06/09/2016 10:20AM

Pure picking stressed in all-in contests


If you’re considering playing in handicapping contests, there is no better time than now. With events like this weekend’s Belmont Betting Challenge and last weekend’s incredibly successful Monmouth Pick Your Prize contest, it’s clear that racetracks are embracing contests like never before. With that in mind, today’s column will be a primer aimed specifically at new players, with a look at how to approach contest strategy in the all-in format, the one most frequently used on tournaments.drf.com.

The good news is that even if you don’t have the bankroll to buy directly into a live-bankroll tournament like Monmouth ($2,000) or Belmont ($10,000), you are still eligible to play. Every weekend, tournaments.drf.com will be running qualifiers for tournaments like the Santa Anita Gold Cup Betting Challenge, the National Handicapping Championship, and the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge. Buy-ins vary for these events, but you can usually expect that they’ll be in the range of $110 to $325.

The better news is that you don’t even need to put up that much money. In addition to the qualifiers, where you win directly into bigger tournaments, tournaments.drf.com is running feeders throughout the week. A feeder is simply a qualifier to a qualifier, not unlike a super-satellite in the poker world. Credit-builder contests are also available. Credit builders allow winners to apply credit to any future contest they wish, as opposed to feeders, which enter winners directly into a specific qualifier. To advance from a feeder, players simply need to finish in the top 10 percent.

Let’s talk about the specifics of the all-in format. The most important thing to know is that all your picks need to be in before the scheduled post time of the contest’s first event. That means you don’t want to leave the selection process until the last minute. In fact, it’s always a good idea to put in some default picks as soon as you sign up for a contest. That way, if something goes awry, you’ll have some picks in there, even if you just pick the No. 1 horse in every race.

If the NHC is a handicapping contest and the BCBC is a betting contest, perhaps the all-in format is best described as a pure picking contest. Simply put, it’s all about picking winners, and while picking winners at longer odds will help you immensely, you don’t have an odds board or a leaderboard to aid you in your decision making.

How does this change things? For a lot of players, it doesn’t really change anything. Paul Shurman, one of the best tournament players around, is always saying that the key to strategy in tournaments is simply to “play who you like.” In the all-in format, this is even more true. It’s accepted wisdom that the scores in all-in events are lower than in the live format, where picks can be changed up until post time of each race. The logic is that you can’t chase the leader and change your picks as the day goes along, a process which will push scores higher with a big field. The lower scores obviously require fewer prices to achieve.

Another reason you can focus on winners in the tournaments.drf.com all-in feeders is that the top 10 percent of entries typically advance to the qualifier. When you’re shooting for the top 10 percent, that’s very different than shooting for the top 2 percent. For example, in a contest where you have to finish first or second out of 50 players, you’re typically going to need at least 2.5 times your starting bankroll to advance. If you’re talking about a 12-race, $2 win-place event, that means your starting bankroll is $48 ($4 per race over 12 races): 2.5 times $48 is $120, a score that will usually get you in the hunt.

If you only need to be in the top 10 percent, usually a score of twice your initial bankroll is going to get you where you need to go. In the above example, your $48 might only need to get to $96, a significant difference. In practical terms, there’s not much difference between shooting for $96 and $120. I’m not sure there really is one. But by understanding the mathematical underpinnings, it should be easy to see why you can get away with focusing on just picking winners in the all-in format. Prices certainly are preferred, but there’s no need to get too cute.

Here is a look at the feeders and qualifiers that tournaments.drf.com has on tap for Saturday, when all will be using the all-in format:

◗ There is a $190 buy-in, one-day qualifier for the NHC, the granddaddy of all contests with a $2.5 million prize pool expected.

◗ For $36, you can win into Sunday’s $325 buy-in qualifier for the Santa Anita Gold Cup Betting Challenge. The player who wins at Santa Anita will be eligible for a $1 million bonus should he go on to win the BCBC.

◗ There is a $1,008, no-takeout credit builder that you can enter for just $21. This would be the perfect way to get your feet wet in contests on one of racing’s biggest days.

◗ Also for just $21, players can compete in a BCBC feeder. The top 10 percent of finishers will receive $190 berths in Sunday’s BCQualify event.

Here are the 12 races for Saturday’s contests (all times Eastern):

3:15 Belmont 7

3:47 Churchill 7

3:58 Belmont 8

4:19 Churchill 8

4:41 Belmont 9

5:00 Santa Anita 5

5:21 Churchill 10

5:30 Santa Anita 6

5:37 Belmont 10

5:51 Churchill 11

6:00 Santa Anita 7

6:37 Belmont 11