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If it ain’t broke….

November 6, 2011 Leave a comment

First of all I would like to apologise for the lack of recent updates here. I thought being back at work would focus my efforts more during my spare time and as a result I would be updating this blog on a more regular basis but that’s not really been the case for a variety of reasons.

Going back to work has been quite a shock – in a good way. I’m surprised at how easily everything has come back to me. Getting up in the mornings isn’t a problem. The commute to work takes a bit longer than is ideal but isn’t any real hassle and I can do it half asleep. Plus quite a lot of the commute involves walking which gives me plenty of time to think about things and get my head in order, which is very welcome. The work itself is enjoyable and despite the fact I haven’t really used my software testing skills over the last couple of years I have been able to get straight back into it and am making a real contribution. The domain I am working in (oil industry) is one I have worked in before, in fact I have worked with these very same developers before which has probably helped me settle in quickly. I’m only supposed to be part-time at the minute but there is a lot of work on as we’re approaching a software release so this last week I ended up working the full week, and I don’t feel any worse for it which is an especially pleasing thing. But it does mean I haven’t had a lot of spare time of late.

What spare time I have had to spend on gambling activities has been spent making a number of improvements to my betting records. I mentioned recently that I had taken a spanking on one of my lay systems (Lay’em) and as a result I had started to record more details for each horse racing bet, namely the racing code and whether or not the race was a handicap. I wrote some VBA to go back all my previous bets and update them with the same information but it took a bit of time to get that code working 100% and to verify the output was correct. I also had to clean my data a bit as this code highlighted a few mistakes in my earlier records, errors I have now addressed. Once I had done all of that I needed to decide on how best to use this information. The idea behind recording these additional details was to allow me to break my systems down and look at stats based on individual racing codes.

The example I gave at the time was to look at whether the Lay’em performance was better on the turf or AW but I soon found that the way I displayed stats for each system/tipster was too constrained and wouldn’t easily extend to cover different racing codes so I had to redesign the way I handle all my stats. Initially I didn’t really know what the best way of doing this was and I began to write a number of user-defined functions that would calculate the stats for each system for each racing code on the fly. Unfortunately it soon became obvious that that way madness lie as my whole spreadsheet regularly ground to a halt while I recalculated stats over more than 70000 horse racing bets. Unacceptable so I had a rethink and went back down the normal VBA path with routines that are run as and when I tell them too rather than every time anything changes.

Throughout this I wasn’t really sure of the best way to present my data so I ended up playing with a number of different output formats. I knew I needed more stats but wasn’t sure of the best way to present them in a way that would mean I could get the best out of them. This is the wrong way round for me – I normally start with a much clearer idea of how to present the data but then I have to work backwards to generate the data in the first place. And of course every time I changed my mind about how best to display this data I had to tweak the VBA output code to conform to the new style. I eventually worked out I wanted separate sets of stats for my current portfolio and for all systems/tipsters regardless of whether or not they are part of my current betting plan. I wanted a breakdown of each system/tipster by racing code (or sport or whatever) but also wanted the figures broken down by month so I could view my progress throughout the year and it was this that caused me a few issues initially. But I got there even if it did take rather long than I had hoped for. The glory of it now is that I have had all this in place for a week or more now and have yet to find reason to change it which suggests I have ready access to all the stats I think I need. At bloody last!

So returning once more to the Lay’em system, which was after all the driver behind all these changes, I can now compare the turf and AW figures. It seems the system is profitable on both, netting 187.66pts on the AW and 117.56pts on the turf. Looking a bit deeper though the AW ROI is 1.68% compared to 0.26% on the turf. Concentrating on results from just this year (which I can do just by setting a combo box – yay!) the system has seen a poor time of it on turf with a loss of 17.53pts but it’s another story on the AW with a profit of 56.81pts so I am pleased the turf season is now over and we’re into the AW racing. Mind you, last year the turf lays made a profit of 72.01pts compared to 23.79pts on the all-weather so it goes to show you never can tell how things well go – past performance being no guarantee of future success and all that.

The long and short of it though is I wanted to look at the Lay’em system in more detail as I had taken some beatings on this one recently and had thought about deconstructing it and reviewing the rules via a system builder. That was around mid-October and with a remarkable change in form the system went on to record its most profitable month ever and I have been running it for around five and a half years now! The second half of the month saw a profit of more than 50pts which certainly helped turn things around. Had I not had such a month of two halves I may not have thought to add in the additional data I now record and I would still be in the statistical dark ages as it were so the poor run at the start of October has certainly put me in a better place overall.

