02/11/2015 2:16PM

Texas player not letting success go to his head


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.

Paul Shurman More than 1 year ago
An unbelievable accomplishment and very gutsy. I can't think of many veteran players who would have played the same horse of both entries so late into the contest...as late as the last two races on Day 2 with two entries already firmly entrenched in the top 50. Although there are a few players who might have played a cap horse on both entries, it is not too many. He obviously had a strategy going into the contest. His early success hitting the same horse on both tickets twice within his first four plays kept him going with that same strategy...and with his continued success, it is no surprise he has no regrets. My question to him is...if he were in the same situation next year...would he employ the same strategy? If not...at what point during those three days would he begin to get more coverage and split his tickets?
Utbighair More than 1 year ago
Paul, Thanks so much for your kind words and I look forward to meeting you sometime soon. I am a big believer in "play what you like". So much, that I have actually considered having that phrase tattoed. My plan going into NHC 16 and my plan going into NHC 17 were and will be the same...no plan. I think you have to let the races, your handicapping, and your opinion guide you through your choices and selections. If you love a horse play it on two entries, if you hate a fav and don't love anything play two horses, etc, etc. So......to answer your question, I will "play what I like" next time and forever. Press your opinion. I'm not one for "hoping" to get lucky, hoping to catch a price, etc. I will go as far as my skill and opinion will take me....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I never thought I'd hear of somebody taking Play Who You Like to more of an extreme than Paul but I think we've found our man! I do believe that Playing Who You Like, while an excellent guiding principle, goes out the window at a certain point. To use an extreme example, you're $64 down going into the last, you love a 10-1, you hate the only capper. Still gotta play the capper. In the same way, though nowhere near as obvious, when you get two entries to $150 (or whatever number you think will advance you to the 50), I think from a strategic POV Paul is right, if you want to maximize your chance of one entry in the top 3-4 at the Final Table, the right call is to split. Again, that's not to take anything away, and it might have actually cost you money at this year's NHC, just talking you through my take on this.
Utbighair More than 1 year ago
Completely agree there is a time to toss the idea. I used 10 of my 20 plays on both tickets in the final 50. It was such a chalky set of races that I just didn't want to reach for a price that I just didnt think was there. There was only one horse that was a nice price that I didnt have, and looking back I never would have had.
Dennis More than 1 year ago
I'm calling for a rule change. That is a ridiculous rule. Since the beginning of the NHC they have been against people using "beards". Rule after rule to keep people from playing in other peoples names. The tour was created to avoid this and keep players playing in their own names, which didn't work. So now they allow players to have 2 entries in the finals. But now your 2nd entry can only finish as high as 11th and get 20K? Why spend thousands of dollars to get that 2nd entry when the best it can get you is 20k? Once I secure my first entry, it's on to relatives, friends and homeless people for my 2nd entry. That is if I even get my first entry.
Paul Shurman More than 1 year ago
The rule that you could only have one entry in the top ten was pretty much an afterthought when the NHC went to three days and a final table. That was because no one thought it would ever happen. As I stated in my first comment....players don't play that way. The purpose of one getting a second entry into the NHC is not to get two entries into the top ten, but to enhance one's chances of making the final 50 and then the final table with one of them. You do this by being able to cover twice as many horses as players with only one entry. One could certainly play the same horse on both tickets on some occasions but for the most part, players in that situation will spread. The reasoning behind not permitting one person to have two entries going into the top ten was because it was felt it would give that person a significantly greater advantage over the others in a situation when you could cover two horses in those mandatory races with everyone else just one. And again....although it was an accomplishment that will be talked about forever in NHC history and no one knows how it would have played out otherwise...pushing to get two entries into the top ten could have actually hurt his chances of winning the NHC instead of enhancing it. He had $244 and $230 going into the final table and was in fifth and seventh place. Wouldn't it been much better for him to have one entry in the top three instead at the final table? Another $30 on either of his tickets would have put him there. That is why I asked how would he handle the same situation next time??
Lightning Strikes More than 1 year ago
I agree with Jonathon's "unconventional" strategy approach with 2 entries. I'm a bit surprised Paul Shurman didn't think of it first. But, when you're a conventional strategist, you're going to be behind the curve eventual to a new, more aggressive type of play. After all, I didn't invent horse racing tournament strategy, and neither did Paul Shurman. So my advice to all, is to take note that there's a new breed of player out there, evolve or get left behind....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'll let Paul speak for himself if cares to engage but suffice it to say, I think you're being unfair to a guy trying to make a very legitimate point.
Paul Shurman More than 1 year ago
I couldn't agree with you more. There is a new breed of player out there and because of this, the competition is much tougher. I have mentioned to Pete on more than one occasion that there are some people out there that are scary good. That being said....the old breed faired extremely well at the NHC. The winner, of course, was 74. Other than Kinchen, I would say just about all the rest were close to or over 50. The three finalist whose birthdays were listed in the NHC bio were 59, 56 and 52. I love to see young players in the game. Players like Kinchen and Arias are the future and hopefully will draw more younger people into the game. And you are also correct that this "new breed" pushes the rest of us to keep trying to improve our game. With regard to the strategy issue, just answer this question. With hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line....if you have two entries with similar scores and both are 10-1 shot out of a top two or three position, would you rather play one 10-1 shot on both tickets or give yourself two chances to hit that 10-1 shot?
Lightning Strikes More than 1 year ago
What's the problem??
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I delineated my concerns about the Day Three strategy prety clearly in the piece. Not saying there's any "problem," just thought it was worthy of further discussion.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Agreed--If you want to reduce the amount of Beards, then let the two entries in to the top 10 for goodness sakes--I mean once every ten years or more will this happen again, but let it happen if someone is good enough--