Betting without mathematics? You'll lose!


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Imagine trying to get to your destination in London using a map of Boston. Sounds like nonsense? Of course it is, and it is more than obvious. Not so obvious is the same behaviour in sports betting. I have a test for you. Try to answer the following questions! Do you know what the odds represent? I mean the deep meaning of the odds. Are you familiar with how the odds are being created? Do you know what value bets are? Can you do your own mathematical predictions? Do you know how the bookies earn their money? What is the best betting strategy? How much should you bet per line? Etc.

If you are not able to answer perfectly all of the previous questions, you are a money maker… for the bookies. Would you dare to fly an airplane from one city to another? Sounds like suicide, if you are not a pilot. Still, every day, millions of punters do something they only have a little idea about. 

Just some examples of the foolish arguments of the majority of punters: They bet on the team because the team needs to win to avoid relegation, they bet to support their beloved team, they bet on the team because it would be fair for the team to win, they bet because team A is better than team B (this is a great example of a wrong betting behaviour), they bet on the A, because they never heard of team B... and it gets even worse. Some of them even pay scammers for so-called fixed match information.

There is however only one correct approach. Science - more precisely mathematics. Bookmakers use it and they rule the business. Using anything other than pure brain power is a way to lose your stakes. You don’t need to worry if you don’t have a PhD in mathematics or applied science. Things are simpler than they appear and we guide you through. 

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The roots of Losing

My first betting steps

I was about 15 when I placed my first bet at a local betting shop near a place I lived. From that moment, the following 2 years, I went to the same shop almost on a daily basis. Of course it was not legal, but it was 1993 and authorities didn’t really care. Being under age back then was quite differenet compared to these days. You could drink, you could smoke and you could indeed gamble your money away. 

Back then, there was no internet, no online betting and you could only bet on a 3 way results market. As for sports you could only choose from football (soccer), ice hockey and tennis. Hardly ever there was anything else and as I remember seeing volleyball, cycling or any other sports in the selection, I considered it exotic. Besides all those limitations there was yet another significant issue - only accumulator tickets.

After you picked your fixtures and was about to close the bet, there was one more surprise that made no sense back then and it still doesn’t. It is called manipulation fee and some countries still apply it. It is around 5% of your stake amount and the punter is usually the one paying it. The fee motivates the punters to choose accumulator bets instead of single fixtures. The math is simple1

Back then match fixing was a big problem and bookmakers were not willing to take the risk. To limit the impact of match fixing, they only allowed combo tickets with no less than 3 matches. Some bookies even added extra condition - the minimum odds of the fixture to be counted as a part of the 3. The logic behind it was correct and being in the position of a bookie, I would do that too. Just imagine you are part of the betting mafia, you and your friends managed to fix a match with odds 1/1 (decimal 2.00). All you need to do is to find 2 more fixtures with very high probability e.g. 1/20 (decimal 1.05) and you are most likely to cash out. If bookies set a limit of minimum odds being 3/10 (decimal 1.3) for a match to count, your “easy money” efforts were more likely to fail.

The basics of betting

Was I winning? Of course not. As the time passed I came to realize one thing. I was guessing right only about 60% of the fixtures and I never went for odds over 2.00. Out of 20 accumulator bets, there was maybe one winning and the rest was losing. It took me about 2 weeks to lose my monthly betting budget. There was something really wrong and Today I know what it was. 

What was my betting strategy back then? What I did back then is hard to call a strategy. I had no idea what the odds stand for, how they have been created and what to do about it. It is important to mention the so-called strategy to know what not to do when creating a proper one.

It is important to stress that even now with my recent knowledge it is not easy to hit all lines on a 5 match acca ticket. With odds around 1,5 on all of them the chance of success in a fair market environment is only about 13% and that is simply not enough. But let’s go back to basics.

The easiest way to understand betting is an example with a coin toss. We all know that there is 50% chance of landing tails and 50% chance of landing heads. This is simply a law of nature and there is no way around it. In the fair odds environment there would be odds 2.00 (fraction 1/1) on tail and the same on heads. Now imagine you are a bookie and are about to make money on coin tossing. What do you do? The answer is simple. You lower the odds. Instead of giving the fair odds of 2.00, you offer 1.9 (fractional 9/10). With this simple trick and people going for the bait, you are about to be rich and there is no other possible outcome. Not even by using the Martingale system2

Now it might look like sports betting is a big fraud. Well, in a way it is, but there is a way to be profitable. The basic logic behind it is the following. The result of a football match is not a coin toss and the probabilities of how the match ends are not a law of nature. Any football prediction, no matter how complicated, is just an opinion. Do you understand football? We help you to put your understanding into formulas and build a more accurate prediction. Do you not understand it? You will have to hire data scientists and follow their calculations3.

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The world of Gambling revealed

The Gut feeling

Do you follow your gut feeling when betting? Let me tell you the truth. You might overrate it. Sure, the gut feeling might be very useful when talking to some crook, when creating some arts, or doing any kind of sports you master. But as for betting, the gut feeling is most of the time useless. 

Here is a proof. FC Chelsea has scored in the Premier League season 2020/21 on average 1,74 goals in 38 games. We see that this number is relatively close to 2 goals per match. Now try to let your gut feeling tell you what is the probability of Chelsea scoring 2 goals in either of the matches. Think about it and give a guess before you read on.

If the average count of scored goals is close to 2, your guess was most likely over 50% and some of you even might have guessed over 70%. The truth is, the statistical chance of Chelsea scoring 2 goals in any of the matches is only 26,57% in the case of 1,74 goals average. (It is 27,07% if the goal average was really exactly 2 goals per game).

In fact, looking at the results, Chelsea has scored exactly 2 goals in 15 out of the 38 Premier League games reaching 39,5%. This number is 10% higher than the expectations of the predictions. 

Do you have a feeling something might be wrong? Try to guess the probability of scoring 0 and then 1 goal when the average is 1,74 goals per game. The chance of scoring zero goals is 17.55% and in fact Chelsea scored no goal in 7 games 18,4%. This number is very close to the statistical prediction.

On the other hand, the highest probability - 30,54% has the event of scoring one goal. Chelsea has in fact scored one goal 8 times and that is only 21% of the cases.

As we see in the previous examples, mathematics is more accurate when it comes to predictions than the gut feeling. More accurate but still not perfect. Where did we go wrong? The variation has been caused by feeding the model with wrong data. We simply took the average of all 38 games and put it into the model. What should we have done better?

  • It makes a difference if the team plays at home or away. Taking the average of home games into the average to predict the next home game, gives better results.
  • Predicting the result of the match against  the strong Liverpool, taking into account the past results of the match against Norwich, Aston Villa or any other weaker opponent is not giving too much predictive power.
  • You really have to think about what data is giving you good results and here comes the golden rule. You have to use your brain to come up with accurate predictions.

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Knowledge applied

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Little extra

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