Tuesday 28 April 2009

Winning System - Patience Required

One of the more curious incidents of my Betfair life occurred within a month of my opening the account, which is why I failed to take maximum advantage of the opportunity. I was exploring the site one Saturday, looking at different markets in a number of countries, and was checking a web site to see what football results they covered.

Incredibly, I stumbled across one game in a foreign land that appeared to have just finished, yet the market on Betfair still not been suspended with the kick-off time a few minutes away. Always aware that when something seems too good to be true, it probably is, and knowing that scoreboards can be unreliable, I tentatively placed a whopping £20 on the draw. I was pondering a deeper plunge, when the market suspended.

It wasn’t an in-play game, but two hours later I got paid out. I think there was a probably a late change in the kick-off time that neither Betfair, nor anyone else for that matter, had noticed, and my only regret is that I didn’t capitalize more on what really was free money. Back then I only had a low three figure bank anyway, so £20 really was quite a large percentage of my bank, and of course, had I really cleaned up, someone might have been a little upset and all bets would have been declared void had the problem been discovered.

I haven’t seen this occurrence again, and do feel slightly guilty about it. It’s one thing taking advantage of someone’s mistake, but it’s quite another when someone loses money as a result of Betfair erring. Oh well, I figure the statute of limitations has expired on this by now.

Five Years

I was planning on writing a post to mark the fifth anniversary of opening an account with Betfair later this week, but I have just discovered that the occasion passed quietly by last month. So rather than have both my readers wait another five years for my words of wisdom, I’ll write my post anyway.

How time flies. It’s quite remarkable how something completely unknown to me just five years and a few days ago has transformed into an almost all-consuming activity. I started with £2 bets. I’m not reckless by nature, and it seemed to me then, as it still does, that you only need a small bank to start with. If you have a winning approach, then the bank will take care of itself, and if you don’t, then better to learn the lesson with a small bank than a big bank.

I read on the forum about people depositing money into their accounts time and time again. Why? If you’re losing, give it up. From small acorns, big oak trees grow, but they don’t grow quickly. I spent hours back in 2004 and 2005 studying the markets, learning how they reacted to certain scenarios. I spotted one or two things and made a little money, but nothing to get too excited about. I made mistakes, and usually learned from them too. Some were small, some weren’t so small, but the key is to learn from them.

I soon realised that the only way to consistently win was by trading. With thousands of people pricing up a market pre-game, who am I, an outsider, to think that I can consistently beat the market? I can’t. But what in-play trading offers is an opportunity to pit wits against others, and combine a knowledge of sports with an understanding of the emotions of trading, and hopefully come out ahead. I recommend the trading books* by Dr. Van K Tharp if anyone is serious about trading.

There is a lot of nonsense written on the betting forums about fast ways to make money from gambling. There is a way to make money from gambling, but there is no holy grail ‘system’. There are opportunities out there though, if you put in the effort to learn.

Specialise. Learn how the markets react. Be fearful when others are bold, and bold when others are fearful. When a team is winning, it’s often hard to see them finishing up as losers, and other people think the same. What happens when lots of people want the same thing? The price is driven down too low on the leaders, and the value is in laying them. You may lose more often than you win, but if your bets are not value, then you will lose in the long run. End of story.

Keep records. They don’t need to be not hugely detailed records, but enough to let you know what is working and what isn’t. It’s enormously helpful after a bad loss to be able to look back and see what happened before, and how the bank eventually recovered. It can be tempting to go on tilt after a bad loss, with the attitude that you’ve already lost £500, what’s another £200, but if you can look back at history, it’s very reassuring.

I have learned that when it comes to trading, everything should not always be about ‘today’. Trading is nothing more than a series of wins and losses strung together over a long periods of time. There is no way to eliminate risk or loss, because risk is an equal part to reward in our equation. Focus on keeping loss controlled is a very different aspect than fixation on avoiding all losses, period. One is a normal part of the operation, the other is a path to failure.

* Tharp, Van K. (1998). Trade Your Way to Financial Freedom. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-064762-3.

Tharp, Van K.; June, Brian (2000). Financial Freedom Through Electronic Day Trading. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-136295-9.

