Lifeline Game Strategy



Lifeline Game Strategy

By Nicolle Neulist

If you have been playing contests for any length of time, you have probably seen survivor-style contests in the wild.  Survivor-style contests require players to pick a horse in each race; the player survives if the horse does well enough.  “Well enough” typically means that the horse finishes third or better, though occasionally contest rules define a different threshold.  Whoever outlasts the rest of the field thanks to their horses doing well enough in every race wins the top prize. will soon offer a new twist on the survivor-style contest: Lifeline!

Like a typical survivor-style contest, you advance to the next race if your horse finishes third or better.  However, you can buy lifelines when you enter.  Lifelines keep you alive should a horse you select finishes off the board.

Winning a regular survivor-style contest requires a delicate balance.  Sometimes you should look a gift horse in the mouth.  Since all that matters is performance — not price — there is not the pressure to avoid playing short-priced favorites (the “chalk”) due to their low odds.  You can go ahead and take that 1/9 shot if they look like the goods.

Even so, survivor-style contests still invite contrarian play.  Should you disagree with the public about the chances of the heavy favorite, going elsewhere can be profitable.  If you think a shorter-priced horse could hit the board, but a dark horse had an similar shot to do so, going with the longer shot makes sense.  If the chalk has an off day and your longer-price horse gets home, you have made it farther than many of your foes.  You may even win the contest outright, thanks to that one decision.

But, what if the chalk missed the board, but so did your alternative?  What if the logical horse you backed watched some Spicer Cub replays before the race, but paid a bit more attention to the “saying hello to the outside rail” bit than he did to the “rallying to finish second” part?

Enter the Lifeline.

If your horse does not hit the board, but you have a lifeline in reserve, you remain in the tournament.  You can pick horses just as you did before, just with one fewer lifeline in your pocket.  If you run out of lifelines and your horse misses the board, then you are eliminated.

What does this mean in terms of strategy?

That boils down to two issues.  First, how many lifelines do you buy?  Second, how does the presence of lifelines affect how you pick?

Lifeline contests give you a chance to buy one, two, or three lifelines.  If you did your handicapping homework before entering the contest, then you can answer a few key questions.  In how many races do you have a strong enough opinion to be confident your horses will hit the board?  In how many races do you have a weaker opinion, and anticipate your choice being driven a bit more by the desire to be contrarian than a strong opinion that a horse will hit the board?  Knowing the answers to these questions will help you gauge how many you need.

Lifelines also can affect selection strategy.  They influence risk/reward calculus: when you still have lifelines left, the risk of picking a creative horse is lower, since the lifeline keeps you alive should your horse miss the board.

On the other hand, the reward may be a bit less, particularly in the early stages.  After all, other players have lifelines as well.  Avoid getting reckless.  Just as in a traditional survivor-style contest, take a short-priced horse if you think they are a stone-cold lock to finish in the money.

But, if a longer shot has just as much of a shot as an obvious one?  When you have lifelines left, give that dark horse a longer look than you otherwise would.  Be more apt to play them.  After all, the lifeline has your back if your pick has an off day.