06/11/2014 4:00PM

Tournaments 101: Why should I play?


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.

zeakman1398 More than 1 year ago
Hey Peter, I'm playing in my first live (offline) tourney this weekend. Actually, a satellite for the Dog Days at Canterbury Park. The Dog Days pays out a prize plus all-inclusive seats to both NHC and BCBC. The rules are simple: $2WP on 10 races of your choice. Literally, no parameters on where we can play as long as it's offered. So, I have 2 questions: First, is there actually a statistical database that keeps track of avg. payout per type of race per track in the country? Second, with no cap on the horses, the strategy seems pretty simple in that I'll be playing big prices; however, with no cap, is there a certain level that isn't even worth betting on? I know I am best at turf sprints and classics or longer so I'll be trying to find as many of those as possible. Thanks!
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Superb question. I don't know of any database that would have that info but I can tell you that, generally speaking, the larger the field, the larger the price. Turf typically yields better prices than dirt. Claimers yield better prices than nonclaimers. And I believe sprints yield better prices than routes (tho don't quote me there. I would guess for the format you describe that you'll probably need 2.5 or 3 times your initial bank to win. Could be quite a bit more depending on the run of races so maybe I'd shoot for three times. It's a bit higher than usual because of all the choice involved and the fact that there's no cap. Your general inclination to lean higher in a no cap contest is probably smart, but don;t be afraid to pick winners either. I would much rather play a 6/1 you like than a 20/1 stab in all formats. However, if you have any reasons to like a 15/1+, you probably have to play that. I also like your inclination to stick to the races where you feel your opinion is best, regardless of other factors. Godspeed and feel free to ask me a follow up here.
zeakman1398 More than 1 year ago
I guess my only follow-up would be about actually picking races. It seems like I have two options: look at the entries throughout the days, look for big fields in the aforementioned criteria where I perform best versus playing cards from tracks I know well. Obviously no one can look at every card from every track in that amount of time; so I'm trying to figure out how to narrow my studies.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Look back at what I said abt where prices generally come from that should help. In the first order I like to start with the races I do best in and kind of go from there. And I always want to take a look at big full fields, especially on turf. In one sense, it's easy to eliminate short fields or fields with live favorites. . .then again, sometimes when you hit one of those you move up alone. Hope this helps.
Matt Romo More than 1 year ago
been looking into this more and more but it's often a 3-400 dollar investment and that's steep to do it often
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
At DRF, we offer a free tournament option on PublicHandicapper,com -- that's a great one to check out, especially if cost is an issue. There are a lot of other low cost options out there for tournaments if you poke around online. I expect more of these to crop up so keep reading and I'll keep you informed.
Ramon Savinon More than 1 year ago
Peter you right I start on public Handicapper, is good, nice and teach u how concentrate in winner my name in monchi in the tournament, u can see my pick.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Love it, good plan. Knock em dead!
Jeff More than 1 year ago
Even though i expect 100 negative responses; -i can understand the camaraderie aspect,as i wrote many a university paper on this subject. i have no need to (and never had)show anybody my winning ticket.My biggest thrill to playing horses has always been to pay my rent and food bills. i do not know anybody that plays tournaments,but how many are pro players.w/o trying to sound disrespectful,from what i have heard from Mr.Bernier so far on drf,i would be highly surprised if he was a pro player in the true sense-if he made enough money just on betting horses to support himself.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Jeff, I answer a different version of a similar question in an ASK PETE that should be posting later today. Check out my response there and feel free to continue this conversation in the comments there.
Starks43 More than 1 year ago
In agree with all of those and will add one more. Will improve your overall non tournament play.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Starks, that's a great one. There's a piece in the book from Mike Beychok where he talks about how getting good at contests was what made him a winning player. . .that might be a good topic for a future column, tx!