There is no shortage of discussion about contest strategy on Esquire TV’s “Horseplayers,” and an unfortunate number did not make the final cut. More than a few ended up on the cutting room floor (as they say in the biz). The most animated moments were the heated conversations between Team Rotondo, Kevin Cox and myself. A few times I thought the ending would result in blows, but then I remembered these are New York guys and that’s how they argue: passionately.
But, the discussions brought up great points about contest and tournament strategy: different ways to be successful and win. The possibilities narrow and more complicated as you get closer to the end game, but remember never to argue with a person who believes he/she has the “best” strategy to win a contest. In essence, it’s like arguing against yourself because if you think their strategy is wrong, you will benefit in the long run by beating them in the contest.
Recently, I’ve been experimenting with new strategies in contests because I’m recognizing that the players today are better than in years past – much better. It’s not unlike the poker boom years ago. A player who knew the basic rules of Texas Hold ‘Em and some limited strategy about the value of starting hands could make a profit against the goofballs who saw some poker on TV and thought “that’s an easy game!” As more people got wise and educated themselves about strategy the game became tougher to beat because at that point players had at least figured out that King-9off is a losing proposition.
More players today recognize that picking favorites or shorter-priced horses just isn’t going to get the job done in most contests. Sure, the low winning score happens on occasion when favorites win more than their fair share, but those occurrences are few and far between. A much more common result are winning scores topping 120 points in a 12 point contest, and some folks have even recently put up astronomical scores. I don’t think that’s going to change.
As a contest player you must embrace this new reality and figure out how to change your game to compete on a regular basis. Sure, we will all have our “day” when we can do no wrong: scoring points in 8 out of 12 races and dodging the super longshot at the end of the contest to take home the money. But, those “days” are going to get more and more scarce and scarce with as gameplay becomes better and better.
My advice to improve your contest game is to set an odds limit for selections in a live contest. Put a floor on your selections – say 8-1 – and then go from there as an experiment for the first half to two-thirds of the contest. Play the small stakes contests, or simply play along in a mythical way. What this practice will do is to increase the range of horses you wouldn’t normally pay attention to but should be selecting in contests. Let me tell you, when one of your 15-1 shots comes in and it was a horse you would have never looked at, that is some serious positive reinforcement. The experience will go a long way towards making sure you give those “busters” an extra look in the next contest. And that, my fellow competitor, will make you a better contest player.