Tuesday 30 May 2023

EPL Playoffs and Europa League Final Parity

Most seasons, at least one of the three Football League Playoff Finals ends in a Draw, but this is the first time that all three required extra-time, and for good measure, the National League Playoff Final earlier this month also finished level after 90 minutes. 

Results from blindly backing the draw in these finals isn't historically as good as in the final matches of some other competitions, but it's not the worst of ideas outside of the Championship. As you might expect, the Draw in these Finals is rarely a longshot, with only one of the 80 matches having the Draw at greater than a fair-priced 4.0, and just three other matches saw the favourite at odds-on, meaning that 76 of the 80, or 95%, of matches were games where the Draw was at least worth looking at. Since those four matches were basically a wash - technically a 0.01 unit profit, I'll include all 80 in the summary below:
It's the Europa League Final tomorrow and a rare match where all three outcomes are rated close to a 1 in 3 probability. Betfair's prices at the time of writing are:
Odds Portal's Average Odds (with a 103.8% overround) are currently:
Only four matches of the 1856 in my European Club Matches spreadsheet have been as close:
And only two of 769 matches on the English club spreadsheet fit this rare profile, and combined, all six matches went Under 2.5 with three ending as Draws. Under is currently around 1.53. 

Sunday 28 May 2023

Playoff Draws and the Celtics Heat Up

Only three of the previous 19 Championship Playoff Finals had ended as Draws, but two of those were in matches where the Draw price was on the short side, i.e. shorter than a fair priced 3.35. 

The game yesterday between Luton Town and Coventry City had the shortest Draw price ever for a neutral play-off game with today's Carlisle United v Stockport County game looking likely to make that 'short' list too, below and sorted by Draw price:
Again, a reminder that it's a small sample for these games, and when backing the draw you will lose more often than you'll win.  

Another small sample is the number of NBA teams which have come from 0-3 behind in a best-of-seven playoff series, but it's a number that increased by one to four last night with the Boston Celtics doing just that against the Miami Heat, and in dramatic style with the winning basket scored with just 0.1 second remaining on the clock. 

The clubs to have came back from the dead before all lost in game 7, but all three were on the road in that game, whereas the Boston Celtics will be at home and are 1.28 favourites to win.

The other Game 7 losers? In 1951, the New York Knicks lost in the NBA Finals in Rochester to the Rochester Royals - who later became the Cincinnati Royals, the Kansas City Kings and are the current Sacramento Kings.

In 1994, the Denver Nuggets lost to the Utah Jazz in the second round and in 2003 the Portland Trail Blazers lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the first round.

The winners tomorrow (Monday) night will play the Nuggets in the Finals starting on Thursday.

There may be a similar comeback on the cards in the NHL playoffs where the Florida Panthers await either the Dallas Stars or the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Finals. Vegas won the first three games of their series, two in overtime) before Dallas won games 4 and 5. Game 6 is in Dallas and in necessary, Game 7 in Las Vegas. 

Monday 22 May 2023


I've always had a bit of a soft spot for Gateshead, the first club to fail to win re-election to the Football League in my lifetime and the first to be kicked out despite not finishing in last place since Grimsby Town in 1910. 

They were replaced by Peterborough United, and that original Gateshead AFC folded in 1973. There was a Gateshead United for a while, and interestingly both these "Gateshead" clubs started in South Shields before relocating, and the current club is Gateshead which narrowly missed out on correcting the 1960 injustice by losing to Cambridge United in the 2014 National League Playoff Final.

Yesterday was their second visit to Wembley, this time for the FA Trophy Final, but in this match, laying the favourite has an ROI of 40% and unfortunately for Gateshead, they were favourites:
The last favourite to win the FA Trophy Final at evens or greater was York City in 2012 at 2.09.

Next weekend sees the playoff finals, huge for the six clubs involved and quite exciting for the casual observer too. 

The 60 previous matches show an edge when backing the favourite, an edge which almost doubles to 25% when the Draw is the second favourite outcome. Only three of the sixty matches had an odds-on favourite at fair odds, and all were in the Championship game).    

