02/11/2015 2:16PM

Texas player not letting success go to his head

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Six months ago, Jonathon Kinchen had barely played in handicapping contests. Since then, he’s become a recognizable figure based on his deep run at NHC 16, where he placed two entries in the top 10 – a feat that many experienced tournament players thought would never happen. NHC rules allow only one entry per person to advance to the final 10, so Kinchen ended up with seventh- and 11th-place finishes.

Kinchen, from Euless, Texas, backed up that accomplishment this weekend in an online tournament, already assuring qualification for NHC 17, and showing that he’s no one-year wonder.

“After I got back from the NHC I played in a bunch of tournaments, and I did awful and I thought to myself, ‘Maybe it was just a fluke,’” Kinchen said. “But after last weekend I figured out that maybe I am OK at this. It’s a pretty nice feeling to already have a seat locked up. At least I know I’m in the show next year.”

For Kinchen, the next items on his agenda are getting another NHC seat and trying to win the top spot on the NHC Tour.

“I’m definitely going to make a run at it,” he said, “My mom retired from American Airlines, so I have flight benefits. I can fly anywhere in the country for $20. The plan is to go to a bunch of live tournaments and compile some scores. Then I’ll re-evaluate in the summer, and if I’m in position I’ll try to get it.”

The racing gods smiled on Kinchen on Sunday in the last race of the tournament, which used horses’ win and place payoffs as scoring.

“I knew that I needed around $27, so I had to pick an 8-1 or higher,” he said. “Going through my notes for the race, I looked at which horses were acceptable for me to play. The one that I liked the most was the 3, Head South.”

Head South didn’t just win – he got one of Trveor Denman’s patented “He’s out here moving like a winner” calls – a personal favorite of Kinchen’s.

The player Kinchen passed to secure his seat was NTRA Players’ Committee chairman Chris Larmey, one of the people most responsible for Kinchen not being allowed to send two entries to the final 10 of the NHC.

“I guess Jonathon got his revenge on me,” Larmey joked after the race.

Kinchen was one of the best stories at NHC 16, but he might not have played in a way that maximized his chances of winning the whole tournament.

On Day 1, he played 12 of his 15 races the same on both tickets, which makes a lot of sense as a way to get both tickets into contention. It’s the same strategy that was employed by expert game theorist Eric Moomey, only Moomey couldn’t get going and Kinchen caught fire.

On Day 2, Kinchen played the same horse on 10 of 15 races, including the same horse in six of eight mandatory races. Many players might have advised playing more different horses on the two tickets, but it worked out great for Kinchen as he had the cap horse in Tampa’s 10th race on both tickets, pretty much assuring that he’d end up with two tickets in the top 50.

On Day 3, he stuck with what was working for him and played the same horse on both tickets in five of the 10 races. But given the rules at NHC 16, it seems unlikely this was the best strategy.

“I’ll be honest with you,” Kinchen said. “It might have influenced me a bit on Day 3 the attention I was getting for having two entries in the top 10. I didn’t say that to myself as a goal, exactly, but I was cognizant of that in the back of my mind.”

He has no regrets about how he played.

“I think the fact that it looked like a chalky day also contributed to the way I played on Day 3,” he said. “Had it been a day where it looked like some longer shots were likely to come, I think I would have played it differently.”

He was also conscious of not losing ground to other players in the top 50 – especially because he didn’t like a lot of price horses.

“If I had an opinion, I wanted to move both of them up,” he said.

In the end, Kinchen’s performance still stands out as one of the best in NHC history, and just because he might have played it differently doesn’t mean the result would have been any better. Still, his willingness to look back to see what he might learn from how he played is another reason why this second-year player is a major threat on the 2015 NHC Tour.