The goal for bettors is to win. To win a bet, to win money, to essentially get more out of the betting market than what you put in. It may seem counterintuitive to then say that being wrong is a good thing, but it can certainly help you in the long run. Why? Read on to find out.
Right and wrong isn’t as simple as you think
Like many other things in life, it is difficult to distinguish between right and wrong in betting. If you win a bet, does that mean you’re right? What if the soccer team you bet on scored a dubious last minute penalty to get an undeserved win, or someone missed a simple layup in a basketball game where you had the under? Conversely, can you lose a bet and still be right?
All bettors should know that you can get something wrong and win money and also get something right and lose. All sports are influenced by randomness and luck in some way, some more than others, and when you are betting on these sports you need to understand that the result of what you bet on is not 100% predictable.
It’s not just an individual bet that may be impacted by good or bad luck, this extends to every bet you place. While the actual result of every bet won’t be determined by luck, it’s important to understand how big of a role it plays in betting before you form an opinion of how skilled a bettor you are.
A lack of understanding of randomness and an awareness of variance in sports betting can be very dangerous. Many people would be happy with a 9-2 record and up 10 units betting NFL on a weekend, but thinking that makes you an expert may lead to betting more money or placing more bets. When you get to the end of the NFL season with a 139-59 record and down 95 units things will obviously look a lot different.
It’s sometimes difficult to admit you were wrong. However, if you’re able to do it as a bettor it can help you improve. You might want to get things right all the time but simply being wrong less often is a good way to start saving money in sports betting. Once you start saving money, you might be able to start making some.
Accepting the inevitable
If you’re starting out on your betting career and think you’re always going to be right, you’re in for a big surprise. The often quoted benchmark for success in betting is winning about 53-55% of the time (assuming you are betting around even money odds - normally handicaps and totals) and even the best bettors will lose more than 40% of the time. As stated above, losing doesn’t always mean you got it wrong but if you’re losing 40 times out of 100 over the course of a betting career, there’s going to be some poor decision making along the way.
There are plenty of people out there who think they’re the world’s greatest sports bettor. The sooner you realise you aren’t, that you will make mistakes, get things wrong and that you need to put time and energy in to improve both your process and results, the better. Once you can acknowledge that you may get things wrong, it allows you to accept that it can be worked on and improved. If you constantly believe your bet lost because of a “bad beat”, you’re only going to repeat your mistakes and see the same results.
Understanding your weaknesses
Once you’ve accepted that you’ll get things wrong and there are reasons why that happened that are under your control, it will allow you focus on looking into where the mistakes were made and how to address them.
It could be inputs within your model, not adjusting your priors after having access to more data, or it could be the result of a bias that influenced your perception of a team or player. There are a multitude of things to consider and it’s down to you as a bettors to address them if you want to improve.
Look at every bet you make after the event takes place and ask yourself “Knowing what I know now, would I place that bet again if they were to start over again?”.
Whether it's a small tweak, a major shift, adding something into your analysis or taking something out - once you know you’ve got something wrong it’s then about putting the time in to try and get it right.
You might need to go back to the drawing board, try a new method and backtest your calculations against historical records. It could be that you continue betting with both your previous strategy and compare the output and results against each other. Unfortunately, this article won’t give you the answers to those kinds of questions, it’s merely to encourage you to ask them.
Getting things wrong to get your risk right
In addition to helping you develop in terms of your decision making, getting things wrong can teach you some valuable lessons in terms of managing your bankroll. It’s all well and good being able to make accurate predictions, but if you don’t have any money to bet with, you aren’t going to make it very far as a bettor.
The obvious example here is that if you lose a large chunk of your money and get burned on a big bet, you’re more likely to look after it moving forward. Getting things wrong in betting and losing money is a good way to learn that perhaps sticking to the same low-level flat stakes until you see some improved results is a good way to look after your funds while you continually assess how profitable your betting strategy might be.
As your process becomes more advanced and you understand your edge, how it is achieved and how it can be optimised, you can look to use a proportional staking method like the Kelly Criterion.
Getting used to a more methodical approach to managing your risk will then allow you to increase your tolerance for risk and become more accustomed to betting the right amount of money. If you’re serious about betting you will often find yourself betting with high stakes and if you are too caught up in the amount of money bet, you are unlikely to be confident that it’s the right bet to make.
A tolerance for risk is essential if you want to make a living from betting and risk aversion is often a stumbling block for those looking to take their betting further so it can become a legitimate source of income. However, once you’ve learnt to look after your money when you get things wrong, you will then become more accustomed to the idea that both winning and losing is a regular occurrence and it’s not about how much you lose on an individual bet but what your results look like in the long term.
Can you trust your process?
The difficult thing for some bettors to accept is that even after hundreds of bets, thousands even, you still might not know whether you’re fortunate to be winning or unlucky to be losing (or vice versa). If you want to learn more about your betting record and how much skill and luck is involved, you can calculate its p-value using the t-distribution (or “t-test”) as shown by Joseph Buchdahl in a previous article.
While this approach may not give you a concrete answer as to whether you are a skilled or unskilled bettor, it will show you how likely it would be to achieve profit from your bets purely by chance. Of course, the larger the sample size to work with, the more insightful the results from the t-test will be.
Getting things wrong isn’t all that bad
It’s important to learn things along the way in your betting journey. Pay just as much attention to your losing bets as you do to those that win. Try to figure out where things went wrong. Did a bet lose because your calculations were off, or did it lose because you got unlucky? A great piece of advice is to look at every bet you make after the event takes place and ask yourself “Knowing what I know now, would I place that bet again if they were to start over again?”.
Getting something wrong shouldn’t be seen as a negative as it’s a crucial part of helping you develop.