Monday 27 April 2009

Conference Thoughts

Torquay United made my day yesterday with a win over Burton Albion, but there were some strange results elsewhere in the Conference, including one meaningless game that has been reported to the authorities for ‘suspicious betting patterns’.

First, the boat-race boys - Cambridge United failed to beat Altrincham, when a good win would have seen them automatically promoted. Oxford United, in with a shot at a play-off spot, fell at home to relegated Northwich Victoria, and if they want ‘out of this poxy league’ they are going to need to do better than that. (I guess the boss was still upset about the five point deduction that ultimately cost them their place in the play-offs, although not winning your matches doesn’t help).

Stevenage and Kidderminster also failed to win their ‘must-win’ games although Stevenage got away with it thanks to other results.

So the play-offs loom, with an all- Cambridgeshire final a possibility. The semi-final first legs are this week, and Cambridge play at Stevenage on Thursday with Torquay hosting Histon on Friday.

It’s interesting that the teams are in reverse order as far as current form is concerned with Stevenage top, followed by Torquay, Histon and finally Cambridge. These games are usually tight, but I am leaning towards backing the home teams in the first legs. This may become a lay of the away teams, depending on how the prices settle.

The suspicious game was Grays Athletic v Forest Green Rovers with an unusual amount of money for a meaningless game being placed on Grays to be losing at half-time, and winning at full-time. Betting was suspended by a couple of bookmakers the day before the match, and while bets of three figures don’t sound like much, at 22-1 that makes for a nice pay day. The result? Grays were 0-1 down at half-time before winning 2-1… Very interesting.

Sunday 26 April 2009

Final Day Countdown

And now for something completely different. This afternoon’s Conference National fixtures. The only game in-play is the Torquay United v Burton Albion game, with the Gulls the selection at 2.24. Burton’s current form is the worst of ALL the Conference teams, and with Torquay needing a win to guarantee a play-off spot, and a friendly crowd , they can win this.

Cambridge United, with automatic promotion a possibility, host Altrincham, whose players already have one foot in Benidorm (or wherever Conference players holiday these days). Cambridge will win this, and are at 1.23. Borderline value. Anyway, if the net margin of victories by Torquay and Cambridge is 5 goals or greater, then it is Cambridge who will rejoin the Football League.

Histon are already in the play-offs and with little to play for, I am leaving their game at Crawley alone. Stevenage should be too strong for Mansfield, and need to win (1.79) to avoid being pipped at the post by Kidderminster who are 1.5 to beat Kettering at home, and will. Oxford should also beat Northwich at 1.36, but their fate is not in their feet, and I will be leaving this one alone.

I love final afternoons like these. It’s what real football supporting is all about. Keeping track of the latest scores and looking at the permutations as they change every few minutes. Burton all but had this league sewn up a few weeks ago. Perhaps they are another club whose players already had one foot on the beach, only in their case, it’s on the Devon Riviera that they find themselves, not the Spanish one, and the season is not quite over. I suspect that when the dust has settled tomorrow, Burton Albion will have clinched promotion (1.29), even if it is only on goal difference.

What price on AFC Wimbledon topping this league next season? I have to say that when the club was formed I thought the whole enterprise was doomed to failure, but in less than seven years the club are now just one step away from the Football League and playing the likes of former top division teams Luton Town and Oxford United. That is a great story.

Exclusive Follow-Up

Just a quick post to follow up on last week’s “Exclusive” on Betactual, and their results are going from bad to worse. As I reported last week, in the entire year of 2008, they had just 19 losers, a figure that seems too good to be true, and based on the fact that they have had 18 losers in the past month alone, I think it is safe to say that these results were indeed too good to be true. 15 of the last 27 picks have lost, and just two of the winners have been longer than Evens - at a whopping 2.05 and 2.1… Save your money, and buy a pin. You can hardly do any worse.

Friday 24 April 2009

Burton Stumbling

Over the last few years, my interest in non-league football has increased significantly. Back in my day, there was very little coverage, but these days they have their own magazine, live games on TV, and much greater exposure in the media. This greater interest started when the Conference was first formed, and took a giant leap when the Football League took the long overdue decision to get rid of the re-election process and allow automatic promotion and relegation to / from the Conference. And now with the pyramid structure in place, every team in the numerous leagues has, in theory at least, the chance to reach the top.

