Betting Savant or Ape?
It is human instinct to be impressed by winners or ‘survivors’. They might be ancient heroes, the victors in great wars, athletes, bands members or business leaders. The list is long and well publicised and therein lies the problem. What of the ‘losers’, or those who fail? How much is known about them? Their stories are not often written or heard of and, if they are, often as part of a bigger picture to highlight a path to eventual success.
History, it seems, is written by the winners.
Success and Failure
It is established that there are many more stories of successes than failures on the internet and, even if the number were ‘split evenly’, people prefer to search for and read articles of success over failure. Something a person might want to emulate.
So it is with betting. How many stories of abject failure do you find on the web? Most are stories of success, some true, many untrue. People have ‘wares to sell’ and they want you to believe that if you purchase them, then you too can be successful.
This phenomenon is known as ‘success bias’ or ‘survivorship bias’ but should you believe what you read, particularly when it comes to betting?
Tipsters and Apes
Let’s take 1000 apes or gorillas or monkeys, it doesn’t matter. They just need enough intelligence to choose one of two buttons in front of them. Each button represents a win for team A or team B in a sporting event (let’s keep it simple, no draws!).
Let’s say that there is a 50/50 chance of winning or losing, pushing the buttons on a healthy number of games over the course of a year, on teams that are evenly matched. Losing apes are eliminated, winning apes carry on.
After year one, 500 apes remain in the game as ‘profitable apes’. After year two, 250 have survived. Year 3 leaves 125. Year 4 survivors amount to 63 and year 5 around 31.
These ‘tipsters” stories are posted all over the internet. They are revered and talked about. Five years of success including hundreds, perhaps thousands of bets. People sign up to their tipping services, confident that they can be part of that success going forward – but they are wrong. As the years go by, more and more of the tipsters fail. After all they are not tipsters at all, they are simply ‘lucky apes’. You are being suckered by randomness.
Learn from mistakes
The key error that bettors and other people make is that they concentrate on those that ‘survived’ or ‘succeeded’ but ignore those who failed – which is understandable because ‘failures’ are not generally as ‘visible’, even though there are far more of them. We need to learn from mistakes if we can.
For example, if we send ten ‘advanced’ rockets into space, say nine are lost and only one returns – engineers could make improvements to the design based on their analysis of the one ‘successful’ returning rocket. Yet without analysis of the nine lost rockets available to them, how can they really be sure that their one ‘survivor’ rocket won’t meet with the same fate as the lost rockets on it’s next trip into space?
Chances of success
A group from Havard Medical School looked at the history of 40 000 customers of an online sportsbook over the course of a year. They placed well over seven million bets amounting to more than 60m Euros. Although around 12% returned a profit only 245 returned a profit of over 1000 Euros.
That’s around 0.6% who returned any meaningful sum. Also, some of the 245 may have been lucky (offset somewhat by a group, most likely much smaller in number, who had just been ‘unlucky’) so the percentage of profitable customers would be even smaller.
Why are the numbers above so poor? Sportsbooks and bookmakers have built in commission which makes value very hard to find – so prices on offer are not very generous with a bookmaker. Also, the majority of bettors are just casual punters who want to have fun, not really caring too much if they win or lose. Then there is the simple fact that betting is just tough! Even pros fall by the wayside in what is a psychological and mental ‘game’ that requires great discipline.
To mitigate this problem, hunt for the best bookmaker prices, don’t forget to check out the sports betting exchanges, bet within your means and try to be disciplined.