Two weeks ago
Oct 14, 2020

The five best books to improve your betting

Which books should you read to improve your betting?

How can books help improve your betting?

The Success Equation, Antifragile, Superforecasting and more

The five best books to improve your betting

If you believe everything you read on the internet, everyone has the ability to make as much money as they want without having to work for it. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, if something is too good to be true, it usually is. The get rich quick scheme often costs you money, the “sure thing” investment that is about to blow up often goes horribly wrong and the betting tipster on an unbelievable hot streak soon becomes a victim of variance.

However, all hope is not lost. There are plenty of resources out there that can help you, especially when it comes to betting. Interestingly, these resources are often the ones that don’t claim to offer a silver bullet solution to the problem of beating the bookmaker (because they can’t), but if used properly they can certainly provide useful information that will help empower bettors to become more successful in the long run.

Some bettors will choose to start with Google and cast a wide-open net to find betting-related material that can help give them an edge. There are also plenty of blogs out there with experts who are willing to share their expertise through articles, or podcasts for those who prefer to consume audio content. If you have the time to filter through a lot of noise, Twitter can also be a useful resource (especially when looking to build a network of people for knowledge sharing).

While there are many ways to find information to help improve your betting, the focus of this article will be to look at books which, either directly or indirectly, contain a wealth of information that bettors can use to their advantage. It was quite a challenge to filter this list down (we’ll have to feature some honourable mentions) and it should be noted that a range of books have been included to suit all types of bettor.

The Success Equation by Michael J. Mauboussin

To give it it’s full title, The Success Equation: Untangling Skill and Luck in Business, Sports, and Investing is essentially about what all bettors need to understand: how both luck and skill can influence performance and results. It’s human nature to believe our positive results in betting are caused by our predictive skill, and the negative results are simply down the bad luck. While it is quite common to have this mind-set, it can be very dangerous when investing money based on this principle.

Mauboussin’s book will help bettors understand that it’s not quite as simple as being good and bad at betting. We need to be prepared to experience good and bad luck, no matter how skilled or unskilled we are. In short, if you want to be successful in betting, you need to be a skilled bettor but also benefit from some good luck.

As important as things like distinguishing causation and correlation, understanding uncertainty, and measuring the influence of luck are (and they are covered in great detail in the book), one of the most interest elements of Mauboussin’s book is his work on the paradox of skill. There is a great MLB example used to explain this paradox of skill, but it’s also one that bettors would be wise to apply to the competition within the betting market.

Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

There are quite a few books by Nassim Nicholas Taleb that could have made this list but Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder just about pips Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan. While Taleb may divide opinion when it comes to his writing style, there is no denying the quality of his works and his intellectual capability (his past experience in the financial markets and position of Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at NYU Tandon School of Engineering only further enhance his credentials).

While it isn’t completely necessary to read Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swann before starting Antifragile, it is probably well advised. Not only to become acclimatised to Taleb’s way of communicating his ideas, but because the three do have a natural progression to them and follow some sort of natural order. It could be argued the aforementioned titles are more directly related to betting and that Antifragile evolves into more of a social commentary, but the reason this book makes the list ahead of the others is that it does a good job of covering that old ground and still takes things a bit further. What’s more, if you are able to understand the concept of anti-fragility and apply it to your betting, it could yield some positive results.

The reason the concept of antifragility should be so important to bettors is that it can provide you with an opportunity. Instead of accepting volatility, randomness or uncertainty and not changing, anti-fragility would result in change and allow you to thrive when exposed to such things.

One of the other, most important things to come out of this book is the Green Lumbar fallacy. I will leave the interesting examples to the book, but discovering that we tend to overvalue one kind of knowledge (that of a particular sport) over another kind of knowledge (how to bet on that sport) is often a pivotal moment of many careers in sports betting. An awareness of the Green Lumbar fallacy and acceptance of how it may relate to your own betting could lead to a major change in what you bet on, how you bet and what your results look like.

Squares & Sharps, Suckers & Sharks by Joseph Buchdahl

Joseph Buchdahl has been referred to as “the grim reaper of betting” thanks to his no-nonsense approach in telling people about how betting works and how difficult it is to win in the long run. Squares and Sharps, Suckers and Sharks: The Science, Psychology Philosophy of Gambling is Buchdahl’s third book (published in 2013) and while the other two are well worth a read, it is his most recent work that makes this list.

