Tennis Trading with Courtsiders present

The subject of Courstiders in sports betting and in particular tennis just wont seem to go away. It’s usually around this time every year at the Australian Open that courtsiders are ‘discovered’ and an article surfaces about cheating. Betting expert Scott Ferguson is getting tired of explaining that there’s no sporting foul play here and that it has nothing to do with match fixing. You have to admire his persistence in educating the ill-informed.

Whether you can still regularly make a profit trading tennis manually against Courtsiders i.e. people who are physically present at tennis events and who are feeding data electronically to trading bots, is a subject that Cassini from the Green All Over blog returns to on a frequent basis. Envious of the traffic he’s been receiving for such prose, I felt rather envious and thought it was about time I gave my thoughts.

James Butler author of Programming for Betfair and Betfair Trading Techniques, both of which I’m presently reading and will soon be giving reviews on, backs up Cassini’s opinion that it isn’t possible to be consistently profitable in these markets and is often on hand to confirm his support for such views. Butler has in fact given himself Buchdahl (Joseph from Football-Data.co.uk) and Cassini the ‘BBC’ acronym and claimed that it’s the only BBC worth watching. Clearly he’s never seen an episode of Silent Witness.

Well ‘BT’ (BettingTools in this case) are becoming known for wanting a slice of the action and just as the popular Telecoms company decided to compete for the broadcasting of Premier League matches, this post is my attempt to get in on the act.

I myself have more of an interest in tennis than Cassini and Butler. Not sure about Buchdahl but given that he runs Tennis-data.co.uk  the sister of his primary football site, he is likely to be more of a tennis enthusiast. Either way, it doesn’t make my views on the matter any more expert but having watched and traded more matches than is healthy, I think it’s worth me giving my opinion.

The first thing to say is that tennis trading is far from easy, that I certainly agree with. In my rather naive early days I believed I could tell who was going to win a match and took my position accordingly. Of course, one progresses to the finding value and lay low, back high type strategies and things become easier.  It’s no guarantee to success though and even during periods of success, the profits I have gained will have worked out to have been pretty pitiful given the amount of time I’ve spent watching the matches and trading.

Men’s tennis I’ve found much tougher to profit from than women’s and this is mainly because serve is a lot more dominant in the men’s game. Closing out a set or a match is particularly difficult in women’s tennis and mentality also seems to play a part in addition to the poorer quality serving. This means that there are many more fluctuations in odds and by taking a low risk position there are potentially huge upsides. Isn’t this built into the price I hear you ask? It will be yes, but by keeping up with form and fitness it’s possible to get a feel for when these are more likely to occur. Also because fluctuations in the women’s game are so common, there’s more of a chance you’ll simply get lucky. Laying at under 1.2, you don’t need the odds to move very far to lock in a sizeable free bet on the currently losing player as this tennis trading video from betfair demonstrates.

This type of strategy is undoubtedly how most profitable manual tennis traders operate and you can see this from the matches traded on the profit and loss screenshots on the many tennis trading blogs that have existed on the internet over the years. The most well-known will be that of The Sultan who writes a blog called Centre Court Trading. He may well have been asked to take part in some kind of trading or even courtsiding syndicate himself but his profits look very much like taking a position laying a player in a strong position against a competitive opponent. Obviously knowing just how competitive the opponent will prove to be when a set down or a set and a break down is a skill in itself but you don’t have to be right many times and you can reduce the losses somewhat even if the comeback doesn’t materialise.

The trouble with this strategy is you know that these opportunities will come but they take time and you don’t want to miss them so you watch an awful lot of tennis at very unsociable times. If we look at one of the Sultan’s most profitable months posted we can see that he made an impressive £10,000 in one month but he traded over 160 markets. This works out to be £60 per market and considering most tennis matches are at least a couple of hours long this would work out to be £30 an hour. Obviously some matches will have been played at the same time but they will also have been during evenings and weekends. Not quite as impressive as it first seems particularly when the only other monthly profit loss screenshots published were for half of this amount and more commonly not even a quarter. Factor in the months where you’ve not done well and possibly even made a loss and the returns are looking a lot less exciting overall.

Sultan Tennis Trading Profit and Loss

Assuming you are happy to carry out all this hard work though and happy with those returns, how is it possible to profit still when you are betting in a market where courtsiders will always beat you to the punch?

Well aside from the endless hours of watching tennis and being extremely patient you have to enter the market between service games or at the end of sets, sometimes between points if the delays are long enough. Nadal takes near on 30 seconds between points in big matches and this is plenty of time to place a bet without worrying that your too far behind the action.

