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Sleepless in Fulham: Rambling and gambling by David Young
Thursday, 22 April 2004
But you're still alive.
I had a parallel universe moment last week when I caught the headlines on ITV news. It was on the day when Bush expressed approval of Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw Jewish settlers from the Gaza strip. Despite the fact that Israel is actually promising to withdraw from some of the occupied territories, the news of course was bad for Palestinians, as the US had supported the idea that some Jewish settlements, which have been in place for decades by the way, could be allowed to stay.

For most of us, this would seem to be a mere acknowledgement of reality, but of course, reality has few friends in the mixed-up world of middle-east politics. Just as the bad news was explained, Trevor McDonald gravely intoned that there were fears that it would derail the peace process. As he said that, my screen showed a scene of Palestinian men wearing balaclavas marching down a street carrying guns and rocket launchers.

I had to laugh my lungs out but was eerily aware that ITV had not intended that this be ironic. Because in MediaNewsLand, anything that Israel does other than roll over and slit its own throat is a provocation that could push the Palestinian terrorist organisations to a greater level of violence.

Where does this idea come from that they are ever holding back? There is no evidence for it. The media likes to talk about the 'Cycle of Violence' but it's not a cycle because that expression implies that if either side were to stop its attacks, the other would stop also. It isn't true. Israel could decide to do nothing in retaliation to bombings and that wouldn't make Hamas cool off. They are committed to attacking as often as they can, regardless of how much or how little the Israelis do in return.

After the latest assassination of the new Hamas leader, there were scenes of Palestinians expressing their outrage at the loss of their beloved leader, a man whose message was that they should be prepared to blow themselves up as martyrs to attack Israel. You shouldn't have to be Alanis Morissette* to spot the flaw in this scene: If they loved him and his message so much, how come they're still alive?

Several days have passed since then and despite the promises of immediate retaliation, nothing has happened. It's all nonsense. Only the USA saw sense and declined to condemn this targeted killing. Hamas is going to find it harder to arrange killings if item one on the agenda at every weekly meeting is the appointment of a new leader. Item two (How to kill more Jews) may have to get held over. And that's as good as we can hope for.

* "Does she know how you told me you'd hold me until you died, 'til you died, But you're still alive." You oughta know, Jagged Little Pill.

_ DY at 12:17 PM BST
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Wednesday, 14 April 2004
Understanding Al-Qaeda and the War on Terror.
Recently Mo Mowlem has suggested that talks should be held with Al-Qaeda to diffuse tension. She also said that the US action in Iraq was making matters worse and would lead to more support for terrorism in the Middle East.

I believe that she is completely wrong. In fact, so incredibly wrong that it's hard to believe that this is the same woman who championed Winston Churchill as the `Greatest Briton'. I don't ever recall Churchill seeking talks with Hitler and I don't think he suggested that the RAF should restrain itself from attacking the Luftwaffe on the grounds that it would only encourage more disaffected young Germans to become pilots.

Her remarks betray a complete ignorance of what is at stake. Nothing that George W. Bush does can make matters worse, for one simple reason: Al-Qaeda declared war on the United States in August 1996, long before Bush came into office. You can read the declaration of war at:

It's rather long and takes up 17 pages of A4, but is worth reading in the original nonetheless. It was published in the London based Arabic newspaper Al Quds al Arabi.

The first three paragraphs just contain a general introduction and passages from the Koran but in paragraph four the real business begins:

"The horrifying pictures of the massacre of Qana, in Lebanon, are still fresh in our memory. Massacres in Tajikistan, Burma, Kashmir, Assam, Philippine, Fatani, Ogadin, Somalia, Eritria, Chechnya and in Bosnia and Herzegovina took place, massacres that send shivers through the body and shake the conscience. All of this the world watched and heard, yet not only didn't respond to these atrocities, but also, with a clear conspiracy between the USA and its allies and under the cover of the iniquitous United Nations, the dispossessed people were even prevented from obtaining arms to defend themselves."

A few things should stand out from this. The first is that many of these injustices have nothing to do with the United States at all. The US does not control what happens in Kashmir, Burma, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Chechnya, Tajikistan and several others on the list. In addition, it's clear that he hates the United Nations also because it did nothing to help the oppressed people of these places to fight back. Those who argue that Iraq should be turned over to the UN have to realise that it's no panacea at all. This is especially true as since this declaration was written, Al-Qaeda's hate for the UN has grown due to the latter's creation of East Timor; a Christian nation taken from the mostly Muslim Indonesia.

