A growling Ray Winstone demanding “Get your mobiles aaaatt”, assorted posses of banter lads engaged in in-play chat… You can’t move for football betting ads.
Football betting is huge business. No Saturday is complete without the delight of a big money win or, more likely, the pain that accompanies a phone screen confirming you can cash out for 10p on that £10 accumulator.
However, as betting expert Adam Kucharski explains, there is a science to soccer betting for those willing to do the legwork.
“Look where people aren’t focusing much to gain an advantage on bookmakers”
An award-winning science writer and lecturer in mathematical modelling, Kucharski’s new book The Perfect Bet explains how science and maths are helping to take some of the luck out of gambling.
Having lived and breathed football betting as part of his research, Kucharski agreed to tell Loaded about some of the major obstacles and mistakes made by punters today.
In the general sense, one of the first issues facing anyone looking to bet on football is that, unlike something like baseball, it’s a lot harder to pick apart what is going on, on the pitch.
In baseball, you have a single interaction between pitcher and batter, which allows you to look at their stats in a relatively simple way. But in football, you have different interactions going on all over the pitch. This can make things a lot messier when it comes to doing your research.
We all like nice stories. But what you will often find, particularly in something like football betting, is that punters will attach a lot of narrative to things rather than look objectively at what’s happened on the pitch.
“Often the league table doesn’t give enough information”
For example, there is this notion in football that once a team scores they’re immediately vulnerable to a goal – that scoring makes them more vulnerable and they get a bit careless.
However, when you actually go away and crunch the numbers, you quickly realise that this kind of thing really isn’t that common.
Luck vs Skill
It’s important, when looking at form and figures, that punters identify those events determined by luck and those determind by skill.
For example, in football it’s been suggested that generating a high number of shots represents something you can attribute to skill – but that whether they go in or not is more down to luck.
“People over-estimate teams who are supposedly due a win”
For a goalscorer bet, you might look at an individual player and see that, while he’s scored many goals, he isn’t the most skilful player, because he doesn’t have that many shots on goal. It’s about the number of shots successfully attempted as much as the goals themselves.
Punters can often pick out bits of data, but they fail to analyse it in the way they should.
The League Table Does Lie
Often, your standard league ranking of teams doesn’t give enough information. Punters assume that because Team A sits above Team B that they are sure to win.
But this theory can break down when it comes to something like home advantage. Teams like Stoke, for instance, are famously difficult to play against away from home. Unless you incorporate this kind of analysis, you can miss these kinds of things out.
Gamblers continue to focus on surprising events, but they can overreact. When something like a red card or penalty occurs in a game, they shift their betting patterns over more than they need to.
However, the odds available often do not reflect their true chance of winning.
In the casino world, you have Monte Carlo Syndrome: if a roulette wheel comes up red four times in a row, people will back black thinking a change is due.
It’s the same in football, where people will back a team because they are “due a win” following a run of bad results. Fans can also overestimate long-shots like say, a penalty being awarded, because it happened to occur in the previous fixture.
Success in football betting is all about insight. You need to have as much insight, like statistics, as possible if you want to make money.
It’s also about looking where other people may not be focusing as much, in order to get an edge on the bookmakers.
These days, a lot of syndicates are looking at the Premier League and are crunching the numbers. So just remember that, if you’re looking to get an edge in these kinds of markets, you could be going up against a lot of people with PHDs.
The Perfect Bet by Adam Kucharski is out on May 5 from Profile Books and comes highly recommended.