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Wednesday, 24 July 2013

How To Gain A Betting Edge On Preseason Soccer Friendlies

Preseason soccer friendlies provide a unique opportunity for betting due to a lack of available information regarding the fixtures. By exploiting this – and the surprising results – bettors can gain an edge over the oddsmaker.

Each year before the start of the soccer season, teams across the world play a number of preseason friendlies. Since the sport’s globalisation, teams not only play games to ready the squad for the upcoming season, but also embark on commercial trips around the globe.

This season Manchester United and Manchester City lost their opening pre-season games against Singha All Stars and SuperSport United respectively, while Celtic were defeated in all four pre-season games on a tour of Germany.

These results would be inconceivable in competitive football, so what factors conspire to produce such unthinkable outcomes?

Understanding these factors holds the key to betting successfully on preseason soccer friendlies, and by being more informed on these influences than the oddsmaker, the bettor has the potential to make a profit.

Teams Motivation – Commercial, fitness or tactical?
When considering betting on preseason soccer friendlies it is vital to understand both teams’ motivational factors.
Historically teams played friendlies for the sole purpose of gaining fitness and gelling a team in preparation for the upcoming season. However, there has been a trend over the past decade that has seen top European teams embark on preseason tours for commercial reasons.

On the pitch teams are focused on fitness and not winning, which is evident with so many shock results. It is a chance for the manager – who may be new – to get across his football philosophy and have a look at youth and fringe players. Star players rarely play more than 45 minutes.

With big European teams not fielding a full strength side, and playing with less intensity, it becomes easier for the ‘minnow’ opposition, and the likelihood for an upset increases. In addition, a number of friendlies will involve teams already playing competitively in their domestic leagues, meaning the squad is fully fit and playing regularly together, which again levels the playing field.

These smaller teams also have very different motivational factors. They have a chance to beat a European giant, which will not only look impressive in their history but also help to attract new local fans.

Player Motivation – Differs greatly game-to-game
Another aspect to consider is how interested players are in friendly games. This will differ for each individual player, and can be separated by early pre-season friendlies – commercial tours, and minnow fixtures etc. – and more competitive games just before the start of the season.

Early preseason games
Professional players can earn astronomical wages that are bumped up by a number of bonuses written into their contracts – goal, appearance and season performance bonuses.

However, these do not apply to friendlies, so are the big players as motivated to perform well when they are playing against a local club in Indonesia? Also a number of mega stars will be contracted to play at least 20 minutes in certain games, will they be inspired to perform well when playing in front of a small crowd?
With footballers travelling large distances to participate in friendlies overseas they need to acclimatise to conditions, where the temperature can be very hot. In addition to increased fatigue and lapses in concentration, players who travel across time zones are prone to injury and illness.

Thomas Reilly suggests when travelling large distances, training should be light for the first few days in a new time zone – Wayne Rooney was injured in his first training session with United the same day he landed in Thailand, resulting in him potentially missing the start of the season.

Opposition players’ mentality will be very different as they relish a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play against ‘giants’ of the game.

Take the friendly between Bournemouth and Real Madrid, what motivation do the Los Blancos players have to play an English Championship team? However, the Cherries players have an opportunity to play against Ronaldo etc. and put themselves in the shop window.

Late preseason games
There is an evident shift in motivation when the preseason friendlies get closer to the start of the season and the opposition’s strength increases. With fitness levels now raised, team fixtures intensify as the manager looks to fine-tune tactics and match sharpness ahead of the seasons start. Sponsors, broadcast on TV, run events such as the Emirates Cup and the Amsterdam Tournament and trophies are awarded to the winners.

These games are also a chance for first team and fringe players to show their manager they deserve a place, gain an understanding and arrive in good form for the upcoming season.

Be aware of the rules
When betting on friendlies it is important to research the rules, as they are prone to changing. Unlimited substitutions, which allow teams to play younger, less experienced, players, and games with no cards or stoppage time are frequently implemented.

These may seem like subtle changes, but cards and substitutions impact the dynamic of the game, so understanding how the rules changes affect the game can be the difference between winning and losing a bet.

Final Thoughts
With teams playing games against clubs they wouldn’t usually play, more often than not there is no data on previous encounters, so it is difficult to use form or translate past performances against similar sides because they’re so detached.