Back to my day again, and it seemed like the league never changed. I am too young to remember Accrington Stanley being replaced by Oxford United in 1962 (a switch that was so poetically reversed in 2006), but I do remember Cambridge United replacing Bradford Park Avenue in 1970. Wimbledon (1977) and Wigan (1978) joined the league a little later, before the floodgates opened with automatic promotion in 1987.

Anyway, this is all a rather waffly way to lead into the fact that this Sunday sees some rather exciting games at the top on the Conference National League. Burton Albion in pole position play at Torquay United in 5th spot, and who need a win to guarantee a playoff spot. Having once held a 19 point lead, Burton still need one more point to guarantee that after a gap of 102 years, League football will return to the town. Now I don't actually remember this myself, but Burton did have two Football League teams for three seasons, (Swifts and Wanderers) the smallest town in England ever to do so.

Cambridge United in second place are assured a playoff spot and play at home to Altrincham, who have nothing to play for. A decent win by Cambridge combined with a loss by Burton Albion, and Cambridge can steal promotion. Unlikely, but not impossible. Histon in third place, and all but certain of a playoff spot play at Crawley Town, while fourth place Stevenage Borough need a win at Mansfield. Currently just outside the playoff spots are Kidderminster Harriers at home to Kettering Town, and Oxford United at home to relegated Northwich Victoria.

I am more interested in these games as a fan of football than from an investing perspective, but I shall be checking the prices closer to kick-off to see if anything stands out.

My Cassini ratings differ quite significantly from the league standings. In order, I have Stevenage (344), Oxford (338), Cambridge (323), Torquay (294), Kidderminster (278), Histon (259) and Burton (249) which would suggest wins for all the top teams bar Burton. It could all get very interesting.

Monday 20 April 2009

Tipping Service Exposed - Exclusive!

On March 28th, Trade On Sports highlighted a football tipping website, and their supposed results up to that date did look quite impressive. I'm not sure how many members, if any, they had prior to the end of last month but now they have received some attention, it is clear that their results have taken a distinct turn for the worse.

The initial post was this. "Finally my attention was drawn to the following tipster site www.betactual.com Their record is quite amazing. I have studied football betting for years and every weekend compile my own odds to look for value. And have been relatively successful, but these guys look to be on a different level."

While I was researching the website, I found an amusing thread about them. Someone started the thread asking "anyone had any experience with this. results look very impressive but costly. would be interested in a syndicate effort?"

You need to be a signed up member to comment, and less than eight hours later, a newly signed up member casper47 had posted: "i have account in betactual and is realy good. First time take 1 month but after i take 1 year pack ( only 1,5 euro per day - i play much more money in year...). The best support (Sara is the best) and no hidden or fake results. Before i have try with others but..."

The next day, another poster revealingly wrote: "Have done a little more investigating.I'm sure you can draw your own conclusions. The domain betactual is registered to Fotios Nikitopoulus. Casper47 registered on the forum with the email nikitofotis@.........."

Finally, the initial post received an anonymous comment, but the style is somewhat familiar: "Think's for the site betactual.com.I listened for a few days the site. 01-04 paid subscription for 1 month. Score Win = 6. Lose = 1 Today for the first time gave 3 tips. They won all 3. I put the all together and had very good profit. I appreciate them. They sent congratulations today and I mentioned your site (if not mind)."

Anyway, I would save your money. After just 19 losses in 2008, and 6 losses in 66 days prior to the above postings, their tips have lost 10 out of the last 25, and with 9 of those winners at less than evens, you won't be getting rich any time soon.

Thursday 16 April 2009

NBA Play-Offs

Back in October last year, I wrote a post about the 2008-09 NBA season and made some predictions. The regular season has now finished, so it is time to look back and look forward. Here is that original post from almost six months ago:

Who will win the NBA Championship this year? My fancy is last year's losing finalists the Lakers (4.6 to win the NBA championship) in the strong West, with the Spurs (14) and the Suns (20) safe lays.In the East, my lay is the Celtics (4.7). It's been a few years since a champion has repeated, and I don't expect Boston to end that sequence. Despite losing their opener, the Cavaliers (18) are good value to again make the play-offs and win the East.

