06/11/2014 3:00PM

Tournaments 101: Why should I play?

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This article is the first in a series that will focus on the basics of tournament play. The series, which also includes videos, will cover topics including how to get started, tools and strategies for success, and details on the top tournaments. This series is targeted at newcomers, but veteran contest players can learn something as well.

Let’s start with the basic question: Why should a horseplayer play in tournaments?

Answer: It allows you to enjoy all the things you like best about playing the horses.

If you asked horseplayers why they like the game, many would cite the action. Contests provide hours of excitement for a single bet (or even for free). In addition to the thrill of watching the race, you get the thrill of watching your name climb the leaderboard when things are going well.

Contests also offer clear risks and rewards. Going in, you know exactly what it costs to play and what the prizes are. In a contest, you’ll never spend more than you want to and you’ll never have to deal with the frustration of putting $50 into a trifecta ticket and getting $58 in return.

Many horseplayers also love the intellectual exercise. I believe there’s no greater game in the world and no better puzzle to solve than piecing together what’s going to happen in a horse race. Contests allow you to do that, but also increase the challenge as you try to outmaneuver your opponents in the late stages of the game.

The competitive aspect of contests also must be noted. As Harvey Pack has said many times: “It’s not just making money. It’s not just picking winners. It’s about being able to hold up your ticket to the guy next to you and saying, ‘I had that winner and you didn’t.’” It doesn’t get more competitive than sitting in the same room as the people you’re playing against, cheering on your selections when they win.

Then there’s the camaraderie. An overwhelming number of players I interviewed for my recent book, “The Winning Contest Player,” cited the camaraderie of contests as the No. 1 reason they play. Many lifelong friendships have started in the tournament room. The chance to sit in a room with like-minded individuals, talking about things that matter to us, is a big part of the appeal. Even online, contests offer a chance to connect with a great community of people who share common interests. This community is something we plan to expand at DRF.

Of course, people also play in contests to make money – or at least to have a lot of fun trying. Some contests provide better takeout scenarios than everyday play, and others offer the opportunity for life-changing scores. Just ask John Conte, Brian Troop, John Doyle, or Michael Beychok, who each took home at least $500,000 for their National Handicapping Championship wins.