Sunday, 25 January 2015

Empty Head To Head

Although my first ever bet was on the FA Cup, betting on cup football hasn't been my cup of tea for many years. It's hard enough to calculate probability for league games, never-mind matches between teams from different leagues, and even for games between teams from the same level, league form, for a number of reasons, doesn't carry over. Even those of us expecting a minor tremor somewhere in the Fourth Round must have been surprised by the number of shocks. 

At the time of writing, the highest placed team definitely through to the Round of 16 (which sounds much better than the Fifth Round) is Crystal Palace who, for the third match in a row, came from behind to win, and if Bolton Wanderers and Cambridge United can do the business in their respective replays, and Brighton and Hove Albion can beat holders Arsenal tomorrow (I can't believe I just wrote those words), in-form Palace will surely become hot favourites to win the FA Cup 25 years after their last final appearance(s).

On a more serious note, some of you may have seen the newly launched FootyResults site which unfortunately seems to have fallen into the trap of thinking that historical match-up data is actually meaningful:
If anyone can explain to me what relevance matches from more than five years ago have when determining the outcome of a match today, I'd love to hear it. It's absolute nonsense, as I have explained before. Clubs are not static. Managers come and go, tactics and formations change, players come and go, players age. The names of the clubs are the same, and while it may be a mildly interesting curiosity that Norwich City beat Brentford in League One five years ago, the events from that day have absolutely no value as a predictive factor now. Lazy newspapers have fed us this rubbish for years, (it's a lazy way of filling up some space with what looks like quality data), but surely no one with half a brain buys into this nonsense any more. 

Thursday, 22 January 2015

FTL Update 22.Jan

Not too much midweek excitement, but a handful of matches and the big winner was in both points (4.76) and places (+4), followed closely by Football Elite who bounces back from a poor last weekend picking up 3.26 points, and three Bounty Boy places. Talkies Tips lost 2.48 points, Bounty Boy TFA Draws dropped one point and more importantly two places, and Sjosta also dropped one point. Second placed TFA_Raz lost 0.42 points but stays second within touching distance of the leader Fairfranco and well clear in the race for January's monthly prize.

With the EPL taking a break for the FA Cup, it may be a quieter weekend than usual, before the fun and excitement of the Erskine Cup Round of 16 over the following weekend of Jan 30 to Feb 2 which looks like this, with the current league position included:

Let Them Eat Porridge

Marty writes, I hope facetiously:

“If I told you that Doncaster eat porridge for their half-time snack would you retract this criticism? This slow burning food typically sees them underperform their opponents (who typically eat faster burning sugary foods at HT) in the 15 mins after HT. Obviously, after 60 minutes they benefit from higher energy levels as opponents suffer from the sugar crash while the good old porridge keeps burning." 
I would certainly consider retracting my criticism if it were proven that the half-time choice of nutrition had some predictive merit, but this scenario is rather improbable.

The null hypothesis here is that the half-time break has no significant effect on Doncaster’s early second half performance, and rejecting this requires a significance test to show a 95%+ likelihood that the results do not fit the null hypothesis. That's a tall order.

Although Marty uses the unlikely example of the team eating porridge as a possible predictive parameter, the question really is why anyone think that half-time affects one team more than another team?

There are reasons, and one reason, far more likely than the choice of nutrition, might be that the coaching staff are better at their jobs than average, and are able to make positive tactical changes*, (perhaps Milton Keynes Dons) or worse than average, and fail to adapt and hurt their team in the process (perhaps Crewe Alexandra). [Milton Keynes Dons go from a first half goal difference of +5 to +22 in the second, while Crewe go from 0 to -20]. 

However, I still find an arbitrary period of time chosen simply because it divides into 45, somewhat problematic. If you are good at determining value at half-time, at least give it the full 45 minutes rather than expect it to reap rewards straight away. The 59th minute is closer to the 61st minute than the 46th, and it's a poor use of data to ignore this.

