Category Archives: on the punt
My pre season NRL gambling manifesto delivered two key recommendations
- To make above average returns, back the big outsiders
- Away teams paying 3.80 or more
- Home teams paying 2.95 or more
- Back outsiders early in the season, before the bookies have an accurate read on the form, and later in the season once performance becomes more predictable, look more towards the favourites
These conclusions were based entirely on data from the 2011 season. So, have they held up after 13 rounds in 2012? Did I steer the punters right, or has the manifesto sent its loyal disciples broke?
First let’s examine point 2 – the trends in returns over time. From 2011, we saw that
- Total Winning returns declined over the year
- Return from backing all underdogs declined over the year
- Returns from backing all favourites increased over the year
Each of these trends indicates that bookies ability to frame the markets accurately improves over the year, so that there are less upsets, less return from backing underdogs, and less returns on offer in general. It does also mean though that there is money to be made from backing favourites later on in the year.
Each of these trends has again been witnessed in 2012. The best opportunity to make money still appears to be by backing outsiders early in the year.
The above charts show that in each of the first 5 rounds of the year, you would have made money overall in each week had you backed the outsider in every match. In the last 8 rounds, only once would backing all outsiders have left you ahead for the week. On the other side of the equation, backing all favourites would have made you money in 5 of the last 8 weeks and none of the first 5 weeks.
So point 2 of the manifesto has been proven correct so far in 2012 – back outsiders early and favourites later in the season.
Onto the first point – has backing the big outsiders made money so far this year?
Partially. As the table below shows, backing the home teams that were big underdogs has turned a huge profit of 122%. There have been 6 matches so far in which home teams were paying 2.95 or more, and in four of these matches the big outsider won.
The victorious outsiders were
- Eels at 3.25 over Sea Eagles
- Sharks at 3.40 over Storm
- Panthers at 3.40 over Dragons
- Panthers at 3.05 over Sea Eagles
Plenty of joy there for loyal Panthers fans!
On two other occasions the big home outsider was beaten
- Titans at 3.15 lost to the Tigers (in golden point!)
- Panthers at 4.90 lost to the Storm
However, backing the big away outsiders would not have yielded a profit. Out of the 6 matches in which an away team was paying more than 3.80, only once did the outsider salute, and that was when the Titans defeated the Sea Eagles at Brookvale paying 4.10.
Overall, if you had backed the large home and away outsiders, the returns would have been 45%, so the manifesto has been proven correct on that point as well. The caveat is that you would’ve been even better off if you’d only backed the big home outsiders, and steered clear of the Away outsiders.
So far the experience of 2011 has held true into 2012. The implication then for the rest of the season is that as the season wears on, the returns from backing favourites will improve and there will be less value from the underdogs. Once again though, it seems that to make serious returns from NRL, you are best to wait till the start of 2013 and go hard at the rank outsiders who are consistently proving good value in this very even competition.
With less than two weeks to go until the first kickoff of the 2012 NRL season, many fans are eagerly anticipating not just following their team from week to week, but also punting on the footy and winning a little extra cash on the side. Due to its even nature, the NRL is an unpredictable competition and while this makes picking winners difficult, it also means the opportunity is there for the astute gambler to make some money at good odds.
To (hopefully) assist in that process, I’ve taken a look at the results of the 2011 NRL season from a gambling perspective, to highlight where some value might be found during 2012.
My method has been to examine the different returns that would have been achieved in 2011, from alternatively backing:
- Heavy favourites/outsiders vs Slight favourites/outsiders
- Favourites or outsiders at different times during the season
- Individual teams over the season
Returns by Odds Category
The below table splits the 2011 season into four categories
- Matches between a Heavy Home Team Favourite and Away Underdog
- Matches between a Slight Home Team Favourite and Away Underdog
- Matches between a Slight Away Team Favourite and Home Underdog
- Matches between a Heavy Away Team Favourite and Home Underdog
and presents the results of these matches, and the return on outlay over the season for someone who’d bet on every match in that category.
The lesson here is to avoid the heavy favourites, and back the big outsiders.