Now I have these stats what can I do with them? The main way I plan to use them is to help me press my edges better by tailoring my staking for each system/tipster according to their strengths and weaknesses. For each racing system in my portfolio I now have a full breakdown by racing code and for the sports tipsters I have a breakdown by individual sport. I considered breaking down the football bets my division or betting market but I couldn’t really decide what I would do with such info at this stage so I have held off that. I can always revisit that decision in the future. Anyway, the idea now is that I can examine the figures for a tipster such as ProBandit’s A List and note that the overall ROI of 1.18% doesn’t tell the whole tale by any means as the AW bets have profited at a rate of 6.43% while the flat turf bets show a losing ROI figure of -4.11%. Take Sports Bet USA as another example. This service advises bets on all four major US sports (American football, baseball, basketball and ice hockey) but the performance across those sports is anything but equal. The NFL bets are running at a ROI of just over 12% but the corresponding figure for the baseball bets is -42.27%, albeit over a smaller sample of bets. It goes to show though that not all tips are equal and I should be able to improve my bottom line by staking more where the tipster has a good record and less where his performance has been poor.

Before I make any more staking changes I need to sit down and properly review the figures. For example, had I looked at last year’s Lay’em figures and changed my staking as a result I would have been staking more on the turf lays than the AW lays this year and as a result may not have made a profit at all. I also need to make sure I have an adequate amount of data on which to base my analysis. The Sports Bet USA baseball bets may show pretty hefty losses but those figures are based on just 31 bets. I want to be sure that I have a significant number of bets before deciding to deviate from my usual staking for that tipster, although it’s hard to put a definite figure on that minimum number of bets. I have a figure of 100(ish) in mind but bear in mind that is 100 bets for each given sport or racing code, not just 100 bets in total. I have recorded over 500 bets from the Insider service and my figures show the tennis tips show the greatest rate of return but as I only have 79 tennis bets from that service I don’t feel I have enough evidence to support an increase in stakes relative to other sports, especially as the bulk of the profits came from a single bet a couple of years back.

I plan to review my whole portfolio with a view to adjusting stakes based on the figures for individual racing codes/sports so that I press my edges better. I will update this blog with all the review details as writing things down helps clarify things greatly in my mind. It’s as if by explaining it to someone else I have to first get it all straight in my own head. But for now the work I have put into my betting records over the last couple of weeks means I won’t be running the Lay’em rules through a system builder – the system is clearly profitable as it stands and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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Categories: General

Time for a change

October 16, 2011 2 comments

As of Monday there will be a significant change to the way I gamble – I’ll no longer be punting full-time as I have decided to go back to work!

I had been giving more and more thought to returning to work and had decided that it was something I was probably going to have to do in the not too distant future but I hadn’t really been looking for a job as such, this one more or less found me. It’s software testing again working for a company that develops software solutions for the oil and gas industry so it’s a domain I have experience of. I’ll also be working with a number of people I have worked with in a previous role which means I’ll be back among familiar faces. Add to that the fact that this is a part-time role and I’m starting on a temporary (three-month) contract and it’s about as gentle an introduction back into the world of work as I could have hoped for really. My health issues should all be behind me now but after more than two years away from the nine-to-five world I’m glad I’m not plunging back into the deep end with a full-time role working alongside people I don’t know.

Not that this really signals that much of a change for me, at least not in gambling terms. Despite what I may have  claimed in the past punting isn’t really a full-time occupation for me. It doesn’t take that long to get the bets on each day and enter them into my spreadsheet and it only takes a few minutes to enter the results and settle the bets. In fact I have taken several steps over the last few months to keep a lid on things somewhat such that if I needed to I could once more fit my gambling into a lunch hour, and that’s where I am now.

When I first set out along this path of the professional gambler I figured the time I wasn’t actively gambling would be spent doing research and so on. I’d be looking for ways in which I could make more money, either by analysing my own data or taking a detailed look at a number of commercial offerings but that’s not how it really worked out. In the early days I gave poker a serious bash, trying to play as much as possible, but that didn’t turn out to be quite as profitable as I’d hoped. I had the wrong mindset a lot of the time and that was holding me back. I knew the theory behind the game really well following years of reading numerous books and magazines on the subject but I wasn’t able to translate that into suitable profits at the tables so that went by the wayside. I did do some software development, knocking up a few VBA-based projects based around various ideas I’d had along the way as well as working on some data analysis and system/tipster reviews for other people, all of which obviously occupied some of my time but that wasn’t a long-term thing by any means. Thinking back now I can’t really see how I spent my time each day, which tends to suggest much of it was rather wasted. Sure, I was ill and so didn’t feel like putting in eight hours a day most of the time but even so I don’t have a lot to show for my time when I was allegedly a full-time gambler. However, now my non-work time is limited I hope to make much better use of it.

