Gambling | The Smart Money

A winning psychology

You could follow your gut instinct to back a winner; or you could do what the real professionals do, and opt for über-clever software.

May 13 2011
Jamie Reid

The slothful enjoyment of summertime sport, preferably while cradling what the cricket commentator David Gower would call “a glass of something cold and sparkling”, is one of life’s great indolent pleasures. For many of us it’s even more enjoyable when there’s the added frisson of a wager involved. But how much does it really matter whether we win or lose – and how far are we prepared to go to try and secure a profitable outcome?

It’s a question that came to mind a few years ago when I was on a radio programme and confronted by a stern behavioural psychologist who avowed that all punters really want to lose. Gamblers, he insisted, are covert masochists motivated by a desire for pain. This assertion didn’t square with my own experience.

The thought of punishment certainly isn’t uppermost in my mind when investing a few readies on Arsenal to win a trophy or Andy Murray to win a tennis major. But then again, given how often both the Gunners and the young Scotsman have failed to finish the job, maybe I’m deluding myself and am indeed in thrall to a secret compulsion, as the psychologist maintains.

I do believe that most occasional punters, while preferring to back a winner if possible, don’t want the business of betting to become too serious. But the real smart-money types, intent on making regular profits, monitor the smallest fluctuations in markets and odds every bit as zealously as traders in currencies or oil.

Take Tennis Trader, for example, which is part of the ingenious Bet Angel software platform available to all users of Betfair. Value is the credo of all professional punters, who attempt to back a player, horse or team at a price that appears to underestimate their winning chance. Bet Angel, the brainchild of Peter Webb, a former finance man turned high-stakes exchange punter, aims to identify value “in running” – which means betting on a contest once it is under way – and Tennis Trader will be an invaluable tool for anyone risking serious money on Wimbledon or the French Open. Throughout each tournament the user-friendly interface will continually offer a calculated percentage probability of the likelihood of player A, say Murray, winning the next point, game or set subject to the current match conditions. Punters – or traders, as they prefer to be called – can keep betting or trading backwards and forwards on the match, taking advantage of the discrepancies between the actual odds being offered and Tennis Trader’s estimate of what the prices really ought to be. Bet Angel has a similar dedicated football product too, identifying in-play value on markets such as the total goals as well as the final score in tomorrow’s FA Cup final.

I can assure any psychologist that traders betting at this level are definitely not in it to lose. Indeed, there are many whose wagering is profitable in the extreme. But if even Bet Angel sounds too much like hard work and you just want to go with your gut instinct, I’d scrap any idea of backing Murray to win at either Wimbledon or the upcoming French Open. Good player though he is, there is plenty of evidence that there are others who remain a level beyond – and so I’m going for Novak Djokovic to dethrone Rafa Nadal on the clay at Roland Garros at 11-2 with Boylesports.