In the 22 matches during 2011 in which the Away team was paying 3.80 or higher, the long shot away team underdogs won 7 times. While this may not seem a successful result, because the Away teams were at such long odds, backing all 22 of them (with equal stakes) would have returned a 53% profit. By comparison, backing all the heavy home team favourites would have returned an 18% loss.
Similarly, in the 9 matches where the home team was paying $2.95 or more, the home side underdog won on 4 occasions, yielding a 55% profit, compared to a 28% loss from backing the heavily favoured away sides.
It seems that the chances of a long shot underdog winning the match was underestimated by betting agencies – either that or they were deliberately underpricing the heavy favourites to discourage punters from backing them. The goal of betting agencies is to have an even payout for either result. This way they make their commission regardless of the result and minimise risk. Winding in the prices of heavier favourites can on occasion be a deliberate ploy aimed at achieving this goal, which may explain why the returns from backing the underdogs was so high.
The second conclusion to draw is that in matches when the odds are more even, look towards the home favourites for best value – the return of 15% is clearly superior to that from backing the slight away favourites, or either the slight home or away underdogs.
There is a large opportunity to bet on slight home favourites (ie home favourites paying more than 1.28), with over half the matches in the NRL last year fitting this description. While a 15% return may not seem large on an individual bet basis, it is a considerable achievement over the length of a season, especially in light of the fact that betting agencies frame markets in order to achieve a 5% return, meaning the expected result for the average punter is a 5% loss.
Returns at different stages of the season
It makes sense that the largest opportunities are going to be found early in the season, before betting agencies or punters have had a chance to properly evaluate the teams. This theory is borne out by the 2011 experience.
The first chart shows the returns achieved over the season if you had backed every winner individually each week. Clearly this is not a realistic scenario (and if you achieved this, you’d hardly be concerned with any trends in the amount of cash you were winning), however it does provide a good measure of the ability of the betting agencies to frame their markets accurately. If more favourites win, the ‘Winning Teams % Return’ will naturally be lower, and if heavier favourites win the returns will also be lower.
The decreasing trend indicates that as the season wore on, more favourites and shorter priced favourites were winning, meaning less value available for the punter. This result is expected, and is no doubt due to the betting agencies and fans in general getting a better read on teams ability and form as the season rolls on.
This trend is further illustrated when we examine the returns from backing every favourite vs backing all the underdogs over the season.
The best returns from backing favourites came late in the season, and the best returns on underdogs came in the early rounds.
We have already seen that backing the heavy underdogs yielded the best returns, and now we see that backing underdogs early in the year is recommended. The combination of these findings is also true. The heavy away outsiders won 7 of 22 matches in total, and that record stood at 4 win out of 5 in the first 10 rounds, and then 3 from 17 over the remainder of the season. Likewise the heavy home outsiders won 4 of 9 in total, with the record in the first ten rounds being 2 out of 3, and 2 out of 6 post round 10.
The NRL gambling manifesto based on the 2011 NRL season is essentially
- Back heavy outsiders early in the season
- Back slight home favourites, especially later in the season
Returns by Individual Team
The reliability of the betting performance of each team in 2011 as an indicator of how to invest in 2012 is limited for two obvious reasons:
- The teams themselves have changed and will no doubt perform differently
- The betting agencies views of the teams will have changed
Regardless, there are still some interesting results to highlight in the above table
As seen above, the Wests Tigers had the worst return as favourites of any team in the top 10, the best return of any team as underdogs, and were the team that the betting agencies found most difficult to predict, with a ‘Total Accuracy’ of only 54% (Total Accuracy is defined as the Number of times a team won as favourites, plus the number of times it lost as underdog, divided by the total number of matches played)
The Tigers have been pegged by most agencies as the favourites for the 2012 title, but their recent history has shown them to be unreliable favourites. I’d be cautious in backing the tigers too often when they are favourites to win.
It is no surprise to see that 20%+ returns achieved from backing the Storm, Sea Eagles and Broncos when they were favourites. All three clubs were reliable performers which remained in the top 4 nearly all season.
