11/12/2014 11:55AM

Fornatale: Choosing a contest format comes down to personal taste, strengths

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Two contest results over the past couple of weekends deserve a deeper look. During the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, when Take Charge Brandi came in at 61-1 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, a sharp proponent of the live-bankroll format proudly pointed out that the result might well have skewed the results of a typical mythical-money, fixed-bankroll contest usually used online, but because the BCBC was a real-money, live-bankroll event, it did not disproportionately alter the results.

This comment makes sense – but it also begs further examination. In a major mythical online contest taking place at the same time as the BCBC that had 133 participants, only two players had Take Charge Brandi – hardly a crazy number. Of course, if the Juvenile Fillies had occurred later in the sequence, when many players needed to bomb away to have a chance, a lot more players would have had her for no other reason than her price on the board. Still, that’s why the odds cap exists in mythical-money formats, to keep the results from skewing too much on individual results, especially late in contests.

This brings us to last Saturday’s contest on NHCQualify.com. A bomb came in in the final leg, Itz a Saint. All five players who qualified for the NHC out of the event backed Itz a Saint. Out of the 325 players who participated in the contest, at least 50 of them had the 22-1 horse. On one hand, this would seem to prove the critic’s point: Doesn’t it seem wrong that you needed to have this one bomb to qualify? At the least, the effect of a bomb late in the game is a quirk of the format that must be acknowledged.

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But there’s another way of looking at it. It’s notable that those five people who qualified all had at least $76 in collections before that race. In other words, they had handicapped very well before that race – certainly better than the rest of the 50-plus people – to put themselves in a position to be helped by hitting that horse, no matter the reason why they played it.

Playing mythical-money contests is not an exact replica of betting real money on your own, nor was it meant to be. There is no money management aspect. There is a handicapping element, there is a strategy element, and there is luck. In any one given contest, luck is the biggest factor, maybe 50 percent, but in the long run, between handicapping and strategy, it feels right to say thatstrategy could be worth up to 40 percent and handicapping itself worth as little as 10 percent.

One could argue about the specifics of that split, but only the most naïve player would argue that strategy does not play a massive role. If someone wants to play in a contest format that puts a greater emphasis on handicapping and/or money management, he or she has other options: live-bankroll events and contests like DRF’s all-in format where all picks must be put in before the first race. These are both radically different formats that lessen the impact of the type of contest strategy one needs to succeed in mythical online games.

Live-bankroll events and all-in tournaments have their own pluses and minuses, and they require different skills. Live-bankroll players must excel at both handicapping and money management; all-in players must be able to out-pick their opposition in the purest sense. But these other formats have their downsides as well – live-bankroll players could pick a bunch of winners but manage their money so poorly they still lose; all-in players don’t have the benefit of seeing the odds for the horses they pick – for some, including this writer, this creates a fundamental disconnect with what horseplaying is supposed to be about.

Still, it’s a great thing that there are many styles of contest so players can find formats where they are most comfortable. Regardless of what your personal preference is, you have to feel bad for Brett Wiener. Wiener, currently second on the NHC Tour, was leading Saturday’s contest going into the finale. Virtually any other result besides Itz a Saint and he’s your new NHC Tour leader and might have taken some doing to reel in. But he was blown off the board in the end, and Bill Shurman retains his spot – for now anyway.