With so many factors to consider such as the motivation of players, vested interests of teams and changes in rules, coupled with a distinct lack of historic data, betting on pre-season soccer friendlies offers the bettor an opportunity to earn an edge over the bookmaker by being more informed.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Understanding The Halo Effect - How To Be Objective When Betting

Many people bet intuitively. They rely on what they know or feel about a particular team or player to make an on-the-spot assessment of their chances of success. While intuition is reliable at instantly working out if someone is angry with you, it isn’t great with probability judgements and the Halo Effect is one reason why.

The Halo Effect

For the majority of people, these descriptions leave a more favourable impression of Alan than of Ben. This is strange given that their listed characteristics are identical and just presented in reverse.

Instead of acknowledging that the only difference is in the order that the data is received, the lazy side of our mind (often referred to as System 1) seeks a consistency in evaluation in order to quickly build a coherent narrative.

The initial positive trait – Alan is intelligent – inclines us to interpret the latter traits to support this view and vice-versa with envious Ben. This is known as the Halo Effect.

What has this got to do with betting? Change the example from fictitious men to two soccer teams or tennis players, and the character descriptions to results or performances. It is easy to see how betting judgements are biased by the order in which information is acquired, and the significance of particular performances.

This kind of bias isn’t isolated, people are also susceptible to the Availability Heuristic that leads us to place greater disproportional significance to events/ideas that are easiest to recall. Availability is largely linked to the strength of our emotional response to events, which is greater when they make a more lasting impression e.g. high-scoring games, five-set classics, etc.

So with knowledge of the Halo Effect and Availability Heuristic, let’s look at some examples within betting where they apply:

Brazilian Soccer Team
The reverence with which Brazil’s national soccer team is held sets them aside from all other national teams, and in the minds of the betting public, out of proportion to a truly objective appraisal. It is a fact that the Seleção have won the World Cup more often than any other nation – but their five victories came in two distinct periods 1958-70 and 1994-2002, while at the last two tournaments they fell at the quarter-finals, and the burden of expectation will be huge in 2014.

Their periods of success starting with the golden age of Pele, Carlos Alberto, Rivelino, etc. have created a ‘Halo’ that skews the perception of all Brazilian teams, which availability bias confirms with the easy recollection of frequently aired wonder-goals, especially from the 1970 tournament in Mexico.

Younger generations may be less familiar with events from over 40 years ago but the media perpetuates the idea (confirmation bias) by hammering home the idea that all Brazilian players are super-skilled. This consistency of evaluation creates a coherent narrative. “Brazil has produced many of the world’s most skilful players – therefore all Brazilian players are skilful”.

At the risk of upsetting half of Merseyside, Liverpool FC are another team that the Halo Effect applies to. Having won eleven League titles from 1973-90, it can be hard to disassociate subsequent Anfield teams with that history. This can lead to bettors to over-value contemporary Liverpool sides, who share nothing but a history with those great teams.

The Halo Effect also explains why a disproportionate amount of credit is given to famous ex-soccer players who move into management. There is no statistical evidence that being a good player makes you a good manager. Mark Hughes was a great player at Manchester United and Chelsea, but expectations of him as a manager have subsequently been set at the same level of achievement. The Halo created by playing exploits leads many clubs, fans and bettors to expect more than is realistic from those individuals when they are picking the team. This subject has gained exposure through the book Moneyball, and film of the same name.

Reverse Halo
The Halo Effect can also work in reverse. If the first impression of your holiday hotel is a broken sign, this can set a negative context biasing all subsequent judgements about your stay. From a betting perspective, a bad performance disproportionally biases future assessments.

After relinquishing a four-shot lead going into the final round of the 2011 US Masters, Rory McIlroy was labelled a choker and worse by newspaper headlines. Prior to the tournament he was one of the sport’s rising stars, but one dramatic round of 80 – easily recalled given the visible turmoil of the young golfer (thanks to the Availability Heuristic) – changed all that in many bettors’ eyes. Any bettor able to take a more rounded judgement would have benefited two months later when he won the US Open by eight shots, then in 2012 he won his second major, the US PGA Championship

Had these events happened in reverse – winning two majors then collapsing in the final round of the Masters – assessments of his future performances would have been more forgiving. This is particularly pertinent with McIlroy’s walking off the course halfway through round two of the Honda Classic (on Mar 1st) with a 7-over par score and in a ‘bad state mentally’. The ‘Halo’ that major success has given will temper bettors’ opinions of McIlroy’s chances of future success.

Lessons to Learn
Our intuitive mind is valuable and very powerful, and can often save our lives by perceiving danger. However, it has a real weakness when it comes to statistical assessment. The trick is to force our effortful mind (System 2) into action.

