LAS VEGAS – The Golden Nugget’s Friday Football Showdown has been open to the public the past three years with Chris Kozak (using the alias Mucked Nuts) just missed the playoffs in 2015 and now has won back-to-back titles totaling $168,000.
I think he likes the format.
The Friday Football Showdown costs $2,000 to enter and required players to make seven plays (choosing from the full cards of NFL & NCAA sides and totals) a week against the GN’s contest lines for the first 12 weeks before moving to a bracket-style format that played out on The Las Vegas Sportsline on local radio.
Kozak, a 35-year-old derivatives trader from Chicago, topped a field of 96 last year to win $101,000 including bonuses after the eight-player postseason. This year, there were 95 entrants for a prize pool of $190,000 with Kozak winning $67,000 including bonuses as the playoff field was expanded to 16 to spread the wealth to more entrants.
All playoff qualifiers earned $3,000 this year and then Kozak received a first-round bye after finishing with the fifth most point in the preliminary rounds. In the quarterfinals, he defeated Stag Capital (the eventual SuperContest Gold champions at the Westgate SuperBook) to earn an additional $1,000 and then had to knock off No. 1 seed Tha Good Playa (the alias of professional sports bettor and WSOP bracelet winner Brandon Wittmeyer) in the semifinals to earn another $3,000.
Kozak said he felt it was more difficult to repeat this year than to win his first title.
“I felt going into the playoffs with a lot of sharp players this year that it would be tough, not that last year was easy,” Kozak said. “I was really fortunate that things fell my way.”
In the championship match against DMill (another professional sports bettor and advantage player), with $60,000 to the champion and $30,000 to the runner-up, it didn’t get any easier.
“I knew the title match would be a huge challenge because David is a very strong contest player,” Kozak said. “He barely missed the playoffs last year and has cashed a few times in the SuperContest so I knew it would be a battle where we’d likely have some similar plays and it would likely come down to just a game or two.”
He correctly predicted that, too, as they matched on three of their seven plays on The Las Vegas Sportsline show on Friday, Dec. 29 (now you know where the Friday Football Showdown name originated): North Carolina St.-Arizona St. Over 59.5 in the Sun Bowl, which both used as their best bet; Dolphins plus-3 against the Bills and the 49ers -3 against the Rams in NFL Week 17.
The contest actually started before the radio show aired as Kozak has his proxy, Matty Simo and Toni Law of footballcontest.com, put in his plays at 9:55 a.m. PT that Friday prior to the 10 a.m. PT kickoff of the Belk Bowl between Wake Forest and Texas A&M. Kozak wanted to use the contest line of Under 65 points as it had dropped to 63 around town and 62 at the Nugget.
The game was “over” when 66 were point by halftime on the way to Wake’s 55-52 victory to get Kozak off to an 0-1 start. Making matters worse, that was Kozak’s second bet best. For the uninitiated, the bottom play is used as a tiebreaker if the two contestants end up with the same record. If the best bet has the same result, it then moves backward up the list until a tie is broken. That made Kozak a big underdog as he would either have to win outright or hit the equivalent of a multi-team parlay to reclaim the tiebreaker.
On the rest of the Friday, Dec. 29, bowl card, Miller won with Ohio St. -8 over USC in the Cotton Bowl but lost with Arizona St. plus-7 to stand at 2-1. Kozak also lost with Utah St.-New Mexico St. Over 62.5 in the Arizona Bowl to fall to 1-2.
Neither had a play in the Dec. 30 bowls, so the next key game for Kozak was the Colts -4.5 against the Texans (“That was key for me because I also had the Colts in the SuperContest,” said Kozak, who finished tied for 27th in SC Classic to earn an additional $13,904.88)
Kozak’s only remaining NFL plays were the common plays on the 49ers -3 vs. the Rams and the Dolphins plus-3 against the Bills. He needed the 49ers’ play in the SuperContest, but it would only help him in the Friday Football Showdown if the Dolphins’ play (which he didn’t use in the SuperContest because the line was only plus-2.5) lost and if Miller also happened to lose with his standalone pick on the Raiders plus-8 against the Chargers (though Kozak has mixed feelings as he had also used the Raiders on his SuperContest entry). When that three-team parlay happened, Kozak claimed the tiebreaker and with Miller in the clubhouse at 4-3 and his own plays at 3-3, all he needed was a win (push wouldn’t help) on his last play of South Carolina plus-8 against Michigan in the Outback Bowl on Monday, Jan. 1.
But that wasn’t easy either. Michigan led 19-3 well into third quarter when South Carolina cut it to 19-9, but failed on the 2-point conversion. However, the Gamecocks had stolen momentum and a fumble recovery set up another South Carolina TD to cut it to 19-16 (and within the spread for Kozak). The Gamecocks added another TD and a FG to win by a very deceptive 26-19 victory and give Kozak his second straight title.
Kozak said he differentiates between his regular sports betting and his contest action.
“I trust the betting market, but I do a lot of handicapping on top of that when making my bets,” said Kozak, who added that he actually does more handle on baseball. “There is some overlap between my contest strategy and betting strategy, but I would say the static line plays are a much more major component of contest play for me than for singular betting.”
He also said that while he expected to do well when he started entering handicapping contests, he knows that while they can be boom-or-bust and that he’s certainly been lucky in the right spots.
He said: “I realize this is something I can’t expect to do every yea . . .”
But the last three years might be proof to the contrary.
#3 DMILL/David Miller (4-3)
49ERS -3 vs. Rams ***WIN****
OHIO ST -8 vs. Southern Cal ***WIN***
BUCCANEERS 7 vs. Saints ***WIN***
ARIZONA ST. plus-7 vs. NC ST. ***LOSS***
RAIDERS plus-8 at Chargers ***LOSS***
DOLPHINS plus-3 vs. Bills ***LOSS***
NC ST.-ARIZONA ST. OVER 59½ ***WIN***
#5 MUCKED NUTS/Chris Kozak (4-3, ***CHAMPION via 4th tiebreaker***)
COLTS -4½ vs. Texans ***WIN***
SOUTH CAROLINA plus-8 vs. Michigan ***WIN***
UTAH ST.-NEW MEXICO ST. OVER 62½ ***LOSS***
49ERS -3 vs. Rams ***WIN***
DOLPHINS plus-3 at Bills ***LOSS***
WAKE FOREST-TEXAS A&M UNDER 65 ***LOSS***
NC ST.-ARIZONA ST. OVER 59½ ***WIN***