In the next paragraph we learn why he singles out the US for his venom:

'The latest and the greatest of these aggressions, the greatest incurred by the Muslims since the death of the Prophet (ALLAH'S BLESSING AND SALUTATIONS ON HIM) is the occupation of the land of the two Holy Places, the foundation of the House of Islam, the place of the revelation, the source of the message and the place of the noble Kaa'ba, the Qiblah of all Muslims, by the armies of the American Crusaders and their allies. We bemoan this and can only say: "No strength and no power acquired except through Allah".'

The arrival of US troops into Saudi Arabia, which he calls `the land of the two Holy Places' after Mecca and Medina, was to protect the country from aggression from Iraq and not as a colonisation. That distinction is lost however on those who see American soldiers as second-rate citizens. He goes on to blame the US for the arrest of some Islamic scholars and for his own forced exile. Helpfully he gives his address in Afghanistan `But by the Grace of Allah, a safe base is now available in the high Hindukush mountains in Khurasan, where - by the Grace of Allah - the largest infidel military force of the world was destroyed. And the myth of the super power was withered in front of the Mujahideen cries of Allahu Akbar (God is greatest).'

The phrase 'No strength and no power acquired except through Allah' is repeated many times. How does a secular or non-Muslim democratic society, where power is given to those who win elections, conform to this? It can't, so those who cherish the freedom to think outside the strictures of the Koran should realise that Al-Qaeda has them in the crosshairs too, whether they support the US in Iraq or not.

Bin Laden next goes on to discuss the economic conditions of life in Saudi Arabia. He writes:

'People are fully concerned about their everyday living; everybody talks about the deterioration of the economy, inflation, ever-increasing debts, and jails full of prisoners. Government employees with limited income talk about debts of ten of thousands and hundred of thousands of Saudi Riyals. They complain that the value of the Riyal is greatly and continuously deteriorating among most of the main currencies.

Great merchants and contractors speak about hundreds and thousands of millions of Riyals owed to them by the government. More than three hundred forty billion Riyals is owed by the government to the people in addition to the daily accumulated interest, let alone the foreign debt. People wonder, are we the largest oil exporting country? They even believe that this situation is a curse put on them by Allah for not objecting to the oppressive and illegitimate behaviour and measures of the ruling regime: Ignoring the divine Shari'ah law; depriving people of their legitimate rights; allowing the American to occupy the land of the two Holy Places; imprisonment, unjustly, of the sincere scholars.'

This is crucial. The Saudi royal family (over 6,000 princes at the latest count) has bled the country dry with its extravagance. The standard of living for those without royal connections has been in decline for decades. The combination of this with a high birth rate makes for an explosive combination. Bin Laden seeks to attract Saudis to his cause by appealing to their sense of being exploited.

Much later in the declaration, bin Laden shows his conviction that the US is weak. He relates how the Clinton administration's Defence Secretary, William Perry, said after the bombing of the Khobar Towers that it has taught him the lesson that he should not withdraw when attacked by cowadly terrorists. Bin Laden writes mockingly:

'We say to the Defence Secretary that his talk could induce a grieving mother to laughter! And it shows the fears that have enveloped you all. Where was this courage of yours when the explosion in Beirut took place in 1983 CE (1403 A.H). You were transformed into scattered bits and pieces; 241 soldiers were killed, most of them Marines. And where was this courage of yours when two explosions made you to leave Aden in less than twenty-four hours!

But your most disgraceful case was in Somalia; where, after vigorous propaganda about the power of the USA and its post-cold war leadership of the new world order, you moved tens of thousands of international forces, including twenty-eight thousand American solders, into Somalia. However, when tens of your solders were killed in minor battles and one American Pilot was dragged in the streets of Mogadishu, you left the area in disappointment, humiliation, and defeat, carrying your dead with you.

Clinton appeared in front of the whole world threatening and promising revenge, but these threats were merely a preparation for withdrawal. You had been disgraced by Allah and you withdrew; the extent of your impotence and weaknesses became very clear. It was a pleasure for the heart of every Muslim and a remedy to the chests of believing nations to see you defeated in the three Islamic cities of Beirut, Aden, and Mogadishu.'

