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Winning at Betting: The (Untold) Truth

Winning at Betting

Winning at Betting

I've been interested in horse racing for over twenty years now and, in that time, I've spent untold hours reading, writing and researching around the subject of betting on horses.

As a consequence, I'd say I've developed from 'clueless newbie' on to 'enthusiastic amateur', then to 'happy to break even', and nowadays to 'small time winning punter'. [Note, I've never been enamoured with the idea of making fortunes from betting. Frankly, I'm probably not mentally cut out for it].

During my two decades of development, I've learned a lot. A hell of a lot.

When I started out, I'd look at the numbers (representing finishing positions) to the left of a horse's name, and this would be my most important indicator of likely performance. How naive I was.

These days, I have a group of micro-systems which I use on a daily basis, as well as a good eye for what's important when reading form. You may remember a recent video post I made on the subject. You can watch that form reading video here. [Warning: it's quite long]

The reason that video is long is because it takes time to analyse horse races: to consider the context of the race (its conditions); the likely profile of the winner based on similar races; the specific current and historical performance of the runners; and the likely interaction between horses (class ceilings and pace scenarios, for instance).

Yes, a horse race is a complex conundrum indeed.

One of the purposes of geegeez is to try to help less experienced bettors understand something of what's needed to become more experienced (and more successful) bettors.

The above is not intended to 'turn people off' or to overwhelm, but rather to illustrate the complexity of the puzzle.

Of course, betting on horses should also be fun. And here at geegeez, we insist that you're entertained during your visits here. At least, that's what we try to do. 🙂

So how can you win at betting? Well, there are a number of ways, all of which have merit in my opinion.

1. Study, study, study

If you enjoy the learning experience, then this is the best one for you, especially if you have time. The best, most satisfying and empowering way of winning at betting is to work it out for yourself.

Understanding how horse races work is a key part of that, and will undoubtedly help you to find more winners.

But more winners won't necessarily lead to more profit. What?!

What I mean is that if you currently have a strike rate of 25%, I can tell you an immediate way to get a strike rate of 31%. (Bet unnamed favourites).

Alas, my short cut to more winners will not make you money. As the jolly fellow in the Nationwide ads used to be fond of saying, "It doesn't work like that".

No, we need to understand the relationship between a horse's chance of winning in academic terms, and the market view on its chance.

The old coin toss example is instructive here.

Clearly, there is a 50% chance of a coin landing on either heads or tails, assuming the coin has not been tampered with. With that knowledge of the actual (or academic) chance of the coin landing on a nominated side (heads or tails), a bookmaker would always offer you a price slightly shy of even money for either outcome.

But what if the bookie offered you 11/10 on heads?

Even though  there is still a 50% chance of the coin landing on tails, 11/10 about it coming up heads is a great bet. Why? Because it offers VALUE.

Value is simply any situation where the odds available are greater than the true chance of an outcome happening.

You might well lose that 11/10 coin toss (in fact, you'd have a 50% chance of losing!). But, if you could consistently get 11/10 about heads, you'd make 5% over time.

The problem is that horse racing is not a coin toss. It is infinitely more complex than that.

And even those charged with the job of odds compiling get things badly wrong. How could they not? This is not a criticism, it is simply a fact.

The market at off time (i.e. the starting prices) looks very different from the first morning show of prices, although it will be topologically similar. Topo-who-what?

Topologically. Meaning that whilst the odds on many of the horses will have changed - some of them markedly - the overall shape of the book will be similar, in terms of bookie profit margin.

Right. Let's pause for breath. Where are we with all this bookie-bashing bluster?

In summary, if you have time to study, you need first to understand the dynamics of a race, and then you need to overlay your view of the respective chances of the participants with the market view.

When you have a runner that you rate with a good chance, but the market has dismissed as an outsider, then you have a good bet (assuming you've made a reasonable job of understanding the race dynamics).

This will happen more often than you think. In fact, as an example, Stat of the Day picks a horse which is sent off a shorter price more often than not. The reason for this is that we look at factors which the market often overlooks in its initial position, but which become accounted for - by weight of money wagered, generally - before the race goes off.

The market of a race at 'off' time is a VERY STRONG indicator of likely chances. In fact, it's by far the best indicator.

So if you can consistently get a better price than the starting price, you have a very good chance of making a profit. Again, Stat of the Day illustrates that well enough, with circa 83 points profit and 40% return on investment since it started in November last year.

2. Become a trader

If you can understand the 'shape' of a race, in terms of who is likely to lead, which side of the track is favoured, and which horses look lazy and disinterested during a race, you could trade horses in running.

