The year was maybe 2007 and I had finally qualified for my first National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas. Way back in the day – at least my day – the event was held at the Red Rock Casino, about 25 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip. Before the event moved to the Red Rock it was held on the Strip and has now been held at Treasure Island for the past 4 years.
But I digress from story time.
When I first walked into the Red Rock sports book amidst the other 400 or so players I was completely overwhelmed with doubt and trepidation. Doubt about my ability to even compete and trepidation about not embarrassing myself amongst this group of folks whom I admired and aspired to emulate.
During the first few minutes a “friend” from Baton Rouge came up to me and said, “well, you are even lucky to be here!” Which was semi-true on at least one front – I felt lucky to be in the NHC but what he was referring to was my fifth place finish in a contest that paid down to the top four places. Luckily for me, one of the people ahead of me had already qualified. Back in 2007 they only allowed one entry per person. I didn’t feel lucky that I had qualified – I earned it fair and square but with that comment within the first few overwhelming moments of my initiation into NHC land I was toast. Done. Stick a fork in me for the tournament. Self-doubt – which I was beating back with little success – just flooded over me like a breaker during high tide.
My tournament was over before it really started and that is what we all need to avoid before any tournament. It is especially true of live tournaments.
My psychological failure actually started the moment I left my house in Baton Rouge without my laptop. I handicapped with my computer at home but didn’t see the need to lug it out to Vegas with me. This made my environment different than what I was comfortable with and had been semi-successful with. So, rule number 1, make your environment resemble your successful environment. If you use Brisnet sheets then use them, don’t just use Daily Racing Forms because they are free or vice versa. If you use Thorograph electronically then use them on the computer and not the paper type given out for free. If you drink beer at home when you handicap then by all means sit at my table – I hate to see anyone drinking alone. If you listen to music do it. The point is – make your environment resemble as best you can the comfort zone you call your handicapping happy place.
I obviously bombed out my first year at the NHC. The second year I brought my computer and did a little better. By the third or fourth year, I sat by myself, kept to myself and somehow got myself into the hunt at the end of Day 2 making it up to top 15 with a few races to go. I don’t think I made any mistakes on that day except not playing Dapper Gene – the horse that won it for John Doyle which would have moved me up the money ladder but not given me a shot to win. Walking in the tournament arena in 2011 I felt for the first time that I could compete. When I walked into Treasure Island’s ballroom in 2012, I knew I could win the whole thing – a completely different mindset than my first few attempts. Luckily for me, I did win the title in 2012 but it was because I had prepared to win it even before I looked at a contest race by making my handicapping environment comfortable.
I had also spent the previous few months before the 2012 contest visualizing winning and going over countless end game strategies. That, however, is a whole different lesson.
The moral of this story is that by preparing with a positive mindset and comfortable environment you can put yourself in position to win any contest.