It's abundantly clear from this that it is US weakness and not strength that inspires Al-Qaeda. He descibes how young muslims will fight the US and explains: `To liberate the sanctuaries is the greatest of issues concerning all Muslims; it is the duty of every Muslim in this world. I say to you, William (Defence Secretary), that: These youths love death as you love life.'

Just in case you don't get the message the first time, he goes on to say: `Those youths will not ask you (William Perry) for explanations. They will tell you, singing, there is nothing between us that needs to be explained, there is only killing and neck-smiting.'

How does Mo Mowlam plan to talk to them then?

So far, you may have noticed that he has said nothing about Iraq, but it does get a small mention towards the end: `More than 600,000 Iraqi children have died due to lack of food and medicine and as a result of the unjustifiable aggression (sanctions) imposed on Iraq and its people.'

The figure of 600,000 is an overstatement, but is widely accepted due to Madelaine Albright's disastrous non-denial when asked to comment on claims of over half a million deaths of Iraqi children. However there were many deaths caused after the imposition of UN sanctions. Remarkably, bin Laden doesn't seem to think of blaming Saddam Hussein for any of this, despite the latter being worth between $4bn and $7bn at the time of his downfall.

So what of Iraq and the `War on Terror', then? I hope that I have shown the futility of seeking talks with bin Laden, who in any case I suspect, has been dead for some time now. There is nothing to discuss with someone who says that his followers love death as much as we love life. What is the middle ground?

What the US has done is to try to address some of the causes of the hostility. US troops are out of Saudi Arabia and the US is getting less and less friendly with its former friends in the Saudi government whose lack of accountability has radicalised the Saudi people.

By toppling Saddam, the sanctions against Iraq can be ended and the economy will grow very fast. The introduction of democracy to a region that has never had it will show the Arab people how to diffuse tensions before they reach the crisis point.

Supporters of terrorism have been put on warning that the US is prepared to take action. The US has shown strength, which is crucial in dealing with religious fanatics who believe that US weakness is an indication that their god is on their side.

In a few years time, there is the very real possibility that Iraq will be peaceful and prosperous, with its people enjoying more freedom than exists anywhere else in the Arab world. The lesson will not be lost on the people of the neighbouring countries who will see that there is an alternative to despotism and religious fanaticism.

Those who wish that the Arab people remain oppressed and discontented are fighting against the US now. Those who would like to see freedom and peace flourish should support the US endeavour.

_ DY at 8:04 PM BST
Updated: Wednesday, 14 April 2004 8:18 PM BST
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Thursday, 8 April 2004
The wonderful world of work.
Apologies for the lack of recent updates. I've been spending a lot of time playing on Corals (i.e. Party) $15/30. The games are fantastic and I love the fact that you can get your money out in sterling as a credit to your bank account. No more waiting for cheques that arrive in dollars.

I think that anyone who wants to make easy money now should be hammering away at these games. I don't think it will ever get any easier than it is now. I know far too many people who are trying to make a living online playing tournaments, or pot-limit hold'em and omaha. Being British, it's all they know. You have to try to learn the limit game. It's where so much of the money moves hands.

To be successful at poker you have to treat it like work to some degree. The beauty of it for me is that it doesn't feel like work. I knew this when I first went to Vienna to play in January 1997 and played for 30 hours non-stop in one sitting. There is no office job I could do for so long.

And now a story about the wonderful world of paid employment.

When I was at university I joined the Industrial Society in the final year. The key benefit of this was the chance to go on factory tours. One day we went to the Rowntree's factory in York. It makes all kind of sweets - Polo Mints, Smarties and various chocolates.

Towards the end of the tour we were shown the making of the 'Dairy Box'. I saw a line of women in front of conveyor belts. One belt moved from right to left and brought the plastic infill layers into which the chocolates are placed. The other belts moved towards each woman and contained a different type of chocolate. Each woman picked up two chocolates and placed them in the respective slot. That's why there are two of every kind on each layer.

Just as I was starting to realise that I had hitherto been aware of just how boring some people's working lives were, I heard the tour guide say without a trace of irony: 'We've got a job rotation scheme here so that it doesn't get too repetitive. One day you could be doing the Lime Creams and another day you do the Hazlenut Clusters.'