Before making a betting choice, it is important to:
  • Deliberately look for three counter arguments to your face value assessment
  • Employ as much objective data with as big a sample size as possible
  • Ignore mainstream media which often seeds simplistic narratives
Bettors who read about interesting aspects of psychology like the Halo Effect may be inspired to the point of sharing their new knowledge, but this doesn’t mean that they can modify their own propensity to place ‘Halos’ on sportsmen or teams. The test is not whether you have learned a new fact but whether your understanding of situations you encounter has evolved.

Friday, 12 July 2013

The Argentine Primera División Can Be Very Profitable For Bettors

Often revered as one of the elite soccer nations, Argentina is home to one of the world’s most intriguing domestic soccer leagues. Read on to learn why betting on the Primera División could be for you.

The world’s greatest?
When you think of Argentina you immediately think of Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi, both of whom arguably have claim to being the greatest player ever. However, despite both players starting their careers in Argentina, it’s their exploits in Europe for which they are best known.

The Argentine Primera División shouldn’t languish in the shadows of these icons, however, as it’s home to some of the biggest clubs in the world, including Boca Juniors and River Plate. Many well-known stars such as Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria built their reputation in their homeland before moving abroad to sign for big European clubs.

One way to get an edge in the Primera División is to identify the current crop of key players. The current status of these players – injury, suspension, form etc. – should influence the way you bet on their team.

Understanding the complex Argentine Primera División format
The league is made up of 20 teams; which is split up into two tournaments – The Torneo Inicial and the Torneo Final. Both competitions last 19 games, with the conclusion culminating in the Torneo Inicial and Torneo Final winners playing in the Superfinal, to determine the Super Champions.

Perhaps the most complicated aspect of the Primera División is relegation, as it is based on an averaging system. At the end of each season, the three teams with the worst three-year averages are relegated to the Primera B.

For example at the end of the 2012-13 season, Independiente were relegated even though they finished 18th in the Torneo Inical and 12th in the Torneo Final. This is because they had accumulated a total of 129 points from 114 games played in the past three seasons, which gave them an average of 1.132, which was the second-worst in the league.

This means that bettors may need to do more extensive research on fixtures, to find out which teams are battling relegation during the season. As it may not be abundantly clear just by looking at the table.

The threat of relegation for a team can greatly influence betting with regards to a team’s motivation and form, for example teams often go on good runs towards the latter stages of seasons when fighting the drop.

There are 5 places up for grabs in the Copa Libertadores (the South American equivalent of the Champions League). The Primera División super champion joins the losing finalist, as well as the Copa Argentina champion in the second stage. The final place goes to the best Argentinian placed team in the Copa Sudamericana.
The league runs from August until the following June. Teams involved in the latter stages of the Copa Libertadores, which ends in July and teams playing in the early stages of the Copa Sudamerica, which starts in July, play outside their domestic season.

Betting on the Argentine Primera División
Argentine Primera División markets include the basic soccer bet types: 1x2s, handicaps and totals.

This is the most common bet type. You simply bet on whether a team will win, lose or draw a match.
For example, imagine these are the odds for a Primera División match between Velez Sarsfield (2.800) and Newell’s Old Boys (2.960) with the draw at 3.030.

If Velez won the match and you staked £10 on them to win, you would have won £28 – although that would include your initial £10 stake. Therefore your profit would be £18. You would win nothing if the result ended in a defeat or draw for Velez.

If the outcome had been a draw then a £10 bet would have returned you £30.30 (£20.30 profit and your £10 stake).

Handicaps are useful when one team is heavily favoured over the other team, as you can bet on who will win a match, with a set number of goals taken off the favourite’s score.

Let’s say the handicap for Velez Sarsfield is -1 (2.020) and Newell’s Old Boys is + 1 (1.901).

If the result was 2-0 to Velez, then a bet on them would win as 2-0 covers the -1 handicap.

If the result was a draw, or a loss for Velez then a bet on Newell’s would win as they would cover their +1 handicap.

If the result was a 1-0 win for Velez then bets for both Velez and Newell’s would see money returned, as both sides would have drawn 0-0 with handicaps applied.

The Totals market sees the bettor predict whether the total number of goals for a match will be over or under a set amount.

Imagine the total goal mark for Velez Sarsfield vs Newell’s Old Boys is set at Over 2 and 2.5 (1.893) and Under 2 and 2.5 (2.010).

