Partnering in Contests: The Good, The Bad, and the Beautiful


TTE sat down for an interview recently with rising contest stars and fiancés Colleen Ryan and Josh Fredericks (derbyduet). Joining me for the interview was my live-contest partner and husband, Dennis Loo.


Let’s face it: contest playing is a very solitary sport for the most part, and many of us wish we could have a spouse, significant other, friend, or business partner to share the insights, the expenses, and the ups and downs of the game.


But there are also pitfalls. Your partnership is only as good as your ability to play fair and find a win-win for both of you. Psychologist Helen Lerner, PhD says that when partners start fighting, they are working with the wrong model from the start. No fighting. Both need to be working with a win-win model so that whatever decision they make together that results in success will leave you both feeling positive. A lot of talking over typical contest scenarios is important–plan things out. Decide on the “what if’s” before you get into your first contest together.

Here are some key tips from Dennis and myself, as well as some we learned from Josh and Colleen:


  1. Who will get the final say in a pick or strategy? What happens if you disagree? Josh told us he entrusts the final say to Colleen. In many partnerships, one partner is alpha while the other is beta when it comes to making final decisions. If you are beta, are you ready to give up that level of control to your partner? For this arrangement to be successful, it should be in place well in advance of any crunch-time decision-making when seconds are precious. Most importantly, you need to play fair and not blame the final decision-maker if the outcome is not ideal.
  2. Make sure you know what you’re getting into with a partner in terms of how they handle money and decision-making. Contest partnership can be harder than a marriage! Money, prestige, and more are all on the line when it comes to handicapping contests. If you think fights over finances is tough for regular couples, imagine the pressure cooker that comes from disagreeing over a money issue in the midst of a contest.

I’ve seen some great partnerships in the tournament world: buddies, spouses– even just straightforward business partners. It is very advantageous to your play to have someone to bounce ideas off of, to help keep your head cool in a pressure cooker situation, or even to talk you off the ledge in the middle of a bad beat. But, your partnership will only be as good as your ability to find a win-win in each situation…especially the tough ones.

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Barbara Bowley
Top Female Contest Player/Physicality Handicapper Barbara Bowley aka "Sophia" is the only female DerbyWars $100K game winner and one of the most successful women in the field. She recently won DW's $50k game, making her the only person to ever win both their $100k and $50k games. Her experience growing up around horses and natural intuitive style have made her successful at reading a horse’s psychological state, physical suitability and readiness to win.