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Fornatale: Zhou uses rabbit-and-closer strategy to cash in

Wednesday, October 10th, 2018

It was bound to happen sooner or later: Tony “The Terminator” Zhou has won a major live-bankroll contest.

Zhou topped the field last Saturday in the first of two $3,000 contests last weekend at Santa Anita. On Sunday, former NHC champion Jim Benes added another notch on his belt by getting his second win this year at Santa Anita, following his triumph at the Ultimate Betting Challenge in March.

But as impressive as Benes’s feat was, the best story of the weekend belonged to Zhou. After many close calls, he finally got an outright win earlier this year in a $500 buy-in contest at Santa Anita, but this win is far more significant. He takes home more than $70,000 between his bankroll, prize money, and his seat at the $12,000 Pegasus World Cup Betting Championship, where he would receive a $1 million bonus should he win.

“I find horse betting to be such an intense competitive mental challenge,” said Zhou. “Add in trying to battle against some of the sharpest handicappers in the game, and it is really satisfying to finally win one and now have a chance to play for a $1 million score.”

Zhou uses a combination of game theory and a computer algorithm in his horseplaying. As his nickname suggests, he is part man and part machine. “I realized I squeezed just about as much as I can from my handicapping, betting/market impact, and risk models, for which I rely heavily in my regular day-to-day betting,” he said. “This year, I’ve spent a lot of time optimizing for tournament play, which is somewhat different than regular play.”

One big change for Zhou this year is to limit the number of races he’s looking at during an important live-bankroll game. “Instead of multi-tabling six or eight tracks like I do on a regular day, my last few tourneys, I limited myself to playing three tracks max, and it’s definitely helped me focus.”

After every tournament, Zhou looks back at what he did right and wrong to continue to optimize his play. He also looks closely at his opponents’ plays, gathering information by tracking the leaderboard throughout the tournament. “I’ve learned a lot from the clever plays of my opponents,” he said.

On Saturday, he used what he called a “rabbit and closer” strategy, using one of his two entries to set the pace early and the other to protect against players going all in later in the event. It worked to perfection. His first ticket had $11,000 going into the last race, and three players ended up hitting the race (and the 23-1 winner) and passing that ticket. But his closer ticket ended up best of all.

“In mythical contests, you expect that a lot of players would have the longshot winner of the last because everyone is just stabbing for a certain number,” he said. “But in live-bank play, you need to actually have an opinion and bet serious money on your longshot. The field was full of sharp players, so I thought several of the players would see the big-time-overlaid winner.

To use a term more common in mythical-money play, Zhou blocked the competition. “It was one of the wildest finishes I’ve seen in a live contest, but I thankfully hit the race enough to come out on top,” he said.

At some point, one of these $1 million bonuses will be hit, and Zhou just might be the guy to do it.

Full slate of tournaments

It’s a busy week of tournaments with both the Orleans Fall Classic and live-bankroll tournaments at Keeneland on Friday and Saturday. Players looking to participate online need look no further than DRF Tournaments.

Saturday’s featured games include $580 qualifiers for both the Del Mar Fall Challenge on Nov. 10-11 at Del Mar and next year’s World Championship of Handicapping.

There’s also an early chance to qualify for next year’s Horse Player World Series, a three-day mythical-money contest at Orleans Las Vegas. Saturday’s qualifier costs $94, and one in 19 entries will receive a $1,500 HPWS entry.

There will also be feeders for important DRFT qualifiers this weekend, including the first chances to start your journey to the next big liveroll-bank game at Santa Anita, the $3,000 Santa Anita Closing Day Challenge on Sunday, Nov. 4 (the day after the Breeders’ Cup). The qualifier will take place next Saturday, Oct. 20. Entries cost $410, and one in 10 entries will receive a buy-in plus $500 in travel, a $3,500 value.

Players should also be on the lookout for chances to win into the Pegasus contest. On Breeders’ Cup Saturday, DRFT will be hosting a $960 game that will send one in 15 entries to the Pegasus (along with $500 in travel). Feeders start as low as $50.

For more information, go to tournaments.drf.com.

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