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Jennings: Masters Calcutta Strategy to Gain an Edge Over Your Pool

Jennings: Masters Calcutta Strategy to Gain an Edge Over Your Pool article feature image

Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Tiger Woods

  • Masters Calcutta pools are one of the most popular and fun ways to wager on the first golf major of the year, but what's the ideal strategy?
  • Peter Jennings gives some tips on how and when to bid on players, how to use the betting market as a resource, and how to take advantage of pools with quirky rules.

I have participated in a variety of Calcutta pools for different events over the years — and nothing beats a Masters Calcutta (with March Madness being a close second).

If you’re unfamiliar, Masters Calcutta pools involve gamblers bidding on all golfers in the field individually. There are various payouts depending how well your players perform, with the bettor who owns the winner getting the majority of the payout (more on this later).

A Masters Calcutta shares some of the same strategies that you can leverage for other sports, but there are a Masters-specific nuances you’ll want to factor. Here are a few key fundamentals that are critical to having an edge.

Know the Rules!

I know it sounds simple, but understanding the rules and payouts of your Calcutta is paramount. The variety of the pools and the different forms of payouts are part of the reason I love this format. For this piece I will cover strategy for more traditional payouts but try to reference some nuances and edges I have noticed.

The majority of pools pay out a significant portion of the prize pool to first place. Depending on your risk tolerance and strategy you can target top-heavy  pools or those with flatter payouts. The depth of the payouts is very important, typically pools pay 5-10 places.

I prefer pools with flatter payouts and quirky rules to minimize variance. Why the quirky rules? You’d be surprised how many people ignore them, giving you an edge if you understand the nuances.

Here’s an example: Some pools will pay out a small percentage of the pot (normally ~1%) for high and low rounds of the day. Adding in high round for the day creates some value on the worst players. Larry Mize, Ian Woosman, Sandy Lyle and some of the other retired winners have essentially zero equity to win or place, but they do have value for high round of the day.

The amateurs fall into a similar bucket but with much higher place equity. Make sure you understand every payout so you have the correct inputs for calculating value in your pool.

Gather Historical Data

Know the people and the history in your Calcutta. Any historical data on total prize pool or previous golfers prices is extremely helpful in calculating the estimated total pool.

During the auction, you can leverage some of the historical data against what you’re seeing take place in real-time. Are the top-end golfers going for more than they had in previous years? If so, you can usually expect that the total pool will be higher this time around, too.

In addition to historical data, any information about “the room” is helpful. If you are doing a pool vs. finance guys, you can suspect the total pool will be bigger if the stock market has been doing well. If you are competing against oil guys, check to see how oil has done relative to the size of the prize pool. Knowing your competition and their appetite for action is imperative.

Don’t Be Restricted by Bankroll

To have maximum edge in a Calcutta, you must have the optionality to bid on any player you deem +EV. Too often I have seen participants spend all their money, early only to watch great deals pass by at the end of bidding.

Target Calcutta’s where you are comfortable investing a high percentage of the prize pool.

Leverage Market Data

The Masters betting market is pretty efficient and a great input for any Calcutta model. Outright odds have a ton of value in all pools but especially any pool that is top-heavy.

For example, a player might be 50-1 to win on your respective sportsbook and go for 1% of the projected prize pool in your Calcutta (equivalent to 100-1 betting odds). That’s extremely valuable info to incorporate when you’re evaluating how much to bid on a player.

I recommend incorporating as much additional market data as you can. Finishing odds, cut odds, matchup odds and even DFS price are good indicators to determine players values.

As the auction goes on, I like to use matchup odds specifically to find value. Here’s an example: Let’s say there’s a matchup in the betting market between Tiger Woods and Tommy Fleetwood, with Fleetwood being the favorite. And let’s say earlier in the draft Tiger Woods went for $500 earlier in the draft. If you can get Fleetwood at anything less than $500, you’re making a +EV decision.

Remember that Calcutta pools are a great format to hedge the bets you have in different markets.

Know When and How to Bid

Part of the art of Calcutta pools comes in bidding optimally. I have made plenty of mistakes and learn something new in every auction. Every Calcutta is different but I think you can get a pretty nice edge by following a few of these begging tips I’ve picked up over time.

Bid Early in the Auction

I find that in most pools the value is in the beginning of the auction. Participants are generally a bit nervous and it’s human nature to want more information. For example, the best values in our Action Network March Madness Calcutta all came early, including Texas Tech, the team Brian Mead stole for $145 (~2% of the prize pool).

Bid Late in the Auction

Hope your opponents made the mistake of being restricted by bankroll so you can scoop up value late in the calcutta.

Bid on Favorites

If you know certain golfers have a ton of biased fans or a participant “has to have a golfer,” you should always make them pay extra. Bidding up the players you don’t want increases the value of the pool.

GOOD LUCK! I would love to hear about any of the calcutta pools you all are involved in. Let me know on twitter @CSURAM88.

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