You also know that the sit-down period every 2 games is 90 seconds and with the overround tight at little over 100% you can’t get stung. If there are no gaps in the prices and plenty of liquidity either side you can be confident that the odds are statistically accurate otherwise one side would be picked off by someone with a more accurate model. It’s the job of liquidity providers to set the odds as accurately as possible and pick anything off either side of it.

Tennis Trading lends itself to manual trading very well because the prices move quickly but not as fast as other inplay sports like horse racing and the price you take can still be the same price on offer seconds later and there are frequent and long enough pauses between the action. In in-running horse racing, by the time you’ve submitted your bet things have changed. If they’ve changed for the better your bet will likely be unmatched and if they’ve changed for the worse then you’ve made a poor value bet and essentially been picked off. This doesn’t always hold true in tennis as long as you don’t bet while a point is inplay and you’re no more than a couple of seconds behind the live action.

Tennis is very easy to model due to its points system and the limited amount of outcomes and assuming that you do enter as Cassini put it, ‘between the speed bumps’ the fact that prices are so accurate is much more of a stumbling block as is commission and the premium charge if you’re lucky enough to pay it. If the back price is 1.11 and the lay price 1.10 with decent liquidity on both sides at the end of a set you can confidently back or lay knowing that your bet has been taken without anyone getting a time advantage on you. If however, you leave it until the server is ready and about to toss the ball up to serve and then you back at 1.11 then more fool you, you will be picked off by a courtsider or just someone with a more accurate feed and automated betting software. If you are looking for a swing and plan to hold that position for a long time i.e. until there’s a start of a comeback then in all honesty it doesn’t matter too much because you were happy to lay at that price at that time. The problems only really arise when on similar entry points you don’t get matched when the point and therefore market goes in your favour.

Competition and advantages exist everywhere though and you only have to look at the data collected by Dan at Tennis Ratings to see that he has more information to hand than I will ever have when I’m simply trying to read a match. I might read a few matches well but his data may well trump my match reading over the longer term.

This is an important thing to note and it’s not just markets that have courtsiders that pose a threat, there will be players in many other markets with significant time, pricing or information advantages, faster servers and internet connections who pose just as much of a threat as courtsiders.

Does all this mean that you can’t consistently profit? No, but it makes it very difficult. As my dad used to tell me, “no matter how good you are there’ll always be someone bigger, better and stronger out there than you.” This difficulty exists in all forms of sports betting and trading though and tennis is no more difficult than any other in my opinion.

Perhaps data like Dan’s are already taken into account by the market, more so as his subscriptions increase and a general match reading, contrarian type approach could still outperform his data. This is at least the challenge for most match reading tennis traders.

Admittedly Tennis Trading and any kind of sports trading can give people a lot of false beliefs. Because you can lock in a small profit in 5 matches in a row but then lose on the 6th it’s easier to think that you read that one wrong and that you can still beat the market when you probably can’t. The strategy of laying low and backing high can also give false impressions because underdogs winning or comebacks happening won’t happen equally spaced apart. A cluster of wins like this can make you think you’ve cracked it, only to find that it’s variance.

With a lot of hard work though, it is possible to profit regularly from manual trading and I’ve seen enough evidence from my own trading and that of others to be confident about this. I also think that there may be some sceptics trying too hard to prove what they believe i.e. that it isn’t possible and that there’s very much an element of curiosity with some. As intelligent as you may be you just might not be suited to sitting watching, reading and evaluating a tennis match in play and controlling your emotions, particularly if you don’t enjoy the sport. If you do and can make it work however, it is only you who knows whether it’s worth the consistent effort.

For me personally, trading tennis regularly is more gruelling than some 9-5 jobs but I know from experience that sometimes the desire to be the master of ones own destiny is so strong that it’s still preferable.  I think many of those who are clued up naturally make a move to horse racing betting or trading using bots where there’s more scope to find value and where races finish in minutes as opposed to hours! Matt on twitter who is well known for his large stake tennis trading is one of these and Butler’s betfair books are helping people explore this further. Horse racing might not be a sport that interests you per se but if you enjoy the analytical side of betting and numbers there’s a lot to get stuck into and more value to be found.

So, is consistently profiting from manual Tennis Trading where courtsiders exist impossible?  No, but courtsiders or not, it is very difficult and for a very high percentage it’s unlikely.