_ DY at 4:25 PM BST
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Wednesday, 24 March 2004
Another headline missed.
The Evening Standard covers the news that London's fleet of 120 'bendy' buses has been withdrawn after four separate incidents in which they have burst into flames. The front page bears a picture of one such bus in flames on Park Lane.

And what does the headline writer come up with? 'Bendy Buses halted over blaze fears'. Pathetic.

What's wrong with 'Passengers Alight'?

_ DY at 10:33 PM GMT
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Tuesday, 23 March 2004
What happens to your teenage love?
I was 16 about to turn 17 when I went to America on a school exchange trip in the spring of 1986. I was a student at an all-male school in England, so I knew very few girls of my own age and found them maddening difficult to talk to.

At my temporary home in Connecticut, I was the guest of a family who were exceedingly friendly and generous. One weekend they invited me to join them at a country club in upstate New York in what was once called the Borsch Belt. I had little idea of what to expect but I had brought swimming trunks to make sure that I got some excercise.

And there, in the pool, I met her. She was so unlike anyone else - She approached me and told me how to swim better. Ah what a breath of fresh air! I was quickly smitten and leaving her was heartbreaking. The next day back at that Connecticut high school was my 17th birthday but I struggle to smile.

I returned to Britain and was instanly depressed. For years I dreamed of finding her house in Staten Island but it was four years before I went back to the US. We did meet again and of course we got on fine.

We corresponded from time to time with the occasional letter. We met up a few times during the 1990s and on one trip went skiing in Colorado. Over time my feeling changed from one of adolescent infatuation to one of close friendship and so I was delighted when she told me that she had gotten engaged. I went to the wedding in 2002.

And now that there is instant messenger we can still keep in touch. Her husband writes to me too. I am happy for them both.

Recently she's downloaded Party Poker and sends me nail-biting reports on her progress in 1,000-runner $30 tournaments.

The girl who broke my heart when I was 16, whose separation from me by thousands of miles of ocean left me in a state of depression for four years, is now texting me her bad beat stories. Such is the weird path of life and I wouldn't have it any other way.

_ DY at 11:12 PM GMT
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Paradise to get a sterling account.
I believe I have breaking news for British online poker players here. I wrote to Paradise today about cashing out some money and asked in passing whether the company had any plans to get a sterling bank account in order to pay British customers.

In reply I was told: 'We do plan to offer cashouts in pounds in the near future, possibly a few months away'. If so, this is excellent news.

You heard it first here!

_ DY at 1:48 PM GMT
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Thursday, 18 March 2004
Irish History lesson
I didn't have anything to say about St Patrick's Day yesterday, so I advise readers to check out James Butler's blog for his perspective from Kerry (Click here).

I have only been to Ireland twice. The last time was in July 2002 with my sister. When I returned to England and went to the Vic, I told people about my visit and mentioned how much I had enjoyed an educational visit to the Waterford Historical Museum. I told players at the table that according to the museum, Waterford was the oldest town in Ireland.

One of the players at the table, Rory Liffey (no prizes for guessing his nationality) wasn't having any of this and said 'That's what they all say. They're just gambling that you don't go to another museum in some other town'.


_ DY at 12:59 PM GMT
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Wednesday, 17 March 2004
The anti-war crowd insult the people of Iraq.
This page from the BBC news site's 'Have your say' (click here) has given me much pleasure.

The public were invited to comment on a recent opinion poll taken in Iraq that shows most people reporting that their lives are better than one year ago and that most expect their lives to get even better next year.

If you look at it, you'll see that all the people who have written in from Iraq and all the Iraqi exiles who express an opinion agree with the positive findings while many who have written from western Europe, other arab countries and some from the USA disagree!

How can it be that ordinary Iraqis' lives are better? That's not what the Guardian and the Independent's Robert Fisk are telling us. Why does the Iraqi public deviate from the script?

It proves too much for Hamza in Iraq who says "...How dare foreigners tell us we are not better off? Do you think we are children who can't see what's around us?"

Yes, Hamza, that's exactly what the fashionable anti-war poseurs do think! In the postmodern world, it's the cynics who are the most gullible.

_ DY at 11:13 PM GMT
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France discovers that there is no 'Get out of terrorism free' card.
France has received threats of terrorist retaliation for its ban on religious symbols in schools. Click here.

