06/30/2015 11:34AM

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.

:: Click here to purchase a copy of “The Winning Contest Player” by Peter Thomas Fornatale

"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.

Paul Shurman More than 1 year ago
I want to comment of Mark Streiff's strategy from yesterday's article that vaulted him from the bottom to the top of the leaderboard. As noted in the article, he was down to his last $77 in the middle of Day 2. He liked a 23-1 shot and hit a $55 trifecta with that horse on top. By my calculations, that got him back over $11,000. Here's what Streiff didn't do. He didn't place his entire remaining bankroll just to win on the horse he liked. That would have gotten him over $1,000 to play with for the remaining six races....certainly enough to play for the lead. He also didn't play a straight exacta with the 23-1 shot over the odds on favorite (the horse he played in second in his trifecta). That would have paid him back over $3,000 and within a 3-1 shot of the lead. Most players in his position would have done one of those two plays, including myself. He went for it all and hit. A really gutsy move which shows why he is one of the top tournament players in the country and a former NHC Tour winner. In my opinion, you try to win a live money tournament like this one with one shot. Much easier to hit one good play than creep to the top of the leaderboard needing multiple plays. That is what Streiff did. He took his shot and it hit. I don't know how he played his actual endgame, but his trifecta play put him in position to have to strategize an endgame.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
That's a fantastic point, Paul. We've seen in many live bank tourneys that the road to success is to be right once, whether it's Streiff here, Pete Behr with Ria Antonia in the BCBC or the various folks who've shoved all in in the last race at the BCBC.