Tension mounts as I entered the cockpit arena in San Mateo, Rizal. In the galleries, the crowd mostly composed of men, waited for the bets to be equalized. Using traditional hand-gestures and calibrated calls, the bet bakers or kristo –which is described as such because of the times when the position of his arms resembles a cross, calls out and equalizes bets in the arena.
As the roosters were set face to face in the cockfighting pit, the crowd began to go wilder. In a matter of less than ten minutes, the fight is over and the victor is announced. At that point, the crowd’s decibels dips at bearable levels as post-mortem discussions continues. The same level of tension mounts again as another set of cocks was set against each other.
Although, sabong has been frown upon because of notion of cruelty to animals, but sabongeros or gamecock aficionados who indulge in the game either as breeders, bettors or derby promoters, would attest to the fact that the roosters eat better than most people and receive more attention from them than family members.
Preparing the Cocks
In more than a thousand sabungan or cockfighting arenas in the country, the ritual of sabong begins in the matching pit, where the sabongers, match their roosters as they bluff, cajole and banter among each other.
The roosters are then fitted with a sharp blade or locally referred as tare on their heel by a professional mananare. The idea is to set and tie the blade at a height and angle wherein the rooster can inflict maximum mayhem with a minimum amount of movement. The height and angle of the blade must conform to the fighting style of the gamecock.
The Sabong Betting System
Learning how the roosters are being prepared for a match is interesting enough. However, the exciting part of sabong is really on betting. It is not my first time to have entered a cockpit. I am not an aficionado but I am quite familiar with the general rules.
First is to choose between two roosters. One is llamado, or the crowd favorite who is sought to most likely to win and the dejado or the underdog whose winning chance is deemed slimmer. In short, betting on the llamado means winning less and on dejado means getting more, depending on the odds.
Understanding the odds require a little math. The odds in betting begins at sampu siyam or ten percent, goes on to walo, dyes or twenty percent, then walo, anim or thirty percent and all the way to tres or fifty percent. In some cases, the odds could go as high as one hundred percent (doblado) in favor of the llamado.
All the bets are called through calibrated calls and hand signals. However, it takes experience to discern the difference between sampu siyam wagging of the palm to walo diyes wiggling of the thumb. Although these rules are not codified or written as laws, they are based on centuries of traditions. To some extent, certain provinces vary in signals and calls.
What it is easier to notice the amount of what is actually being called. Fingers denote figures with their denominations determined by the position. If fingers are held upwards, they are in the denominations of ten, when horizontally, they denote hundreds and when downward, they represent thousands.
Two kinds of bets could be placed during the match: one in the galleries and the other with the pit manager in the arena. In this case, a ten percent plasada or arena fee is deducted from the total bet. Tipping rate is ten percent of the total loot. However, no tip is expected if one loses a bet.
Fiesta by Alejandro Roces
Fowl Play by Ike Arevalo