Saturday 19 September 2020

Mother-In-Law Issues at the World Series

The Stanley Cup Finals are now set, and will see the Dallas Stars play the Tampa Bay Lightning. As in all play-off games in the NHL, Under is where to start looking for value, but in the Stanley Cup Finals this is even more true with 63% of games going Under in the last ten seasons. 

In a low scoring sport, we can't assume we will get 1.952 but Unders is a good place to start. In the past three seasons, this hasn't been a profitable strategy with every Game 1 going Over but with no crowd or home advantage, this season's playoffs have seen Unders win 56.5% of the time. 

I mentioned earlier in the week that there were three qualifiers for the NFL Small Road Dog System, but the line moved on the Chicago Bears game so 'officially' it wasn't a winner. We did have a winner on Thursday though, so 'officially' we are back up to 2-1 with possibly another four selections tomorrow.

Still no draws in the Premier League this season with plenty of goals reducing the probability. Newly promoted clubs have conceded 22 goals combined after just two games.

I mentioned that the World Series would be held in one stadium this year (Texas Rangers) but a little research revealed that this isn't a first.

In 1944, the St Louis Browns played the St Louis Cardinals in what was called a "Streetcar Series" with both clubs sharing the imaginatively named Sportsman Park.

Since there was a shortage of housing during the war, and the teams were never at home at the same time during the regular season, the two managers — Luke Sewell of the Browns and Billy Southworth of the Cardinals — shared an apartment.

Of course, they’d both have to be in St. Louis for the World Series.

“However admirable this display of interleague cooperation might have appeared during the season, it would never do for the opposing managers to sit in the same living room after a World Series game, sipping bourbon and chatting politely with their wives,” wrote William B. Mead in his book “Even The Browns: The Zany, True Story of Baseball in the Early Forties.’”

“Besides, Sewell wanted to invite his mother, and Mrs. Southworth could hardly be expected to put up with a mother-in-law from the wrong family and, indeed, the wrong league.”

Fortunately, according to Mead, another resident of the apartment building was out of town for the month. The Southworths were able to move into the unoccupied unit during the series, snuffing out that potential crisis.

The Cardinals came from 1-2 down to win the Series 4-2 and the Browns later moved to Baltimore becoming the Orioles.

All World Series games in the same stadium also happened in 1921 and 1922 when the New York Giants twice beat the New York Yankees while sharing the Polo Grounds, which was the original home of the New York Mets. The Giants moved to San Francisco and I believe the Yankees are still in New York...

Wednesday 16 September 2020

Playoff Updates: NBA, MLB, NHL

Teams arriving at a Game 7 after losing a 3-1 series lead have a losing record and in this series, four games have been Under so far with two Pushes.

Two of the easier wins last night in the NBA as the Denver Nuggets won comfortably, not needing the 7.5 points they were getting, and the Under also an easy win (by 14.5 points) for the ninth consecutive time in a Game 7. Hopefully some of you took note of the observation in my last post.

This win was the second time the Nuggets have come from 1-3 down in a series to win, following their First Round comeback against the Utah Jazz. 

The Conference Finals started in the East last night with an overtime win for the Miami Heat as 'dogs versus the Boston Celtics, while in the West the Nuggets will play the Los Angeles Lakers.

MLB announced a unique play-off format yesterday, with all Division Series, Championship Series and World Series games scheduled for a neutral venue in either Texas or Southern California, and importantly with no rest days scheduled within a series meaning some tough starting pitching decisions ahead.  

The host stadium for the World Series will be Arlington, Texas, and with the home town team currently the second worst in baseball and nine games out of a Wild-Card place, the chances of them having home advantage here are somewhat slim.

Other clubs hosting games are the National League's San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers, both staging American League games, and Houston, whose Astros play in the American League and will host National League games.

The expanded Wild Card games are all best of three games, and the higher seeded team will have home advantage. 

In case you need any more evidence for how unusual this season has been, the five clubs with the longest playoff drought are all in with a chance of ending their disappointment this year, including my wife's hometown club. 

They are, in order of woefulness, Seattle Mariners (last playoff appearance 2001), Miami Marlins (2003), San Diego Padres (2006), Chicago White Sox (2008), and the Philadelphia Phillies (2011). Every dog has its day.

In the NHL, the Dallas Stars have reached the Stanley Cup Finals thanks in large part to two overtime wins. I mentioned the edge on backing Unders in play-off games earlier this month, and since then we have had six Unders and two Overs. Two matches resulted in a Push. 

