03/13/2014 3:07PM

Know the etiquette of partnering in a contest

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There’s been a lot of talk about the “Saratoga Spoiler” episode of the “Horseplayers” television show. In the episode, Christian Hellmers, in the middle of last year’s Saratoga Betting Challenge, attempts to cut multiple deals with other players as the contest is progressing. Peter Rotondo Jr. accepts Christian’s offer. Former National Handicapping Championship winner Michael Beychok declines and becomes annoyed as Christian is persistent in asking him about making a deal after he has declined.

This situation offers valuable lessons we can learn about going partners in contests. The first point to make is that there is nothing against the rules about making deals like this at any point in the tournament. Some folks have questioned Hellmers’s actions on that level, but they don’t have a toe to stand on.

So, Hellmers definitely was okay ethically. But, of course, ethics and etiquette are not the same thing. Maybe it’s possible to gingerly approach another player you know pretty well the way Christian approached Peter and have it be cool. What would not be cool at all would be to re-approach an uninterested opponent about going partners.

Contests, particularly in-person contests, are tense affairs, and nobody really wants to be chatted up extraneously midstream. That’s a serious breach of etiquette even worse than tipping without solicitation. The second he met an iota of resistance from Beychok, Hellmers should have slowed his roll and gotten back to the business of picking winners.

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

The specifics of the deal presented appeared to be rather insulting as well. Christian was offering a deal where the player whose ticket actually won would get 60 percent, the other two 20 percent each. At the same time, it seemed he wanted to exert some control over what the other guys played. This is a mishmash of the two accepted ways of playing partners.

A deal like this might make sense at the start of a contest where the players involved just play their own tickets and have “pieces” of each other. But if players are truly playing together from the outset, coordinating picks, the split should be equal: one-third each.

And what really makes this case odd is that it happened close to the end of the contest. At this point, the three tickets have different values. Beychok, because of his higher score, should have received the lion’s share of any split there. And again, this type of layered negotiation really isn’t appropriate in the heat of battle – it’s very distracting, and that’s why Beychok was appropriately upset during the show.

If you want to go partners, that’s fine. As has been written before, it’s actually a great idea for a lot of players, depending on your individual playing style. But almost all of the time, you really want to have any deals in place before the contest starts.

One possible exception is if you know the other folks involved really, really well – brothers Bill and Paul Shurman, for example, made a little deal on the fly during the running of the last race of that very Saratoga contest that you can read about in “The Winning Contest Player.”
Some have complained that partnerships give the players in those partnerships an unfair advantage. This isn’t really true. Whatever extra edge playing partners gives is bought and paid for by the extra time and money the partners spend, particularly in fixed-bankroll contests. It’s simply not possible to “buy” a fixed-bankroll contest, even with an extensive partnership. The variables are too many. And people trying to do so will still lose way more often than they win. If they want to try, let them.

The same is true with players using “beards” – winning extra entries to contests in other people’s names and having them play what you tell them to. Same deal: If someone wants to spend the extra time and money, whatever. Nothing is guaranteed but extra agita when it doesn’t work out. With live-bankroll contests, this becomes a thornier issue, but let’s save that – and a fuller discussion of beards – for future columns.

This weekend

Here are the BC Qualify races for Saturday – this is a Round 1 contest with an entry fee of $110. Players may advance two entries into Round 2, where up to eight full $10,000 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge spots will be awarded, plus a $500 travel allowance (six full $10,000 BCBC spots are guaranteed).

3:55 p.m. Fair Grounds 4
4:14    Oaklawn 5
4:34    Gulfstream 8
4:45     Oaklawn 6
4:55     Fair Grounds 6
5:05    Gulfstream 9
5:30    Santa Anita 5
5:36    Gulfstream 10
5:52    Oaklawn 8
6:00    Santa Anita 6
6:25    Fair Grounds 9
6:30    Santa Anita 7

To sign up and get more information, go to www.BCQualify.com.

Also note that there is a contest at www.NHCQualify.com on Sunday, and up to five NHC seats will be given away.