This is third in a series, taking a serious look at the games of the 2014 Petit Prix. Please note that B&D has extended the closing date for the Petit Prix. You can get a copy of the premium here: Petit Prix Premium.
Gamblers is an old game in the dog agility world. I’ll present an example of Gamblers (a Teacup Dogs course) and then follow up with a discussion of strategy.
The objective of Gamblers is for the dog to accumulate as many points as possible in a specified time and then to perform a designated gamble (sometimes called a joker), also within a specified time, which consists of a sequence of obstacles with the dog and handler working some distance apart. Gamblers is a two-part game: the point-accumulation period and the gamble period.
Point accumulation period – You can take obstacles in the order and direction of your choosing. The dog may perform obstacles only twice for points. Back-to-back performance is permitted. There is no restriction as to order and direction except that the dog may not take two gamble obstacles, one after the other, during point accumulation. Obstacle values are:
- Jumps are worth 1 point;
- Tunnels and tire are worth 3 points;
- The A-frame, teeter and weave poles are worth 5 points;
- The dogwalk is worth 7 points.
The time allotted for the point-accumulation period shall be 25 seconds for big dogs; and 28 seconds for small dogs.
Gamble period – Successful performance of the gamble is worth 25 points. Time for the gamble shall be 16 seconds for big dogs; and 18 seconds for small dogs.
- Gamble points will be lost if any of the following occurs:
- The dog exceeds the time allotted for the gamble period or faults a gamble obstacle.
- The handler steps on or over the containment line to aid the dog in performance of the joker.
- The dog is directed to loiter near the start of the gamble while time remains in the point-accumulation period;
- The dog performs any two gamble obstacles one after the other during the point-accumulation period;
- The dog knocks down a jump included in the gamble sequence during point accumulation, making correct performance of that jump in the gamble period impossible.
- The dog commits any performance fault during performance of the gamble.
Scoring and Qualifying
Gamblers is scored points then time. The team with the most points wins. Time is a tiebreaker only. To qualify:
GI – 16 points; and successful completion of the gamble
GII & GIII – 18 points; and successful completion of the gamble
Strategies for Play in Gamblers
Be armed with a strategy that delivers enough points to qualify, and positions the dog near the start of the gamble with options for productive loitering.
I’ve drawn on this course map a dog’s path that works the obstacles in the upper-right corner of this course. The line actually shows two performance of each of the obstacles in that corner.
Be mindful of the rules of the game. First of all, the dog is allowed to do obstacles only twice. And, you should understand the rule about “loitering” near the start of the gamble. If you are running your dog in a circle over obstacles your dog has already taken twice the judge—with a mind like a steel trap—will likely call you for loitering and negate the dog’s gamble. So, you should take care to reserve the performance of the obstacles in your “productive loitering” strategy until it’s time for that strategy to reveal itself.
If the dog already has the points to qualify (that’s what I said to do first, if you’ll remember), than chances are that the whistle will blow while working this performance of obstacles. But that’s the whole point. From anywhere in this corner the dog will have a good run at the opening jump of the gamble.
Where you almost certainly don’t want to be is coming down the A-frame in the direction going away from the gamble. The gamble time isn’t really that generous.
The 7 Point Obstacle
An important tradition in the Gamblers class is for the judge to give a higher value to an obstacle on the field. This is usually a technical obstacle, and typically gives a bonus of 2 points; so the 5 point dogwalk becomes a bonus obstacle worth 7 points.
Note that the 7 Point Obstacle is typically one that has some risk associated with it. For example, it might be so far away from the start of the gamble that it becomes a timing risk.
However, on this course, the risk associated with the 7 Point Obstacle is clearly the possibility that the dog could do two gamble obstacles, one after the other, during the point accumulation period. If you’ve paid attention to the briefing… doing two gamble obstacles (one after the other) will negate the gamble. NQ
On this course map I’ve numbered an opening strategy that neatly picks off the 7 Point Obstacle. The plan avoids going anywhere near the two jumps that start and the gamble. We’ve already established that the dog isn’t allowed to do two gamble obstacles (one after the other).
Dropping a bar in the gamble during point accumulation will also negate the gamble. So, stay away from those jumps if at all possible.
This strategy delivers a qualifying score for the class. It would be fairly easy now to slide into the Timing strategy for the end of point accumulation that I described above.
Play to Your Dog’s Strengths
If your dog has a weakness, say on the teeter or in the weave poles you should not waste time with an optimistic reliance on the performance of those obstacles in the point accumulation period. Save that optimism for a standard class when performance of the risky obstacle is required, rather than optional.
On the other hand, if there are obstacles on which your dog will demonstrate amazing speed and skill, these obstacles should be the centerpiece of your point accumulation strategy. For example, the dog might have an amazing running contact and so the A‑frame might be highly desirable during point accumulation.
Flow and Transitions
Turning a dog degrades the dog’s rate of travel. A good point accumulation strategy for the Gamblers class should not feature a lot of gratuitous technical movement. Instead, the canny handler will devise a flowing plan of attack that allows the dog to work at full extension and at his best speed.
A notable exception to pure flow is the back-to-back performance. Obstacles like a pipe tunnel, the tire, the A-frame… maybe even the dogwalk are candidates for back-to-back performance. If you think about it, by turning the dog straight back you’ve made the transitional distance between obstacles negligible. Steal a second, earn a point.
A dog is well directed by movement, even when the handler is at some distance. The handler should calculate his movement to give a steady signal to the dog, and give pressure to the dog to move in the direction of the numbered sequence.
The gamble in the sample course above features a discrimination (two obstacles in close proximity) and the performance of a technical obstacle at a distance. Don’t be tongue tied as the dog makes his turn after jump #1 in the gamble. Give your command/verb for the dogwalk; Face the dogwalk; Point to the dogwalk; Move toward the dogwalk. And don’t step over the line.
It’s nearly fruitless to try to describe what the handler should do to raise the chance for success in a Gamble. They are always different.
A terrific strategy for success in Gamblers is to train your dog to work independently and at a distance.
Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.