Tuesday 15 September 2020

Patience and Discipline

Yet another Game 7 in the NBA Play-offs this week, after the Denver Nuggets overcame a 19 point deficit to beat the Los Angeles Clippers by 13 points on Sunday. 

Teams arriving at a Game 7 after losing a 3-1 series lead have a losing record and in this series, four games have been Under so far with two Pushes. 

The NFL is back, and the Small Road Dogs System had three selections in Week One, namely the Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Green Bay Packers and I'll take the 2-1 outcome any day of the week. 

Although none of the opening eight matches ended as a Draw, with the 2020-21 EPL season underway, a timely reminder that backing the Draw in close matches is generally profitable in this league. As David Sumpter wrote back in 2016 or so:

It turns out that when two well-matched teams meet (i.e. the probability of a home win is only slightly bigger than the probability of away win) then draws are under-priced. When matches are skewed so there is a strong a favourite (i.e. the probability of one team or the other winning is larger than the other) then draws are over-priced.

Somewhat arbitrarily I define 'close' matches as those where the difference between the fair win probabilities of the two teams is less than 25%, and 'toss up' when the difference is less than 10%.

In the eight seasons of the "Pinnacle era", with the overround adjusted to 103% for consistency, a number to which Pinnacle unfortunately appear to be headed quite rapidly, here are the results:

As a baseline, backing the Draw in all matches would have resulted in a 208.49 point loss, an ROI of -6.9%.

I'd actually previously not noticed the distinction in David Sumpter's quote above that he's looking at matches where the probability of a Home win is only slightly bigger than that of an Away win.

Close matches can also include matches where the probability of the Away team is slightly higher, and of course the two probabilities can be the same.

I'm not sure that Sumpter meant to make this distinction, but as I've mentioned before, the ROI on the Draw is actually slightly higher (16.8%) when the probabilities are the same or that of the Away team is slightly higher. Perhaps that wasn't the case in the Big 6 matches during Sumpter's period of study.

Finally, some words of wisdom from the Betfair Forum on a thread asking "Why do so many people lose at gambling?"

Zealot suggested that:

Most people lose because they are too greedy and 90% of them have no idea what a good return would be. Say, for example, you backed 500 horses over a 12 month period and your total outlay was £10k (£20 per bet). 

How many Joe Punters would be happy with a profit of £800? That's a very good 8% return. I would say less than 1%. If you ask a betting shop punter this question, most will say anything up to "Doubling It". Most have no clue of what it takes and how much work you have to put in. 

First step should be breaking even, and then with a little bit of tweaking, you will be well on your way. Patience is the key word in my opinion.

Those last two sentences are very sagacious. In binary betting, a blind squirrel will be able to win 50% of the time and you only need to convert 1.02% of those losers into winners if you are on Betfair's Basic Plan, or 2.46% at Pinnacle's Dime Line (1.952)  

Patience to wait for value opportunities is key, as is the discipline to stake appropriately when such opportunities come along.    

Friday 11 September 2020

G7 Home Dog and MLB Woes

We have another Game 7 in the NBA tonight, in the Boston Celtics v Toronto Raptors series, where five of the six games so far have gone Under, with the exception being the double-overtime Game 6 where the 51 extra-time points took the total comfortably over. With the Toronto Raptors getting 2.5 points, this is only the third time in database history (since 2002) that the Home team has not been favourites, although this season all games are being played on a neutral court so it's not a huge surprise. Both of those previous games went Under.

Baseball continues to be an outlier of a season, with hot favourites unprofitable for the first time since 2014:
With some perspective, the results this season don't look so terrible with some nice profits in the bank from previous seasons, but it's tough to keep backing during a downturn, especially when the schedules and rules have been changed so dramatically.

Backing weaker favourites this season would have been profitable, but typically these are losing propositions. Clearly all the changes MLB has made this season have affected the markets. 

The Totals systems have also been messed up with the mid-season decision to make all double header games seven innings. August saw Unders as profitable in these games, but so far in September the value has been on the Overs. 

Monday 7 September 2020

Pump It Up

The NFL season is here, and as with most other sports at the moment, it will be one with no fans at some stadiums, but fans at others, and thus a season with no precedent.

At least some Home Field Advantage (HFA) has long been held to come from the thousands of screaming fans in the stands who intentionally make more noise when the visiting team is driving and hard for them to hear play calls.

This season, some teams will have fans from the start, e.g. Miami Dolphins. Others hope to have fans as the season unfolds, e.g. the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers, while others, e.g. the New York Giants have ruled out fans completely, at least for the time being.