Although I took the statistic quoted for Doncaster Rovers as true when I wrote the post yesterday, it doesn’t actually appear to even be correct, or at least not if we are looking at league matches (and surely no one serious about betting would include cup matches, which are quite different in nature). 

It’s also worth mentioning that assuming all data is the same (e.g. that an event away against a team in first place is the same as that event at home against a last placed team) is only going to lead to trouble.

Anyway, the facts are that Doncaster have conceded just four goals all season in the 46’ to 60’ period, a number bettered by just four other League One teams this season. The average in League One is 5.8 goals conceded for this 15 minute period, so if anything, Doncaster Rovers’ half-time ingestion of oatmeal appears to be paying off handsomely.

In fact, Doncaster have actually conceded more goals in the 1’ – 15’, 16’ – 30’, 31’ – 45’ and 61’ – 75’ periods than they do at the start of the second half, and their defence in the second half overall is the best in the division, conceding just 12 goals!

The tip to simply “trade out at half-time if the score is 0:0” never made any sense, and makes even less sense now, if that is even possible!

What about price? Why does the price not come into play here? "Trade out at HT 0:0" – that’s it? Agreed that trading out at 1.01 would be great value, but at 1.80, not so much.

The Tweeter falls into the trap of thinking that having backed at 1.85, laying off at 1.2 or whatever is a good trade. It’s not, and there is no reason why the in-play market will offer value at half-time rather than at any random point in the match. A good trade is one that was a value back (or lay) on taking the initial position, and a value lay (or back) to close out the position. Any other combination, and it was a trade that could have been better, or could hardly have been worse! 

As I have said before, when it comes to football, if you have identified value pre-game, then you will be extremely unlikely to find value on the other side of the bet during the game.

*In my opinion you see this more often in sports such as the NBA or NFL, where there are more breaks than the one half-time interval seen in football, and more frequent changes in team line-ups and player match-ups.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Volcanology Gone Wrong

 The above Tweet appeared on my timeline last night, followed some time later by the below Tweet for the same person:
I'll assume that the Tweeter is talking about this season (Twitter can be a little constraining with its 140 character limit) but regardless, it's a great example of someone misusing data out of context, and losing money as a result.

It seems to me that if Unders was a value bet before the game, then making a decision to trade out based on an irrelevant statistic is a mistake. Do you base your decision on whether or not to wear a raincoat on what the weather was like one year ago? Probably not, and similarly what has happened in Doncaster's previous matches in the 15 minutes after half-time may be a curiosity, but it isn't useful data. There's no edge in trading out at half-time - you're giving value away. The statistic is up there in the same degree of uselessness as the practice of using previous matches between clubs as a predictive indicator. 

If the Tweeter determined the Unders was value pre-game, and if his long-term record shows that he does indeed have an edge on these selections, then laying off the bet in-play is making the number one trading error - trading out of winning trades too soon.
If finding value is that easy, let it run. Trading out for no logical reason means you are reducing profits, not to mention there's the hidden cost of the time spent sitting in front of a screen, although some people seem to have more of that than others.

The match finished 0:0.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Choppy Waters

Although there were more winners (13) than losers (12) this weekend, we saw a record total loss of 33.09 points in the FTL and it's fair to say that this was a rather brutal round for the losing entrants. The average profitable entry was up 2.35 points while the average negative entry lost 5.30 points.

Looking at the positives first, the big winner in terms of points was TFA_Raz who made 5.93 points and leads the January monthly competition, while in terms of places, the big winner was XX Unders who moved up five places.

On the less positive side, the big loser both in terms of points and places was Football Elite losing 14.19 points and dropping nine places, and being a Bounty Boy, those lost places hurt. Gecko wasn't far behind, dropping 11.43 points and falling eight places, while leader Fairfranco continued his poor run with an 0 for 8 weekend which obviously resulted in a loss of another 8.00 points. Fairfranco retains his lead, but it is now by a rather more slender 1.35 points rather than the 29.23 lead enjoyed in early December. Any bookmakers paying out on Fairfranco at that time are now looking rather silly as it is still everything to play for.

