.com/2014/01/27/PokerSM13_dag1_14-thumb-450x300-206855.jpgPokerStrategy.com: A few years ago you said you were quitting poker, what brought you back? 

Ville Wahlbeck: I hadn't played poker for half a year and I realised I really missed the atmosphere and the guys who are in the gambling community. We are very similar minded people.

Outside of the gambling world you just don't find that sort of attitude. Where everything is evaluated according to probabilities and you can't say something without people willing to bet you are wrong.  

PokerStrategy.com: Speaking of which, you have partaken in plenty of prop bets over the years, why do you like them so much? 

Ville Wahlbeck: It just comes with the gambling attitude I think. You see something where you think you have an edge and you think the other guy is wrong about his statements.

Spotting an edge is one aspect, the other thing is betting on something that you have to do - whether it is a sports bet, or a diet bet, or whatever. You push yourself to make goals in your life, which I like. It gives you an extra motivation to change something in your life. 

PokerStrategy.com: I've heard you have recently won a big basketball bet where you made 46 out of 100 three-pointers, can you tell us more about it? 

Ville Wahlbeck: I needed to pay $1,000 for each shot that I missed, but I made $2,000 for every shot that I made. So if I missed every shot I would be down $100,000, if I made every third shot then I would break even, so the line was 33.3. 

I made the bet with two friends, one of whom used to play basketball as a junior, he had to quit because he had some back problems. He thought this was a ridiculous bet, so I made it against him, then the other friend wanted in too. Then I started to think since everyone was against me, I must be a dog here. I started regretting being too arrogant and optimistic about my capabilities. 

"I never played basketball before the bet"

http://resources.pokerstrategy.com/2014/01/27/ville_wahlbeck_team_pokerstars_pro.JPGPokerStrategy.com: You must have had a lot of experience to make the bet in the first place?  

Ville Wahlbeck: The weird thing is I never played basketball, I would just shoot it in the school yard with friends. I can't really dribble the ball, I have quite an unorthodox style of throwing the ball over my head.

We had just been doing it now and then, and I thought I was relatively good at three-pointers and free throws. I thought I was very good compared to people who had never played basketball. 

I hadn't shot any three-pointers for quite a few years and after I made the bet I regretted it. I was willing to buy out of the bet, I thought it was a losing proposition. We made the bet in London during the EPT. The next day I went to a local sports hall to practice and it was how I remembered.

I made 46 out of 100. That really is the top of my range, on average I would assume I would hit between 30 minimum and 50 maximum. In that sense I was lucky.

It also shows in some way what I feel prop bets are all about. Some people crumble under the pressure, I know this because I have made quite a lot of golf bets in the past. When the bets were too big, I always froze up or didn't perform at the level I was used to. That really annoyed me that I couldn't focus in a pressure situation, the basketball bet was good because I definitely felt the pressure once we started shooting the balls. To know I could perform at my best with pressure involved was very mentally enjoyable and stimulating. 

"I wouldn't make this bet in America"

http://resources.pokerstrategy.com/2014/01/27/Ville_Wahlbeck_(WSOP_2009,_Event_12).jpgPokerStrategy.com: Are you tempted to try and make the same bet in America during the WSOP? You would probably get a lot of action.  

Ville Wahlbeck: Well, the three-point line in European basketball is about a yard closer than the NBA, so it's easier to do in Europe. I think the extra yard is very crucial. I wouldn't make this bet with the NBA line.  

PokerStrategy.com: Do you have any more big bets going on right now? 

Ville Wahlbeck: I have another one running which I am not willing to discuss the details of yet. It's in a year's time and involves training, having a healthier life and doing a lot of exercise. 

In this bet I hope I have an edge, but it is the sort of thing I don't mind losing. I get 10-to-1 odds to succeed, and even if I don't succeed I am going to be much healthier.

It is already a reward in itself, if I lose the bet I don't mind so much. It is like losing weight, it you are a guy who weights 130 kilos and you want to weigh 88 kilos in a years time, if after a year you weigh 90, assuming you don't lose a fortune it is a win-win bet because you are still improving your life. 

PokerStrategy.com: Thanks Ville, I look forward to interviewing you next year when you presumably will look pretty ripped. 

Right now I am writing a book about prop bets in the poker world. If you know of any funny prop bet stories I may not have heard of, reply in my author thread and let me know. 

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By Barry Carter l Barry Carter on Twitter