Last week, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters on a conference call that there will be no advantage for teams with fans in the stands.

How can this be? Here's how - on the same call, it was announced that:

"For teams with no fans in the stands, we’ve created audio that will be played in all stadiums"
Apparently details are still being finalized, most notably about the decibel level to be allowed for the pumped-in noise, but it certainly appears to be a case of an unfair playing field.

Readers will be aware that the strategy of backing away teams getting a handful of points (the Small Road 'Dogs System) in the regular season has been profitable in most recent seasons:
That ROI is 10% if you restrict your bets to Divisional games only. Unlike MLB, the NFL have not changed their scheduling, nor made any COVID-19 specific rule changes, so I am optimistic that the season will play out in a fairly typical way. One big concern is that the market may see the HFA as reduced or non-existent this season, and the points Road teams are getting will be reduced. 

Three road teams opened as Picks for Week One, the Las Vegas Raiders, (get used to that name), Seattle Seahawks and Chicago Bears, although the Raiders are now 3 point favourites in some books while the Bears are now getting 3 points (and are currently a Small Road Dog pick) along with Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

A quiet opening week might not be a bad thing. The reigning champions Kansas City Chiefs host Houston Texans on Thursday night and the Washington team still have no name and will start the season with the temporary, if unimaginative, name Washington Football Team.

Although not tied to the pandemic, the NFL has changed its play-off format this season with 14 teams (of the 32) now qualifying, and only the top seed in each conference now receiving a Bye in the first round.   

Finally, as I've mentioned before, I occasionally peruse the Betfair Forum, though more for amusement than in any expectation of learning anything useful.

One recent thread on the Football Forum was started with this comment:
It is nice for b/f to provide us live view...but until one team scores how are we to know which team is which?
Team colours would be nice.
Good grief. As one of the replies said:
If you are researching teams to bet on and don't know what colour shirts they play in maybe time to call it a day. Failing that a 10 second search on Google.

Sunday 6 September 2020

NBA: Evolving Playoffs and Game 7 Totals

After the two NBA Game 7s this week, here are some more details about how the Totals in a long series tend to play out.

First of all, some history. Since 2014, NBA play-off series are all Best-of-Seven, played in a 2-2-1-1-1 format, with the highest seed (better team based on regular season) having Home advantage in Games 1, 2, 5 and 7, although sometimes Game 5 and often Game 7 are not required,

Prior to 2014, the series were played in a 2-3-2 format, and the format has been tinkered with on several occasions, which means we have to be careful when comparing data across seasons, especially in Games 5 and 6.

The format was changed in 2003, when the First Round became a Best-of Seven series, reducing the chances of a higher seed being eliminated, (i
n 2007, the Golden State Warriors became the first team to defeat a number one seen in a best-of-7 First Round series), but also increasing the probability of a team sitting around for a few days waiting for their opponent who may be playing three games more.

In 2005 the two conferences (Eastern and Western) were realigned into three divisions each, with each division winner qualifying for a top-three seed regardless of their record.

This proved unpopular, and in 2007 the rules were changed again so that the division winners are now only guaranteed a top-four seed. If the top two teams in a conference are in the same division, this change means they won't meet until the conference Final, whereas before they could meet in the second round (the conference semi-finals).

Eight teams from each Conference make the playoffs, with the winner of the Eastern Conference playing the winner of the Western Conference for the NBA Championship.

So each season there are 15 playoff series, 7 between Eastern Conference teams, 7 between Western Conference teams plus the Finals Series. 

Teams need to win 16 games to be champions, and 71 of the 73 winners to date have been seeded either number 1 (49 wins), 2 (16), or 3 (6).

My suspicion is that there is more interest from the general public in playoff games, and that interest increases within each series peaking with Game 7s and also as the playoff rounds progress peaking with the Championship Series, and the public like to see points which may offer value on the Unders. 

Does the data support this idea?

Since 2002, when we first have data, Unders has been the result 51.5% of the time which is not a huge edge, but at the standard (Pinnacle) 1.952 (US -105) odds, you only need to win more than 51.23% of the time to be profitable.

In the 'If needed' games, i.e. Games 5, 6 and 7, the Unders record all-time is impressive, and notably more impressive if the game was preceded by one or two Unders also.

Unfortunately since the latest change in format in 2014, the trend is not so strong. One reason may be that we have fewer matches to look at, but also it seems reasonable to assume that markets are more efficient these days than they were in the 2000s.
There's also a noticeable divergence in results between Conferences since 2014. 

