Gambler’s fallacy refers to the mistaken belief that a series of results will alter the chance of it happening over the future. It’s a common error made by casino and sports bettors alike.
An Example Of Gambler’s Fallacy
One of the simplest examples of gambler’s fallacy can be demonstrated using a Roulette wheel. Suppose that the past five spins produced a black number. What colour is most likely to appear on the next spin?
Those most impacted by gambler’s fallacy would reason that red is more likely to win on the next spin because black has already appeared consecutively, against the odds, five times.
However this logic is incorrect. Just because black occurred more frequently than was expected, does not mean the chance of it reoccurring diminishes in the future. Consider that black always has the exact same chance of winning as red. Therefore the next spin is not more likely to produce a red than a black. The chance remains equal, as always.
Does Gambler’s Fallacy Apply To Sports?
Gambler’s fallacy cannot apply to sport because it’s possible for previous outcomes to impact future outcomes. Past performance is, in many cases, a relevant predictor for upcoming events.
Consider that, unlike Roulette, the results for sportsperson or team aren’t just down to pure chance. Sporting performance is impacted by a variety of factors such skill, confidence levels, physical attributes, and experience. These factors, among many others, dictate how likely an outcome is to occur. Importantly, these outcomes are not completely independent from previous ones because there are common threads (e.g. current fitness levels) that may exist between events.
Furthermore the results from previous events alone can directly impact upcoming events. For instance it’s common for football teams to build momentum and team spirit over a series of wins – this could result in either complacency or more confidence in the future. On the other hand, a series of losses can generate compounding pressure on a team – this could result in a lack of confidence, or a much-needed boost in determination and fight. In both cases, the past affects the future. So it’s not necessarily a ‘fallacy’ for bettors to place relevance on previous events in order to predict the future.
How Gambler’s Fallacy Impacts Betting Success
If you step outside of the sport itself, gambler’s fallacy can (and does) negatively impact sports bettors in terms of estimating their chances of winning upcoming bets.
For instance, a sports bettor that heavily relies on luck may reason that a string of losses means a turn-around is imminent. Or that a string of wins means losses are more likely to occur soon.
This line of thinking can lead to poor decisions. The reality is that nothing is guaranteed to “even out” — especially if the strategy is weak or flawed. It’s superstitious, and irrational, to believe that good or bad sports betting fortunes are going to somehow impact the future outcomes of professional sport.
Smart sports bettors acknowledge that every upcoming event has a chance of winning or losing (with varying probabilities). Unlike an amateur, the pro will not be swayed by short-term results and will view outcomes as a long series of fluctuations that are, ultimately, expected to generate a return. Hopefulness and superstition doesn’t come into it — because the pro would’ve aimed to obtain value on every bet placed. Therefore good (or bad) fortune is a bonus (or upset), and nothing more.
Compared with other forms of bias that I’ve covered on this site, gambler’s fallacy is arguably the easiest error to make. So you have to be conscious enough of it to prevent it from weakening your approach to betting.
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