Thursday 18 May 2023

Rewriting History

I was a little surprised to see that Odds Portal has Coventry City as favourites for the Championship playoff game later this month, since every individual book I'd looked at has Luton Town as market leaders, but when I drilled down it turns out that the nominal Home team is actually Coventry, not Luton as appears to be the case (see above).

I also noticed that some of the historical prices on this site change in time. My practice is to update my spreadsheets fairly soon after the match is over and once the fixture moves into the results page, with the assumption that these numbers were now set in stone, but as with many assumptions, this one appears to be wrong. 

My guess is that the sportsbooks used change over time, and that when one is dropped, not only are their odds not available moving forward, but their odds on historic games are also erased, which can possibly result in changes to the Average and Highest Prices. 

Not the biggest concern in the world, but I like any numbers I show on this blog to be verifiable as I have noted before, but this may not always be the case. And no, I don't have time to go back and confirm 2600 entries! 

With that in mind, here are the odds and results for the Championship playoff game since records began:
As with all the playoff data, the sample size is small, but backing the favourite has been the profitable strategy over the years with an ROI of 34% from the 19 matches. Given that this game is a Final, it's surprising how few Draws there have been with just three since 2004 and just four in the first 14 for which I have no price data. 

The data for the League One and League Two playoff finals is similar, with an ROI from backing the Draw of -13% and a 3% edge when backing the favourite, none of which have ever been priced at (fair priced) odds-on. 

Illustrative of the problem with small sample sizes is that prior to this week's Champions League Semi-Final Second Leg matches, the edge on backing the Home team was 6% and for the Draw was 10%. After two Home wins, the ROIs are now 11% and 4% respectively, but laying the Away team or the 3rd favourite continues to be a solid strategy with ROIs of 7% and 14% respectively.

In the Europa League and Europa Conference League, the story is similar with Away teams and 3rd favourite outcomes to be opposed. Just 5 of 38 Away teams have won (and in four of those they had a 2+ goal lead from the first leg) and just four 3rd favourites. ROIs on these two strategies are 18% and 12% respectively, but again, small samples.   

Tuesday 16 May 2023

EFL Playoffs 2023

While the National League playoffs are complete, those of the Football League are still in progress with the Semi-Final second legs starting today and the Final matches still to come.

When it comes to the second leg of these games, there's a lot of value to be had backing the Away team in games where they trail from the first leg, but unfortunately this scenario is missing this year after four Home wins and two Draws. 

For the record, the ROI in these situations is 49% from a sample size of 39 matches.

When the tie is level after the first leg, the edge on backing Home teams is 15%, with Middlesbrough and Barnsley qualifiers this year. 

Sheffield Wednesday trail by four goals, the second largest deficit ever behind Morecambe's six in 2010, a lead which was cut to five after they beat Dagenham and Redbridge at Home in the second leg 2:1 when priced at 1.89. 

The three remaining matches all see the Home side with a one goal deficit, and in such matches there's an edge when backing the Draw - the ROI is 18% from the 30 previous matches, and 39% when the Draw is second favourite. 

When the Draw is priced at a fair 3.5 or shorter, the ROI is 121%, and the Carlisle United v Bradford City game is currently in this range, but the sample is just six games so don't get carried away. 

Monday 15 May 2023

National League Playoffs Review 2023

The National League has a knack for end-of-season drama, with Notts County yet again coming from behind late in the game, not once but twice, before regaining their Football League place at the expense of Chesterfield by virtue of a penalty shoot-out win. 

Notts County were one of the Football League's original 12 clubs, and being founded in 1862 were once considered to be the oldest professional association football league club in the world before Crystal Palace usurped that claim in recent years with a revised foundation date of 1861.

Just two of the Original Twelve clubs have dropped out of the league previously, with Accrington the only club never to return, so it's good to see Notts County back. 

Incidentally, Accrington do have the claim to fame that they are the only club ever to play all their football league seasons in the top division. Other fascinating Original Twelve trivia is that Notts County were the first of the clubs to play in Division Two (1893), Division Four (1959) and the National League (2019).

So to get back to the drama aspect for a moment, it's interesting to compare Notts County's loss in the playoffs last season with their semi-final win this season.

