02/24/2016 1:13PM

Fornatale: Denkenson looking to make line change


Many gamblers have been featured in books, but it’s the rare real-life gambler who gets to be portrayed in the movies – and by Bruce Willis no less. The gambler in question is Alan Denkenson, and the movie was based on a book: "Lay the Favorite" by Beth Raymer. It was a pleasure to read the outsider’s look into the high-stress, high-stakes world of professional gambling. The movie wasn’t so well reviewed, but Willis did receive solid marks for his portrayal of the man at the center of the story, Alan Denkenson, who everybody in real life just calls Dink.

Dink has played horses on and off throughout his life. Saturday on NHCQualify.com marked the second time he had qualified for the National Handicapping Championship -- though he backed away from racing several years ago in favor of sports betting. “Racing got a lot harder as the fields got smaller and the supertrainers really turned me off,” he said. “There were good opportunities in the old days, especially before everything was listed in the Form -- private sales, trainer changes and statistics. Back then it was great: You only knew if you knew.”

Denkenson is mostly known for his prowess as a hockey bettor. “I made a better line in hockey than in any other sport,” he said “Even when I’m not winning I’m getting the best of the number.”

The other thing he likes about hockey is how the betting works. “There was always more incentive for me to find a bet where the team was just trying to win my bet, not to win by a certain amount,” he said. “I never bet the one-and-a-half line in hockey, I just bet the money line so we’re all on the same page.”

This year he’s been on a poor run, very unlucky with overtimes and shootouts. This is in stark contrast to how well he did in back in the day when games just ended in ties.

“You had an edge 15 years ago just betting all the plus halves because they were incorrectly priced,” he explained. “The overtime with a shootout made everything more random. In my world over the last eight years everything got much harder and that’s why I’m considering racing again.”

Dink knew four players who were competing at last month’s National Handicapping Championship: Paul Matties, Charlie Davis, Duke Matties, and Dave Gutfreund. Incredibly, his friends finished first, third, fourth, and fifth, winning over $1 million cumulatively. This also got him thinking that tournaments might have a role in his portfolio of investments. “Even though I’ve also emphasized sports, I’ve always loved racing more,” he said. “Seeing my friends do so well really whet my appetite to do some contests again.”

For Saturday’s contest, he had a secret weapon: tournament and trip-note specialist Emily Gullikson, who he met through Davis and also knew from Twitter. The two collaborated on one entry between the two of them. “She inspired me to play,” he said. “I did it as a lark and I only did well because I aligned myself with a capable partner.”

In fact, Dink tried to talk Gullikson out of playing the two winners that propelled them to qualification, including 74-1 shot Venus Valentine. “All I did all day was try to sabotage us,” he said. “She told me she liked Venus Valentine and I questioned the pick and asked her if she liked anyone else. She picked another 50-1 shot. I told her to go with the first one, thinking it didn’t matter anyway because Stageplay was going to win.”

He had nothing but praise for his partner. “She’s a gifted handicapper,” he said, “and we have a lot of the same sensibilities. Her explanations of why she liked what she liked were impeccable.”

People frequently talk to Dink about going pro and 99 times out of 100 he discourages them. “I tell them how incredibly hard it is,” he said, “but this is not a hobby to [Gullikson]. She’s a handicapper and she takes on the strengths of other players so she’s got a shot. I don’t see her differently than other top players other than maybe her confidence isn’t quite there yet.”

Like all professionals, Dink wants to bet where there is an edge. He sees the potential for one in tournaments beyond simply his choice in partners. “I think contests are a little easier to get an edge because of the strategy,” he said. “I looked back in Saturday’s contest at who people played with their last pick and several people didn’t even give themselves a chance to try to win with who they played. I was amazed there so many poor strategic people in there. That’s a huge edge.”

But he also recognizes that the water gets deeper from here. “I can’t imagine I’ll see too many mistakes like that [at the NHC] in January.”