04/29/2014 6:51AM

Ask Pete: How can I compete against multiple entries?

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Pete:

I really want to participate in handicapping contests. They appeal to me on several levels: head-to-head battles, a chance to win decent money for a reasonable ante, a camaraderie among participants. But I can’t get past the troubling issue of how many competitors post multiple entries and/or compete in teams with multiple entries. As a sole handicapper looking to show his stuff in a contest, how do I compete with that?

--Bill Pizzo

Bill:

It is my belief that the good in contests far outweighs the bad but it’s definitely a question that’s worthy of further explanation.

Let’s start by looking at the popular $2 win-place mythical bankroll format. It’s my belief that playing against multiple entries in these contests really isn’t that big of a deal, certainly it isn’t something that should scare you away from playing.

Do players with multiple entries have an advantage? They do, but I wouldn’t call it an unfair advantage – it is an advantage that is bought and paid for, one that any player could replicate on his/her own simply by purchasing a second entry. The advantage comes because a player with multiple entries has a head start when it comes to finding the first longshot. But having multiple chances isn’t a guarantee of anything. Even with perfect strategy, there is plenty that go wrong when playing multiple entries, between the problem of having winners divided across one’s tickets or just missing the key horse at crunch time. In a two-entry maximum contest like the ones on NHCQualify.com, a person with two entries might have twice the chance (less in reality because of the splitting tickets problem) but he or she is paying twice as much, thus no unfair advantage. And if we’re talking about people trying to play three or more entries in tandem in a fixed bankroll event, it will cost more still and it becomes a prescription for splitting tickets.

Where this issue gets trickier is in live bankroll contests where the possibility of multiple partners attempting to consolidate their independent bankrolls into one large bankroll exists. Team tactics in live bankroll events also afford players the chance to take swings the individual player would be less likely to take.

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The Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge rules take a dim view of this strategy and has limited that contest to one entry per player as a result. However, as anyone who watched the Horseplayers TV show can attest, some players clearly are willing to find a workaround for this rule. Perhaps in the future, more effective means of enforcement might be found, even if only the honor system. But that's a topic for another day.

It's important to not that players using multiple ticket strategy in live bankroll events still have to pick the right horses and they are contributing more to the prize pool than single participants. Personally, their presence wouldn’t put me off playing (though I wouldn't want to see them win either). Plus, in an event like the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, the value of the contest itself is so undeniably excellent that you’re not really at any disadvantage in the big picture.

So back to the initial question of how you can compete – you can compete by doing the work and playing with optimal strategy. If you do change your mind and commit to contest play, I’d recommend worrying less about what your competition is up to and more about your own ticket or tickets. If you decide you want to play, but the idea of others with an advantage bothers you, stick to fixed bankroll events where any edge players employing team tactics has is significantly less and firmly grounded in the realm of what is fair.