Optimism Bias | The Failure To Accurately Anticipate Risk

Optimism bias leads us to believe that we are less likely to suffer from misfortune and more likely to enjoy success than reality would suggest. In other words: it’s feeling that the negative things that affect others won’t affect us.

Sports bettors are often guilty of optimism bias, feeling as though their chance of losing is remote. But while having a positive outlook is beneficial in many aspects of life, over-optimism can have a hugely negative impact on sports bettors — especially those that mistakably believe that they are smarter or more lucky than others that’ve failed by attempting the same things.

Here’s what you need to know about optimism bias and how you can avoid it while betting.


Examples Of Optimism Bias

Optimism bias is a form of wishful thinking. We choose to ignore the facts and the likelihood of a specific thing happening in favour of something more preferable. For example:

  • Diseases: having the feeling of “I won’t catch it”, even if there’s substantial evidence that you could. This is common thinking for smokers when it comes to cancer.
  • Addiction: having the feeling of “it’s all under control”, even though many others in your situation have lost control. Drug users, alcohol drinkers — even gamblers will often view their situation in this way.
  • Floods: having the feeling of “it won’t happen to me”, even though others in your local area have experienced damage to their properly from flooding.
  • Wallet theft: having the feeling of “I’ll be perfectly safe”, even though it has been strongly advised not to walk through a particular high-crime area at night time.
  • Job security: having the feeling of “the company will never get rid of me”, despite others within the industry being laid off. This sometimes results in a lack of a solid contingency plan (e.g. an emergency fund).

In each case, desirability is at play: we believe what we want to believe. The risks haven’t been adequately anticipated.

Optimism bias truly makes us feel superior to everyone else in that, while others will be badly impacted by negative events, we will escape unharmed.


Optimism Bias In Sports Betting

Optimism bias influences our sports betting choices. Consider how a bettor may view their own likelihood of success:

  • Foresight: a bettor may feel that they “know their sport” and therefore their ability to make predictions is far superior to others that consistently lose.
  • Luck: a bettor may feel that they are a lucky person that isn’t affected by the same bad luck that plagues other gamblers.
  • Skill: a bettor might read articles on this site about probability and value betting but think “no need for that. I’ll simply pick more winners”.

Then there’s the emotional element on top. If a bettor is a die-hard supporter, or takes a particular dislike to, a specific team or sportsperson then that can heavily impact where their optimism lies. This alone can become the driving force behind many (often poor) sports betting decisions. For instance, a Tottenham fan may decide to regularly bet against Arsenal on the basis that he always holds out high hopes they’ll lose every game. But that approach is, unsurprisingly, not going to yield positive results.

For many bettors, optimism bias will lead to a skewed outlook in favour of the success they desire, rather than failure that’s more likely.


Avoiding Optimism Bias

Is there any way to truly avoid optimism bias in sports betting?


Bettors need to remain objective. While it’s common for bettors to look for evidence that supports their decisions, it is better practice to search for the arguments that go against it.

Try to break your own methodology. Put it through the grinder. Shadow bet, and collect as much data. Test whether it really holds up in all situations.

Remember that the most successful sports bettors and traders do not have exceptional foresight, or the Midas touch. They win and lose bets just like everyone else. The key difference between the pro bettor and the punter is that the pro has identified a weakness that can be exploited, repeatedly. That is what produces an overall profit — even with all the peaks and troughs.

A good starting point for bettors looking to make a profit is my How To Win section.

Emotional Detachment

Leading on from objectivity, bettors also need to avoid letting emotions get the better of them.

The best gamblers are those that are able to disassociate their feelings from choices and instead rely on analysis, statistics, market trends — or anything else that has a proven edge over a large data set.

It might be easier to keep emotions in check by betting at moments that you feel calm and level-headed — rather than any type of extreme. After all, optimism bias is likely to strike at times that you’re feeling particularly jubilant — perhaps because your favourite team has just played a blinder.


Bettors need to avoid making the same naïve errors that generations of gamblers have made before them.

I’ve always maintained that one of gambling’s biggest faults is education. Most casino players don’t truly know what the house edge means for their bankroll, just as much as an average sports bettor gives very little thought to why a bookmaker will earn profit from them.

But if you’re someone that truly cares about winning, then don’t turn a blind eye to the potential pitfalls of sports betting. I’ve created an entire section of this site called ‘Must-Reads‘. Many of these articles are based around personal experiences as well as those of others. If you’re new to sports betting, you might just learn something you didn’t know before.

Lastly, remember that takes a lot of hard work to minimise the bookmaker’s edge, or to consistently earn as a sports trader. If it were really so easy to beat the system, then bookmakers wouldn’t be here today, thrusting adverts at our TV screens, inviting us to take them on.

As much as it may go against your natural inclination, it’s sometimes wiser to be a realist more than an optimist; it certainly is for sports betting.

Toby @ Punter2Pro
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