Here are the top ten and "up by ten" entries:

Trend to end, Randolph and Club Havana were all idle, perhaps content with their points haul as it stands, while Bundeslayga was idle due to no matches. As it happened, all moved up by two or three places.

The middle order of the table looks like this: and TFA Draws both edged into the green, bringing the total entries in plus territory to 21. Skeeve made a small profit, but dropped by a place.

As for the "down by ten" group, we have:
Three entries were idle, and Sjosta was the only climber moving up one place while Mortimer and Cassini Value both dropped down one place. 

With Football Elite's disaster, it's not surprising that the Bounty Boys Portfolio lost money. The Draw Portfolio also suffered a small loss, despite both TFA Draw entries showing a profit. Drawmaster also was up slightly but Draw Picks and XX Draws both dropped a few points. 
As for the January winner, it's looking like TFA_Raz's to lose - here are the entries in profit for this month:

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The USA's Big Secret

Anyone who has spent much time in the USA, at least outside of Las Vegas, will be aware that one of the biggest differences between the UK and the US is in the attitudes to betting. American Main Streets are not home to bookmakers, yet it doesn't take long, once you find a bar where everybody knows your name, to discover that there is no shortage of bets being made and that you are never far from someone who will take your bets, or knows someone who will take your bets (although the odds might not be that generous, and betting on round-ball football might be a little tricky). These days many Americans have off-shore accounts for their betting, and bet on-line, but the bar bookie is still around collecting or handing out envelopes at the end of each month because people love to bet on sports. It may be technically illegal, but like blasphemy, it is a victimless crime, and no one cares. As is the case with their position on a lot of matters, the US is at odds (pun intended) with much of the world and with common sense on gambling. There is a Silver living when it comes to the NBA though. Legislate, regulate and profit from it. Prohibition doesn't work. Huffington Post's Blayne Davis has an article worth reading on the topic, even if it does contain some odd words - broadcasted? viewership?