I'm puzzled why this story was prominent on ITV's news website but took a great deal of effort to track down on the BBC.

_ DY at 1:04 AM GMT
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Tuesday, 16 March 2004
Paella-eating surrender monkeys.
Congratulations are due to Al-Qaeda for its victory in the Spanish election. From now on there is only one party in power in Spain: the Terrorist Party. What does it matter what a conservative or a socialist politician thinks any more? As soon as they say something that Al-Qaeda doesn't like, the country will be bombed until the electorate replaces them with the person most likely to wave the white flag. It would not surprise me if in 10 years time, Iraq has no terrorism problem and Spain still does.

_ DY at 4:41 AM GMT
Updated: Tuesday, 16 March 2004 8:02 AM GMT
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Saturday, 13 March 2004
Apology to Guy Bowles.
A few weeks ago, in a post titled 'Playing the villain', I said that Guy Bowles had intentionally misled readers on the Gutshot forum about how he would play a poker hand in a given situation. Not wanting to talk about him behind his back, I e-mailed him at the time to tell him that I had made mention of his advice on my site. I received no response at the time and could not be sure whether he had received the e-mail.

Tonight I met Guy for the first time since I wrote it and after establishing that he had received the e-mail, I realised that he was angered at the suggestion that he had lied. I've been forced to consider the possibility that I misjudged the situation.

My only premise for believing that he was misleading readers was a very flimsy one: a vague recollection that he once e-mailed me to express surprise that I had given some advice about a poker situation on a discussion forum. From that and only from that I went much further to assume that he would intentionally mislead, but I should stress that at no point in that e-mail did he suggest giving out 'disinformation'.

I don't know Guy well, but I have spoken to a few people who know him far better than I. All have said that they trust him to act in the manner he recommended. So I withdraw what I said and apologise for any hurt caused.

_ DY at 3:24 AM GMT
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Monday, 8 March 2004
Show me the money.
A new incentive scheme to tackle truancy in Manchester has taken an interesting approach. Schoolchildren could win prizes just for attending lessons! As this story explains, each week, a computer will select random names of six pupils from six different schools across the city. They will each win vouchers worth up to #100 if they have been in classes at particular times.

I think that the schools might be on to something. They may have at last realised that children are mostly motivated by money and not by the beauty of aquiring knowledge for its own sake. As a child I was always astonished at how little connection was made between the world of commerce and my education. I recall my friend Tony asking a maths teacher if he could show us how to use maths to invest on the stock market and getting a completely blank look in return, not because the teacher regarded the question as impertinent or distracting, but because he had absolutely no idea what to say. It had probably never once occurred to him.

In a previous post, I described going to a presentation for a perfume company called 'Maison d'Essence'. Most of the people in attendance were young, about 17 to 20. Nearly half were black. They would have left school only a few months earlier. Had they been academically gifted, they would have stayed there or gone on to colleges.

So the people I was looking at were the ones who had not succeeded. But were they disruptive or distracted during the presentation? Not a bit of it. You could have heard a pin drop in that room because they believed that someone was finally telling them what they wanted to know: How to make money.

The real solution to truancy in Manchester or anywhere else is to make every lesson a "prize" for the discouraged kids. One start would be to demonstrate clearly why any given lesson taught is of value financially. The love of knowledge for its own sake comes later to people who are secure in their career. The educational establishment needs to make education more vocationally relevant.

_ DY at 2:16 PM GMT
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Saturday, 6 March 2004
A setback for the Middle East.
Over at Armchair Angst, James Butler expresses his disdain for the Arab version of Big Brother. He agrees with Islamic protesters who want the show cancelled "because like they, I don't want to be force-fed an alien culture. They know, as well as I do, that the sham that is multi-culturalism is actually mono-culturalism."

Yet again, poor James makes common cause with people who would cheerfully wring his neck if they knew what else he believes and fails to mention that they themselves would dearly love to force an "alien culture" on the rest of the world.

Since he wrote this, the show has been taken off the air because of the protests of a minority of fanatics. James will no doubt cheer this.

I won't. I feel that the show genuinely had something to offer the Middle East region in particular. And that is why it was so frightening to those who want the region to remain in ignorance.

