Last week's Punting Confessional told the tale of Tony Keenan's decision to take a two-week break from betting, this week he explains more about his time off and how he intends getting back to business.
Wexford, August 24th
This was the final day of my planned break from punting outlined last week and I hope to get back rolling for the two-day meeting at the Curragh on Saturday and Sunday. In the last article I wrote about my reasons for opting to take a break and looked at some possible causes of my losing streak; this week I’d like to finish out those points and look at how best to deal with coming back off a break.
As I mentioned previously, racing is a sport that can promote obsession and that seems to be the way of it regardless of what level of the game you are involved in, be it as a trainer, owner, jockey or simply punter; Mick Channon’s response to the question ‘How do you relax away from racing?’ in his Racing Post Q&A this past Sunday was enlightening in this regard: ‘Does anyone? It’s a way of life.’ I think that having other interests away from the sport are vital to retaining balance and this applies whether you are on a prolonged break from gambling or simply need a release after a day of punting; the idea is that the game should not become all-consuming.
Personally, I would have three main ways of relaxing away from the sport. Exercise is number one and by far the most effective; all the scientific benefits have been researched by people much smarter than me but simply put, it works extremely well at clearing the head and producing endorphins and a feel-good factor that keeps your thinking fresh. Running would be my poison of choice and when you’re climbing up a hill, sweating profusely, at the end of a 10k run the last thing on your mind is the relative merits of the contenders in the 5.45 at Gowran Park!
Reading is another excellent one though obviously you need to avoid gambling subject matter when you’re looking to get away from punting; there are a number of excellent books on gambling out there but they have a time and a place. Finally, going to the cinema is a great way to relax and I find if much better that watching TV at home; when in that position, racing-obsessive that I am, I’m inclined to boot up the laptop or flick through the iPhone in search of some prices and form-lines which is not what you want to be doing. In the cinema, you’re part of a captive audience for the two-odd hours you’re there and other patrons tend not to take kindly to someone scrolling through Betfair markets on their iPhone for the duration of the film.
All these distractions are important parts of a successful punter’s make-up but – if you’re really serious about making money from gambling – one does have to be careful about rationing your time properly among punting and other interests. This past summer of terrific sport with the Euros and the Olympics has been a good example of how external interests can overwhelm all the best intentions to gamble seriously. London 2o12 was without doubt the great sporting event of my life and as someone that has a huge interest in sport it is natural that I’d want to watch as much of it as possible.
It can become a major distraction from gambling however as it would be never be a case that I could just watch an hour or two of the Games but rather would attempt to watch the lot, even having it on in the background when attempting to study a card which was a bad habit I tried to give up years ago, preferring now a few hours away in a quiet office space to go through a meeting. That’s not even to mention the draw of having a bet on these other sports and during the Euros I was certainly succumbed to the temptation of playing on soccer, a sport I know next to nothing about.
I often think that multiple-sport punters are what the bookmakers want, lads going in having their scores on soccer, golf, racing or whatever but serious punters need to avoid this sort of thing as we cannot be masters of all trades. By the time London 2012 came around, I’d done enough money in Poland and Ukraine to not have a bet but I certainly watched enough to compromise my routine.
So when coming out of a break, how do you move back into punting mode? The mental side of gambling, i.e. how you deal with winning and losing, is so important and probably more so than any actual skill in studying form or picking winners. Positive but realistic self-talk is always a worthwhile exercise; you need to have confidence in yourself without it spilling over into over-confidence but if you have got past records that prove you are profitable then these assertions are based in fact.
The idea of recency bias, whereby up-to-date events are given a privileged position over the bigger picture, has crept into racing of late but it can also have an insidious influence on a gambler’s mindset. By this I mean the sense that what you have done in the past weeks sums you up as a punter; if you’re having a good run, you’re a genius, if you’re losing money, you’re a terrible punter. Again, the bigger picture is what is important, how you have done over a long period of time, and this sort of all-or-nothing thinking is best avoided.
When coming off a break, remember that the likelihood of getting all your losses back in one fell swoop is negligible. If it happens, brilliant, but small steps can work too and you want to stay away from forcing the issue. Focusing on process rather than outcome is a good way to go; be thorough in your methods and try to enjoy the form study for its own sake rather than simply relishing the results. To do this is to put the cart before the horse and you can increase the fear of failure by so doing; as I mentioned in my previous column, scared money doesn’t win.
Finally, and this is a difficult thing to do, plan what you are going to do if things continue to go wrong. Sit down and actually write down how much you can lose and stick to it. In gambling, as in life, it is okay to fail but you want to put yourself in a position where failure won’t be ruinous and you can bounce back from it.