Chapter 2: Finding "My" Approach
So, how does one find their personal approach?
Before addressing that question, let's make sure we are one the same page.
First, we have established that you believe you are capable of winning, right? (If not, go back to the first chapter again.)
Second, we have established that there are people out there winning, right? (If not, first chapter, please.)
Third (this is new), the winners aren't all using the same approach to the game. (This one is both obvious and easy.)
Why aren't they all using the same approach?
James Quinn, a well-known, successful handicapper, uses a primarily class-based approach, although in recent years he "acknowledged" that pace was a viable tool.
Tom Brohamer, probably the most well-respected handicapper in the country, uses a pace approach.
The famous Andy Beyer is well-known for the speed numbers which carry his name. And obviously, his approach centers around how fast the horses can run.
One could argue that these three approaches are in conflict.
Why doesn't Brohamer simply use Beyer's approach or vice-versa? After all, one must be better than the other. Why don't they simply decide to change to the "best" approach?
That is because there is no "best" approach. There is only the "best approach for them." Does this make sense?
Okay, so how does one find there own "best approach?"
If someone asked me this question two months ago I would not have had a good answer. Now that I have found an "approach that works for me" (more on that in a later chapter) it is crystal clear in my mind how it happened. (Note: This article was written in January, 2003.)
The credit has to go to two sources: Dick Schmidt and Steve Fierro.
In the past several months, Dick has spent time with me teaching me his methods of play. The SLTs (Sheet-Like-Things) are not my favorite, as they are the most artful thing he has done in a long time. His previous approach, which used the Reynolds Numbers and the Form Analysis in "DK ALL" (which stands for "Dick's Form, All Horses"), can probably be a winning approach for many people. It worked marginally for me. ("Marginally" means that I did not see the kind of ROI that Dick got, but I did show a paper profit.)
It is not his teaching, nor his methods, which I am giving him credit for. Rather it is something that he said. Something simple, really.
He said something like, "You need to work through a few hundred races one by one. Start by looking at the results first, and then look at how the approach works."
He went on to explain that he knew looking at the results first "flies in the face of conventional wisdom" because that prevents it from being a legitimate test. That is because it is not really a test at all. It is about learning how to win down this particular path.
That was very profound! More profound than I believe Dickles realized. I mulled this over for several weeks, whenever I thought about winning. Understand that I do not have an opportunity to concentrate on my own winning ways very often because about 97% of my time is spent writing software, doing tech support, etc.
Why was it profound? Because it is not the way I do things. I test, or I look at the "big picture." I spend my time testing systems by trying something and measuring the performance of said system. Whether it is research through the database or click-click and record results, I am simply trying to verify that one scheme or another works.
Sure, I twist the dials and try this and that, but I NEVER look at races one at a time and question the individual race.
This is when it hit me that I had unlearned a lesson I once knew so well that I used to teach it to others. You see, I once was a winning player. (I define "winning player" as one who wins a "significant" amount of money. Let's don't quibble over the word significant here.) Now I am recreationally profitable but cannot justify the time I put into wagering.
When I was a real winning player, I had a user that would call me every month around the 2nd or 3rd and say the same thing: "The program lost again this month, Dave." It was always "the program" that lost. After about six months of this I said, "No, actually 'the program' did very well. I sold 40 copies this month and did just fine."
The point I went on to make with this user was that he needed to take responsibility for his own results. "The program," I said, "does not win or lose. You win or lose." He simply re-worded his sentence and still missed my point.
Since this is such a meaningful story (at least to me) I shall continue. Understand that this was at a time when ThoroBrain 2 was just kicking ass, and taking names, as they say. We had more winning players than we knew what to do with. Frankly, racing was easier then than it is now.
Anyway, I just could not believe that he was doing so poorly playing Southern California, my home circuit. So, I challenged him to record the output of every pick that TBrain made in the next month and send it to me before calling again.
A month goes by. On the 4th of the next month I receive a handwritten note in the mail (Pre-email days, remember?) that says, "top pick: 34% winners, average odds 6/1."
A couple of days later, I get the call. I start by congratulating him on a great month. He says, "Whaddya mean? I lost."
I referenced his note and said but you picked great horses. "Well, I don't know," he says, "but I lost money for the month."
"How is this possible? Tell me about your wagering strategy." He proceeds to tell me that he likes to bet low-priced horses because he feels more confident when the public agrees with him. In fact, when horses are over 5/1 he cuts the the bet in half and horses over 9/1 he won't play at all.
I said, "Are you telling me that you, essentially, have designed a system that manages to isolate the unprofitable part of the program's picks?"
"I guess so," he says.
My point here is that all he had to do was know how to bet the approach for profit and he was home free. (At least last month.) And, in this case, it was a simple set of records that would have told him that he was betting exactly opposite to how he should have been betting.
Had he been looking at these races, really looking at them, with the intention of improving his performance, he would have found this himself.
By the way, he never did learn the lesson. I gave up on him completely when he told me later that he was trying to plug in the jockey's date of birth in order to have the neural net understand biorhythms. Crazy, huh?
So, the lesson de Schmidt is that one must be responsible for understanding how to win. I know we all SAY that we are responsible, but most of us are not really. We are more comfortable saying "the system lost" or the "program just doesn't pick winners" than we are saying, "I have to find a way to win with this."
How do we do this? Chapter 3: Taking Responsibility