If you bet £10 on the game to be Over 2 and 2.5 goals – and the result was 2-1 (a total of three goals) you would have a return of £18.93 (£10.93 profit), while you would have won nothing if you had bet on the goals total to be Under 2 and 2.5

Argentine Primera División betting tip – draw frequency
It is worth noting that draw occurrence in this league is extremely high, the 2012-13 Argentine Primera División season saw 34% of games in the Torneo Inicial finish in a draw, and 35% in the Torneo Final. A possible reason for such a high number of draws is due to the league’s relegation system, with teams potentially becoming cagier due to the three-year averages that are in place.

There were a higher percentage of draws in the Primera División (total 35%) than in every major European League in the 2012/13 season – La Liga (22%), Serie A (25%), Bundesliga (25%), Premier League (28%) and Ligue 1 (28%).

In fact, over a four-year average the amount of draws in the Primera División was 31% and the four-year average for the European leagues were – La Liga (23%), Serie A (27%), Bundesliga (25%), Premier League (27%) and Ligue 1 (29%).

If you were to bet £10 on every Primera División game finishing in a draw in 2012-13 season you would have made £424 profit.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

How Weather Influences Betting - Does Weather Affect Match Outcomes?

When placing a bet, you may check variables such as a team’s form and their record against the opposition – but do you check the weather? This often-overlooked aspect of sports betting can influence the outcome of any sporting event.

Professional sports teams understand the impact of the weather, with most employing meteorologists who have good knowledge of local conditions.

Below is a list of how regular conditions can have adverse effects on the best-laid plans in a variety of sports:

Affect of Weather in Soccer
Perhaps the most frequent bad-weather condition in football, rain can cause the ball to “skim” or move quicker along the pitch, perfect for teams that like to pass the ball.

If the rain gets too heavy, however, a pitch will become waterlogged and slow the ball down, disrupting passing football. This is especially important for lower-league clubs, who do not have adept ground staff to keep the pitch in top condition.

Therefore it’s vital to check not just whether or not it will rain, but how much is likely to fall.

The slippery conditions could also have a big impact on total goals betting – stinging rain will not just affect a goalkeeper’s grip, but also reduce his visibility for long-range strikes.

Affect of Weather in American Football
American Football is another sport that can be easily influenced by rain. The surface will be slower, likely leading to a tighter and tougher contest between the two sides. The rain can also affect a Quarterback’s ability to throw.

Wind is arguably the main weather condition that affects the game, however, providing a dramatic advantage for rushing teams. Teams that prefer passing plays will find windy conditions particularly difficult.

Affect of Weather in Tennis
When it comes to tennis, sustained periods of heavy rain result in delays, postponements and interruptions.
These can provide much-needed respite for losing players in the midst a match, or delay a game enough to negatively impact the winner’s recovery time and therefore affect his next match.

At Wimbledon, it can lead to the closure of the roof, which in turn will affect the bounce of the ball and benefit indoor-specialists – such as Roger Federer.

Wind is another contributing factor for tennis conditions – it can greatly shift how the ball moves and tilt the advantage in favour of baseline defenders, instead of those who aim for the lines.

Knowing the weather conditions is a must for the serious bettor, and a reliable forecasting site is a vital tool. While there are numerous free forecasts available on the internet, commercial offerings can offer an even bigger edge for fans of outside sports, such as soccer, football, tennis and baseball.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Formula One Betting - Which Drivers Convert Best from Pole Position?

Securing pole position in qualifying gives a Formula One driver the best possible chance of winning the race. But how often do the best drivers’ convert, and who is the most successfully at converting pole positions into race wins?

Pole position drivers win 49% of races
Along with understanding the positive relationship between qualifying and final race position, it is worth bettors noting which drivers have the highest pole position-to-race wins conversion rate.

Eight drivers – Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa, Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber, Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen – have secured 93% (109 pole positions) of pole positions in the last seven Grand Prix seasons.

From these 109 pole positions, the drivers’ converted their starting position into a race win 52% of the time. This is slightly higher than the overall ten-year average conversion rate of 49% across 142 races.

Drivers pole conversion table
Number of Pole positions
Percentage of races driver secures pole (%)
Pole to win conversion (%)
Fernando Alonso
Felipe Massa
Lewis Hamilton
Nico Rosberg
Sebastian Vettel
Mark Webber
Jenson Button
Kimi Raikkonen

Fab Four – Hamilton, Vettel, Alonso and Raikkonen
Statistically, the four drivers – Alonso, Vettel, Hamilton and Raikkonen – stand out from the other four drivers in the above sample.

