Trying to devise your own profitable betting strategy? It’s highly challenging, time consuming — and there’s a distinct lack of resources to guide you. So there’s many wrong turns you’re likely to make.
The reality is that nobody will spoon-feed you the secret sauce to their winning betting strategy. But while you’re experimenting with new ideas and building your own system, you can certainly save yourself some time and money by avoiding 10 of the most common mistakes.
1. Working Around A Tight Schedule
Do you only place bets when your schedule permits? It’s a limiting approach, and a simple mistake that a lot of bettors make.
Many punters are accustomed to backing multiple selections in one sitting e.g. the night before a race day. For practicality reasons it makes sense; not everyone is able to bet when they’re at work or on-the-move.
However, there’s several weaknesses in restricting yourself to placing bets within a fixed time-frame (as opposed to checking in on the markets periodically):
- You’re unlikely to find as much value. Widening your reach by betting at different times on the lead up to an event will present up more opportunities. Value isn’t always there when it’s most convenient!
- Market trends are disregarded. If you only bet within one short window of time, you won’t be able to actively monitor, or use, market volatility to your advantage (see Betfair Swing Trading). You also aren’t gathering continuous information from the markets, and responding accordingly — by adjusting your stakes, cancelling out bets, or locking a profit. Being versatile is important for many successful trading-based strategies.
- Increased likelihood of competition. Betting at the most convenient (peak) times — such as the weekends — means you’re likely to identify the same selections as others. Competition for well-priced odds only sharpens the markets, and eliminates the opportunities.
You can work around time constraints by automating your betting strategy using a bot. This will only work for bets placed on betting exchanges, though.
2. Substituting Value With A Staking Plan
There’s no substitute for finding value. Staking plans won’t ‘save the day’.
Verify that your selection method is profitable on an equal-stake basis before you look to optimise your approach to bankroll management. Staking plans won’t improve the long-term profitability of your strategy/system unless it has an advantage or positive ‘edge‘.
3. Trying To Recover Losses To Stay On Top
If your betting strategy is a winner then you will not need to ‘force’ the profit.
Think about Casinos and how they have an edge over their players. Sure, they lose money on some days. But how does that losing run last for?
The Casino business model is based on probabilities (in their favour), and it works; it always has done. They win in the long run regardless of the occasional blip along the way.
Profitable betting is all about having that edge on your side. It’s not about raising stakes to get on top.
Here’s a couple of points worth underlining:
- If your betting strategy identifies value bets — a plus EV edge — then it’s inevitable you’ll grind a profit, given enough turnover (total bets). This assumes you don’t bust out of your bankroll.
- If your betting strategy doesn’t identify value bets (no edge) then you won’t generate a profit. This assumes that you don’t stop betting if you manage to reach a profitable position.
4. Forming Predictions Entirely On Averages
Analysing statistics is a wise approach in devising a betting strategy. However, a common mistake is to average out data items and (naively) base assumptions around them. I’ll give you an example.
Here’s a statistic:
- Premier League teams win 46.2% of their home league games.
Now let’s suppose there’s an upcoming fixture — Southampton at home to Manchester City. Do Southampton have a 46.2% chance of winning the game?
No. Sorry Southampton fans — your team does not have a 46.2% chance of winning this match in the Premier League. On the contrary, Manchester City would be red hot favourites.
Therefore using the 46.2% ‘Home Win’ statistic as a basis for your bets is weak. In fact, that statistic might only prove vaguely useful for a clash between two evenly matched teams.
Granted, this is a very simple example of average misuse. But it’s easy to make mistakes once you analyse more obscure criteria, where vast generalisations aren’t so blatantly obvious.
The trick is to assess every sports event as a stand-alone event. Consider all relevant variables and avoid a “one size fits all” approach. Remember that averages will only serve to find you the ‘middle’ values, not the extremes.
5. Ignoring Changes In Value Over Time
Value is not static. A price that has an edge now might not do in the future — even if the odds improve. This is something that many punters struggle to get their heads round.
Not necessarily. Circumstances change.
For example, on the lead up to a football match there’s often some news about injuries, or the team lineups. It changes the way the game is likely to play out and overwrites speculative prices formed beforehand. Once we learn more information, the probabilities of outcomes change, and the odds sharpen.
Importantly, you have to recognise the limitations of your betting strategy. Ask yourself:
- Are my estimated prices (probabilities) speculative?
- How should I respond to new information or changes?
- Given that conditions might change, what’s the optimal time to bet?
- What are my entry/exit rules? (e.g. minimum and maximum odds)
A winning betting strategy isn’t perfect at finding value that holds with every selection. There’s elements you can’t control, after all (e.g. the weather conditions in horse racing). The important thing is that the overall value of your entire set of bets is positive. That’s what makes it profitable.
To learn more about how changes in probabilities (reflected by the odds) impact the value you hold, check out my analysis on Beating the Start Price.
6. Basing Estimates On An Insufficient Data Set
The sports betting advice you’ll often find online is “be highly selective”.
That’s correct. You shouldn’t simply bet for the sake of raising turnover. Select the bets that you’re most certain will generate you a profit.
However, the problem with being highly selective is that it leads many punters to the assumption that their ROI is a lot more impressive — or even significantly less impressive — that it will prove to be further on down the line.
It means you achieved a 100% strike rate so far.
Great… but your small set of 10 bets tells you nothing about the longevity of your selection system. You need a much larger set of data to learn anything meaningful.