Jamaal B More than 1 year ago
Great Article Pete! Good job showing the benefits of the different formats, that's how I feel, they all have various benefits...ok time to vent! Feels to me since the BCBC some people are using this as an opportunity to crown live money contests as "Real handicapping contests" and proclaiming it as the "Way of the future of handicapping contest" at the same time bashing $2 WP tournaments as false tournaments, especially on a certain podcast. While I do see the benefits that live money tournament to the tracks handle, and the added intrigue of money management involved, to me it does not mean live money is the only way to go. I feel the word "contest" should not be forgotten, a contest is something that should be fun for all players, while the rules should be best setup to give all players entering an equal chance to win. To me live money tournaments tip the scale towards: professional players, players who are in a better financial position then other, players with that can enter with financially partners who's level of risk is lessened, and players who have some sort of inside information. The fact that you can go all in (Which is usually needed to win) puts some players in an uncomfortable position of having to blow their entire bankroll, which some players are not in a position to do, thus eliminating some players from top prize money. That is not really fun in a contest, and will not help attract a novice player. Don't want to sound like a baby, I know its a big boy/girl game, but if you confident in your money management ability, put your money through the windows and collect your winnings. Also if you have some sort of inside edge (Ie you're a private clocker, contact with trainers/owners) over the normal player who uses PP's, you have the ability to use that information and turn a horse regardless of the odds into a huge score, even if the horse is 3-5. I once read about a owner going all-in the opening race of a tournament his horse was entered in, and blowing open the contest opening race. This can not be done in a WP tournament where everyone is making the same amount of plays, I realize multi entries and beards and skew this argument a bit, but at least all entries are equal. Just thought I would let my views be heard, keep up the great post and p.s. enjoy the pizza ;)
More than 1 year ago
Tx, man! I always appreciate it when you take the time to comment. Great points here. . .
Christian Vera More than 1 year ago
I was interested in bcc results for all participants. Promote the great game and contest!
More than 1 year ago
I posted this recently, check the comments of old posts. It's a bit hard to read but it's there.
Christian Vera More than 1 year ago
how did christian hellmers do.IS THERE A LIST OF ALL FINAL SCORES? This is something that needs to improve. Trying to find out hoe your friends do at some or most contests is impossible!
More than 1 year ago
I listed the full results recently. Anyone who wasn't listed there ended up with less than $100 so there's your answer there.
Edward Wright More than 1 year ago
Christian, Go to the upinclas.com Tournament Talk page. I posted the updated leaderboard after every race. Hellmers and his mother finished at the bottom of the leaderboard. His mother/Christian had over $33,900 after race 4 on Day 2 but ended with -$1,050.
IPA FTW More than 1 year ago
Great Article. I was in 5th going into the last race and finished 64th. The poster below was correct, that horse wasn't a stretch and was great value at 22-1. Disappointed I didn't have it considering all I need is one more top 20 finish or so and I will qualify based on points. Knowing that my range should have been 7-1 or higher as 25th place at the time was $20 behind me. During the contest, I was too caught up in the moment to think of all that. I will be prepared if that situation happens again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very good plan. Turn the tough beats into learning experiences and do better the next time. That's thinking like a winner.
Bill Sadoo More than 1 year ago
With all of the buzz surrounding the Itz A Saint, you'd have thought it was the first time a long price hit in the last race of a contest! I guess maybe it's because we're on the heels of the BCBC and with with NHC approaching the focus has heightened. I agree with Peter's column here. All of the formats, including some not discussed here, have merit and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. You have to know how to play each format, as they all can't be gameplanned similarly. If you attempt to use the same blueprint for all of them, chances are good you'll succeed in none. I was one of the lucky beneficiaries of Itz A Saint, as it moved me into fifth and an NHC seat. I also played the satellite at Horsetourneys on the same day with the same race. In retrospect, had I done a better job handicapping the race, I would have landed on Itz A Saint for that contest as well, but I admittedly was lazy/rushed in my work for it since I decided at the last minute to buy-in. While discussing the race with another NHCQ player, it became crystal clear that IAS was a very solid play. With the move to poly which seemed to be the preferred surface, the stretch out, and another month and change on the Baltas program, a forward move seemed possible, and at 22/1 it was an easy play. Again, it was only when I had the time to look at the race a bit more thoroughly was it clear as opposed to the hasty choice I made at HT. Even though I was lucky enough to catch IAS last weekend, the $2 WP format is probably my least favorite. I like live bankroll contests where you have to manage your roll in addition to handicap. Having to make large bets and stand by your convictions is what makes the heart beat just a bit faster and get the blood pumping. The sweat is what makes it fun! I played the BCBC for the first time this year and even though I cracked a bit under the action/pressure of the situation, I still loved it and can't wait to do it again next year. Pick and Pray's or whatever you'd like to call them are my second favorite as it challenges you to foresee what the odds board might look like. Then there are the $2 WP live tournaments. All that being said, I can't wait for the end of January to arrive. See you in Vegas!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great stuff, Bill. I really appreciate your taking the time to chime in. Looking forward to meeting you in Vegas and perhaps we can chat before then. PTF
