07/15/2016 11:20AM

Live-bankroll tournaments allow players to focus on strongest opinions

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Nick Tammaro is a respected, young public handicapper known to many horseplayers from his frequent appearances on Steve Byk’s “At the Races” radio show. He’s also an accomplished tournament player. Last weekend, Tammaro won his way into the National Handicapping Championship for the fourth time via the Arlington Park live-bankroll contest.

Tammaro traveled around the country in 2015 to NHC Tour events, but this year, his play has been a lot more targeted. He understands the importance of what poker players call “game selection” when it comes to his contest play. That is, he wants to spend the most time and money focused on tournaments that suit his particular areas of expertise. In his case, that means two things.

First, he prefers live-bankroll formats to mythical-money ones. Second, he likes playing in tournaments that rely heavily on New York Racing Association tracks. Thus the Houston resident’s decision to fly east for the high-stakes Belmont Betting Challenge back in June. It also explains his appearance in Chicago.

“I played at Arlington Park because Belmont was included, and I get so few opportunities to play live-bankroll tourneys that include NYRA,” he said.

Predictably enough, it was a race at Belmont that got him off and running last Saturday. Tammaro hit a $100 exacta in the sixth race at Belmont with Coppa over Malibu Stacy. “That got me up to $3,300 and gave me some scratch to play the Belmont Derby,” he said. “The Belmont Derby was always going to be a focal point because I loved the combo of [No. 4] Highland Sky, [No. 13] Deauville, and [No. 7] Long Island Sound.”

That’s a great window into how a live-bankroll is supposed to think. There is a chess-game aspect to successful live-bankroll play, where you have to think at least two moves ahead. Identify your strongest opinion and make sure you have enough money to play properly once you get there.

In the Belmont Derby, Tammaro started with a partial trifecta wheel of 4-7-13/4-7-13/ALL, then he rotated the “all” spot to second. From there, to hone in on his opinion even more, he narrowed down the “all” slot to eight horses and then four horses. In this way, his ticket construction mirrored his exact opinion in the race. If his keys ran well, he’d have it, and then he’d have it more depending on how much he liked whichever horses came in behind.

As it turned out, Beach Patrol was one of the four he liked best outside of his keys. “Beach Patrol winning the photo for third was huge for me,” he said. “I ended up with a $12 tri for a $5,700 score.”

Tammaro fell into second place heading into the Arlington nightcap. He still had to bet at least $100 to make his mandatory plays. “I liked the 6, Fitpitcher, and was alive in a double to him,” he said. “I then keyed him in the tri with four other horses.”

He ended up with a $5.50 trifecta, a modest investment that paid $178 for 50 cents and moved me up to just over $9,100. As it turned out, a couple of other players, including the eventual contest winner, Gary McMaster, hit the race for even more, meaning Tammaro ended up third. Still, he was thrilled to be headed back to the NHC.

“It was fun to get it done in one of these again,” he said. “I clearly need to concentrate my live-bankroll tourney action on anything that includes NYRA, so Saratoga looms.”

◗ Speaking of Saratoga, next week on DRF Tournaments, you can play in feeders for the Battle of Saratoga for as little as $12.

On Sunday on DRF Tournaments, there are a variety of contests, ranging from low-buy-in credit builders and feeders up to the main event, a qualifier for the Santa Anita Autumn Championship. For $190, players can win their $4,500 buy-ins, plus $500 for travel. Santa Anita is known for its first-class treatment of horseplayers, and its contest winners will have a shot at a $1 million bonus should they go on to win the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge.

Go to DRF Tournaments for a list of contests and the races they include.