06/30/2015 10:34AM

Fornatale: Examining endgame strategy


Chess grandmaster José Capablanca said it best: "To improve at chess, you should in the first instance study the endgame.” The same lesson can be applied to handicapping-contest play.

The endgame in tournaments is where contest play most clearly is separated from everyday play. In mythical-money tournaments, in one sense, you have a wider range of horses to consider because favorites come back into play, and in another sense, the choice of which horse to play now may become obvious because you can only play the ones with the right odds.

Another wrinkle in endgame play, both in mythical-money and live-bankroll contests, is that now you must play your opponents as well as the races themselves. In the endgame, one mistake or one brilliant decision can mean absolutely everything to the final outcome.

Let's look back at the endgame situation on Day 1 at Santa Anita's live-bankroll contest over the weekend. Live-bankroll scoring is notoriously difficult to predict, and Day 1 provided a good example of this. After the first race of the day, the player atop the leaderboard had just over $7,000. After the ninth race on the 10-race card, a different leader had just over $7,000.

Aaron Vercruysse had started the day well, making an across-the-board wager in the first race on Jovita's Tuffy, who paid $13 to place and $6 to show. "It was like hitting a 5-1 and a 2-1," Vercruysse said.

Going into the last race, Vercruysse made an interesting decision. He had a couple of winners through the day and managed to tread water on the leaderboard, landing in second place. He had his eye on the $5,000 bonus for winning the day.

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"I was gambling that the guy in front of me [Matthew Baiungo] had a mandatory play left," Vercruysse said. Contest rules required players to bet at least $300 in each of five races on the day. "I wanted to make sure if he played and missed and I played and missed, that I'd wind up ahead of him. At the same time, I wanted to give myself a chance to pass him if he didn't play the race or he bet and hit."

Vercruysse bet $155. Both players missed, and Vercruysse did indeed end up $5 ahead of Baiungo. Unfortunately for him, Ray Arsenault and Jonathon Kinchen both hit the race and leapfrogged ahead of them, but Vercruysse's strategic thinking and strong endgame play were nearly worth $5,000 there.

* Here are the results of last weekend's online contests:

Saturday, BCQualify.com
1. Anthony Spinazzola, $120.60
2. Glenn Kees, $106.10
3. Philip O'Connell, $96.80
4. Walter Ohler, $95.90
5. James Connor, $89.70
The top five win site credit at any DRF Tournament site.

Saturday, DRFQualify.com
1. Pete Acocella, $87.80
Acocella wins a seat for the $3,000 buy-in Gulfstream Park contest Sept. 19 and a $500 travel voucher.

Sunday, NHCQualify.com
1. Leslie Harris, $151.30
2. Karl Zappa, 140.90
3. Michael Marlaire, 133.00
All three win seats to the NHC, a $500 travel voucher, and a four-night stay at Treasure Island.

Sunday, DRFQualify.com
1. Seth Merrow, $96.80
2. Mike Kappel, $74.10
3. Tony Calabrese, $71.10
4. Joseph Tambasco, $68.80
5. Luke Peltz, $68.00
The top five win site credit at any DRF tournament site.