Dan Cronin More than 1 year ago
Why is it win/place,? Why not win/place/show like horse racing pays out? In Basketball 2 pts 3 pts and free throws all get points, if a show wager pays money then it should pay money in contests too. It makes zero sense but either does the 20-1 limit. If you pick 40-1 you should get 40-1. Live bankroll is most real BUT even that. Betting 10K on a horse in last race isnt real either. If there is a max 20-1 then there should be max of $1000 you can bet. Contests are getting better and more fair but major improvements are needed. There is no explanation for paying for win/place and not win/place/show. Also if its Live money then DD P3 P4 wagers should be allowed. Hitting 1 Super is not a reason a guy should finish a top a contest and deny good multi players a chance to play . Honestly I think every contest should be like Boxing with no scoreboard. Then guys are betting horses they like and not just looking at a board and adding what price horse they need to take. This kind of discussion is why any contest is good for the sports though cause people do like them and want to talk about them.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
wow you bring up a lot of stuff here. On some of these things I think you're making some good sense -- I have no idea why the mythicals aren't WPS. But some of this sounds odd to me -- nobody thinks it's a good idea to have a cap in live bank events for example (unless i'm misreading what you're saying). I actually don't mind not having multis in live bank formats for two reasons 1) multis would likely discourage churn because they take longer to play out and 2) you could no longer have a true leaderboard going into each race. As for no scoreboard, that was a debate that used to rage in contest circles, and, to put it bluntly, your side lost ;) I would say only a tiny minority now think having no scoreboard is a good idea. For those who do, I'd recommend a format like DRF's ALL-IN contests where all the picks must be in before the first race. Tx so much for taking the time to comment. I'll do some further research abt the WPS question.
Patrick J. Gianforte More than 1 year ago
I am one of the few that would like No Scoreboard. John Avello Sportsbook Manager of the Wynn runs an awesome tournament that runs 2 days without a scoreboard, it is big money, NHC spots, Del Mar & Saratoga races and a Huge Success! When you drop from 1st to 45th on the last race, there is no justice. When you get to the last race of a tournament and the math determines which horse you can select(granted there may be 2 or 3 to choose from), it becomes Handicrapping! A loss like that for Brett Weiner(an excellent handicapper) has to be devasting! The fact that these guys(all chasing tour points) would even pony up $330 with the chance of winning nothing except possible points is ludicris, but once the Tour chooses you, you almost have no choice. I counted 10 players from that NCQ contest are double qualified and playing for points only, to me thats crazy. I chased Tour points in 2009 to finish 6th, that was before all the onlines made it even crazier to chase. I spent thousands chasing it, these guys have to be spending tens of thousands to play in ALL the onlines and live tourneys. One winner, the other top 5 will probably end up a net loss unless they cashed in live money tourneys. Imagine if this was the NHC in Vegas and the last race a bomb hit and the top 44 players needed that horse to get to the Final Day of 50 players, that would not be Justice or if the last race determined the outcome of that awesome event? I've been there nearly every year, a couple of times a 15-1 has won the last race but I believe in both cases, they were betable horses, although the winners may NOT have been on them if they weren't in the position they were. It is a Crazy Life we have chosen! But I'll be playing until they retire me!
Bill Duncliffe More than 1 year ago
Good article, Peter. I would point out, however, that Itz A Saint was not, in my opinion, a reach like Take Charge Brandi would have been. Never out of the money in 9 tries at the distance. Other than Melanistic, was tied for the most wins in the field. Baltas having a good year. The two previous efforts at Del Mar weren't all that bad. Hey, if you want to talk unreasonable bombs go back to the BEL race during the BCBC qualifier October 4th where Mighty One outfinished Groupthink at 24-1 on a sloppy track. 0 for 7 on wet surfaces, coming off of a layoff for Jacqueline Falk. No reliable form in any way, shape or fashion. But hey, that's the format. Doing the Lee Strasberg from Godfather II imitation..."this...is the life...we've chosen."
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Love the Lee Strasberg reference! My main James Jones (@DMRSurfside) on twitter uses that one all the time. As for Take Charge Brandi, DRF's own @DRFFormulator tipped her pre-race and redboarded her very eloquently on the DRF Players' Podcast. . .probably the episode right after the BC if you're interested. Had to do with how she stood out on the Moss pace figs and a breeding angle. . .