Some of this summer was spent on yet another attempt at working up an idea I had several years back but have never been able to see it through to fruition. It has changed forms several times over the years but earlier this year I finally worked out what I wanted from it (a database-driven gambling-related website) and set about teaching myself the necessary skills to get there. I bought a couple of books on web development and started to teach myself proper HTML (as opposed to the odds bits I had picked up along the way which had resulted in some pretty sloppy code) plus PHP and MySQL. I haven’t really touched it since I went into hospital a couple of months back but now I know I only have a few days a week on which to work on my own stuff I want to focus properly and spend that time learning the rest of the skills I need before cracking on with getting something online. The plan (as it stands) is to have a rough first draft website up by the end of the year. I don’t expect there to be much data or functionality in place at this stage but I want the basic site online so I can then develop the rest of it iteratively as time allows. Daft as it may sound, I’m not sure I would get as much done if I have five days a week rather than just the couple I will have now I have taken on this part-time job. I’d have too much time available without this job, and that means little or no pressure to deliver which in turn means I am unlikely to make a great deal of progress. That’s just how I operate it seems.

Even though this job offer came out the blue and I hadn’t really been looking for work I am confident that accepting it and going back to work is the right decision, for a variety of reasons that I don’t want to dwell on too much here. Punting for a living was putting too much pressure on me to deliver results and ultimately things just weren’t quite happening for me. I’m glad I had a go though and I hope to return to gambling for a living again in the future but I think I started down this route before I was really ready. Then again, circumstances suggested it was worth a go given I couldn’t hold down a proper job at that stage. So no regrets about the decision I made back then and none about my decision to return to work. It’s all about what feels right at the time, and this feels like the right move now.

Incidentally, the blog name won’t change despite the change in circumstances as I will still maintain a professional approach to things even if I am no longer full-time.

Categories: General

Back with a whimper

October 15, 2011 Leave a comment

That holiday was just what I needed. I was able to completely forget about gambling, horse racing and so on and came back utterly refreshed and ready to face the game once more, only this time with a renewed energy. I had reworked my staking before the break and now felt I was in a much better position to make some confident strides forward and show reasonable returns for my efforts. Unfortunately this new enthusiasm didn’t last too long as I soon started taking hits with heavy losses recorded on Monday and Wednesday this week. Sure, part of the reasons behind the large losses were the greater stakes applied to some of the services in my portfolio but that’s not the whole story as one of my lay systems in particular had a stinking few days. And this is certainly not the first time the Lay’em lays have really screwed up my monthly figures. I trimmed the stakes back during September in an attempt to keep a lid on the losses but they are still coming.

Now would probably be a good time to review the system and work out how it could be improved or whether it should be dropped altogether. I have the system rules but it is hard to work out how to change them, if at all, because I don’t have a complete database of racing results on which to test the changes. I have records of the qualifying bets I have placed but that’s not enough as they represent only a subset of possible bets were I to change the rules. I need a system builder to really strip the system down and rebuild it so maybe it’s about time I signed up to HorseRaceBase for a short membership. If I recall correctly they have a short free trial available so I could maybe use that to revamp the system. I just need to find the time to do that and also to analyse the data I have in my spreadsheet to see if there are any quick changes I can make to improve matters until such time as I am able to fully deconstruct the system. I will, of course, post up detailed findings here in due course.

In some ways the recent poor performance of the Lay’em system has been a good thing. It has roused me from my slumber somewhat and made me seriously reconsider what data I record in my betting records spreadsheet and how I present statistics based on that data. For example, the system is a flat laying system but are there any significant differences between the performance on turf and AW? Err, I don’t know because I don’t record whether a race is flat or NH let alone whether it’s turf or AW. But that’s all about to change as I have written some VBA to go back over all my horse racing bets and note the racing code, surface and whether or not the race was a handicap. I’m still not 100% sure how I will use all this information but it’s about time I had a better breakdown of performance for these systems, as well as the various tipsters I follow. It’s about time I knew whether certain tipsters were better on the turf than the AW so that I can also consider varying my stakes depending on the racing code or surface.

And it doesn’t stop there either. When recording sports bets I obviously record which sport the bet relates to but when I display my statistics that information is lost. For example, Sports Bet USA covers the four main sports in the US (American football,  ice hockey, baseball and basketball) but my Stats page only displays the overall performance figures for the service as a whole. I need this information broken down by sport. If the ice hockey (for example) tips are dragging down the overall figures I need to know that so I can think about betting to lower stakes when the service releases ice hockey tips.