Two other clubs lower down the ladder were also reliable when favourites. The Cowboys won 9 of the 11 games they were favoured in, while the Knights claimed 7 of 9 when favoured. For both these regional one team town clubs, this reliability was built on a strong home record. All 9 of the matches that the Knights started favourite in were played in Newcastle. Of the 9 matches that the Cowboys started favourite in at Dairy Farmers Stadium, they won 8. Both of these clubs are likely to receive more respect from the betting agencies this season, and should be favoured more often. Getting on them when they’re favourite to win and at home should be a fairly safe bet in 2012 as well.
Overachiever and proud of it
The Storm, Broncos and Sea Eagles were all tipped to finish outside the top 6 by betting agencies at the start of last season. It’s easier said than done, but if you can identify a team which is under rated by the betting agencies at the outset and jump aboard them early, the returns are sure to be healthy.
In Round 2 2011, eventual premiers Manly started 4.00 outsiders against the soon to be also ran Roosters. That sort of value will again be available in early 2012, for those who are perceptive enough to understand the true quality of the teams before the betting agencies and the media catch on.
 The seven upsets – Sea Eagles def Roosters R2, Titans def Raiders R4, Warriors def Storm R7, Raiders def Storm R10, Cowboys def Knights R18, Rabbitohs def Dragons R21, Roosters def Dragons R23
 The four upsets – Sharks def Dragons R2, Rabbitohs def Tigers R10, Raiders def Dragons R20, Roosters def Storm R26
 For the statistically inclined, I calculated that if the betting agency prices were correct, the probability of 11 or more upsets occurring out of those 31 matches is only 6.5%. That is pretty strong evidence to suggest that the agency prices were not correct, and that they’d underestimated the underdog’s chances of victory
With smoke-filled card rooms giving way to near sterile casinos, transparent visors being cleared out for an abundance of hoodies and mirrored shades now preferred to a steely gaze, the game of Poker has undergone a more dramatic transformation over the last 20 years than Optimus Prime.
This metamorphosis has been brought about by the injection of a seemingly endless number of 20-somethings with too much pocket money and because of them the game of No Limit Hold has seen unprecedented growth. The number of entrants alone willing to fork out the hefty sum of $10000 USD just to take a seat at the World Series of Poker Main Event has swelled from just 393 in the year 1999 to 6865 this year and in the process the prize money for first has escalated from 1 million flat to a cool 8.7 million dollars.
Poker is the Chess of the modern generation, just with a few more Queens, loads more money and much cooler hats.
It is no secret that over recent times we have developed a tendency to live a larger portion of our lives in the semi fictional existence of cyberspace. Poker has followed suit (most likely spades) and in the process a mammoth online industry has been built through those who prefer the comfort and anonymity of their sofa to the grubby green felt of card halls. This online poker empire has paved the way for a new type of millionaire. Many now rake in a fortune without having to leave their domain typically filled with a plethora of flat screens and empty pizza boxes. I may be preying on the stereotype of young internet poker wizz here, but for those that follow the game you see the pattern repeated like that of a degenerate blowing next month’s rent money. These ‘kids’ in their hoodies have even developed their own language and also speak with pace only matched by the speed of their mouse movements. Truth be told most have us have got a better chance of following a conversation in Russian than making sense of “it was raised by a maniac under the gun and then 3 bet by the donk in the cutoff so I 4 bet shoved, they both mucked and I scraped the pot.”
But much like the internet date who has shown up to dinner with oversized hands and a bulging Adam’s Apple that you somehow missed in the picture ‘she’ sent you, it has turned out that the online poker world just ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. And for the initiated who know what a backdoor flush is, 2011 will long be remembered as the year Poker’s chip stack seriously diminished.
With the game enjoying an extraordinary level of success, some of the greedy entrepreneurs that founded online poker sites were accused of embezzling huge sums of cash. On 15th of April this year, a day which has since been dubbed ‘black friday’ (my vote was for ‘folded Friday’ but nobody listened) 3 of the biggest internet sites – Full Tilt Poker, Pokerstars and Absolute Poker were shut down by the US department of Justice (or DOJ to the hoodie clad masses).