In the NHL play-offs, where 58.6% of Game 7s go Under, there was another one last night between the Philadelphia Flyers (nominally the Home team) and the New York Islanders. With four goals in total, this was another win for Unders.

With baseball not playing out this season anything like it typically does, systems that have performed well for many years are struggling. With different rules in place, it seems likely I should exclude these matches from analysis in future, but Signora Cassini is happy with her hometown San Diego Padres looking likely to end their thirteen year play-off drought with the third best record in the National League West, albeit playing under American League rules. Her father was a minor league player with the Angels (then California Angels) organisation, so he's not quite so happy. 

Trump Support Swamped by Blue Wave

Some proof that there is a god came yesterday when five* boats in a 'Boaters For Trump' Labor Day weekend parade on Lake Travis near Austin, Texas, sank in 'choppy water'. 

Metaphor jokes have been deleted - editorial ruling: too obvious. 

Poseidon, traditionally known as the god of the sea, but also god of water in general, gets the win.

Some unconfirmed reports claimed that when boaters radioed the local Sheriff's Office saying that they needed help and were sinking, the response was "All boats matter". 

I found this first-hand report from one of the boat (the SS Magaritaville) owners. It's a tough watch, and to rub 'salt' into the wound, apparently Jimmy Buffett, no relation to Warren, has asked that the name not be used again on any replacement boat. 

In other Trump news, while his odds on Betfair haven't shifted much, I don't think the reporting of Trump's contempt for the military and religion (he may have a point regarding religion to be honest) this weekend isn't going to win him any new voters and polling next week might well reflect this.

Biden is still available at 1.97, and his polling numbers are looking much stronger than that price would imply when looking at the individual states he needs to win.

With 249 Electoral College votes if there are no upsets on the blue side down to Michigan (which went to Trump narrowly in 2016), then Biden needs to pick up either Pennsylvania (to tie), or Florida for the win. If he loses these two states, he can still win by taking Wisconsin and Arizona. North Carolina is a toss-up state also, and with 15 EC votes may be crucial.

From the Trump perspective, he will have 219 EC votes if he wins all the states where he is currently ahead, meaning he needs 51 more votes to win. Where are they coming from? If we concede Florida to him, he still needs another 22 votes, i.e. Michigan or Pennsylvania plus one of Arizona, Wisconsin, or Minnesota. Or those last three states combined. It's really not looking likely right now, but Trump is available at 2.1 which looks a terrible price to me, but £3,109,940 has already been traded at this level, with another £2 million matched at 2.12. 

There are still two months to go until the election, and an October surprise may yet come along, but it's not clear to me how Trump is going to make up the deficit seen in the fairly consistent poll numbers. Surprises can work both ways, but although Trump's base has been pretty consistent and might not drop much in the event of yet another Trump scandal, I'm not sure what kind of Biden story would win Trump enough new voters to overcome his current position. 

* Post updated to reflect that in fact five boats, not four, sank during this parade.

Thursday 3 September 2020

Easy Unders and Trump at Evens?

The Unders in Games 7 opportunity I mentioned on Monday has given us two winners this week.

On Tuesday night, we had a very comfortable winner with the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz combining for a total of 158 points, the lowest total in a Game 7 since 2012, and 60 points under the 218 Total line.

This win extended the sequence for Unders to six but not for long as the sequence was extended to seven last night.

The Game 7 between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder, a series which had seen the previous two games both go Under, was another winner and no doubt many of you had your houses on this one. Maybe not, but hopefully some of you made a little money.

Overtime was a slight concern, but the Rockets won in regulation by two. 

The US Next President market appears to be somewhat inefficient right now with the two candidates tied on Betfair for a while yesterday.
Since then Biden shortened, presumably in response to a number of key state polls which were all favourable to him, but at the time of writing the race has tightened again.

Biden leads 51% to 43% across the country, but the Electoral College (EC) system means many votes are wasted, e,g, in California. Trump won in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.

He won Michigan by 0.3% (47.6% - 47.3%), Wisconsin by 1% (47.9% - 46.9%), Pennsylvania by 1.2% (48.8%- 47.6%). Those three states combined for 46 EC votes, which was enough to win.

Latest polls from these three states all have Joe Biden ahead by 48% - 44%, 52% - 42% and 49% - 45% respectively.

In addition, Florida and its 29 EC votes also looks good for Biden by 50% - 43% after going for Trump by 1.2% in 2016.

It makes no sense to me that the odds for the win are so out of line with these polling numbers and the individual state markets on Betfair, although liquidity there leaves something to be desired. 
With Biden out to 2.06 at one point, I've added to my position on him winning.