This is all fairly noddy stuff and it’s amazing that I haven’t thought to do all of this ages back but I guess when things are working there is a tendency not to tinker. And it’s only recently that it has become clear to me how broken some aspects of my portfolio seem. Of course, further analysis may just show that all I am experiencing is natural variance but at least then I know luck isn’t with me at this stage rather than having to make significant changes to any of my portfolio. It’s better to know where I stand, for sure.

There are also going to be other significant changes to the way I run my gambling but I will come to that shortly in another post as it’s a whole separate discussion to this one.

Categories: General, Horse Racing, Sports

The best laid plans…

September 28, 2011 1 comment

September hasn’t exactly been the triumphant return to action that I was hoping for. In fact it has been somewhat of a disaster and at times I have seriously questioned the wisdom of carrying on. But it’s in my blood, it’s certainly under my skin, and I can’t just stop doing something that deep down I love doing even if it does sometimes kick me in the knackers so I will carry on regardless. However, I am cutting this month slightly short to go on holiday for a week. I feel like I need a break despite the fact I recently had five or six weeks off, but that was different. That was for health reasons, this time it’s to re-evaluate and take stock. At least that’s the plan. But when does anything I do ever really go to plan? And this is no exception as I will explain shortly.

I spent part of yesterday doing a bit of blog housekeeping, namely writing the monthly reviews for July and August. July’s review hints at some of the frustration I have been feeling of late. During the last six months or so I have failed to make much of a profit and I haven’t been able to really work out why. I feel like I have a balanced portfolio but there is no way of measuring this, at least not quantitatively. It’s easy to measure profits, rate of return and so on but how could one measure portfolio balance? Obviously you want to maximise profits and rates of return and being able to track changes in these quantities can help you do that but if you can’t measure how balanced your portfolio is in the first place you can’t monitor how that balance changes over time.

What makes the ideal portfolio? This varies significantly from person to person based on circumstances, attitude to risk, what they want to achieve from gambling so on. Personally I like a fairly busy portfolio (although if I fail to make any real profits for much longer I may have to go back to work in which case I will rue building up a large portfolio as I won’t have the time to run it) with a mix of sports and betting types. I have all that: horse racing, football and sports betting are all covered; I have backs & lays, win only & each-way. On the face of it it seems as though I am starting from a solid foundation yet I am still struggling to make any real money at the minute. Why?

Perhaps the problem is actually my staking rather than the composition of my portfolio. It’s all well and good having plenty of services covering a variety of markets but if you’re not staking the best performers at higher levels than the underperforming services then you won’t make money. Maybe it’s time I thoroughly reviewed each and every betting bank, looking for places where I can safely raise stakes and where I should reduce stakes. Bear in mind though that as my ROI has been relatively stable for a good while now I would like to increase my overall turnover and thus increase my profits so it’s a delicate balance getting my staking right.

And it’s about now that things deviate from the plans I had laid out. I took a wee break in the middle of writing this post as I had an appointment with the local practice nurse so she could give my massive scar the once-over to make sure it has all healed properly now (it has, thankfully). During the walk to the surgery it hit me. Everything suddenly fell into place and I realised what was wrong, which was both pleasing (because I had finally cracked it) and disappointing (because it had taken till now to spot what is actually quite an obvious problem).

Whenever I take on a new system/service I start it off with small stakes while I learn what to expect in terms of win frequencies, odds attainability and so on. My portfolio has undergone a fair amount of change in the last year or so which means much of my portfolio is still operating to relatively small stakes. However, there are a few systems/services that have been around for a while now and are staked at a higher level than these newcomers. This is a big problem because it effectively means that a fairly small fraction of my portfolio determines whether or not I have a profitable day/week/month/whatever. This staking disparity means that the performance of systems such as the Lay’em lays and services such as ProBandit’s A List heavily dictate the overall performance of my portfolio. Any losses on the larger staked elements of my portfolio cannot be undone by success on other systems/services unless they record truly staggering figures. I clearly need to improve the staking balance and the easiest way to do this is to raise the stakes on some of the relatively new services that I now feel comfortable with and review the stakes for the heavyweights such as the A List.

Now that I have finally worked out what needs to be done I may as well strike while the iron’s hot…