In 2022, at home to Grimsby Town, Notts County led until the 96th minute before a late equaliser took the game into extra-time where they lost after Grimsby scored a winner in the 119th minute.
In 2023, at home to Boreham Wood, Notts County trailed until the 97th minute before a late equaliser took the game into extra-time where they won after scoring a winner in the 120th minute.

What are the odds on Chesterfield regaining their league place next season with a similar script? 

All the National League playoff games are now complete, and the delayed updates can now be posted. I didn't have time to run the numbers on the "lay the rested team" strategy in the Regional Leagues before heading off on my work trip last week, and my hurried wording was perhaps rather confusing with Beigemartin concerned I may have missed out:
The strategy had another three winners from the four Regional games and the ROI across all the National Leagues moved up to 47% from the 32 matches since the current format was introduced in 2017-18. The National League South is the only division where this strategy fails to be profitable, but the sample size (10) is very small. 

Fourteen of the 32 matches had an odds-on favourite at fair odds, and only two of these managed to win. Laying the home side in these matches now has an ROI of 109%. Here are all the 32 matches with the Home team's odds:
When it comes to the playoff Final, the Regional games are played at the home of the higher seed, whereas for the National League itself the match is played at a neutral venue, this year's final being held at Wembley. 

Readers will be aware that in Final matches, backing the Draw is often the best strategy, and these games are no exception.

Backing the Draw in National Finals has an ROI of 25% (from 20 matches), 33% in 28 Regional Finals and overall an ROI of 29%.

Only six of the 48 matches had an odds-on favourite (at fair odds) and four of these ended as Draws.     

Monday 8 May 2023

National League Bye Lays

There were a couple of dramatic National League games yesterday, and hopefully some of you took notice of my observations regarding the value in opposing the rested team coming off a bye. 

Both matches were winners today with both Notts County and Chesterfield giving their opponents a head start and failing to win in 90 minutes despite starting as odds-on favourites.

Ultimately both advanced after extra-time and noteworthy that Notts County were the shortest price ever ("ever" being since 2003) in any play-off game at 1.23. 
After 28 matches, the ROI on this strategy is now up to 49%, +13.62 units and in matches where the rested side is odds-on, the ROI is 95%, +15.16 units from 16 matches.

Four more such games in the National League Regional divisions still to come, but I'm away for the rest of the week on another work trip, so updates on these will be delayed. 

Thursday 4 May 2023

National League Play-Offs

The Premier League may still be a few games away from completion, but in the National League the play-offs have already begun. Since the expanded six-club format was only introduced in 2017-18, we don't have much data for the Quarter-Final stage, but as I noted on Twitter, for the first time at this stage a Home side wasn't favourite. The match was the North Regional game between Alfreton Town and Kidderminster Harriers where the visitors were 'officially' 1.97 although I was matched at 2.08 on Betfair. 

The safest approach at this stage is historically to lay the Home side, and with five winning results from six, this was again profitable this year:
The Brackley Town lay was looking lost until a 90' + 9' minute equaliser took the game into extra-time, but sometimes these late twists go for you, and sometimes against you. 

All-time, i.e. a whopping sample size of 31 matches, and the futility of backing the Home side at this stage is clear:
It's a similar story at the Semi-Final stage where we have the Home team coming off a bye, but as this post pointed out, this scenario isn't necessarily a good one, and specifically for the National League play-off Sem-Finals I noted here that
At 1.4 currently, Notts County (v Boreham Wood), are the shortest priced team ever in a National League play-off game (including the Regional Divisions) with 182 such matches in the books. 

Tuesday 2 May 2023

Sports v Fixed Margin and Affordability Checks

With 27, 298 hits, a number that climbs daily, my most read post is one linking to an article about the then new Betfair Premium Charge back in October 2008 written by The Guardian's Greg Wood. 

He has another article today on the topic of affordability checks, discussing whether betting on fixed-margin casino products or on sports (including horse racing) should be treated differently, and the possible impact it will have on horse racing

It's worth a read, even if like me, you couldn't care less about horse-racing, and who knows, in 15 years time maybe this post will be up there with Greg's Premium Charge article. I'll probably be dead by then, but my heirs will no doubt be tracking these things. 