These drivers have secured pole on 66% (78/118 races) of occasions over the past seven seasons.
Vettel alone has secured 39 pole positions – a remarkable 36% of all Grand Prix in the past seven years. Hamilton is the next closest with 27 poles in 118 races, which means between the two drivers they have secured pole position 59% of the time since the start of the 2007 Grand Prix season.

Spaniard Alonso may have only claimed pole position seven times since 2007, but he has converted five into victories, giving him the highest pole conversion rate of any of these top four. Raikkonen follows with a 60% conversion rate, while Vettel coverts just over half of his pole positions into wins, and Hamilton manages a lowly 40%.

Winning when not on pole separates the best from the rest
With nearly half of all pole positions converted into race victories over the last decade, we also looked at the ‘fab fours’ ability to win races when not starting from pole position compared to Button, Massa, Webber and Rosberg.
Hamilton and co. individually won 11.08% of the time when not starting on pole position, compared to just 2.64% for the rest – a huge decrease.

Intriguingly only slightly behind Vettel, Raikkonen has the 2nd highest average (11.11%) of race wins when not starting on pole. This may be reflective to the fewer number of pole positions (10.60%) he has secured compared to others.

All of the ‘fab four’ win on average more than 10.5% of their races when not starting from pole position, while the other four drivers are considerably lower – Button (5.56%), Massa (1.99%), Webber (2.25%) and Rosberg (0.76%).

Research is a Formula One bettors best friend
Looking at drivers’ pole conversion rates is not, on its own, sufficient enough to create an edge over the bookmaker. To be profitable in Formula One betting statistics should be gathered for track familiarity, weather, race strategy, tyre issues, car reliability and racing incidents, all of which would affect the likelihood of converting pole positions.

You will then be in a stronger position to make an informed decision about Formula One race winners.

Monday, 1 July 2013

How Confirmation Bias Affects Your Betting

When was the last time you decided to bet on a team, but found new information and decided to back their opponent? If you don’t do this very often, it could be because you’ve become a victim of “confirmation bias”, a phenomenon that can harm your betting.

The theory behind confirmation bias is a simple one: humans prefer to stick to what they know, rather than change their opinions based on new evidence. Instead of objectively analysing new information we discover, we instinctively pay attention to certain sources and disregard others that challenge our existing conceptions.

Obviously this is negative for bettors, as any increase in subjectivity can move people away from the most accurate prediction of outcomes. But how can we ignore our inherent confirmation bias?

Information Overload
Google has provided a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate the power of confirmation bias. Pick one of the following conspiracy theories that you disagree with:
  • We never landed on the moon
  • Aliens are kept in Area 51
  • 9/11 was an inside job
Now take one theory and search it in Google. You’ll find literally millions of results logically discussing an objectively very suspect theory. The second result for Moon landings is titled “100% proof we never walked on the Moon”. Result two for aliens offers a huge list of reasons why aliens might be at Area 51, while 9/11 has “Facts Proving 9/11 Was An INSIDE JOB”.

The chances are that none of the webpages you’ve just looked at have changed your views, despite the vast number of them. Of course, in this case that could be considered sensible, but it shows that despite 32 million results (in the case of 9/11), pre-set opinions are difficult to change.

The same occurrence happens when investigating teams for betting. A person’s current beliefs are reinforced by information they find, but when counteractive evidence is presented, it is ignored. For example, most people consider Brazil and excellent team, despite (prior to the 2013 Confederations Cup) the Seleção having won just 54.3% of their last 36 games.

This was studied in a field similar to betting – online stock market investing. A study by Park et al., 2010 showed that investors gathered information about a prospective stock by looking for information that confirmed their existing opinions about a particular stock. The traders who experienced the strongest confirmation bias made the least money.

Bias also extends to tracking your own betting success. Because we all want to believe we’re doing well, we’re prone to bias our performance, and remember our wins much more strongly than our losses, even if this isn’t the case.

How to stop confirmation bias
To help alleviate the effect of confirmation bias, try to objectively and logically experience countering points of view. This sounds easy, but as we proved with the conspiracies, objectively investigating a countering argument is difficult.

Even if you can’t become 100% objective (and no-one can), becoming better at appreciating well-informed points of view that differ from your own beliefs will make you a savvier bettor, and probably a more understanding person.