  • NHPM Lays – these have been on a good run this year with solid profits in each of the last four months and are up over 50pts this year despite a setback in March so look an excellent candidate for higher stakes. I cut the stakes on this system last year when it hit a tricky patch but the long-term record is a good one and I am happy to raise the stakes once more.
  • Winning Racing Tips – I have six months worth of data for this service now and it has been going great guns, delivering consistent profits and is one I was seriously thinking about increasing stakes for even before I identified the need for a greater balance across my portfolio.
  • Sportsman Racing – I like what Scott is doing here with is racing bets but the bulk of his profits have come from one good month (April). That said, there have been no significant monthly losses (-1.14pts in June is the largest I have on record) so I can raise the stakes here without greatly increasing my risk.
  • The Sportsman – a similar logic applies to Scott’s sports betting service too really. I knew his sports bets came with an advised stake that was usually a small fraction of a single point and so started with a point value higher than I would for other services but looking back I feel I can safely increase that figure without exposing myself to an undue level of risk. Indeed this would bring the average stakes into line with similarly performing services thus giving me a better balance.
  • Football Elite – Matt has a good record with this service and I half contemplated a stakes increase during the summer but postponed the final decision till nearer the start of the season. Unfortunately I was out of action at that point so this month I just carried on at last season’s stakes to make life easier. However, looking at things now I think I could reasonably increase my stakes for these bets.
  • Northern Monkey – this service isn’t far away from a stakes increase but I need to see a little more consistency first. At the current stakes it would be in exactly the right ballpark though so no worries on that front.
  • Racing Angles – this can be a bit hit and miss so I am keeping stakes low there. This is probably the lowest staked of all the horse racing aspects of my portfolio but I don’t mind that as it’s not a tipster service per se and I’m sometimes not sure how to get the best out of the advice given so using small stakes while I work that out seems advisable.
  • Blinkered & Blinkered AW – two lay systems that were added to the portfolio during July that both operate on small stakes and should stay that way until such time as I have built up more data and confidence in them.
  • Simplex systems – it is very hard to change staking levels during the season due to the way the staking works but these were thoroughly reviewed before the season started so I am happy to leave these be.
  • The Football Analyst – I won’t be changing the stakes here either. These are the newest additions to my portfolio and I need plenty more data under my belt before I raise the stakes. It’s been a rather unremarkable start to the season but watch fortunes change this weekend while I am away and can’t get the bets on.
  • The Insider, Bet Bank Alerts & Sports Bet USA – none of these are delivering consistent enough profits to warrant higher stakes. Of the three The Insider is performing the best but raising the stakes here means tying up more funds in the ante-post bets that make up the bulk of this service and I’m not prepared to do that at this stage.
  • LTO3 – a system that has struggled this year but it has a good long-term record so I am hopeful of it turning things around. Stakes were upped a notch in April but every month since has been a loser so it’s time to knock it back down a peg.
  • A List – a service I identified in the recent monthly reviews as underperforming this year yet it is the highest staked of all the racing backing systems in my portfolio so trimming the stakes somewhat seems like a natural move.
  • Lay’em – my most heavily staked laying system and one that is failing to deliver on the promise it showed at the start of the year. It has a great long-term record but one has to wonder if the edge is starting to get eroded away. I actually reduced the stakes on this one earlier in the month in a bid to stem the losses so no further action is required at this time.

All the staking changes will come into force immediately after the holiday. Looking back over my portfolio in my spreadsheet now I feel happier with the overall balance and hopefully October’s results will go some way to reflecting these improvements.

One tipster I haven’t mentioned in the above list is Piecost. That’s simply because I don’t know what’s happening there. I was following his free handicap selections on the SBC forum and they were one of my best performers in recent months. However, I see from the SBC newsletters he is running a private service but I don’t know any more details. Is he still running his handicap selections for free on the forum? If not, how much is his service and does he have any spaces? Do I have room for another paid service in my portfolio at this time? I’m sure the answers to many of these questions can be found on the SBC forum but I haven’t yet been back on any of the forums I used to frequent so I have no idea what has gone on there since the end of July. There’s no point looking before I go away either so getting back up to speed with forum life can be a job for when I get back. Then I can reassess where I stand with Piecost and go from there.

The original ending to this post was rather bleak because I had sketched it out before I had my moment of clarity on the way to see the nurse this morning. I was basically throwing my hands up and exclaiming that I had no real idea how to take this gambling venture forward. I planned to use my upcoming break to mull things over and come back with some fresh new ideas that would hopefully see me turn things around but instead I managed to crack it all this morning. Now I just need to give these staking changes time to bed in and see what happens but, and I am aware I have said this many times, I feel my portfolio now has a much better balance and truly believe this could be a big step forward. They say a change is a good as a rest and even though I have made changes to my portfolio I am still going to take a week off and go on holiday. I deserve it after how this month has gone so far.

Categories: General

Health before wealth

September 12, 2011 4 comments

It’s taken a while – longer than I expected – but I’m back. Yay!

