Upping the Ante

By Jon Gilson

[Editor's Note: This was originally published here on December 9, 2008.]

Last May, I was playing blackjack in a shroud of cigarette smoke at Harrah’s Casino, surrounded by folks who don’t sleep and love a stiff drink.

I’d memorized the strategy charts, and I knew when to hit, stay, and double down. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to bet. Every time the table cleared, I’d slide a single green chip into the circle, righteously watching the guy next to me throw away hundreds of dollars worth of black plastic.

Two previous bouts at the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut had left me overconfident. Following the rules and placing twenty-five dollar bets, I’d walked away with hundreds in free cash. Convinced I was good, I had no trouble sitting down at Harrah’s.

My chip stack grew. I won a few and lost even fewer, generally ignoring the day-shift cocktail waitresses. An hour in, I was sitting on house money, still placing single green chips in the circle. The dealer shot me a look, his body language betraying his tight smile. Clearly, the man thought I was an idiot.

“You know, you’ll never win that way. Keep betting the same, and you’ll walk away with nothin’. When you’re winning, you’ve gotta up the bet.”

Given the house edge of two percent, he was dead right. Statistics dictated that my money would hover around an ever-decreasing mean, slowly auguring away. I might get lucky in the short-term, but I wouldn’t get rich. Heeding his ill-timed advice, I shoved more plastic into the circle.

In athletic training, the house edge is age. With every passing day, it marches inexorably onward, taking a silent and consistent toll. Your intensity, standing in for those little green chips, is the only tool you have to keep it at bay.

As a CrossFitter, you have an advantage, and the advantage must be pressed. Each time you get to a new level of performance, you’ve got to up the ante and increase your intensity. Otherwise, you’re sitting next to me, shoving in one chip at a time and wondering why age is getting the best of you.

My day at Harrah’s didn’t end well. After a couple of fifty-dollar bets went south, I reverted to my old habit, putting a single chip on the table each time. Laying huge bets was too much for me to bear.

I left the Casino and walked into the Las Vegas sun, holding with the same amount of cash I started with, no richer for the experience. My friend with the black chips was still there, plunking down more plastic every time the deck got hot. I don’t know if he won, but he was playing the right game.

Jon Gilson is the founder of Again Faster and former member of CrossFit’s Level I Seminar staff.