When the Golden Nugget’s Tony Miller and Aaron Kessler called to congratulate their first- and second-place finishers in the Ultimate Football Challenge, they only had to make one call.
Michael Wachs, a 53-year-old investment manager from Westchester County, N.Y., tied with himself for the top two spots, collecting a grand total of $158,124 ($105,416 for first, $52,708 for second) for topping the field of 282 entrants who paid $1,000 per entry and made seven picks a week for 17 weeks using both college and pro football lines.
Wachs played under the alias of “AckAttack” – which he said was just a play on words with the airport code (ACK) for Nantucket, Mass. – and his AckAttack-2 and AckAttack-3 entries both went 73-42-4 (63.5 percent) for 75 contest points as wins are worth 1 point and pushes worth 0.5.
His outright victory wasn’t clinched until this Monday night as the UFC’s “Week 17” included the rest of the college bowl games on the betting board when contest lines were posted Wednesday, Dec. 25. A contestant using “Sirius” as an alias had an entry with 74 points that could have forced a three-way tie (and would have lowered Wachs’ total earnings by more than $35,000 as he didn’t do any hedging) if Louisiana-Lafayette had covered the 14-point spread over Miami-Ohio in the Alabama Bowl, but ULL only won 27-17.
Wachs, similar to Circa Sports Million champion Isaac Meier (an investment manager from L.A.), said the skills he uses in his day job was also the key to his contest title.
“We use a lot of quantitative analysis, regression models, statistics, and all of that applies to these handicapping contests,” said Wachs. “We look at improving companies, just like teams. We finished out of the money last year in the SuperContest, but made changes to the model and it worked better this season.”
Wachs actually also finished in a tie for 64th place this season in the NFL-only Westgate SuperContest (earning an extra $3,704.75), but didn’t use a single NFL pick in the Golden Nugget contest until he had to – Week 15 when Army-Navy was the only college game on the card.
“There’s more opportunities in college football, more variance, so we just went with the colleges in that contest” Wachs said. “We usually had five strong plays a week [that we used on all our entries] and mixed in three or four marginal ones.”
The approach was incredibly consistent, going 5-2 or better in all but one week from Week 7 through 14. Both his top entries struggled in Week 15, losing with Army and going 1-5-1 overall, but then bounced back with 4-2-1 on both entries in Week 16 and then 5-2 in Week 17. AckAttack-2 and AckAttack-3 were in the clubhouse with 75 contest points after the New Year’s Day bowl games, but Sirius, who had all three of his entries tied for fourth place with Wachs' two entries entering the final week, had two entries still alive with 72 points and three plays left on each. Sirius-2 had Ohio -7.5 in the Jan. 3 Potato Bowl, Tulane -7 in the Jan. 4 Armed Forces Bowl and Louisiana-Lafayette -14 in the Jan. 6 Alabama Bowl while Sirius-3 had the underdogs in those same games.
When Ohio beat Nevada 30-21, only Sirius-2 could still catch the AckAttack teams, and moved closer when Tulane beat Southern Mississippi 30-13. However, Sirius-2 fell short with ULL’s non-cover. Sirius-1 did have Miami-Ohio 14 in the finale and tied Sirius-2 at 74 points. Those two entries earned $22,400.90 apiece, while Sirius-3 slipped to 8th place for another $5,270.80 for a total of $50,072.60.
The owner of the Sirius entries hadn’t returned phone calls as of 6:45 p.m. PT Tuesday.