Let’s start with the good news: the operation was successful. It provided the surgeon with more of a challenge than expected due to a number of complications that I won’t go into here but ultimately it was successful. Initially my recovery went well too. I was in hospital for a little over a week, which is right in line with expectations. And for the next couple of weeks after that things were going nicely and I was recovering well. OK, my wound wasn’t healing in places but it’s around 18 inches long so perhaps one shouldn’t expect it all to heal at the same rate. But as the wound continued to refuse to heal my recovery stalled somewhat and it was another couple of weeks before I could even contemplate sitting at a PC and doing what I do. I was in some pain and I just didn’t feel like (OK, couldn’t) sit at my PC for any length of time. I needed more time to recover and sensibly decided to put my health before the need to check my email and try to earn a bit of cash gambling on the horses. As it is, I have been online for just over a week now, on and off, but only now have I really felt up to bringing this blog up to date.

So here I am again and let’s hope it’s back to business as usual. Although I hope the results I have had this past week aren’t going to typical of the future as I have had a rather tough time of it since I started gambling again. The horses have been kicking me in the wallet and the football results haven’t been much kinder. In fact virtually my whole portfolio has struggled. I know a week isn’t really a long enough period to accurately assess anything but already I could do with a change in fortune. I immediately started to question my stakes as the losses began to mount and though I have tried to hold my nerve I have knocked a couple of them down a tick while I try to restore some confidence in the systems I follow. I have figures going back a long way for some of these systems and they are profitable in the long run but the losses incurred in this past week have made me doubt things, especially coming off the back of such a long break. There are a lot of red figures in my spreadsheet at the minute and my Betfair balance has taken a hell of a knock. I could really do with a lot of those red figures turning black and my Betfair balance ticking up to reassure me that I have made the right decisions and that I can make this game pay. At the minute I’m not sure that is the case…

Categories: General

Talk amongst yourselves for a bit

July 29, 2011 4 comments

There are quite a few of you reading this blog on a regular basis now and I thank each and everyone one of you for that. I wasn’t sure my random ramblings would appeal to too many people so I am pleasantly surprised to see so many of you popping by on a regular basis. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t really have a plan for this blog and tend to just burble on about whatever I feel like at the time. I toyed with the idea of working to a regular schedule, maybe one or two posts a week, but that’s not me. Sometimes I will have a lot to say for myself and at other times I can be lost for words. I don’t want to force a post where I have nothing of interest to say and in doing so compromise the overall quality of the blog.

I try to keep my postings reasonably relevant to gambling and try to look beyond the daily P&L aspects of gambling for a living and bring you something… more. It’s hard to put my finger on but I suppose I am trying to give you something you can use. If I tell you I made 25pts profit yesterday what good does it do you? None. If I share with you my thoughts on a tipster service, such as The Football Analyst, then you have some information you can use. You can see what I think of it and use some of my facts and figures to help guide your own analysis. Any independent review of a tipster is worth something, and my reviews are always fully independent.

Nothing I have to say on here really generates much in the way of discussion though. I had hoped the blog would be a bit more interactive and that I’d get some feedback on certain subjects. Not the sort of feedback that just says “Thanks for that, very interesting” or whatever. I’m thinking more about debate, discussion, arguments even. Maybe I’ll write about dropping a service because I can’t get it to work for me. I figured I might get a few other views on the tipster from you lot. Am I only one it’s bombing for? Maybe you have found a way to get the best from it? They’re just examples, of course, but you get the idea.

I don’t want you to feel you have to join in though. If you have something to add then by all means chip in but if you’re happy to sit back and have me preach to you then that’s cool also. I like the sound of my own, err, typing and I often have a lot to say for myself so I don’t mind. Actually, maybe that’s the problem – that I have a lot to say for myself. Verbosity can be a problem. As I said above, I don’t plan this blog, it just flows from the fingertips. If I outlined each post in advance I could then work out which bits could be cut to limit the post to a readable length but that’s not how I work. This might put some of you off; maybe you’ve landed here by following a link from another blog and thought “Bloody hell, I’m not reading all that crap!” – an understandable point of view. If I made posts shorter and more accessible it just wouldn’t be me though.

Perhaps you’re not joining in because you’re taking the ‘secret’ part of this blog’s title literally. Maybe you want to hide in the shadows and not admit to anyone that you’re interested in gambling for a living. Again, understandable given the looks I get and the stupid questions I have to answer when I tell people what I do for a living. All part of the cross I have to bear although I’m not sure I’d readily give it all up no matter how daft the question.

So whatever your reasons for looking in and whatever your level of interaction, I thank you. While you’re here have a little look around you – is there anyone else about? With so many readers and only so many hours in the day you’re almost certainly not alone. You may not know the others in here with you but you do at least have something in common. You share an interest in gambling (or perhaps in me, which is a little worrying) so that’s an icebreaker if nothing else. Because for the next few weeks you’re going to have to talk amongst yourselves as I won’t be around to lead the discussions. I go into hospital on Sunday for major surgery that will keep me out of action and away from my PC for…I don’t really know how long. I expect it to be a few weeks but it all depends on how the op goes initially and then how fast I recover from that. But I will be back as soon as I can and who knows, I may even deliver that post on leveraging.