Talking Horses: Racing could pay heavy price in gambling reform

A couple of hours after the government’s White Paper on gambling reform was finally published last week, Julie Harrington, the British Horseracing Authority’s chief executive, was asked whether the proposed legislation took into account the fundamental difference between betting – on racing and other sports – and gaming, on fixed-margin casino products.

“There is some good language in there, accepting that there is a difference between sport and evidence of faster losses on those casino-based games,” Harrington said. “I think on a more detailed reading, you’ll see that it may not be the headlines, but the language below really does differentiate that, so it’s clear that that has landed.”

As anyone who has flown with a budget airline may confirm, however, “landed” can feel like a relative concept when there is still a 30-minute yomp to passport control to come. And whatever “the language below” might suggest, the simple fact remains that when it comes to the proposed introduction of “affordability” checks for punters – a potentially significant threat to racing’s funding from betting – there is no differentiation at all.

Initial “frictionless” checks on punters’ finances will be triggered by a net loss of £125 over a month, or £500 in a year. Potentially more intrusive checks will be made if a customer shows signs of “binge” gambling, defined as a net loss of £1,000 in 24 hours, with further consultation on an additional trigger of a £2,000 net loss in 90 days.

As things stand, these thresholds apply regardless of whether a punter gambles solely on sport, solely on casino products or a mixture of the two. And while the relative speed of losses on casino games is acknowledged by some of the government’s language in the white paper, the nature of those losses is not.

There is a reason why online slot machines and roulette games are addictive by design. The bright colours and graphics, the flashing lights and sounds and above all the lightning speed of play are gaudy wrapping paper around what is, at its heart, a dull, mechanical process of separating gamblers from a percentage of their stake. The margin is fixed, by the same maths that holds the universe together. The more you gamble, the more certain it is that you will end up as a loser, so they want to keep you spinning, semi-hypnotised and several times a minute, for hours on end.

Most racing punters end up as losers too, of course, but the nature and pattern of those losses will often be entirely different. Some punters bet only on major meetings such as Cheltenham, others only on football or perhaps a more low-profile sport where they feel their knowledge gives them an edge.

And even the super-shrewdies who are sharp enough to make their betting pay long term are all but certain to hit a losing streak at some point that triggers an affordability check, never mind that they are probably giving a bit back at York in August when they made five times as much at Cheltenham in March.

The biggest gambling conglomerates have become hooked on the easy profits from gaming in the last 20 years, and fall over themselves to cross-promote gaming products to customers who initially sign up to bet on sport, as if it is just another way of having a punt. They even have the cheek to inform punters whose sports betting is restricted to pennies that they can gamble as much as they please on slots and roulette.

And racing, for the most part, has stood by and allowed it to happen. When £100-a-spin gaming machines in high-street betting shops toxified gambling’s image, industry figures swallowed – and, in some cases, parroted – the lie that thousands of betting shops would close, with disastrous results for racing’s Levy and media rights income, if stakes were cut to £2 a spin. They were, and they didn’t.

On that basis, an estimated loss to racing of between £8m and £14m as a result of affordability checks can perhaps be seen as the price to be paid for failing to stand up for betting and highlight the poisonous effects of gaming.

But that estimated loss could well be an underestimate, and there are already calls from some campaigners for the thresholds that trigger checks to be tightened. That is only ever likely to be a one-way process.

It is also unclear to what extent affordability checks will impact on a punter’s credit rating. If there is a chance that you will be denied a loan or a mortgage because you had a couple of bad days at Cheltenham, it will be a disincentive to open an account in the first place.

The consultation period on the White Paper before legislation is introduced has already started, and these are all points the BHA will presumably seek to raise in the weeks ahead.

But clear blue water between betting and gaming still seems unlikely, in the short to medium term at least. So on that basis, it might also be useful to press for a small fraction of the new £140m Statutory Gambling Levy, which is a very sensible feature of the government’s plans, to be spent on meaningful, definitive research to quantify the relative harmfulness of betting and gaming.

Gambling businesses have the necessary data at their fingertips – they can, after all, identify unprofitable racing punters after just three or four bets – and it should be freely available to any independent researcher who requires it. Then, and only then, we might be able to think about ways to finally purge the toxin of gaming from racing and betting.