The Punting Confessional: Coping with Losing Runs

McCarthy knows all about losing runs...

McCarthy knows all about losing runs...

The Punting Confessional: Losing Runs and how to deal with them... 

Dundalk, April 11th

Another losing day among many at the start of this  current flat season so now seems a good time to address losing streaks and how to respond to them.

This early stage of the year is a time when I tend to lose money but I am wary of falling into the trap of cliché and saying things will turn when the form settles down; I often do well at the backend, another supposed time of form chaos, and odds compilers and layers make mistakes in March and April as often as they do at other times of the year.

We can all look back over the years and see periods when we tend to do well – Cheltenham or Galway or Christmas, say – but I often wonder is this just a self-fulfilling prophecy brought about by a positive mental attitude to a particular time of the year rather than our methods working better at different points in the season. On balance, punters need to be open to a profit seam arising at any stage of the year and not wait for a time when things should improve; past performance is no guide to future success.

The first thing to know about losing streaks is they are inevitable; this doesn’t make them any easier to handle but it should somewhat leaven the feeling of failure they bring. Losing means different things to different people; for a selective punter who places only a bet a day or even a week it could theoretically go on for months but for me when I talk of losing I don’t mean that I haven’t backed a winner for weeks but rather that I have had a period of consecutive losing days.

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My approach would be quite scattergun – in a seven-race card I could easily be playing at least six races, if not all seven, and would have no aversion to backing more than one horse in a race – so I wouldn’t have a losing streak in the traditional sense of a long period without a winning bet.

It all comes back to matching your punting style to your temperament; if you really struggle to handle backing losers then playing a series of outsiders probably isn’t going to be your thing as losing streaks are more common with such an approach; I have no numbers to back up the likelihood a long string of losers but Hugh Taylor had some very interesting analysis on the Form Factor (the best racing programme on television and always worth a watch) recently and showed that with an average price taken of 10/1 losing streaks of 20 bets and more are common.

When losing, self-doubt kicks in and one needs to be wary of recency biased thinking; just like when on a winning streak when seemingly everything we touch turns to gold, it now appears that we will never back another winner. Such black-and-white thinking leads to sweeping generalisations and should be avoided.

Again the brilliant Taylor springs to mind. When interviewed at the start of the Form Factor the invariably clueless presenter asks him how his punting has been going and regardless of whether he is winning or losing, Taylor adopts a sanguine attitude and replies that all that matters are the figures at year end. I can only dream of achieving such punting equilibrium but it should certainly be aspired to.

Perhaps the key to overcoming a losing streak is routine. Consistency is vital and returning to past methods (assuming, of course, that these methods have proved profitable in the past) a must. One must do what needs to be a done whether it is form study, pace analysis or tissue prices; now is not the time to change. This is not to say that your methods should not be questioned; of course they should but not now.

In the midst of a poor run of form one is inclined to view everything in the negative whereas such questioning of performance really needs to be done in the cold light of day, perhaps even during a time when one is not punting seriously, an off-season if you will. This analysis should be backed up with data and not undertaken piecemeal; major punting decisions should be governed by the head not the heart.

A further point on taking a consistent approach; this applies to staking at least as much as to form analysis and perhaps even more so. Ask yourself how much you would have on the same horse in the same situation during a good period and if the answer is different it’s time for a rethink. Striking the balance is important here; too much on and you are chasing, too little and your money is scared and both have their pitfalls.

Past records can be a very useful source of information at these difficult times if only because they will allow you to take a more logical balanced view of your current situation. This of course assumes that you have past records to call on and if you haven’t it is probably time to start keeping them. Spreadsheets are probably the way to go now but I have to admit to being a troglodyte in this regard and being the owner of piles of hardback copies with reams of bets inside; everything else in my punting life may be digitised but records are not as yet.

Finally, a word on having horses get done on a line or coming with a late rattle and just failing to get up. These are good things for a punter particularly if like me you play away from the front end of the market; it means you are getting something right and the time to really get concerned is when your fancies are running up the track and getting beaten by the ambulance.

When they are going close you are reading the form well and the worm may be about to turn; this can be a danger point for punters as they may go on tilt when luck appears to be swinging against them. Accept that luck is a myth and on the whole will even itself out over the course of a year.

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7 replies
  1. Billy says:

    Probably the best article on here for a while (and there have been some excellent ones!)
    I am currently going through an infuriating streak of seconds, last fence fallers, being mugged at the line and even two dead heats when I thought it was in the bag. Too easy to forget that I’m doing well as the betting bank takes a dive.
    Cheers guys!

  2. Ian Foster says:

    There is a formula which can be used to project the size of the maximum expected consecutive losing bets. But it requires both the average probability of a bet losing and the total number of bets.
    max expected losing streak =
    NaturalLog(totalbets)/-NaturalLog(probability of bet losing)

    Neither the probability nor the number of bets is straightforward:-

    1. Obviously the true chances of a series of bets winning is unknonwn until after the fact. The odds are just an approximation. The best approximation appears to be taking the Betfair SP and converting it to a probability (probability = 1/BSP). Then take the average of all the individual probabilities.The subtract that probability from 1 to get the average probability of the bets losing.

    2.What could possibly be wrong with the number of bets?
    – Well the problem is that (naturally) the more bets are made, the higher the expected max losing streak. But the formula does not predict when in the total sequence of bets the max losing streak will occur – it could start with the very first bet, in which case you might easily find that the actual number os bets is much lower than anticipated because you lose you nerve or your betting bank before getting out of the losing streak.

    I hope this helps – though most people will find it depressing.
    Ian

  3. Kieran says:

    Great read Tony.

    Mastering your emotions around losing runs (and winning ones, come to that) is, in my opinion, the most important yet most difficult aspect of punting for a living.

    Many thanks for your insight

    Kieran

  4. M.Bowen says:

    Another with a caveman’s approach to record keeping ( like me ) we think that we remember everything but with time and in my case above all, with age, then this is far from the case. I could go on more about this subject but my university work is demanding my presence on the other side of Madrid so I’ll sum up by saying that this is a very interesting piece of writing on a very interesting subject, thanks. Oh and by the the way, when I bang up against a losing run I usually end up by finding winners among short odds types ( and probably, place only), at least until my shattered confidence, creeps back. Thanks all and dare I say it, “good luck”, Martyn

  5. Mondo Ray says:

    Currently on a losing run of 30 and sweating (metaphorically), but in reality it means I haven’t had a winner since last Friday on my system, but fortunately, a few have popped up from other sources – including Betfolio!

  6. roy says:

    It can be handy to lay bigger priced horses on betfair at 1.2 if you win your happy to lose a small amount to betfair. You will be surprised how many times a horse will trade at 1.2 and still get beat,it helps to break up losing runs.

  7. Brian says:

    Laying off horses on Betfair to help ease the pain of losing runs is a mistake in my view. If you have an overall edge why would you want to cut into it by laying off the stake on your winners? Remember that you have to pay commission when your horse loses and you collect the backers stake on your lay. In a perfect market the best you could hope for would be to break even but the commission would almost certainly guarantee that such a strategy would cost you in the long term. For example, in a perfect market, laying at 2.0 you would win 50% of the time and collect 50% of the time but as you would have to pay commission on your winnings it is going to cost you in the long run. If you are betting 10/11 shots at evens, which you should always be if you want to be successful, you have a 10% edge which laying off would only cut into. It’s a fallacy to believe laying like this will improve your returns.

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