Categories: General

When two worlds collide

June 20, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s a bit hard to know what to write at the minute. I wanted this blog to be more than just a daily P&L update so I try to avoid talking too much about how things are going, except in the monthly reviews, obviously. Recently I have been casting an eye over my portfolio and conducting a few reviews which has given me some content but now my portfolio is settled with little need for any more reviews at this stage and no need to consider expanding my portfolio as I am happy with the balance of services. Therefore I am turning to gambling philosophy for this post.

Introduction
I have a fairly busy portfolio with more than a dozen horse racing systems and services including a mixture of backs and lays. As a result of following so many services there is bound to be some overlap in their selections. It may be that multiple tipsters want me to back the same horse or perhaps those same tipsters have all gone for different selections in the same race. Either way I will back each tip as suggested. In the former case that means a large stake going on one horse and in the latter case it means several bets in the same race which obviously can’t all win. But I treat every system individually and separately, each with a different betting bank and each on their own merit so situations like that do happen. However, what should one do when one tipster says to back a horse while another says to lay it?

Analysis
On the face of it we have two tipsters in opposition which is not too dissimilar to two tipsters backing different horses in the same race. In that case they can’t both win so at least one of the bets must be a loser. However, when one tipster puts a horse up to be backed and another puts up a lay on the same selection then obviously one bet will win and one will lose. If the horse wins the race then the back wins and the lay loses. If the horse fails to win then the lay bet is a winner while the back bet is obviously a loser. Having a guaranteed winner and a guaranteed loser puts a slightly different spin on things, as does the fact we are mixing bet types.

There are several schools of thought on the right way to handle this situation. Some will claim that the back bet should take precedence over the lay as the backing system/service has the greater return on investment and thus the lay should be voided and the selection backed. It’s true that a decent backing service will run at something around 10% ROI while a good lay system will operate at something closer to 1-2% but the figures don’t really lend themselves to a direct comparison due to the way lay system turnovers are calculated. 

This method also has a few potential drawbacks. Suppose the same horse is picked out by your worst-performing backing service and the best lay system you run – then what? How you define “worst-performing” and “best” is obviously open to some interpretation. If the backing service is making a long-term loss then you’d surely drop it from your portfolio and this situation wouldn’t arise but suppose for now the backing service in question is in some form of a slump while the lay system can do no wrong and is making significant profits. Do you still void the lay in favour of the back bet?

You could just place both bets in complete isolation, following each system/service without worrying about what any of the others in your portfolio advise. That’s how I handle multiple back bets in the same race so why not a mix of backs and lays? Depending on the prices taken and the relative stakes of the systems involved this approach can guarantee a small profit or a small loss on the race. Ultimately though this approach means you won’t win big but nor will you suffer a big loss. Only you can know how much this matters to you.

Suppose Tipster A advises a back of Pegasus at 5/1 for £50 while Tipster B wants to take Pegasus on and suggests a £50 lay at 6.0 or better. If the horse wins then you make £250 on the back and lose the same on the lay; if Pegasus loses then you lose your £50 stake but win £50 (exc. commission) on the lay. Of course, if you have backed the horse with a BOG bookie and it drifts to say 11/2 SP then you get a nice little bonus out of it. In the case of a Pegasus win you’re likely to get an email from Tipster A crowing about a good win for their service but because of the lay you have more or less broken even. In the case of the horse losing you may breathe a sign of relief as you (more or less) covered your lost stake. But will effectively missing out on a big win hurt more than the relief of not losing your stakes? Of course, if your stakes on the two tipsters are not even then you can win/lose bigger than in the previous example. If your lay stake is only £20 then you still get a decent return if the horse wins carrying your £50 but you don’t cover the full stake if the horse doesn’t win.

An extension of the above is to deliberately turn some of the bet into a trade. Assume our stakes are £50 for Tipster A (back) and £20 for Tipster B (lay). You could split your backing stake into two uneven portions, using £20 of it on a trade with the lay stake and placing the remaining £30 as a straight win bet. Get your trade right and you’re guaranteed a small profit on that, which then adds a little to the win bet if the horses comes home in front else it slightly softens the blow of losing if your horse is beaten.

There are no doubt other ways of dealing with this back-lay situation but which approach is the best? I don’t know. But I do have some data I can look at to help me decide. In the eight or so years I have been punting on horses I have 903 cases where I have backed and laid the same selection. Of those 903 selections 176 won their race (19.49% SR) for a total loss of -49.79pts across both the backs and the lays. This figure breaks down into a profit of 25.26pts on the lays and a loss of 75.05pts on the backs but matters are complicated by different staking plans for different tipsters and systems. Because of this I have renormalised the data using 1pt stakes on each bet which reduces the total loss of 18.70pts with a profit of 41.93pts from the lays and a loss of 60.63pts from the back bets.

