The First Key Decision We All Face at Every Onsite Tournament

When you win or purchase a seat to a live tournament, you literally do secure yourself a seat—or a bench or a stool, as the case may be. The question then becomes, “Where should that seat be located?”

There are so many factors to consider. They include:

Comfort of seating
Proximity to betting windows/machines
Proximity of TVs
Picture quality of nearby TVs
Number of TVs within sight
Ability to hear race calls
Ability to hear contest announcements
Ability to see paddock/post parades if at a track
Proximity to available food and drink
Proximity to rest rooms
Confidence that your papers and electronics won’t disappear

The weight we assign to one factor versus another helps guide our ultimate choice. But as many factors as I’ve already listed, I think I left out the most important one:

Who will be sitting near you?

Your neighbor at a live contest is a bit like the person sitting next to you on an airplane. He/she ultimately won’t affect your ability to reach your destination, but that person can have a big effect on your experience along the way.

Some people prefer not to sit next to a crying baby or a compulsive chit-chatter while flying. And so it is at tournaments where the wrong person can hamper your ability to make good decisions or, even worse, can get totally under your skin.

And though seating isn’t as rigid as on an airplane, it’s not always easy to change your seat once tournament play begins.

There are no right answers here. Personally, I always enjoy a quieter, more dedicated personal setting (along the lines of a private carrel a la those found in a race book). But I have also made some good friends among strangers I have sat next to based on pure luck of the draw.

As with so many other things in life, the best answer may be “Know thyself.”

If location is important to you, then try to arrive early to a venue to survey the facility and to secure a seat that will be most to your liking. Inquire with tournament officials at the outset about your options or about any re-seating policies in place in case you wind up with an unsuitable neighbor.

The Horse Player World Series kicks off on Thursday and players there will likely be situated in one of two rooms—a gigantic ballroom and a smaller ballroom down the hall. For some it’s a “six-of-one, half-a-dozen-of-the-other” proposition. For others, it’s an important issue that can mean the difference between a content state of mind and an agitated one.

I’ll never forget the time I drove two hours to an OTB to play in a Horse Player World Series qualifier, got there early, purchased an entry, and entered the seating area. The place was dark and depressing and the TVs were all of the Magnavox, standard-definition tube variety…circa 1986. (It was almost like watching TV with your glasses off!) Fortunately the place was nearly empty so I sat down at one of the 40 or so personal betting carrels and started going over the late scratches that had just come in. About 15 minutes later, I got a tap on the shoulder from a manager that had just arrived. He said that all the carrels had already been reserved (though there was no such signage), but that I was welcome to sit in the bar area, where seats still remained.

I love a bar as much as the next guy—but not for handicapping. I had gotten a bad vibe from the place as soon as I walked in, and took this to be a further sign. At that point, I did something some may regard as silly. I (very politely) asked for my entry fee back, got back in my car and drove the two hours back home (and then rooted like hell against all the horses I had liked that day!).

As bad days go, it wasn’t that bad. My horses all ran up the track, I had saved my entry fee and any real money I would have bet, and I got back home six hours early. Perhaps more to the point, I had saved myself hours of aggravation that would have been created by picking slow horses from a cramped seat in a noisy bar. In a better setting, my horses would have still been slow, but it would have frustrated me less.

There’s so much you can’t control in a contest. But an underrated aspect of onsite tournament play is the ability to successfully manage the things you can control.

Good luck to those of you playing in the Horse Player World Series. May your seat sit well with you.