ESPN.com - Horse Racing - Are tournaments a true test of skill?

Jay Cronley
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Tuesday, August 3
Are tournaments a true test of skill?




What tournament gambling has to do with real gambling is anybody's guess.

At gambling tournaments, you buy in with cash and then play with toothpicks. This undoubtedly makes perfect sense to tournament directors who accept the cash and might get paid on commission. There can in certain tournament gambling situations be more cash entry fees taken in than there are cash prizes paid out.

Poker has become very popular on television, which is a shame, because television can make chumps out of average people, just look at the Sports Reporters on ESPN Sunday morning.

Television is at its best when it makes something slightly popular.

Anymore, poker is on the tube more than guys riding bicycles off glaciers. Codgers from west Texas, the 1950 Stud Champ from Mule Ear and the runner-up from Mud Flats, are propped up at poker tables next to kids in shades and middle-aged guys who leave their top three shirt buttons undone, all of whom give the impression that Texas Hold 'Em requires concentration similar to stem cell research.

My favorite player so far in the 2004 series of televised tournaments is the English kid who said there really wasn't all that much skill in Hold 'Em, it was simply a matter of the best cards winning.

Looking at the hole cards is fun, I'll give you that. But many hands turn into nothing more than card-flipping and praying, high number gets the tokens. Again, it's not the game itself that can be tough to watch, it's what the television camera does to the players, which is make them think they're Steve McQueen.

Most horse handicapping tournaments work the same way.

You hand over some cash to get in the game and then bet what closely resembles nothing.

I have been in numerous horse handicapping tournaments and have written my choices down on pieces of cardboard, on slips of paper, on computer screens. It's like playing Monopoly.

You focus differently when you bet a five-dollar bill instead of tournament credits. You are aware that a $200 in mythical contest money could translate into a big prize of real cash. Still, it's not the same. I am much better betting ten bucks legal currency than I am risking ten times that in play money.

The object of betting real cash on a horse is to make money.

This is called handicapping.

Sometimes winning fifty bucks can constitute a good day, even a great day.

Win fifty at a so-called handicapping tournament, you're a bum, be sure and wipe off and return your tray when you're finished eating free tourney food.

The object of tournament gambling is not to win money. You could win a lot of tournament money and wind up having to hitchhike to the airport. Or bus station. The object of tournament gambling is to win more money than everybody else.

Winning more than the next person is not handicapping.

I don't know what it is, do you?

Whatever it is, I can't do it.

But the prize money is good in the horse tournaments so we need to figure out the best way to play them.

Here's what I think.

You take every dollar of your contest money and make one bet on a 5-1 shot or better.

You hit it, you're a good horse player.

You miss it, you're a good family man or woman.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@go.com




 




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