To the amazement of many, the selfish money grabbers who run some of the world’s most profitable websites managed to slay the goose that sh!ts the golden nuggets.
In the process millions of players were left out of pocket, the game’s reputation was permanently soiled and those that play poker for a living in the US were left scrambling for an address in Canada like a Canuck chasing down the goalward bound puck.
Despite the online poker industry being predominantly built in the land of stars and stripes, it was a young man from Down Under who brought to its knees. Even though The ’Lucky’ County produced the 2005 World Champion in Joseph Haschem, the Australian who will long be remembered for having the greatest influence on poker is Daniel Tzvetkoff. Funnily enough, he isn’t even a Poker player. Instead he carved his reputation in the world of internet finance, helping the directors of online poker companies such as Full Tilt Poker stash millions in accounts the IRS were not privy to and slicing himself a sizeable chunk of the pie in the process. He was picked up in Las Vegas by the Department of Justice, following a tip from one of the companies themselves after a dispute over funds. What this company didn’t predict however, is that with all the inside information on where the companies were hiding their millions, Daniel held the nuts (not his own, it’s a poker thing). He used this to bluff his way out of trouble and turn the tables on the internet poker giants by revealing the details of their scamming operation.
Full Tilt Poker’s slogan is, or more accurately, was “Learn, Play and Chat with the Pros” and most of Poker’s most successful thoroughbreds could be found in the Full Tilt stables. No surprises then that a few of them are caught up in the mix, namely former main event winner Chris ‘Jesus’ Ferguson and Howard ‘The Professor’ Lederer who are both on the sites board of directors. Between them they have over $13.5 million in tournament poker earnings although these figures pale in comparison to the millions of unearned cash they are alleged to have siphoned through the players funds deposited to the
All of a sudden, questions were being asked and when Full Tilt’s books were examined it appeared that although they held over $390 million in players accounts, they had only $60 million in the reserve coffers. This is a massive revelation and a warning shot fired to anyone whose ever deposited money through a website, with the US Attorney’s Office recently describing Full Tilt’s operation as “a global Ponzi scheme.” From the outside it looks as though Jesus has broken a commandment or two and the only Phd the Professor has is in embezzlement. Both of these former pillars of the poker community have completely vanished from the public eye, obviously following the immortal words of Kenny Rodgers of knowing when to run.
One positive to be taken from all this is the focus of poker been shifted to live play. At its jack of hearts, poker is more a game of personalities than faceless avatars. There have been some true characters over the years that have graced the felt – Scotty ‘Baby’ Ngyen, the eternal loudmouth Phil Hellmuth Jnr and the Granpa figure Doyle Brunson but to name a few. These personalities are what draws newcomers and their crisp paychecks to the game and the unique mix of personalities, body types, cultural backgrounds and nationalities is what makes Poker accessible to the masses.
Despite a strong mathematical foundation, Poker is predominantly about playing the man, not the cards and this element is sad omission from the online format. The true essence of Poker is found after you’ve shoved all your chips in the middle holding ‘air’ whilst your foe stares you down with a suspecting eye. Lady Gaga was onto something. The jugular pulse, the forehead sweat, the crossing of arms, the rocking of the chair – these are all key aspects of the game that can be picked up by opponents, or indeed simulated by a player prone to ‘hollywooding’.
And rest assured, there was plenty of sweat on the brow last Sunday as the 9 lucky (no wait, it’s skill isn’t it) players met to fight it out in Las Vegas for the final table of the World Series of Poker – Main Even. In a format that was switched to a few years back, there is now a 3 and a half month break between when the final table is set (that is 6865 players play down to the last 9) and when the first card is dealt to the final 9. This gives the likes of ESPN time to create some hype and buzz as, despite being almost exclusively made up of professionals, the final table players are often relative no-names even amongst the Poker community. This drawn out system certainly has it’s critics, who say it is much like a basketball game finishing in a draw and deciding the players should all come back the next day to play the overtime. But it does give these poker players a chance to go away, take stock and attempt to improve their game before sitting down for a session at the oval table that could put them in the history books forever.