The Lakers did indeed comfortably win the West, although they will not have home court advantage all through if the Cavaliers win the East. The Cavaliers home record was impressive, losing only to the Lakers (other than the meaningless final game of the season yesterday). The Suns failed to make the play-offs at all, and Spurs limped in.

Summary: To win NBA - Back Lakers at 4.6, currently 2.76; Lay Spurs at 18, currently 34; Lay Suns at 20, eliminated, Lay Celtics at 4.7, currently 6.6. To win East, Back Cavaliers at 18, currently 1.68.

Lakers v Jazz: Hard to see anything other than a Lakers win here, although they did lost at Utah during the regular season, and the Jazz are good at home.

Cavs v Pistons: Cavaliers to win comfortably.

Nuggets v Hornets: Denver on a great run at home right now, New Orleans out of form. Nuggets to win.

Celtics v Bulls: Kevin Garnett may well miss the play-offs completely which seriously dents their chances of a second title. The Bulls may fancy their chances now, even without Croydon's finest (Luol Deng), but I think the Celtics will survive.

Spurs v Mavs: The Mavs are in good form right now, while the Spurs appear to be struggling, although capable of playing very well on any one day. Mavs to win.

Magic v Sixers: On their day, the Magic can beat anyone, but they are unreliable. I think they will be good enough to beat the Sixers though.

Blazers v Rockets: Nothing between these two teams, well, one game, but the form is with Portland.

Hawks v Heat: The Hawks won three out of four regular season games between these two teams, and should win, but Miami can be dangerous to oppose. Hawks to win, but I shall be leaving this one alone.

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Sgt. Pepper Taught The Band To Play

Twenty years ago today, I headed off to Selhurst Park, hoping to see Crystal Palace pick up an important three points in their match against Portsmouth. Palace were third in the old Division Two, and hoping to catch Manchester City for that second automatic promotion spot. Chelsea had already locked up the first.

A couple of hundred miles north, and other football fans were headed to Hillsborough, Sheffield, where Liverpool were playing Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup Semi-Final.

I returned home after the Palace game, and life went on as normal. For 95 Liverpool fans, that afternoon was the last one of their lives.

My memories of that day are that at some point during the first half, word started filtering through the stand at Palace that there had been some problems at Hillsborough. I made my way up to the players lounge and watched the chaotic scenes unfolding live on TV. As with most disasters, the death toll started with a low number of unconfirmed deaths, followed by higher and higher numbers of confirmed deaths, before the final toll of 95 was reached. The death toll rose to 96 many months later when the last victim passed away.

I think that for all football fans of that era, this tragedy felt particularly close to home. Most of us had probably been in crowds where more people than was safe were crammed into enclosed areas. Certainly, following Palace, one had to expect big crowds at every game. It was all a bit of a laugh back then, surging back and forth with ones feet barely touching the ground, and in my youthful naiveté, I for one never seriously thought that I was in any danger.

The Ibrox Disaster of 1971 (66 dead) happened when I was too young to really understand it, and I certainly don’t recall the one of 1902 (26 dead). Nor indeed the one of 1946 at Burnden Park, although a former girlfriend’s mother was at that game and told me that the thing she remembered about it was all the shoes lying on the ground. The bodies of 33 dead had been removed, but the shoes remained.

Back to 1989 and the following day, I remember the TV showing clubs pulling down the fences that surrounded the pitches in those days. I don’t miss those, but I do miss the standing areas at football grounds which were lost as a result of the inquiry into the disaster. I rarely attend games these days, but it still doesn’t seem right to be sitting down.

Life goes on, and a year later, and Liverpool were again in an FA Cup Semi-Final, this time against my own Crystal Palace. Standing on the Holte End watching Palace win an extra-time thriller 4-3 was probably the zenith of my Palace supporting days, - we lost the final, although we did win the Zenith Data Systems Cup Final at Wembley a year later. (Never before, in the history of blogging, has the word ‘zenith’ been used so many times in one sentence).

Monday 13 April 2009

April Fool

Easter Sunday was one of those days. Perhaps I should start going to church?

A big loss (biggest since May 19th 2008) on the first NBA game of the day completely discombobulated me to the extent where I had to just take a break from the action.