Reasonably speaking, most profitable strategies make in the region of 1-10%+ ROI long-term.
- 1% ROI: for every £100 bet, £1 profit is earned.
- 10% ROI: for every £100 bet, £10 profit is earned.
I’m not trying to burst any bubbles. The point I’m making here is that your ROI will be uncovered over time. The Strike Rate alone only tells you the win rate to date, not the potential profitability of your betting strategy.
You need a significant data set (ideally hundreds, or more, simulated bets) to get any real sense of the consistency in your methods. Read the following posts:
- The Importance Of Sample Size In Betting
- Ignore Profit & Verify Your Strike Rate
- Am I Really Winning? — Betting Variance In Action
7. Finding Unreliable Trends (Data Overfitting)
Analysing a sufficiently large data set doesn’t make you immune to finding trends that aren’t really there.
There’s some rather flimsy patterns you can identify from a large data set. Perhaps you come to find that Everton have always beaten bottom three sides away from home on a Sunday for the last 6 years (that’s not a real stat, by the way). The question is: have you really discovered one of the Premier League’s best kept secrets?
Even if betting on a complex combination would have certainly produced a handsome profit in the past, the likelihood of that pattern continuing in the future is very slim.
This problem is known as data over-fitting and it’s precisely the danger in generating predictions from past data.
How to avoid data over-fitting:
- Don’t make your rules too strict. If you’re too specific then you’ll end up making weak assumptions from a peculiar subset of data.
- Always ensure that you analyse a large set of subdata. Count the number of simulated bets. Is it substantial? For more information read my post on Sample Size.
- Ask yourself: do my rules make sense? Keep an open mind, but scrutinise your rules as well. Ideally there’s logic behind them.
8. No Longevity In Your Approach
One of the toughest things to accept as a sports bettor is that you might have just been first to, what eventually became, a very over-crowded party.
There are occasions where the markets are slow to adapt to changes in sport. So if you’re someone that’s very heavily focused on one particular niche (a sport, a particular league or team, specific players), then this opportunity could become apparent to you much faster than the majority of the public. Finding this kind of edge is the ultimate aim, of course.
However, over time the public tends to wise-up, and identifies that very same gap in the market you’ve been comfortably exploiting. The opportunity closes, the odds start to reflect reality, and the value you once consistently found dries up. That’s unfortunately how competitive markets work.
9. Overestimating The Value Of Research
I’ve seen a lot of social media Tipster accounts that use the phrase “fully researched” to describe their racing selections. I imagine these Tipsters have delved into the form stats, or sought advice from other sources.
What might be the downfall for form-studying bettors is that they’re most likely referring to data that every seasoned professional (and many non-professionals) take for granted. In other words, their findings are public, relatively simplistic, and thus already factored into the market prices.
Bare in mind that the average price in a liquid Betfair market is about… spot on. Those prices are formed by pooling thousands of opinions from various sources — professional and recreational — to reach a consensus. Every opinion counts. That’s how market pricing works.
Be careful that you don’t overestimate the power of simplistic, readily available stats.
Learn more on how sports betting prices are formed from my post: Wisdom Of Crowds Theory & The Betting Exchange.
10. All Theory, No Live Testing
You can collect data, simulate your results, and work out your best strategy. But nothing can replace running it for real.
There’s a lot of problems you may experience when you run your betting strategy in real mode, such as:
- Bankroll. You may not have sufficiently estimated how much money your open bets could tie up, or how large the downturns could be on a losing run. As a result your bank isn’t big enough to manage the strategy you envisaged.
- Limits/Liquidity. Bookmakers have bet limits, and Betfair relies on user activity. If you need to get away more more money, then you may need to explore other options — such as Bet Brokers (see Advantages of Bet Brokers).
- Competitors sussing you out. If you use Betfair, then you’re operating within in a very competitive market. That means that everyone is motivated to suss out their competitors to gain an advantage over them. You might be forced to adapt.
- Smart bots. Keeping up with rapid price jumps is one challenge; especially in the horse racing win markets. You also have to be aware of tricks — many Bots create false alarms, intent on provoking other traders to act.
- Market reactions. Placing large stakes on Betfair distorts the weight of money, and makes the market respond in new ways that you couldn’t have possibly planned for in test runs. Bots and traders are triggered by volumes — so you need to consider how you can be a little more discreet.
- Unmatched bets. Again this one applies to Betting Exchanges. Very often the price you want moves too quickly, or the market went the wrong way leaving you unmatched (or partially unmatched). These are conditions you can’t simulate.
- Voided bets & deductions. Some of the bets you place will be voided, or will have Rule 4 deductions applied (horse racing). Past occurrences of voided/deducted bets are often missing or inaccurate in historic data sets. Therefore future results are difficult to accurately simulate. Hence why real money results can differ from your predictions.
If you’re approaching this from a trading perspective, learn more about the problems you might encounter: 10 Biggest Problems Betfair Traders Face.
With any strategy, start out slow. There’s often unforeseeable factors that’ll impact your execution.
A Good Starting Point For Your Betting Strategy
My advice would be to start out by exploiting value from Bookmakers’ prices. This can be achieved using:
- An out-of-the-box Value Bet Finder (I’ve proven they work over thousands of bets).
- A Proofed Tipster Service (only the transparent services will suffice. Check out my Tipster review)
Beyond this, you might want to explore ways of creating your own unique system whereby you fly under the radar and avoid account closures at the Bookies. I’ve provided some betting strategy ideas in my Football Betting Systems & Models Tutorial.
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