Sunday’s play at the Rio Casino was intriguing to say the least. In a first for poker 7 Nationalities were represented amongst the 9 players at the table showing the global influence of the game and with 7 players under the age of 30, the quest for Poker’s Holy Grail appeared to be played around the fountain of youth. Six players felt the cold sting of the knockout. Now just 3 remain. They will resume again on Tuesday to see which player will be last man standing and winner of Poker’s most coveted prize.
The remaining players are American Ben Lamb – who has had an amazing world series and is a lock for the the player of the year award, Martin Staszko from the Czech Republic – who started the final table as chip leader but has now slipped to 3rd and the new chip leader Pius ‘Beans Means’ Heinz from Germany who is a fearless young gun with talent and chips to burn, and a mandatory hoodie no less. My money is on the young German and if he can maintain his advantage and go on to rake in the final pot, he’ll secure himself nearly a $9 million payday and a cement a place in poker history. Not bad for a few weeks work (10 days of play to be precise). No luck on the final table for Phil Collins, a young American who finished 5th, as he was busted after Calling In The Air of The Night.
In a tumultuous year for poker, there will be one person who will be sure to remember 2011 for something other than the online controversy as they take home the pot at the end of the Poker rainbow.
Every Australian wants a Melbourne Cup story. If you are somehow Canadian, or at least uninitiated, the Melbourne Cup is an annual horse race run over 2 miles, or 3200 metres. They call it the ‘race that stops a nation’ and it is something that must be experienced to be believed. Not necessarily on the green slopes of the Flemington race course, Melbourne, where this tradition takes place – that is but for the select, heaving few. In Australian life, on the first Tuesday of November, something is very different. An iron curtain falls over the country – no news comes in or out because nothing else really matters. The air becomes thin – people wander, light-headed on the streets at lunchtime, searching for meaning, and a hot tip. Like any shift in reality, there are those that pretend nothing has changed – that nothing important is going on. But by 4pm, even the detractors know the name of the winner. By 4pm, a new trivia question has been born. More the $175 million is gambled on the Melbourne Cup. This is not just sheikhs and media barons – this is the imagination of a culture.
Rightly or wrongly, for 5 minutes a nation holds its breath.And they’re off…
The morning of the first Tuesday of the November of 2004 was not an especially bright time for me. I was wading through the fifth year of a four year software engineering degree – stretching it out in an attempt to have it paid for – working four days out of five for a large company. I was not exactly a model worker. My designated university days were typically anything but, and I managed to wing my way through an education courtesy of quick talking and a quicker Internet connection. But on this particular day I was staring failure in the face and was to be tied to a circuit board for the day.
This may be a galloping surprise, considering the questionable nature of this writing, but I hate cliches. Every time a nerd with a chip on their shoulder has a Red Bull for breakfast, a small part of me dies. So when I walked into that Electronics Lab on the first Tuesday of the November of 2004, my heart broke a little. It was 9am and already there was a queue for the benches. I surveyed the room – looked into the caffeine ridden, twitching eyes of my peers and wondered if they knew what day it was. I realised that at 3:20pm these boys would still be here and – more importantly – they wouldn’t care. These were the uncommon few – the Melbourne Cup Deniers. I fled – the image of that room burned into my soul – and drove from the campus as quickly as a 1.6 litre Ford Laser could travel, which is still comfortably within the speed limit. I knew what I must do.
The first stop was a newsagent where I picked up Best Bets and some flowers. My girlfriend was manning the reception desk of an empty orthodontic clinic – in order to deal with any sort of rubber band emergencies involving Melbourne Cup deniers, Canadians or perhaps chocolate fuelled software engineers. Recently, she had commented that I rarely displayed spontaneous acts of affection. I was about to be as spontaneous as a closed circuit camera monitored office allowed. Presenting her with the flowers, I gripped her shoulders and laid it all on the line.