For millions of Americans, the mere mention of football season triggers sweaty palms and stomach churning. Sports betting is the most taboo yet pervasive activity among sports fans and grows in popularity exponentially. It's directly related to the profitability of every professional league, but to acknowledge its importance and interdependence would grate against history. Sports betting is the secret love that everyone in the room is sharing, and it has never been bigger in the United States than it is today. With such a big secret one would think the message would be broadcasted across the wire, but instead sports betting continues to channel in a gigantic whisper.
Let me explain the correlation of sports and gambling from a superficial economic standpoint. I'm going to use the NFL as my example because of its universal appeal and because football betting drives the largest number of bets here in America. The NFL has never been more successful than it is today. The games are now broadcasted up to three times a week, and the viewership of these games allows the league to command enormous sums of money for the privilege of advertising to its fan base. Simply put, the advertising pays the multi-million dollar player contracts and justifies the billion-dollar stadium. Eyeballs drive this marketing monster -- the larger the viewership, the more money media outlets can demand from their advertising partners.
But let's go back to those initial viewership numbers and exactly why they are so great in the first place. Delving into the hot demand for the NFL product, we must move into some basic psychology behind watching a game versus watching a sitcom. Fans are "active viewers" and are engaged on a second-to-second level. They are riding a roller coaster during a speculative course of events, and it's those crucial actions on the field that manifest themselves on both the physical (a racing heart) and spiritual (praying to the Football Gods) plane. All of us have felt the adrenaline surge for a must-have fourth down conversion or seen the handy camera work pan to a fan, whose eyes are closed, and is in solemn prayer. It's awesome.
Consider that the base, and now let's spike that unquantifiable interest with a financial stake in the game. This magical interaction now intensifies, bringing a deeper quality to the game.
Everything suddenly matters more, every call and every play. Yelling at the big screen at a dropped pass (that we could've caught, right?) or a questionable penalty, (the conspiratorial referee, right?). All of these factors create the level of drama and excitement that we all secretly desire in our lives. We want this action; we need it.
Perhaps the most troubling part is the negative spin often associated with sports betting. The days of back-room alleys and street bookies are largely over, as even they have moved to the Internet, though they are still breaking federal law. I continue to draw comparisons to any financial market that entertains a speculative investment. In today's fantasy crazed-society, the stats and information available are at worst equal to, but in my opinion better than, information one could obtain before purchasing stock of a company. They both require the responsible management of risk capital and making the best possible investment decisions after a thorough analysis of the information. The days of offering game odds driven by rumor and "on the ground" contacts are over. Those responsible for setting the Vegas line are surrounded by banks of computers running calculations and formulas as complex as those used by hedge funds on Wall Street.
I must assume the NFL throws the public red flag on grounds of morality, though it's completely disingenuous. As the NFL continues its international expansion into the United Kingdom, where they now have a regularly scheduled game, I'm confronted with the reality that the marketing gurus of the NFL know how much sports betting is engrained into the local culture and the integral role it plays for selling tickets. It would be foolish to think otherwise. I would also venture to say that more than fifty percent of those UK fans have laid a bet with one of the publicly traded companies licensed to accept wagers. If morality is truly the reason, can you imagine a scenario where the NFL questions fans before allowing entrance to the stadium, and then denies entrance to the gambler and issues a refund? No chance of that.
The undeniable truth remains that regardless of the public message put out by the league, if miraculously all betting stopped there would be a dramatic decline in revenue and the financial repercussions would rock the league. There has always been, and there will continue to be, an intrinsic relationship between sports and betting. The NFL needs the gamblers just as much as the gamblers need the NFL. I applaud the most recent comments of Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA and the legislative efforts of Chris Christie of New Jersey. They openly recognize the existence and the economics behind creating a regulatory framework.
Right now, the offshore bookmakers and the underground world are hoping things continue unchanged while they happily siphon millions of dollars each year catering to the voracious betting appetites of the American public.
Fortuitously, when I started to the write this article, my wife relayed to me a funny story about our son. She told me the first thing Ben wanted to know when he woke up was if the Cowboys beat the Bears. At seven years old, and to his frustration, his bedtime curfew cannot embrace the whole game. She told him they had won, and he erupted with absolute glee. She asked him, "Ben, why are you so happy about that?" and he replied with a smile, "My friend owes me a dollar today." Obviously, I do not condone elementary betting, but I'll chalk this up to kids having fun. However, it does go a long way toward proving my point. Do I think Ben loves sports? Without question. Do I think he will ever place action again in his lifetime? I'm betting that he will.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Snakes And Ladders In The FTL 12.Jan

A couple of big priced winners, notably Bastia’s 4:2 win versus Paris St Germain, and Cordoba's win last night, meant that overall the Friendly Tipsters made an 8.40 point profit. Speaking of Paris St Germain, is it just me who finds them a little short at 1.48 for the title, given that they are currently in fourth place, and that they still have to play away to every other top eight team? 

Anyway, back to the more exciting FTL, and in terms of both points and positions, the big winner of the round was TFA_Raz (+8.20 points and +5 places) while the biggest losers were current leader Fairfranco who lost 4.99 points, while and TFA Draws both dropped three places. 19 of the 33 entries remain in profit.

Jamie A slipped from second to fourth place, while Football Elite moved up one place into second spot and sits 13.44 points behind the leader.

Others in the ‘up by 10+ points’ group:
The mid-table group saw OverGoalify move into profit, while TFA Draws and both dropped into negative territory. The big winners were Mortimer (+6.15) and Football Investor (+5.57).

Abromo made his first appearance in over a month, but lost ground with a 1.78 point loss. 
The only winner in the last seven placed entrants was TFA Euro Draws who recovered 3.55 points but stays in 32nd place. 
The Bounty Boys portfolio increased their totals by 2.81 points to 33.07, while their current total liability is £1,250 - Football Elite £25, Football Investor £325, Skeeve £400 and TFA Draws £500.
Nine entrants were idle this round, and to answer the question posed by Marty in response to my post on the knock-out stages of the Erskine Cup:
How are winners decided in the event of a tie?
The answer is that in the event of a draw, the match will be replayed over the next midweek or weekend rounds. In the event that the next knock-out round is imminent and we still have no winner, it will be the best qualifier from the group stage who will advance (based first on points, then by ‘goal’ difference as necessary). As a reminder, here are the eight match-ups with current league standings:

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Backing The Draw In-Play

Drawmaster Peter Nordsted recently posted an entry on his blog titled Would Backing The Draw be More Profitable as an In-Play Strategy?

