Recalibrating Your Handicapping Can Lead to Success

by Ray Wallin

A recent study found that 80 percent of high school students thought that they are smarter than the average student. In another study, 90 percent of drivers thought they were better than the average driver. In a 1977 study, Patricia C. Cross found that 94 percent of professors thought that they were above average when compared to others in academia.

People overestimate their abilities in most walks of life. Handicapping is no different.

There are things you can find out that you are inadequate in very quickly. For me, tennis is one such thing.

When I was in high school, I had a friend, Cristean, who played on the junior varsity tennis team. And, one day, he suggested we play for fun. I had hit the ball around, could volley a bit and thought I had one heck of a backhand that I could slice down the line. If he had been any good, he would have been varsity, right?

Wrong. He kicked my ass and made me look stupid out there. Immediately I knew that I was not above-average with a tennis racquet in my hand.

None of us want to get our ass kicked at the track every day either. So, what sets handicappers, high school students, drivers and professors apart from me playing tennis? Even a bad driver can avoid an obvious hazard or an accident that will give them confidence that they are, in fact, a good driver. High school students don’t compete against each other in most cases. Professors? Well, let’s just say that many of my engineering professors taught because they couldn’t hack it working in industry — yet, they thought they were gods in the world of civil engineering.

I still suck at tennis.

Where does that leave the handicappers? You may miss playing some sure winners, but you also avoid playing some sure losers too. You aren’t playing beyond your means and you walk away after dropping the $100 you planned on playing, not hitting the ATM to get another $100. You may be cutting your losses.

Maybe you are in the black for the year, but not everyone can be. You are certainly not making a living playing the races!

Alright, so now that you wonder if you are above or below average as a handicapper, right?

Well, there is some good news for you if you are starting to doubt your abilities. There is something you can do to help “right the ship”.

Recalibrate your handicapping.

During my many nights gracing the second floor of the old Meadowlands grandstand, I chatted with Bruce the Mathematician. Bruce was quiet and showed very little emotion. He sat at his bar-height table with a mountain of paper and a calculator.

Bruce was always assessing the pace of the race, projecting call times and the order of the field at every call. He was a student of Handicapping Magic by Michael Pizzolla and Modern Pace Handicapping by Tom Brohamer. He was meticulous in his calculations. The problem was that he was rarely right.

After weeks of watching his frustration, which ended up with his entire mountain of paper being thrown into a trash most nights, I had to ask him a question: Was he keeping track of his performance?

He stared at me like a deer in headlights. No, he hadn’t been tracking anything — either the pace setup or the call times.

Bruce was no slouch reading a race, but he never tracked his performance. He never realized the root cause of his problems until he started keeping records.

We didn’t see Bruce for about six months. We wondered if something had happened to him… until one cold, November evening. There he was at his usual bar-height table with his mountain of paper, but this time he was smiling.

What was different? Bruce had made some adjustments to his approach. Bruce was winning. His projections were much closer to what was happening on the track. He had learned to accept ranges of times for each call. He had learned to accept that chaos happens and you can’t account for that. He learned to accept that you can’t always mechanically compute a fractional time.

Bruce had recalibrated.

When you realize you’ll never be able to take the unknowns out of handicapping, you can improve your approach by analyzing how you are performing night after night. By making some tweaks, your bankroll will thank you! So the question remains: Do you think you are better than the average handicapper or do you need to recalibrate?

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