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Betting On The River Of No Return

By Tom Dyson, publisher, The Palm Beach Letter
Friday, June 1, 2007

"You might as well go down the river in a coffin, instead of a raft," said the Idaho Fish and Game Commission. The Forestry Service said the same thing.

Even Lloyds of London, who insure anything, said no one could raft down that river and come out alive.

"Sir, you've got no chance," said the adjuster.

The River of No Return is a 30-mile section of rapids on the Salmon River in Idaho. In the summer, it attracts expert whitewater rafters who want to push their luck on the hardest river ride in North America. In the winter, it's a no-go zone. The water level drops and exposes the sharp rocks. Then the river freezes over and ice bridges form across the surface. These ice bridges will force a raft under water.

The river runs through a narrow gorge and rescues are almost impossible. It's in the middle of nowhere too, so there aren't roads or towns nearby. Above all, the water is freezing and if a person fell in, he'd only have a few minutes to live.   

This stretch of river is so fierce, Hollywood made a movie about it. It was called "River of No Return" and starred Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe.

I just finished reading the memoirs of Amarillo Slim Preston, one of the greatest gamblers to have ever lived. Slim was a millionaire by the age of 19 from hustling pool, gambling, and smuggling cigarettes during World War II. Over the years, he's compounded his winnings into a huge fortune by playing poker, betting on sports, and best of all, by fleecing people with amazing proposition bets. His book is called: Amarillo Slim in a World Full of Fat People.

For example, Slim beat Minnesota Fats at pool using a broom, he beat Bobby Riggs at ping-pong using a skillet, and Evel Knievel at golf using only a carpenters' hammer. In 1972, however, he went one step too far...

Slim was playing gin when one of his enemies came up to him and bet him he couldn't raft down the River Of No Return during the winter. Slim had never heard of the river before and just to shut the guy up, accepted the challenge. They bet $25,000 on it and posted the cash in a cage at the casino.

His friends and family begged him to forfeit the bet, but Amarillo Slim was too proud to payoff his adversary. First, he found Jacques Cousteau and had him build a special wetsuit. Then he ordered a special raft from a company in Seattle. With the wind chill at 42 degrees below zero, he set off down the river.

The trouble started on day three in the Haystack Rapids. The river ran straight into a solid rock wall and would have slammed the raft against it if Slim didn't paddle hard enough past it. He managed to avoid the wall, but a sharp rock snagged the raft as it turned the corner and collapsed the inflated side. The impact busted Slim's knee. Then he had to get into the water to free the raft from the rock and somehow climb back in before he froze to death or the rapids drowned him.

Somehow, Slim pulled it off and a week later, he crossed the finish line and won the bet. 

Here's the thing, Slim says this was the worst bet he ever made. "Just because everything turned out swell," he says, "doesn't mean I made the right decision." After risking his life and all those expenses, he only won $25,000. Why did he do it? Hubris and stubbornness, he says.

Amarillo is still a great gambler, and the secrets of his trade apply well to the stock market and trading. So I recommend you read his book. Just in case you don't get around to it, here are Slim's three rules to speculating:

1) Always bet on underdogs.
2) If you're going to make a bet, you need to know something everyone else doesn't, so concentrate on a couple of ideas and learn everything you can about them.
3) Never bet with your heart. As the raft experience shows, emotion is the greatest killer to any gambler.

 

Good investing,

Tom

 




Market Notes


YOUR NEWSPAPER IS WRONG

On Wednesday afternoon, the press carried a slew of headlines that investors have waited seven years to read... S&P 500 Reaches Record High...Market Eclipses 2000 Peak... Stocks at All-Time Highs.

As proud owners of certain stocks, DailyWealth is happy to read these headlines. The problem with them, however, is that they're wrong.

Yes, the most popular stock benchmark in the world (S&P 500) has reached territory never seen before in nominal terms. But as any investor worth his salt is apt to do, let's account for the wealth-eroding effects of inflation...

As today's chart shows, when we factor in seven year's worth of inflation, the S&P 500 needs to rise an additional 20% to reach its 2000 high.



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