SPECIAL TO THE SUN
Saturday, Jan. 16, 2010 | 2 a.m.
Beyond The Sun
Jay Kornegay can't even imagine the odds.
Funny, because as the Las Vegas Hilton sports book's executive director, Kornegay spends every day dealing with numbers. But he thought it would be nearly impossible for anyone to win the Supercontest, the Hilton's annual football handicapping contest, two years in a row.
"It's such a long shot," Kornegay said. "It would be like UNLV winning the BCS National Championship."
Steve Fezzik defied the odds. Fezzik, who has bet on sports professionally for the last nine years in Las Vegas, finished with the best record in the Supercontest and won the grand prize.
Fezzik went 52-29-3 in the contest, in which each bettor picks five NFL games each week of the regular season, and won $196,800. It was the first time in the history of the 20-year contest that a handicapper won back-to-back titles.
"If you ask me what sport is my specialty, I'd say football, but it's really football contests," said Fezzik, who posts his weekly picks and is a moderator at lvasports.com. "To make a comparison, I would say straight bets in football are like cash games in poker. A player like Phil Hellmuth is a much better tournament player than cash games. I would say I'm a lot like Phil Hellmuth in football."
Fezzik beat out 328 other entrants, down slightly from last year when Fezzik cashed for $210,000.
But Fezzik said he was more proud of this year's performance. Fezzik was 61st in the contest midway through the season. That's when he started his monumental run.
"I really felt like last year I was leaking oil and holding on," Fezzik said. "It was totally different this year. I really think I was finishing strong. If this went on a few more weeks, I feel like I would have pulled away even more."
As these contests often do, the title came down to the final week. Fezzik entered week 17 of the NFL season percentage points behind the leader, "Big E".
Needless to say, he agonized over all five of his picks. Fezzik said he was concerned that he and his opponent would wind up picking the same side in three of the games.
Sure enough, they both used one of their selections on the Bills -6.5 against the Colts and the Buccaneers +3 at home against the Falcons.
Fezzik was determined to make sure he lined up on an opposite side for at least one game. That's how he settled on taking Tennessee -4 at Seattle.
"So much goes into this that people don't realize," Fezzik said. "I data mined my opponent and noticed that he played a lot of four-to-seven point underdogs. I liked Tennessee, so I knew it would be great if he took Seattle."
Big E picked Seattle. Through the early games that Sunday, Fezzik grabbed a one-point lead over his opponent.
It would all come down to the Titans game. Fezzik needed Tennessee to win or push to take first place.
When Titans running back Chris Johnson scored on a one-yard touchdown run with four minutes remaining and Tennessee held on for a 17-13 victory, Fezzik was a champion once again.
He said he attributed this year's success to tireless research and not getting attached to a certain side.
"So-called experts will tell you, don't change your mind and go with your first inclination. That's terrible advice," Fezzik said. "Trusting your instincts is another one you hear. That's nonsense, too. Maybe that's true for some of the world's best sports gamblers, but I hear other people say that and that's also terrible advice."
Fezzik hit just less than 62 percent of his selections in the contest. He wants to emphasize how improbable that is.
He said he had offered everyone in the contest — and tout services that claim to win up to 80 percent of their picks — a $100,000 prop bet that they couldn't hit 57 percent of their games for the season. Fezzik got no takers.
In other words, luck played a role in his title. Fezzik has no problem admitting it.
"Anyone would need a few lucky bounces to win a contest like this," Kornegay said. "But he puts himself in a position to win. He has the skill to do that."