There are many reasons that players enjoy handicapping contests and many of them have been detailed in this space over the years, with a focus usually landing on what might be called the three “C’s” of contest play: camaraderie, competition, and cash.
But there’s another reason to consider adding contest play to your wagering arsenal: Tournaments might make your cash game a lot better, too. The first person I ever heard espouse this concept was the million-dollar man himself (and I ain’t talking about Ted DiBiase).
“I became a successful bettor when I started playing the tournaments,” said Michael Beychok, winner of the 2012 National Horseplayers Championship and the only player to cash for $1 million in a single event so far. “As a cash player, I was always trying to pick winners, regardless of value: 6-5, 5-2. . . It didn’t matter to me. I just wanted to impress the people around me, consistently picking winner after winner. And I don’t know anyone who can make money that way.”
As time went on, Beychok observed how the winning contest players did it – picking fewer winners but with greater value – and he started doing what they did. “Then I took that idea of demanding value to my cash play, and it improved my game tremendously,” he continued. “To me, value is the name of this game. When you think a horse is 3-1, and you are getting 6-1, you have to bet.”
On the DRF Players’ Podcast, Jonathon Kinchen has expanded on this idea. He’s said that contests forced him to be creative in his play in finding longshots, especially in races where he perceives the favorite or favorites are weak. From this, he’s developed a “muscle memory” of sorts to find these spots where 8-1 shots and higher are live, and now he uses this skill to help him in cash wagering, especially in bets like the pick 6.
Veteran tournament player Joe Scanio has suggested that some types of contests can help out inexperienced players by simplifying the process considerably. “Mythical-money contests eliminate the most difficult things for the unsavvy gambler,” he said. “They take out the exotics. They don’t have to worry about who is going to finish second or third, who is going to win the next race or the race after that. These type of contests are a great way to educate players.”
Industry veteran and contest impresario Mark Midland has talked about this very issue. He said, “Playing the races is great, too, but you might put $120 into a trifecta only to have it pay $100. In contests, the prize is clear.”
The interest that professional players and advantage players have in contests should be eye-opening to potential new tournament devotees.
“Contests are a good, simple starting point, especially the win-and-place contests,” said Mike Maloney, pro player and author of “Betting With an Edge.” But Maloney goes further, suggesting that there’s a networking benefit to contests that might even outweigh all the other benefits.
“My generation learned to play the horses from our dads or our uncles or from some guy at the track who liked to talk,” he went on. “Now it’s harder to get that. But contests are a good way to replicate that, a good way to meet people who might know a little more than you.”
Maloney encourages players to ask a lot of questions and to meet as many people as possible. “Most guys are like me,” he admitted. “You get them started talking about this stuff and they’ll go on forever. And there’s some good information you’re going to get from almost anyone who has been around this game and survived long enough to still be playing in a contest.”
Even if you totally disagree with what you’re hearing, Maloney still thinks there’s value in it, because it’s likely that whatever idea you’re hearing represents a thought that helps make the betting market look the way it does.
As Maloney said, “The more you can understand what makes those lights blink on the tote board, the more you’ll know about all the different philosophies and what the game is all about.”