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Jai-Alai’s Equipment
by Todd Sorensen

What is it and how does it affect the game and betting strategy?

The cesta is a woven masterpiece. Individually handcrafted with its famous curved design it is the most recognizable, and integral, Jai-Alai component. Designed to be an extension of the arm, mastery of this Jai-Alai tool takes years of honing skills and developing seamless coordination.

Each cesta is a work of art, and no two are exactly alike. There are frontcourt and backcourt cestas, fast and slow cestas, big and small cestas. A player’s oncourt style and cesta design go hand and hand.

Backcourt cestas are both wider and longer than frontcourt cestas, the purpose being to catch better and throw higher (get lift) on the wall. Frontcourt cestas are smaller and crafted to make more precise throws.

When a cesta is called fast or slow it refers to the specific shape of the curve of the cesta, and the time it takes the ball to exit the cesta when thrown. It does not refer to the speed the ball is thrown. Fast cestas are designed to throw laser quick shots with pinpoint accuracy, while slower baskets give a player a better chance to wind up the power and get lift when they throw.

If a player doesn’t feel comfortable with a given cesta, he most likely won’t play well on the court. The opposite also applies. When a player finds a cesta he really likes, it can greatly help breed success.

Sometimes a player will drop or throw a couple of errant balls and keep staring at his cesta, uttering unknown phrases at this inanimate object. The average fan probably wonders why the player blames everything on the cesta, but the seasoned handicapper takes note that the player doesn’t seem to be in sync with his most important ally.

Another thing to look for are practice throws. Players are given practice throws during a game to test new cestas. Watch closely at how comfortable and well the player throws and catches in the following point(s). Practice throws are easily identified, as all three judges will raise their nets above their heads while the throw(s) take place.

Is the cesta really that important? Remember, no two cestas are exactly alike. A Jai-Alai player’s confidence, or lack of it, in his cesta can vastly affect the way he plays. Of course, some players are less affected by this than others. That is why it takes time to become a superior Jai-Alai handicapper.

Now on to pelotas: In Jai-Alai you will hear people talk about live or dead balls and fast or slow balls. When a pelota is first thrown it is dead/slow. As it is thrown around the wound virgin rubber inside gets hot and expands, making the ball fly faster and bounce higher.

The liveliness of the ball greatly affects game-play and is probably the most important strategic selection a player can make. A live ball reacts differently than a dead ball.

Powerful players try to use live balls to overwhelm their opponents, while craftier players will use dead balls to slowly pick their opponent apart. There are also many places in between. A good Jai-Alai player will know all possible opponents styles and tendencies and vary his pelota selection accordingly.

How does the average fan know what type of ball is being used? There are a couple of signals the trained eye will catch. First, after a point is over, keep your eye on the winning server. If he wants a different ball he will usually use his left hand or arm to signal the ballboy. He’ll raise it to about shoulder level if he wants a live ball, waist level if he wants a dead ball, and in between for the middle.

In most cases the receiving backcourt player in a doubles match will give the same type of signal to his frontcourt partner after the server selects the ball. If you see no signals, and the server wasn’t huddling with the ballboy, then they are probably using the same ball.

It is vital for a handicapper to understand strategy involving pelota selection. Knowing the Jai-Alai players’ tendencies and various statistical probabilities is the key to unlocking the Jai-Alai code and winning when betting.

A few readers have e-mailed me about how to bet Jai-Alai. You can watch and bet on live Jai-Alai games through World Broadcasts via www.betdania.com. If you click on the Live Video hyperlink, it will take you to the Jai-Alai section of World Broadcasts.

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