I find that after a bad loss, (and this was a stupid loss – left a bet up and assumed that the market would be suspended), my confidence is shot for a while, and it’s best to take a break. I lost three weeks profits in one hit by not concentrating.

I did dip my toes back in the water with a small bet (and profit) on the Masters but my heart wasn’t in it, and I spent the rest of the evening getting things into perspective.

It really helps to be able to look back and see previous bad losses and how I recovered from them. The May 19th 2008 loss took me four months to recover from, which seems like an eternity, but I am confident I have learned from mistakes I made back then, and will bounce back in less time than that.

The bottom line is that no one died, no one was diagnosed with a terminal illness, no one will be going hungry, and all I lost were a few points off the total in my account. And perhaps the pride took a bit of a hit too.

Had the loss been in the stock market or from the value of my house, I would hardly have blinked, and in the whole scheme of things it’s a petty annoyance that will be all but forgotten in a few months. It won’t be completely forgotten, because I tend to recall my bigger losses easier than my bigger wins. 

Something to do with loss aversion I believe.

Friday 10 April 2009

Betting Scandal

Apologies for the lack of recent posts, but it is the Easter holidays and I'm spending a few days with my son and not focusing too much on investing.

I did read earlier in the week that five players have been charged by the Football Association for breaching betting rules, with some accused of gambling "thousands of pounds". I can't say I have any sympathy with someone who bets against their own team to lose, but I do have some for poor Peter Cavanagh whose involvement is alleged to consist of having had a £5 accumulator bet. Hardly too serious I wouldn't have thought. It smacks of going along with the others rather than any serious crime.

I don't think footballers have ever been accused of being particularly intelligent as a group (Steve Coppell excepted), but did these saps really think that betting thousands on an Accrington Stanley v Bury game would go unnoticed?

I remember reading about the Peter Swan, Tony Kay and David Layne betting scandal of the early 1960s, which resulted in jail time and bans for the players involved. Peter Swan had played for England and could well have been one of the World Cup winning squad of 1966, but for the sake of winning £100 betting against his own Sheffield Wednesday to lose to Ipswich Town he spent four months in prison instead. Tony Kay was at one time English football's most expensive player, a tag not likely to be associated with any of the Accrington Five.

Sunday 5 April 2009

Not Going For A Burton

A thin football schedule tomorrow may not mean an abundance of choices, but does give the opportunity to look at the games in detail.

Birmingham City (2.64) host Wolverhampton Wanderers (3.1) in the game of the day. The draw is available at 3.25. My ratings have the two teams very close, with Birmingham at 1017, and the edge to Wolves at 1035. Current form favours Wolves also, but in a derby game of this importance, those edges are not big enough to justify an outright back of Wolves. I'm expecting a tight game, so Under 2.4 (1.69) and a lay of Birmingham are my picks.

Torquay United (2.32) play Burton Albion (3.5) in the Blue Square Premier. The teams are rated with Torquay on 293, 4 points ahead of Burton. Torquay are ahead on current form too, and they need the points more than Burton. Torquay to win.

Saturday 4 April 2009

(Very) High Risk, Low Reward

100-1 outsider Mon Mome wins the 2009 Grand National, trading at the maximum of 1000 on Betfair during the race. Easy to say after the fact, but why would anyone lay a horse with a pulse at 1000? One guy on the forum admitted to laying £4,000 of the £8,000 but offered no rationale for such a high risk low reward bet. I'm giving away my age a little here, but I can clearly remember Foinavon winning in 1967, after stopping and turning around to get a better run up to one of the fences after a mass pile-up had taken place. I also remember my Dad telling me that I wouldn't see the likes of that again in my lifetime. If he was referring to a 100-1 winner, I guess he wasn't expecting me to live for too long!

Coming of age during the golden era of Red Rum, and associating the race with one of the sadder days of my life, the Grand National no longer holds much interest for me, and I haven't bet on the race in 30 years. Can't fault it as a colourful spectacle however, although I remember Foinavon's win, along with many of my happiest memories, in black and white.

Baseball By The Numbers

Still on the subject of statistics, but this time I’m switching to baseball, a sport that (along with cricket), is ideal for statistics. The new baseball season in the USA starts this weekend, and once again it’s the Wall Street Journal, not known for its sporting section, whetting our appetites with an interesting article on win expectancy. There is a formula based on how many runs a team scores and conceded which determines a team’s expected winning percentage that has been very accurate over the years.

