Why We Offer Both Live-Format and Pick & Pray Tourneys

One of the eternal—almost rock-bottom—disputes among online tournament players is whether Pick & Pray or Live-Format games offer the better, fairer form of competition. These flames were undoubtedly fanned a bit following last weekend’s featured events at HorseTourneys.

On Saturday, the final race of our featured race slate was won by a 2-1 shot, and the reaction was…non-existent. On Sunday, however, a 20-1 shot captured the tourney finale, causing significant leaderboard upheaval in several of our contests, and the turn of events gave voice on social media to those who prefer Pick & Prays.

One of the things I like about tournament players is that they tend to be a pretty respectful group. Arguments are made passionately but with respect for opposing viewpoints. In the end, we all want the same thing—fun and fair competitions.

As you can imagine, we here at HorseTourneys have heard both sides of the live vs. Pick & Pray debate argued eloquently and intelligently.

In short, Pick & Pray proponents (PPPs) feel that it is a purer contest when all picks have to be entered in advance. They don’t like how players in live-format games will select horses in late-game scenarios that they otherwise wouldn’t have played only because they are in need of a long price. PPPs would argue that this isn’t handicapping—it’s an exercise in rudimentary game theory or, to be more blunt, stabbing.

Live-format devotees feel it’s very important to see how their horse looks in the paddock and or post parade prior to the race. Perhaps more importantly, they like to have a better idea of the odds their horse will be sent off at than that afforded to them simply from the morning line or their own personal assessment.

I’m not sure whether this is obvious to all, but both formats have their ardent supporters—a lot of them. This is why we offer both options at HorseTourneys, essentially alternating our featured tourneys between the formats on a weekly basis.

I’ll add another nuance to the debate. At a low entry-fee level (say, $12) Pick & Prays have the popularity edge among players at HorseTourneys. Based on our internal analysis, though, the scales tip farther and farther to the side of live-format games as the entry fee increases.

Indeed, many higher-stakes players do not care at all for spending upwards of $600 or $700 for a tourney in which they have no opportunity to adjust their selections. And by “adjust their selections,” I don’t mean at the end of a tourney so they can play a 17-1 shot if down by $43.00. I mean so they can get off a 9-5 shot they thought would be much higher…or so they can alter selections based on changing weather…or to capitalize on a track bias that they believe may have developed during the day.

One interesting, and very well-intentioned, question raised on social media was the possibility of having the best of both worlds via a hybrid-type contest whereby the first portion of a tournament is conducted in live-format while the last few races are Pick & Pray.

You won’t see this at HorseTourneys.

Over the years, we have learned the hard way that the more complicated you make a contest (even by a little bit), the less interest people will have in participating in it. Introducing a rules change part way through a given online tournament would definitely fall into this category. (As an example, we found we inadvertently created a great deal of confusion in the past when we offered optional tourneys where players would choose, say, 12 plays from a menu of 20 available races. The concept may seem simple to you, but there are players who get their wires crossed by wrinkles like these, and that’s certainly not we want.)

Simplicity is also why we prefer offering one general format per weekend rather than having a day with, for example, four featured Pick & Prays and four featured live tourneys. We have many players who play multiple tourneys at once and it’s not always as easy it might seem to keep formats straight in one’s mind from game to game. We also think some players appreciate days when they can enter all of their tournament plays at once, then go off to spend the next few hours doing things with their family or friends…rather than being glued to their computer screens all day.

How often do bombs win races at the end of a tourney? We have studied the prevalence of cap horses and found that they win one of the last two races of a tournament approximately 13% of the time. I don’t know if this strikes you as a lot or a little, but we find it consistent with what one might expect.

Either way, as you can tell by now, we try to be neutral like Switzerland when it comes to formats. We believe that reasonable minds can land on either side of the issue–and that the best course of action on our part is to provide ample opportunity for players to compete in whichever format they prefer.

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Starting this weekend, our Saturday $250 Guaranteed Survivor tourneys will now include a jackpot provision whereby if you successfully pick an in-the-money horse (i.e. “survive”) in each race of the contest, you win or share the jackpot.

The Survivor jackpot will start this week at $1,000 and it will increase each Saturday (by 2% of each week’s net handle) that the jackpot is not hit. Each week, the tournament will focus on races from a single track. This Saturday, it will be Keeneland.

These $250 Guaranteed Survivor games cost just $7 to enter, and there is a limit of five entries per account, but no limit to the number of entries overall that the tourney may attract. If multiple players “survive” a given Saturday’s races, they will share the jackpot equally. Unlike, say, a Jackpot Pick Six wager, this jackpot needn’t have just a single winner in order for it to be paid out. We hope you like the new offering,