03/10/2017 12:45PM

Strategies differ on multi-ticket play

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Playing multiple entries has become all the rage in handicapping contests, particularly in the 12-race, all-mandatory formats typically used online. But how should a player decide how to play when dealing with multiple entries?

There are a lot of different theories. The most common idea is the “good ticket, bad ticket” theory described by Paul Shurman in "The Winning Contest Player."

“Early on you play two separate horses until one of them comes in,” said the Hall of Fame horseplayer. “Then that becomes your good ticket, and you play the horses you like best on that ticket. Then on your other ticket, you play the longer-priced horses, and if you hit one on the longshot ticket, then that becomes your good ticket and your previous good ticket becomes your bad.”

Some players, including Dan Kovalesky, a two-time final table participant at the NHC, feel this theory makes them too conservative. The logic makes sense to me, especially in a big-field event where there’s an outsized reward for aggressiveness. The second ticket can be a crutch allowing a player to use a good longshot ... but on the wrong ticket. Kovalesky feared that if he’d had two tickets instead of one at this year’s NHC, he wouldn’t have had his best longshots all on the same ticket. This splitting of tickets is the bane of many a contest player.

Perhaps a better way to play two tickets is to borrow a concept from multi-race betting and play your best and strongest opinions on both tickets, and use the leverage of the second entry to cover diverse possibilities in races where your opinion isn’t strong. For this to work to its maximum potential, however, you shouldn’t be afraid to play a longshot on both – if that’s the horse you like.

Jonathon Kinchen exploded on to the contest scene at the 2015 NHC, when he landed two entries in the top 10. He points out that in a race with a strong favorite you don’t think will lose, there’s nothing wrong with taking the points that come with that horse, possibly on both tickets.

If there’s a race where he thinks the favorite is strong, but doesn’t love the horse, he is likely to use that favorite as a kind of “protection” that allows him to take two long prices on his two tickets even if he doesn’t love the longshots in question. The idea is that even though the bombs aren’t likely winners, his reward if one of them wins is so great that it’s okay to take the chance, especially because if he whiffs, the favorite probably win, and he won’t lose much ground.

This is very different than a situation with a weak favorite, where there are likely winners in the “sweet spot” of contest play, the 4-1 to 10-1 range. In these instances, he’s going to focus on picking the winner from the horses in that range rather than going long. If he can find a horse he likes enough, he’ll play it on both, or he might take two different horses, say a 6-1 and an 8-1, to surround the race. “In a lot of contests, if you swing and miss and a 6-1 comes in that a lot of people have and you don’t, you’re in real trouble,” said Kinchen.

Some readers may wonder if having the extra ticket is worth the hassle. The short answer is probably yes. Paul Matties Jr. won the 2016 NHC playing one ticket, and wasn’t convinced at that time that the second entry was important to him. This year he felt differently. There were multiple instances where he either passed a race or went the wrong way in deciding between two runners. “If I’d had a second entry, I would have definitely hit,” said Matties.