“I’ve just failed Uni, so I’m going to the pub. I’m taking what little money I have and I’m going to get shit-faced and gamble like a maniac and watch the Cup. I’ll see you tonight.” My car safely stowed, I trekked with purpose to the local club.
Gambling is a lot like alcohol or military coups. They all cost lives, and instinctively we should be hesitant about introducing them into a society. Done properly, however, and by putting on the line only what you are willing to lose (twenty bucks here or there, your self-respect, or your current head-of-state), they can all be a lot of fun. Personally, I made a disastrous, future-bearing mistake when I first gambled, as a young man – I won.
The wrongs and problems of gambling are obvious and impossible to argue against. In an ideal world, it would be the realm solely of idiots with a disposable income, where any losses are deserved and affect only one person. I hope I fall into this category – the mug punter. Me, my family, my friends and countless others. In an ideal world… well, we all know the end of that sentence.
By 3pm on the first Tuesday of the November of 2004, I was wearing a tuxedo t-shirt (formal, yet says ‘I’m ready to party’) and was – in gambling parlance – close to $500 in the hole. In the big race, I had pinned my hopes on a 200 to 1 outsider named Zazzman in an each-way bet. As they rounded the final, sodden turn at a miserable Royal Flemington, Zazzman was in front by three lengths and the only person who seemed impressed with this was me. But two miles can sort the men from the boys, and it became clear that Zazzman was currently the Mayor of Struggle City. And here came the Diva…
Between 2003 and 2005, a horse named Makybe Diva won three consecutive Melbourne Cups – the first horse ever to do so. It was an incredible feat and an amazing story – the horse seemed to know where the winning post was, and knew how to win. She chalked up her second in the mud of 2004, in front of her Melbourne Cup nemesis Vinnie Roe, and a thoroughly spent Zazzman.
As the commotion died down and the pundits began the inevitable post-Cup analysis, the familiar feeling of disappointment and guilt began to kick in. I had lost, and lost too much. I glanced up at a screen, blinked and turned to my brother Daniel, who had been with me throughout the day.
“I think I have the Melbourne Cup trifecta.” I said quietly.
I removed a ticket from my back pocket. In truth, I probably removed five, but flicked through them until I found the right one. And there it was. An after-thought bet, which had netted me close to three thousand dollars. Dan rang Kenny. “Dad,” he said. “Remember how you always say you’d like to speak to someone who has picked a Melbourne Cup trifecta?”
And he handed the phone to me.
Though the club was full well before the big race started, a new crowd began to gather. School teachers (notorious mug punters) began to filter in to check their tickets and try to reclaim their losses, or ride the vibe into the last race. The story was already starting to get better. Pitty – a recent, sober arrival – drove me to a nearby T.A.B. to collect my winnings “in a safe location”. Three grand – it was like I was carrying nuclear launch codes. T.A.B. offices late on the afternoon of the first Tuesday of November are an incredible sight. Completely empty – bar the shaken, gaunt staff – it resembles a 1980’s stock exchange floor, moments after closing. I waded through discarded tickets, stepping on the odd broken dream as I walked to the counter. The ticket scanner beeped approvingly. A slight glance up from the clerk was met with a wink as I lent cockily on the counter.
Though the staff were drawn and tired, there was plenty of cash to cover the bet. Nobody would lose any sleep over me and the Zazzman.
We drove from the T.A.B. to my flat where the winnings were stashed safely under my mattress, and then back to the club. Some family and friends had arrived – pulled from Melbourne Cup parties on the promise of free drinks. My girlfriend turned up – still happy with her flowers but perhaps with her eyes now on a bigger prize. The crowd began to move into the restaurant for some Zazzman-sponsored Chinese food when it happened…
I ran out of money. Down my daily bank limit before the race, and with my winnings secure in a few pairs of socks back home, I found myself suddenly skint.
It’s a unique moment – to borrow money from a friend an hour after a big win. The look on their face is superb. I’m good for it, I promised.
The money paid for a two-week trip to America. A couple of months later, I received my grades for that University semester. I passed with a mark of 53. Fell over the line… just like the Zazzman.