06/09/2015 2:30PM

Fornatale: NHC rule changes right on the money


Lost in the excitement of last week was the announcement of rule changes for the 2016 National Handicapping Championship, which the NTRA estimates will have a total prize pool of $2.5 million. Let’s review the new rules.

The biggest change for 2016 involves the days of the week. The main tournament will be held Thursday through Saturday instead of Friday through Sunday. The idea is to have the tournament’s most important day coincide with the best racing, and to theoretically allow for more leaderboard movement on championship Saturday.  In a sense, this also marks a return to tradition – before the NHC went to a three-day format in 2014, the champ was crowned on Saturday.

The flipside is that now it likely will be a bit more difficult to move far up the leaderboard on the contest’s second day, moving day, when the field is winnowed down to the top 10 percent (another change I’ll address in a bit). To make up for this, and in accordance with player feedback, more optional races have been added for days 1 and 2.

At the 2015 NHC, players had to bet 15 races in total, with eight of them being chosen for players and seven being optional races players needed to find across the seven contest tracks. This year, the number of optional races goes up to 10, and that should allow players starting Day 2 far back sufficient chance to move up above the cutline.

I’m all for the additional races being added, not only for the reason stated above, but also just to give players more bullets to fire in general. It’s an arduous task, trying to pay attention to what’s going on at seven separate tracks, and 10 optional plays is a better number. Having seen how and why the committee picks mandatory races up close, I also believe eight is the right number there.

Two other changes were just plain logical. When it was decided a couple of years back that the NHC would go three days and feature a cutline of 50, it was with the expectation that around 500 players would qualify for the event. With the explosive growth in the contest world, the number of total participants has risen. To me, it’s a no-brainer that if you finish in the top 10 percent at the NHC, you should be in the money. And it only makes sense that the same number of players should continue on to the third day.

When two entries were first allowed at the 2014 NHC, it was never imagined that a player would actually be able to advance two of them to the final table. But that’s exactly what happened in 2015. Jonathon Kinchen received 11th-place money for the lower of his two entries, but going forward, any player getting two entries to the final 10 can play both forward.

This new “Kinchen rule” is the right way to go – if you’re going to allow two entries, why take them away when it gets to the most crucial part of the tournament? Any player in the future good enough and fortunate enough to be in that position deserves more.

No matter how you feel about these changes, the NTRA deserves praise for staying true to the original concept of the NHC while allowing the event itself to constantly evolve. In an industry where “my way or the highway” is the norm, the NTRA is constantly listening to players and incorporating feedback. That willingness to listen and change is one of the reasons the NHC is such a great event.