It was Albert Einstein who said that insanity could be defined as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. But that is precisely how the mind of a sports bettor needs to work. Systems which have produced profits for year after year can suddenly start producing losses. Tipsters who have been profitable to follow over a sustained period can hit a spell where they couldn’t pick a winner of a two-horse race where one of the participants has its legs tied together. Is it a sign that things have changed and the system or tipster will no longer make a profit, or is it a temporary blip which will turn around in the near future? Perhaps the most important skill that any serious bettor can have is the ability to know when to quit when you’re behind.
You may have devised systems which have been profitable based on the results of horses trained by either Luca Cumani or Roger Varian over recent years, but recent news that Sheikh Mohammed Obaid al-Maktoum has decided to move 35 horses from Cumani’s stable to that of Varian is bound to have an impact on both trainers’ future results. If a racecourse moves a rail, alters stalls positions slightly, or changes watering policy then these small differences can have a major impact on whether laying a favourite with a low draw at Ripon makes a profit or loss moving forward.
You may be disappointed, but not surprised, to learn that there is no clear cut rule for deciding whether a change in fortune is long or short-term. Whether you are therefore smart or stupid for sticking with, or terminating, a system is down to how your future bank balance is affected. If the chairman of a football club stands by his manager in bad times and things turn around he will be praised for showing sound judgement rather than a knee-jerk reaction. If the bad run continues and the club are relegated he will be castigated for not acting swiftly and bringing in a new man to freshen things up.
I have recently been experiencing by far the worst run I have had since I started betting seriously over three years ago. When things go wrong everything seems to conspire against you. After this weekend I have now come out on the wrong side of ten of the last twelve photo-finishes in which I have had an interest. I backed Simple Verse each way in the St Leger, but I did so via the Betfair Exchanges, as they were still paying three places despite the field being reduced to seven. She finished first, she is officially the winner in the record books, but, as Betfair rules pay out based upon the stewards decision, I lost the 9/1 win part of the bet and there’s nothing I can do about it. I signed up on this very site for the Holy Grail football service on Tuesday, but was not around to place the three bets recommended on day one – they all won. I did back the one Wednesday selection (Guiseley to win at Wrexham at 8.6) only for Wrexham to hit a 93rd minute equaliser in a 3-3 draw. Luck, at the moment, is not my friend. This bad run has caused me to re-appraise much of what I do. Sporting results are fluid and it essential that you are prepared to adapt.
Earlier this year I took a punt and purchased a system. I tend not to do this very often as I dislike parting with cash too readily, but this system has won awards on various testing sites and has seemingly been making consistent profits for several years. When the details arrived I was slightly nervous as it began by mentioning staking plans. My usual rule is that if a system is not profitable at level stakes then it is best avoided but, given the high praise and lengthy winning run this system has enjoyed, I decided to run with it.
Without giving details away the system involves laying selected odds-on horses using a Fibonacci staking plan. It started well enough but I then hit a run where I missed betting on horses which lost and seemed to catch all the ones which won. Sure enough I soon caught a nine winner sequence which meant a total of 88 points had been staked on those selections and some 74 points of my bank had disappeared. Nevertheless I continued and since then have been making small profits. However, I have my own similar system involving odds-on place laying which I decided to adapt to fit the staking plan. This was going ok until the last few weeks when I experienced six successful lays in a row (and nine in twelve) followed by a run of eight losses building me up to the dreaded 34-point lay again.
It was at this point that I realised how tense it was making me feel. How I had cursed and yelled as the eighth consecutive losing lay came home and how stressed I felt that in the middle of a bad run elsewhere I was now looking at having to lay an odds-on chance with a 34-point stake and how gutted I would feel if the horse won. This is no way to carry on. You must be able to remain calm in the face of adversity if you want to be a successful bettor and this staking plan is clearly not helping me to achieve this. Plus any run of results where I can achieve nine winning lays from twenty odds-on runners and still see me looking down the barrel is clearly bonkers anyway. The horses don’t know where they fit in my sequence. The fact that after my earlier nine-runner losing sequence the tenth one came nowhere had only frustrated me further as had its race been earlier in the day than the ninth loser I would have come out smelling of roses.
I do not need the anxiety. I do not know what happened to the next runner in the sequence for I stopped looking. Clearly there are bound to be occasions when the ninth in the sequence goes my way – that is a mathematical certainty. But it is also a certainty that there will be nine losing lays in a row again too. I can do without the way that makes me feel as the sequence builds up. I have jettisoned both systems, written off the losses incurred and the initial purchase cost. I realise that I may be turning my back on potential regular small profits in the future, but, do you know what? I feel much better for it.
Paul Dixon is a lifelong sports fan and author of the book Fun and Games in Fife and Gretna– a humorous look at an Englishman’s journey into Scottish football. He has been making regular profits from betting since 2012.