The focus of the article is on how one team (the verbosely named Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) have exceeded their win expectancy by 24 wins in the past five seasons, and explores reasons why this should be*, but my interest is more in the fact that seldom is the expected number more than three away from the expectation.

With the top teams losing one-third of their games each year, and the worst winning at least that number, baseball is a totally different beast to tame from football. Perhaps an adapted formula for football could be more useful in predicting the total number of goals in a game rather than the result?

Anyway, I do love my numbers and formulae, so yet another idea to ponder during the upcoming long summer evenings.

* The reasons suggested are that the Angels had one of the best bullpens in baseball, play good defence, hit well with runners in scoring position, or maybe have the baseball Gods on their side. However, this trend will most likely end this year as the Angels have lost a couple of key players, and have some top starters injured as opening day approaches.

Lies, Damn Lies

I wrote a few days ago about how statistics differ between different web sites on football matches. Apparently it is subjective whether or not a shot is a shot.

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article on the subject of ‘assists’ in basketball.

Apparently in the NBA, statistics are recorded by the home team’s statisticians, a situation which perhaps not surprisingly means that home teams tend to receive more than away (road) teams. The Denver Nuggets had more than 17% higher assists to the home team!

The article goes on to say that assists are comparable to errors in baseball - decent indicators of performance, but “splashed with a healthy dose of subjectivity”. The writer also states that assists these days are more common (60% of field goals) than 50 years ago, when the number was approximately 50%.

Assists in football seem to me completely pointless. Does the goalkeeper who passes out to a player who dribbles the length of the field and scores deserve an assist, the same as the player who runs the length of the field and who then lays the ball back for a simple tap in? Most would agree not. Ice-hockey, I believe, records up to two assists for a goal. I see no value in these as tools for betting.

Back to football though, and surely there should be an official statistician at top games? The differences in the MLS are not insignificant, but most stats could be confirmed by reviewing film of the match. Yes, there might be some doubt about whether a shot was on target or not, but there shouldn’t be one site reporting 20 shots in a match for a team, and another saying there were 10. People have money on the line here!

Wednesday 1 April 2009

Excel-ling At Tennis

I have been asked by a student if I, or anyone I know, would be interested in buying a ‘tennis valuation tool’ (not a system) which is an Excel spreadsheet that you enter in some data pre-game and then during the game, it calculates what the prices should be. Compare these with the prices available on the exchanges, and by investing when there is value, you can win big money. The spreadsheet has been tested in 116 matches at Wimbledon in 2007 and 2008, well, tested with market data, so it sounds like a sure-fire 100% proven winner.

He goes on: “It is therefore clear that it is totally against my interest to give this model to others. However, the tennis markets are quite big, and I'm in need of some liquidity (also as a start for my possible own endeavours on this market after my studies). Therefore I am currently considering to sell one copy of the model. I'm looking for a person that can appreciate why the model works, that is a decent 'high-roller' so it is worthwhile for him to make the investment and can promise me that he will keep the model for himself and won't give it to others.”

I’m not sure why my girlfriend cracked up when I read the part about being a ‘high-roller’, but there you go. No respect. Anyway, I thought long and hard about this offer, but after 2.5 seconds have reluctantly decided to decline, mostly because I’m not much of a tennis trader.

However, as the proposal concluded with “If you are interested in further discussion about this (I am sure you will have loads of questions now), or know somebody else that might fit my required profile of the buyer, please let me know.”

So let me know if you are a ‘decent high-roller’, (indecent high-rollers are apparently excluded), and I will put you in touch with the young man.

Wait - just one more thing - I forget to mention the price.

Here’s his words on that: “I don't want to make a 'quick sell', but first speak with this person about the fundamentals of the model, give him guidance on how to use it (although this is quite easy now with all the buttons I made) and just make sure this person is happy with it and can use it to make good profit, so it is a good deal for both sides. My target price is 5000 EUR."

Note, hands-on Excel training thrown in for free. Please, no pushing and shoving. All requests will be forwarded in the order in which they are received, although I do accept PayPal if you should want to secure your position at the front of the line...