It seems like I hear the phrase “You don’t play by the book” shouted at me all the time. Whether I’m playing blackjack, chess, poker, or even monopoly that phrase seems to follow me wherever I go. To me playing exactly by the book has always been insane. My logic dictates that if we all play every game by this “mysterious book” every game play would end up in a tie. This logic is especially true for contest handicapping, or “contest capping” as I call it. Until now, there hasn’t been much written on contest play. So much of the learning has come from playing experience. But, one thing is for sure, when that book does come out make sure you use it as a guide and not a religion.
Whenever I think about playing by the book it reminds me of a time I played Texas Hold-Em a few years back with a group of friends. Six of us were pretty good players, but one of my friends had been studying the game for months and was determined to rock the poker world. He had invested all of his time reading books, learning strategies, and watching the professionals. He was ready to use his skills, flex his muscles, and crush his friends that night. As the game unfolded, he questioned every move we made. “How can you make that call?” he asked. Then he wondered, “How can you go all in? That’s not by the book!” He shouted at almost every hand. By the end of the night, our future WSOP champion lost his money, and more importantly– his pride. Maybe it was luck that we took his money, and maybe not. But as I walked out that night he said to me, “How can you play like that? None of that is the book.” I quickly turned back around, waved my money at him and said, “Well, your book sucks. You need to start using your instincts, buddy.”
How does all this pertain to contest play? All this talk about playing by the book stems from continuous comments made by some of my fellow horse tournament players claiming that they NEVER play favorites. I have to tell you, I am totally astounded by this way of thinking. The cold, hard fact is that favorites win over 30% of the time. So, in an average online tournament of ten races, it is possible to have a minimum of three favorites cashing a win/place bet in a typical online contest. If you figure another two to three are won by co-favorites or shorter-priced and over-looked horses, that leaves a contest player who follows this “magical book” roughly two to three opportunities to nail a longshot for the entire contest. Not sure how that makes sense. I am not saying playing the favorite every race wins contests, but I certainly believe you have to keep an open mind to it when that horse figures strongly. Most of the high stakes games that I have studied revealed an incredible mixture of longshots and favorites.
I think Einstein said it best: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Maybe he knew a little about the dynamic world of “contest capping.” If you are constantly winning playing ONLY longshots in online contests, then by all means don’t change a thing. But, I think most top players will agree that using a favorite or two every now and then will give you good positioning and make you a more competitive online player.
I say it’s time we all listen to Einstein.