In the first series of Big Brother in the UK, a lesbian woman came second and a black man finished third. In the second series of the show, a homosexual man was the winner. In the third series, a tomboyish 'ladette' woman won. These showed that race, sexuality and rigid gender roles do not matter to the majority of people in Britain today.

Of course an Arab version of the show could not have dared to include homosexuals, but it could have helped change attitudes by showing unmarried men and women talking with one another without the pressure of parents or religious figures. And it would have given many viewers their first ever experience of voting.

Writing as someone who would like to see the Middle East become a normal part of the world where people live at peace with themselves and others, I see this as a lost opportunity.

_ DY at 12:33 AM GMT
Updated: Saturday, 6 March 2004 12:36 AM GMT
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Thursday, 4 March 2004
Razzies update.
I got the clean sweep on the Razzies. Ben, Jennifer and their film 'Gigli' all won hands down and I made a profit of #111. This is small beer compared to the swings I experience at poker but it seemed like free money, it was free money and I am glad I took it.

I really do believe that these 'special bets', as the exchanges call them, are the best value for people like me who don't spend hours analysing batting averages, football injuries or race results. There is of course money to be made in sports betting and I know several people who profit well from it, but it's a lot of work.

My next tip for a 'special bet' is to back the Republicans for the US presidential election. John Kerry can't win, despite the popular gloss he gets in the media. If the election were held in Europe, he would win but in the US, especially the southern states, he will be destroyed. I could list dozens of faults the man has but I will save that for a later date. I am not having a bet on the US election yet, as I don't want to tie up my money for so long. I just hope that the odds don't shorten in the next three months.

_ DY at 2:50 PM GMT
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Saturday, 28 February 2004
Wishing Ben and Jennifer good luck in the Razzies.
I have some bets on for the 'Razzies' tonight. In case you don't know, the Razzies are the Golden Raspberry awards, given to the worst films, actors and actresses of the year. They are always staged exactly one day before the Oscars.

This year the betting exchange Betdaq has quoted a market for them and I think I've spotted value. One film and one couple stand out in my mind as dead certs for the awards. I'm counting on the film 'Gigli' with Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez to get a clean sweep.

The film has earned some of the worst reviews any film has ever had. But there's more. Many people were sickened by the overexposure of the on-off relationship of Ben and Jennifer ('Bennifer') in the media. This is their chance for revenge. I've laid out about #250 in bets at prices less than evens, but I'm confident. Wish me luck.

I should also update my final result on 'I'm a celebrity, get me out of here'. I only made #90 out of it from an outlay of #300. I was a little disappointed with this but earning 30 per cent on your money in less than three weeks is not to be sniffed at. You don't get that at the building society.

The amazing part is that much of what I initially forecast was completely wrong. I said that only four people could win. None of them made the last three! The winner was someone I said was too young.

I was very glad that made the decision from the start that I wouldn't play the eviction markets. Had I done so I would have continually backed Jenny Bond to be next out and lost every time. In a million years I would not have expected her to come second.

Brocket would have been a big winner for me and it looked like he was going to do the business once Johnny Rotten walked out. However he imploded because of his irritation with Jenny Bond. He made jokes about wanting to strangle her on the same day as the conviction of a man for strangling his girlfriend in what was said to be a sexually motivated crime. Brocket's timing could hardly have been worse.

Kerry confronted Brocket about something when he had been unreasonable. I've forgotten what it was. Being seen to combat someone who is 'out of order' is often the key to winning these elimination shows. It is what propelled Craig to win the first series of Big Brother.

So how did I win, given that my early forcasts were wrong? Well, that's the beauty of exchange betting. You don't have to pick the winner. You can also lay a loser, which I did with Jordan on the basis of advice from an expert on these markets. I also backed Brocket at long prices and laid some of it back when his price shortened. And I put some money on Kerry once it seemed certain that only she or Brocket could win. I nearly put a lot more on her but I was keen to lock in a profit and go 'all green' so I didn't push the boat out. I won't be so cautious next time.

The real lesson is that it's not about picking winners when there is so much betting-in-running. It's about the trading. There are a lot of people on Betfair who overreact to fresh information and they should be exploited. I feel I've got a lot better idea of what to look for next time the show is on and I can't wait for it to start.

_ DY at 3:21 PM GMT
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