10/28/2014 1:16PM

Fornatale: In live-bankroll events, have courage to bet big

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With the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge on the horizon, it’s a good time to look at some betting strategies for live-bankroll handicapping contests. The biggest differences between live-bankroll contests and the typical mythical win-place contests are: 1) The money you’re betting is real (i.e., you keep whatever is left at the end); 2) You can bet up to all of your bankroll at any time in the contest (you can go all in); and 3) You have wagers other than win and place available (in the BCBC, you can bet win, place, show, exacta, and trifecta).

So, how does this change strategy? For one thing, in a typical mythical-money contest, a final score of 2 1/2 times your initial bankroll often will get you close to where you need to be. In a live-bankroll event, that will never be enough, especially not in a contest like the BCBC, with its large prize pool. Players are going to be very aggressive in the hopes of cashing for six figures. In the BCBC, 10 times your initial bankroll might not be enough. Last year, the winner, Peter Behr, put up $124,115. That’s 16.5 times the initial bankroll of $7,500.

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In live-bankroll contests, the money may be real, but you’re better off not treating it as such. Maury Wolff was an active participant in the early days of handicapping contests.

“One of the rules I consider sacrosanct in live-bankroll tournaments is that if you’re not willing to go broke, you shouldn’t play in them,” Wolff said. “Live-bankroll tournaments are heavily biased toward people who are willing to go broke. If you’re not willing to go broke, you’re basically playing with one hand tied behind your back.”

Wolff said players should treat their bankroll exactly as if it were mythical tournament money.

“Let’s say you reach the last race, and your only shot is to bet a preposterous longshot, a horse you wouldn’t bet with counterfeit money. In a fake-money tournament, everyone will bet that horse without hesitation – it’s the only chance to win. It’s a lot harder to bet that horse when there’s real money involved.”

And that point remains true throughout the contest – many fewer players will play longshots who ordinarily would be covered in mythical-money events. As a result, those longshots might allow you to move up the scoreboard alone – like when Peter Behr made a large win bet on 32-1 Ria Antonia at last year’s BCBC.

Another live-bankroll expert, Ricky “the Quiet Assassin” Zimmer, offered valuable advice for live-bankroll events.

“You want to cut down the number of bets that you make,” Zimmer said. “The less you can expose yourself to the takeout, the better. I’m always looking for a way just to try and bet it all on one thing. If there’s nothing I feel that strongly about, maybe I’ll break it up a little bit, but I don’t like making small bets in a live-bankroll format because I feel like you’ll just grind down your bankroll over the course of the day.”

When Patrick McGoey won two BCBCs in a row, he used the same strategy each time – going all in on the last race and having the winner of the BC Classic. Waiting until late and getting very aggressive makes a lot of sense in live-bankroll events – at the end, you have a much better idea of what score you’ll need. The problem is that in some contests, a lot of players wait until the end, and in that case, the edge in doing so is diminished.

Contest guru Noel Michaels described another popular strategy. “A lot of people try to get something big early to set a score,” Michaels said. “Then they know they have their money, so they look to tread water until the last race, and then maybe they let it rip again at the end to close out the tournament.”

Notice that both of those strategies involve being very aggressive late in the contest. Duke Matties, who has had great success in contests, particularly live-bankroll events, offers another variation on the theme.

“What I do is I try to hit something early on to create some kind of bankroll,” Matties said. “A lot of guys will tread water from there until the end, but I go the opposite way. I try to hit stuff at the beginning, and I just keep betting from there. I don’t worry about holding the lead. I don’t want to set a target for them to shoot at. I want to increase my lead.”