As the title suggests, this book covers a wide variety of topics under the umbrella of betting and should perhaps come with a warning that it is not for the fainthearted. As Buchdahl himself explains, there are a variety of different reasons that people bet, and if you do it purely for the entertainment, this book may uncover more than you wanted to know.

There are many great ideas explored in this book, some of which Buchdahl has expanded upon in his articles for Pinnacle, and they often tie back to the idea of probability - everything from probability theory, how probability manifests in the world of sports betting, and trying to calculate the probability that your success in betting is down to anything but luck. Buchdahl is clearly a very intellectual individual whose own reading and research has allowed him to dive into what can be such a complex topic and present condensed findings to the reader.

Buchdahl, as anyone who follows him on Twitter will know, is also keen to make others aware that following tipsters is often a worthless endeavour. There is ample research and analysis within Squares & Sharps, Suckers & Sharks that shows exactly why.

If you’re looking for a book to help you understand more about why you make the decisions you do, get a better grasp of probability, as well as what expected value means, why it’s important and why it is unlikely to be provided by a paid-for service, you won’t find many books better than this.

The Logic of Sports Betting by Ed Miller & Matthew Davidow

When it was published in 2019, The Logic of Sports Betting was an instant hit with bettors. While conceptually it is written for those at the beginner level, there really is something in it for everyone. It’s easy to see why it has been held in such high regard since it was published; a relatively short and easy read, despite some complex subject matter, it finds the perfect balance between understanding the math behind betting and how that translates into your experience as a bettor.

Both authors come from an esteemed background. Ed Miller has written numerous books about poker and Matthew Davidow has experience on the modelling side of the industry – both now run the in-play odds provider Deck Prism Sports.

The Logic of Sports Betting is more than just a starting point for bettors. The notion of “synthetic hold” is one of the basic principles that all bettors need to understand and it’s something that provides a great platform to build from. The breakdown of the advantages a bookmaker holds over bettors is also incredibly useful to bettors and if the ideas are put into practice, they can certainly yield positive results (they may also get you banned for being an advantage player).

A major part of developing as a bettor is not only becoming more knowledgeable, learning from your mistakes and developing your skills, it’s about understanding what you’re up against. It’s actually a bit of a myth that betting is about bettor vs. bookmaker and while it’s other bettors you are trying to beat in the market, understanding how bookmakers work, the different types of bookmaker out there and what their potential weaknesses can be incredibly useful.

Superforecasting by Phillip E. Tetlock & Dan Gardner

Given that the key to success in betting is about being able to make accurate predictions (or forecasts), it seems only right to include a book about exactly that. Many reading this will probably suggest that Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise for that very reason. However, Tetlock and Gardner’s work offers up something a little different.

Tetlock's 20-year study concluded that forecasting experts were “roughly as accurate as a dart-throwing chimpanzee”.

If you pick up this book and read it in the hope that by the end you’ll be able to pick winning bets without any issue at all, you’re going to be very disappointed. However, if you’re looking for help to improve the process of making predictions and understanding what is to be avoided, you won’t find much better than this. It provides a comprehensive overview of what goes into making accurate forecasts, the potential pitfalls and why that even the most accurate of forecasts may not be all that they appear.

One thing to acknowledge when reading this book is that the amount of people who are actually skilled at predicting future events is incredibly low, a lot lower than many people might think. This is highlighted by Tetlock’s 20-year study using forecasting predictions from 300 experts from 1984 to 2004. His conclusions were that the average from that sample was the equivalent to simply randomly guessing, or as he put it “roughly as accurate as a dart-throwing chimpanzee”.

Honourable mentions

The purpose of this article was to present a list of the five best books to improve your betting, but there are simply too many other great books out there to limit the number of books featured to just five. There are those that give their readers a real insight into how markets can (and have) been beaten, like Statistical Sports Models in Excel by Andrew Mack, and there are others that look more at the experience of betting and the incredible stories that some of the most interesting characters in the world of betting have to tell, such as Smart Money by Michael Konik and Trading Basis by Joe Peta.

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