07/10/2005 11:00PM

All-Star break a time to strategize

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LAS VEGAS - Baseball's All-Star break means many different things to many different people.

For the major leaguers headed to Detroit for the festivities at Comerica Park, it's a time to be honored as the game's best. For the rest of the players, it's a much-needed three days off to spend time with their families or (as has become more popular) visit Las Vegas.

For workers in this city's sports books, it's also a good time to catch some R and R, as this Monday through Wednesday is the slowest stretch of days we see all year.

For baseball bettors, it's the perfect time to look back at what has happened and plot the course for the rest of the season, or at least the next six weeks or so until football takes up the bulk of the gambling budget.

So, get your pencils and scorecards ready:

* This is a good time to start betting against teams that have exceeded expectations, such as the White Sox, Orioles, Padres, and Nationals (who have been the biggest moneymaker so far for yours truly). Oddsmakers have now adjusted their lines and there's no longer any value betting on them, or at least much less than there was before everyone got on the bandwagon. Let the Johnny-bet-latelys take the inflated prices and look to fade them.

* The inverse isn't necessarily true with bad or underperforming teams. Sometimes a team is just bad, and no matter how much value it appears you're getting, it's still not worth it to try to get teams such as the Royals, Devil Rays, or Rockies to win for you except in rare situations.

* And then there's the case of a team that should do well in the second half, but still isn't a good bet. Exhibit A would be the Cubs. They're getting healthier and could make a run, but the fact they have such good starting pitchers means that oddsmakers will be making bettors pay a premium to back them.

* Teams to watch as the second half of the season starts up Thursday could be the Tigers (a boost from hosting the All-Star Game?), the Astros, and Marlins.

The Open looks to be close

Also starting on Thursday is the British Open, from St. Andrews in Scotland - the birthplace of golf, or so they say.

The Las Vegas Hilton has Tiger Woods as the 3-1 favorite, bet down from opening odds of 7-2 that were posted after last month's U.S. Open. Ernie Els was and still is 8-1, with Vijay Singh raised from 8-1 to 10-1, Phil Mickelson raised from 12-1 to 15-1, and Retief Goosen holding at 15-1.

Speaking of raising and holding, Rocco Mediate is nowhere to be found on the odds lists. Golf fans will recall that he was atop the leader board on the opening day of the U.S. Open and finished sixth in the tournament. But instead of heading overseas to play in Scotland, the Naples, Fla., native has been here in Vegas competing in the World Series of Poker No-Limit Texas Hold'em Championship Event, which is being held for the first time at the Rio.

And why not? The purse money is bigger.

Poker series setting new marks

The World Series of Poker's main event drew a record field of 5,619 players for a record purse of $52,818,610 (in fact, the rest of the figures in this section are all records).

The first prize will be $7.5 million, with all nine players at the final table earning at least $1 million. Prizes will be paid through 560th place, with those in places 501 through 560 earning $12,500, which is basically their $10,000 buy-in plus a tidy 25 percent return on investment.

That's pretty much where the field stood as play began at noon Monday, with 569 players still alive and, just like golfers, nearing their first goal of making the cut.

By the time Wednesday night rolls around, the field is expected to be trimmed to 27 (all of whom will receive at least $300,000) and then the tourney will move to the longtime home of the World Series of Poker, Binion's in downtown Vegas, for the final two days of play. Thursday's action is scheduled to start at 3 p.m., with Friday's final table commencing at 2 p.m. ESPN cameras are covering all the action, with the shows to air later this summer (and be replayed until this time next year).

Gold Coast welcomes tourney players

Horse racing tournaments used to have bigger purses than most poker events, but now they pale in comparison.

But it's all relative, and the handicappers in the Gold Coast Summer Classic tourney, to be held right next door to the Rio this Thursday through Saturday, will be competing for the top prizes just as hard as any poker players.

The Summer Classic has a $400 entry fee and an estimated purse of $250,000, with a first prize of $88,000 (both based on 550 entrants). Players earn points based on making 15 mythical $200 win-and-place bets each day, with full track odds for the first $20 and the remaining $180 capped at 20-1 to win and 10-1 to place. The top 50 finishers will be in the money, with the top 10 also earning a berth into the Horseplayers World Series - with an anticipated $1 million purse - on Jan. 19-21 at The Orleans.

Also, the Gold Coast is kicking in $20,000 for a "Last Chance Get Even Pool" on Saturday for the top scores that day.

Because all Coast Casino race book workers will be focusing their efforts on the Summer Classic, the weekly contests on Wednesdays and Thursdays at the Coast properties (which also include the Barbary Coast and Suncoast) will be on hiatus this week. They will return for a new Del Mar contest starting next Wednesday.