This isn't as difficult as it sounds.

Most horses have a run style which is either determined by them, or by their trainer/jockey. Some are habitual front'runners; others like to be held up; still others will be the first ones under pressure but often find more late run than smoother travelling rivals.

Whatever. If you can see how a horse is likely to run, you have the chance to trade it.

This is definitely not something I'm especially interested in myself, though I know professional traders, who nip into and out of the market in very quick succession, having secured a profit by 'greening up' (buying low and selling high to lock in a profit on a horse's price).

The reason I don't much like it is because it's quite boring. Scalping. Sniping. No interest in the final outcome of the race, only in its interim opportunities. Fair enough. But not for me.

3. Arb-o-rama

Arbers are the scourge of bookies up and down the land. An 'arb', short for arbitrage opportunity, is a situation where you can back all possible outcomes and guarantee a profit.

Two outcome events are the easiest for this. For instance, in a tennis match, only Player 1 or Player 2 can win.

Largeblokes might have Player 1 at 4/5 and Player 2 at 11/10. On the same match, Bert563 might bet 11/10 Player 1  and 4/5 Player 2.

Thus, backing Player 2 with Largeblokes and Player 1 with Bert563, both at 11/10, means you are guaranteed to make a profit of 5% on the match.

(Example: £10 win Player 1 at 11/10; £10 win Player 2 at 11/10; guaranteed return £21. Stake £20, Return £21. Profit £1 or 5%)

Again, this is far from the sexy side of betting. Indeed, it's hardly gambling at all. But it can be profitable, IF you can get both parts of the wager struck before the prices change.

Obviously, with the advent of odds comparison sites, these opportunities are quickly shut down, but they do happen every day, many times a day.

4. Follow a tipster or service

This is the favourite short cut to option 1 above, and that's entirely reasonable.

There are all sorts of situations where it's not possible, or sensible, to study, study, study. For instance, you might have a job and a family (I know, unlikely, but possible ;), which means your free time for such things is seriously compromised.

Or you might just not trust yourself to be good enough. I would hope that over time, using excellent resources like geegeez (!), you will place more trust in yourself. But for beginners, or those who have only recently committed to learn more, then following a tipster or service is a good option. Sometimes.

The problem, of course, is that not all tipsters and services are the same. In fact, they are as varied as the species of flora and fauna under the sun.

So how to find a good tipster? Well, that will depend on you, at least to some degree, though there are of course some universal factors.

First, you should be looking for a service with a track record of success and demonstrable credibility. In other words, there should be some means of corroborating what 'Honest Joe' has said his results are.

Secondly, when it comes to tipsters, a trial period is something that you should insist on. This might be a money back guarantee period, or a free trial, but either way, you at least have a chance to paper trade (i.e. follow the picks without risking money)... and you should PAPER TRADE.

[Sidenote: it REALLY gets my goat when people pile in straight away with something which might be completely wrong for them, lose money, and then complain about it. Free periods are for paper trading. Refund periods are for paper trading. If you want to bet, then fine, but you do it at your own risk. Full accountability is yours. Soap box moment over!]

The purpose of paper trading is not just about bottom line profitability (or not) of a service. It's also about seeing if that service is for you.

For example, do you like one bet a day, or five? Do you have a bank, or do you just say you have a bank? Could you retain confidence if you lost half your bank before the profits came? Do you bet £2, £20 or £200 per selection? Are you a backer or a layer or a trader or an arber or a dutcher? Can you cope with higher volatility, or do you need a winner most days 'to keep you in the game'?

As you can see, one size most definitely does not fit all.

Finally on this one, and this is a personal preference of mine, I like to have at least an understanding of how a tipster or service arrives at his selections. For example, I'm never interested in 'stable whispers' services personally (though some can be quite good). Rather, I'm interested in form students whose judgement and knowledge of the form book I can grow to trust.

So, if you want to follow a tipster or service, do ask yourself what it is you're looking for from that service. This MUST be more than 'a profit'. It needs to cover your betting style, your appetite for risk, your availability to get bets on, and so on. This is your responsibility before you hand cash over to a stranger. (I know you know that, but the reminder can't hurt!)

And later this week  - tomorrow in all likelihood - I want to introduce you to the very first 'tipster' I've ever been impressed enough to publish. His approach is similar to my own, his commitment is phenomenal, his number-crunching exceptional... and his results... well, more on those in due course. Suffice it to say that they're bloody good! 😀

Until next time.

Matt