What do pro punters/sharps bet on?

*UPDATE

The stat of 2.4 goals being scored on average in the Premier League was from a Pinnacle Resources article and has been found to be inaccurate. The actual average is 2.65 as seen on this over 2.5 goals stats page.

 

If you followed the tipster profiles on our Tipster Table tipping competition over the last few years it will have become apparent to you that there is plenty of value to be found betting on outsiders. Not just any old outsiders of course but with a bit of knowledge and crucially betting early and at top market prices, some very high returns on investment are possible.

Historically bookmakers have offered poor value on big outsiders and can get away with it because of the favourite longshot bias and punters’ inability to accurately price up selections with small probabilities of winning. Nowadays though, there is much more competition and across bookmakers the football markets have an overround that is as close to 100% as they’ve ever been before.

There are still poor offerings on outsiders in horse racing markets on average but this is often because the bookies fear those with more information than they. Trainers and owners with clever handicapping tactics are amongst the dangers and the overround has to have much more of a buffer. Even so, selections do slip through that go unnoticed by the bookies and you can find some huge value in the early prices if you’re selective.

This is all well and good when you are only betting a few quid but what do you do when you want to scale up your betting operations? Most of the bookies who are top price are often only prepared to lay at that price to attract new (and hopefully unsavvy) punters. They won’t care too much if you are wanting a tenner on at those standout odds but start winning and wanting £50, £100 or more on these value outsiders and you’ll soon be limited. I’ve seen some punters banned after 2 winning bets and some before they’ve even won a bet!

Warren Buffet has talked about a similar problem with investing in stocks and shares. His investing was so much easier and probably more enjoyable when buying shares in unknown companies who went on to do very well at a high ROI. These days the kind of returns from those finds aren’t enough to grow his Berkshire Hathaway fund sufficiently and he has to settle for well-known companies who are already big and that can grow enough to get the necessary returns. Opportunities are of course much rarer.

So if you have a large bankroll and are looking to stake big what can you bet on to get a decent enough return. In horse racing, connections often go to extreme lengths to get their bets on. Shrewd punters like Patrck Veitch who had the advantage of owning horses but also studied videos of races obsessively, had various runners betting for him at multiple bookmakers and had to get on at various different prices. If anything it will now be even tougher than it was then to bet big, especially if bookies get the slightest whiff of you being a shrewd player.

There is of course those who like to bet big on favourites. Again getting on early is key but horses are unpredictable beasts and even when getting on early it is still tough to turnover enough money on half a dozen races per month to make a decent return.

In football it seems that those who stake big and who are serious about their betting (often referred to as sharps), bet on the asian handicaps or unders/overs markets where big stakes are allowed. Bookmakers like 188bet and SBO Bet in particular, are happy to accept huge stakes. This article claims that the asian handicaps provide a rare equilibrium for bookmakers, sharps and recreational punters. Bookmakers like them because they are easy to model as there are only two outcomes and it’s easy to manage these markets. In additional to the high staking limits, they also appeal to sharps because it simplifies the betting into pretty much a 50-50 chance, where losing streaks are small. It doesn’t require much of an edge on large turnover amounts to make a lot of money. How easy is this though?

In the unders/over markets, According to betting expert Joseph Buchdahl not that easy. Mainly because he believes there’s not much movement in the opening or closing prices when monitored with Pinnacle. This is of course on average and it’s probable that small movements will happen on both the unders and overs as sharp money is wagered but they’ll cancel each other out. Even so, Buchdahl says that his analysis show little evidence that Pinnacle are actively managing the odds based on the betshare i.e. what’s been wagered and believes there’s little opportunity.

I find this very surprising and in my opinion it’s likely that they do manage the markets based on betshare as they do in other markets, but the margins are so small on average that it’s barely noticeable. It’s important to remember too that sharps are not looking to bet on every market and presumably go for the overs when they are favourable too.

Take Arsenal v Hull last week for example. The under 2.5 goals opened as high as 2.7 with bookmakers and closer to kick off I saw 2.5 and finally a best price of 2.3 available. This kind of movement is probably rare and the 2.7 was possibly a false price designed to attract new custom but it does show that there is movement. How much movement there is between the big asian books who are happy to accept huge stakes on these markets though, remains to be seen. Arsenal v Hull finished 2-0 incidentally and it’s one of a number of recent top team v smaller team matches that have been priced at over even money for under 2.5 goals but have finished with 2 goals or less. I wonder if the market takes into account that motivation is higher and more disciplined, defensive tactics are employed in these particular matches? Or perhaps it’s the majority of punters who don’t take it into account and the odds are higher because of the betshare and expected wagering, if indeed they even are.

What Buchdahl is able to confirm, is that there is a bias towards betting on over 2.5 goals. This isn’t surprising as you can see from forums and twitter that this is a very popular bet but why? Buchdahl explores a few possible reasons for this in his article but the one that stands out is the negative feeling punters get when a goal goes in. It generally feels better for most people to cheer on a goal and turn a bet into a winner than it is to start with a winning bet and it turn into a loser. Particularly for those who get excited by gambling.

Taking the above into account, it did surprise me a little to see fewer prices over even money for the under 2.5 markets, particularly in the Premier League. On closer inspection it seems that the average amount of goals scored in the Premier League is 2.4, so unders should always be priced below evens on average. Perhaps this is another reason why people prefer to bet on over 2.5 goals. For the recreational punter, betting a tenner or so, the thought of getting less money back than you risk is a bit unexciting and at even money or more you will always win more than you risk.

So, is there money to be made in markets like the unders/overs and asian handicaps or is the reported popularity amongst sharps an attempt to take more money on markets where an edge is unlikely? Bookmaker/Brokerage site Eastbridge who seem to target sharps or at least sharp aspiring customers are certainly keen to promote the asian handicap and cater for it.

Either way, it’s all very interesting and although I’m seeing some decent profits from my horse racing activity, I know that getting more than a few quid matched at the juicy prices on betfair is going to be a struggle and so I’m very interested in exploring the unders/over and asian handicap markets further. We’re now trialing the holy grail football betting system using the asian handicaps and I’ve set up a profile called Sharpy to test the waters myself. These bets will focus on the premier league and will generally take a contrarian approach in that I’ll be looking to back the underdog to cover the handicap and unders where they are unexpected and vice versa.

 

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