So I have made a loss playing selections that various elements of my portfolio have thrown up as both a back and a lay. That surprises me but should it? Based on the fact that these horses have all been selected by lay systems (I have yet to find a decent laying service so all my lays are system-based) that operate with strike rates around the 85% sort of mark one should expect the vast majority of the selections to lose. Also the backing systems/services that pick these horses typically run at SRs in the region of 30-35% so again the horses are more likely to lose rather than win. If the horse loses then the lay bet wins and the back bet is a loser. Based on 1pt level stakes throughout that means the vast majority of the time we’d lose the 1pt back stake and win 1pt on the lay. But that lay bet is subject to commission so our profit on that bet is less than the stake lost backing the horse so a small overall loss results.

When the nag loses the relative prices of the back and lay bet don’t matter (assuming fixed stake lays) but when the horse wins the two sets of odds do come into play. If the lay odds are greater than the back odds the lay will lose more than the back bet wins – something that happened in 60 out of the 176 races where the selection won. So more than one-third of the time I was assured a loss due to the price difference in the two bets. Therefore in 727 races I lost a small amount due to commission and in a further 60 races I suffered a loss due to laying at greater odds than I backed at making it a total of 787 out of 903 races (87.15%). On that basis it’s little wonder my figures show an overall loss.

Knowing that these back-lay selections make a loss would I not be better leaving them alone completely? OK, I’d actually be much better off just laying them rather than backing and laying them but the principle is the same: is my current approach of backing and laying the same horse correct? There is a slightly tricky element to doing anything other than what I do presently and it’s to do with the time some tipsters release their daily advice. I try to get on the advised backs early to take advantage of BOG prices. However, this means I may back certain horses before I later find other systems say to lay the same animal. I could hold off backing anything until I have all my daily selections available but this would mean missing out on several BOG prices and I am not prepared to do that.

I prefer to back early and lay relatively close to the off in order to be able to assess late price movements. I haven’t always followed this method but it is something I have been working on for the last couple of years maybe. Is it working? Of the 903 horses fitting the back and lay criteria I have been able to obtain better back odds than lay odds on 556 of them, equivalent to  61.57%. Since the start of 2010 that figure is 298/406 or 73.40%. It seems that recently I have been much more able to put myself into a better position with these horses. Yes, most of the time the horse will lose and I will end up making a small loss due to commission on the lay bet but when the horse does win nearly three-quarters of the time I am in a position to make a bigger profit on the back bet than my liability on the lay.

Conclusions
I used to buy in to the argument when the same horse is tipped by both a backer and layer that one should favour the back bet due to the greater ROI inherent in such bets. I fell out of that mould some years ago but this is the first time I have seen figures that clearly contradict that point of view. The horse is far more likely to lose than win given the strike rates of all systems/services involved in which case one is far more likely to end up with a losing bet if backing the horse so laying it would add some cover and protect most of the stake.

My figures show the most profitable option is to forget about backing any horse that is picked by the lay systems and to just bet against the horse in question. However, that’s not my preferred option for several reasons. Checking the racing results at the end of the day, or whenever, and spotting a nice winner for one of the tipsters you follow is a lovely feeling. Almost polar opposite to that is knowing that not only have you not backed the horse despite the tipster’s advice but you have laid it. Ouch! While most of the tipster’s followers are celebrating the win you are nursing a severely dented wallet. I really hate that feeling, which is why I favour the semi-trade approach.

I try to get the back part of the action on with a BOG bookmaker as soon as the bet is available but wait till much nearer the off to place the lay side. If the horse drifts I am open to a bigger liability but my back odds are increasing too. On the other hand if the horse shortens I can lay for lower odds than I have guaranteed on the back bet. This approach lets the exchange markets settle down from their opening positions too. It allows liquidity to build and the market to take proper shape, something I really value. And with this semi-trade method it doesn’t matter if the back and lay stakes are not equal as I will look to effectively set up a trade for the stakes that do match, a technique outlined earlier. By adopting this tactic I don’t open myself up to potentially big wins on these overlapping selections but nor do I expose myself to a significant loss either.

My methods may not work for you; they may not suit your style. You may favour backing over laying or the other way round. In some respects it doesn’t really matter how you treat these back-lay horses but you should be consistent in you approach. Whatever method you pick, stick with it unless you have solid evidence that an alternative approach would be better.

Categories: General, Philosophy