The answer to that question is Yes - if it is possible to obtain better value odds in-play than pre-game, and No if it is not.

My opinion is that once a game is in-play, most home-trading individuals are going to struggle to find value. Football is so well studied and analysed these days that it's hard enough to find value pre-game, never mind in-play where you no no longer have the luxury of time and fewer available betting options.

Simplistic systems based on events in previous matches involving other clubs, in other leagues and other lifetimes just won't give you an edge, and there's no logical reason why they should. Of course, sometimes you will win, sometimes you will lose, maybe for an extended period of time, but in the long-run you will lose.

Other important disadvantages of trading in-play are that there is far less liquidity, especially on less important matches, and the money available is smarter. You might find get your £2 matched on the exchange at a close to fair price, but when it comes to £2,000, probably not. There is also the not inconsiderable downside of having to actually watch the games and spend close to two hours in front of the laptop.

It was suggested to Peter that he look at his past selections and see how many had an early goal, a suggestion which of course makes no sense at all. Selecting a draw is about finding matches where the goal expectancy is lower than the market's expectation, and any goals, whether early, late or somewhere in between, are impediments.

While it is true that goals beget goals, a discovery that is neither new nor secret, in general the lower the expectation of goals, the fewer goals will be begotten by that first one. In other words, if your model is good and you have identified value, an early goal is not necessarily fatal. A late goal is more of a problem!

For my own XX Draws, I looked at the time of the first goal this season, and one-third of matches have seen an early goal (1-20 minutes), and for backing the draw, these matches are up 6.83 points so far.

The true test is that after the match has been played, are Peter's Drawmaster selections finding value or not, and right now, they are.

Over the 149 matches selected, Peter has found value betting pre-game on the draw and an ROI of 4.7% isn't too shabby, and in reality is higher given that the recorded prices are those of Pinnacle Sports, and usually beatable.

Peter's conclusion on the question posed is rather vague, starting with a statement that could be applied to anything:
I still am a firm believer that if you have an edge then backing the draw long term is an excellent strategy. 
Yes, we all know that IF you have an edge, then betting it any way is an excellent strategy, but the question was Would Backing The Draw be More Profitable as an In-Play Strategy? Peter gets to this with:
However the idea of an In-play Drawmaster could be even better, especially if you are dealing with matches in the big European Leagues where prices are keener and there is not the problem of getting matched.
In other words, Peter is claiming that for the more liquid games, in-play offers better value than pre-game, and by extension that for all other matches, pre-game is the way to go. Certainly I agree that you're not going to find value too often trading a League Two match on a Saturday afternoon, but I'm not convinced that higher in-play liquidity on bigger matches, still less than in the pre-game markets, means greater value. Not many of us at home have the resources to compete with the big players in this field, and my opinion is that it is delusional to think we can.

Asp Berger

Some of my US focused readers may be familiar with controversial College Basketball referee Karl Hess. A couple of years, he achieved some notoriety, and later a telling off, by ejecting a couple of former North Carolina State players from their seats in the stand for "excessive demonstration on several calls".

This season, he has continued to piss off home fans, leading the category of Largest Home Foul Margin at -4.1 points a game - not the kind of statistic to trigger a bet, but it's a check mark that it doesn't hurt to have on your side.
Last Sunday, Hess allegedly said to a Wake Forest fan - a former board of trustees vice chairman:
"When I'm older, I want to sit in your seat & watch your Egyptian ass ref a game" 
during a home loss to Louisville. Never mind that the gentleman in question is actually Indian.
Uncle Rudolf, coincidentally born in Alexandria, Egypt, would have been proud.

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