End Game Strategy: “Getting Live”


The end game strategy can get complicated for not only beginning contest players but also for seasoned players. This past weekend, I experienced an end game situation that just might lead other players to success when they find themselves in the last race of a contest.

I was in the Big One qualifier on Horsetourneys: a contest I played in last year at Laurel, and one that I want to qualify for again this year. The hosts do a great job of running a very good tournament and the prizes are generous.

Going into the 2nd to last race of the day, I was mired deep in the pack but played a long shot out of necessity in the San Juan Capistrano that paid 24-1. This put me in the top 7 of a tournament that paid out the top two.

As you can see, I was quite a ways away from 2nd place – 20.80 in fact – and the chances of getting there were remote. But, as they say, “There was a chance….”

Here’s how I worked it out:

The goal at this point of a contest is to “get live” with your pick. First, I determined the amount I would need to get into the money: 20.80. Getting live is a two-step process: the pick has to have the necessary odds to generate the points needed, and no one else can have picked the same horse –- if you are going for one spot. One of these decisions you can control, and the second you cannot (obviously). However, there are ways to maximize your chances of getting live.

21 points are needed, so that immediately eliminates horses in the upcoming race that would not offer the opportunity to get the money. In my case, the field for the final race of the contest was less than ideal for picking a bomber. Here was the field with their odds at approximately 2 minutes to post.

Iron Fist – 3/5

Grazen Sky – 5/2

I Don’t Care Who – 5-1

Tried and True – 8-1

Book Thirty Four – 13-1

Again, not the most ideal field for getting a bomber! Next decision, it was simple math elimination. Eliminate the three horses whose odds would not generate enough points to get us to the 2nd place payoff position. The two short favorites were easy tosses, and the 5-1 horse could pay 12.00 on the win end and at most 7.00 on the place end, but only with another long shot coming in second. If one of the two favorites ran second, the place price would be around 4 bucks for a total of 16 points. I needed at least 21 points to make the money. So, that was the easy part. The hard part was deciding on which one of the other two long shots to play: Tried or True or Book Thirty Four. Both could earn us 21 points.

At 8-1, Tried and True was borderline playable. He might have generated a win payoff of 18 points and a place payoff of 5 to get to the needed points. However, the odds had fluctuated up and down leading up to the post, and he was a 4-1 Morning Line choice. That meant his odds could dip further. The other horse was Book Thirty Four. This horse’s odds had been as low as 8-1 early on, but they had steadily risen throughout the betting. At 12-1, a win would give us enough points to gain second, and place points would be a bonus.

Now, let’s say for lesson’s sake that Tried and True or Book Thirty Four could have been used. This takes us to the second part of the decision after the math: who are the people above me likely to take?

There are several ways to answer this question, or at least to gather some information about the possible answer. One was to see what horses they had played in the 2nd to last race. Were they were already protecting their spot in 1st/2nd? The second is to look and see their earlier selections – are they low priced horse pickers or bomber selectors? In my case I had something else going for me: the players in third, fourth, and fifth positions could have caught the player in 2nd (and won the spot to The Big One) by using at least three horses: I Don’t Care Who/Tried or True/Book Thirty Four. I felt confident that one of these players was going to use Tried and True, and I couldn’t use I Don’t Care Who anyway. Tried and True would have not have been the horse I would have used if I was in second place by the way. I would have used Grazen Sky…but that’s a lesson for another post. I thought the chances that the 3rd-6th players played Tried and True were very high, so ultimately I eliminated him from my consideration. If one of them used Tried & True I was going to be drawing dead as they say in poker.

As it turned out, I was right. The players in 3-4-5 position picked the horse they should have picked, and 6th placed Eric Moomey and I were both live with Book Thirty Four to win both spots because the horse ended up going off at 27-1.

When I saw the selections before the race I felt like I had won (even though I obviously didn’t) but I was “live” with my pick and some of the other players ahead of me were not.

Ultimately, we all lost because the favorite won the race and the standings didn’t change, but it was an interesting exercise in end game-thinking and strategy.

Solve the first part of the “getting live” equation first: what horse(s) can get me the points to win? Second, go into the psychology of putting yourself into the others’ positions and try to calculate what horse they will play. Avoid those to get “live” for the win.

Good Luck and Getyourgameon!

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Michael Beychok
2012 NHC Champion and Eclipse Award Winner Beychokracing.com Michael Beychok aka "whodatchok" was the 2012 National Handicapping Champion winning $1 million and the Eclipse Award for best handicapper of the year. A horse owner, Michael has been handicapping horses for 40 years and playing contests for over 15 years. He is the all-time leading money winner in handicapping contests.