What makes a professional gambler successful? What separates a pro gambler from the vast majority of players who lose money?
Well, the strategy and methods play a huge part. Intelligence and analytical skills also help enormously. But then on top of that there’s mentality and character traits.
Here’s 10 tips for any punter wanting to approach their betting with a level-headed, professional mindset.
1. Don’t Kid Yourself
Let’s not deny it: ‘bigging up’ winnings is part of the fun of gambling for many bettors.
But If you’re bragging about your wins without making long-term profits, then it’s a good idea to assess your approach to betting. This is a classic trait associated with unsuccessful bettors that want to appear successful, or convince themselves that they are (when they aren’t).
Be honest with yourself about how you’re performing.
If you want be truly successful at gambling then you shouldn’t see winning as something that’s out of the ordinary, or losing as something to be ashamed of. Winning and losing are all part of the game. You just need to know that when you bet, regardless of the outcome, that you made a wise and informed decision. Professional gamblers don’t just hit and hope for the best.
In order to fully appreciate this professional mindset, and to approach betting the right way, I recommend reading the book Sports Trading on Betfair.
2. Stay Rigid
Even if your strategy hasn’t gone to plan you should remain disciplined. Variance will ensure that you won’t always win no matter how smart your betting strategy is. Riding out the rough patches and keeping faith in what you know to be a long-term winner is one of the key traits that separates pro bettors from the recreational ones.
Of course, if you have reason to believe that you have made a mistake, or were naïve in devising your strategy, then don’t just remain rigid! I’ve written a very detailed post on sample sizes in betting analysis — this highlights how you should monitor your strategy over a large set of data, and reassess if necessary.
3. Make Sense of Your Findings
Before jumping to conclusions, you should ask yourself: why would my strategy make a profit?
This applies when compiling your own odds. You want ensure that what you’re calculations make sense. You should scrutinise your findings and ask yourself: are my odds truly more accurate than the market itself, or does it represent just one narrow view of the event (i.e. my own)?
I recently trialled a rogue tipster service where target odds were compiled by an “algorithm”. What I instantly identified was that the values varied far too much from the industry betting exchange odds — so I questioned their methodology and requested past data. I proved that their values were in fact completely and utterly inaccurate; useless to punters.
So be critical of your findings (and other people’s).
4. Analyse & Refine
Successful bettors create, refine and verify betting strategies by analysing past results or market behaviour. To do this you can download (or collect) historical data and load it up in Excel. Provided you have the skills, you can simulate the past profitability of a strategy over a large set of results.
Excel can also be used to compile your own estimates of odds for future sports events by assigning probabilities to outcomes (which is particularly useful for identifying value bets). One mathematical method I suggest applying to your data is the Poisson Distribution, as explained by Pinnacle’s betting blog.
An alternative way to analyse your sports bets is to sign up to Betting.com’s Portfolio Tracker where you’ll be able to log bets and thoroughly analyse results under different conditions (e.g. staking plans, bet restrictions), while benefitting from features such as automated settlement of results.
Betfair software applications or trading tools can also be used to further your analysis, and to trial out strategies. Some applications are capable of ‘mock’ betting on a live marketplace (e.g. Betfair), and collecting data in real-time with only minimal input from the user. Once you’re comfortable with your findings, it can be switched into real mode. One software suite I recommend trialling is BF Bot Manager.
5. Don’t Overstretch
Smart, professional bettors are conscious of their bankroll — particularly when starting out. If you bet beyond your means then your professional gambling career will be very short lived.
Staking plans, such as the Kelly Criterion, help to structure your betting. But each plan has it’s own advantages and disadvantages. My advice is to avoid becoming too fixated on staking plans, as this alone is no substitute for a profitable strategy. Furthermore you can’t always stick to a staking plan if there isn’t sufficient liquidity for your selections — so they’re often just theoretical.
So how else can you avoid overstretching? First and foremost, consider the odds you’re betting at. If your average odds are, let’s say 10.0, then each bet has an implied 10% win rate. At these odds it’s not unusual to encounter 10+ straight losses — sometimes more if you’re unlucky. So if you’re betting high stakes with a limited bankroll then you have to be prepared for the possibility that you could bust out. The solution is simple: cap your odds.
To ride out a bad streaks of results I also recommend betting with around 1-5% of your bankroll. This is a reasonable guideline, especially if you’re betting at low odds where there’s less variance. Raise stakes as you begin to make profit.
6. Focus on Value No What You Think Will Win
Over time your advantage/disadvantage over the Bookmaker — or other Bettors against you on the exchange — will eventually reveal itself in your results. Successful bettors capitalise on good prices (value bets) and to forget about “picking winners”.
You could pick a loser at 40/1 odds, but if the fair odds were 25/1 this was still a good bet to make. Equally if you accept odds way below what was fair, then regardless of whether you win or lose you’ve still made a bad bet. Importantly, you have to accept that you can’t always win… which can be frustrating at times.
7. Predict the Market Direction
Professional Betfair traders specialise in detecting, or predicting movements in the odds.
Correctly predicting the direction of odds enables traders to secure a ‘value‘ bet where they can trade out at a guaranteed profit. In general: if by the start of an event, the odds have fallen a significant amount from where you backed it, then what you have is positive value. For proof of this concept I highly recommend reading my analysis on Drifters & Steamers.
Trading on movements in the odds as opposed to what you believe the outcome will be is called ‘Cold Trading‘. Cold Traders don’t usually analyse the specifics of the sports event itself, but instead focus solely on market trends. Many profitable cold traders place particular emphasis on the:
- ‘Value’ in the odds
- Predicted increase/decrease in the odds (and thereby value)
- Rate of change in the odds
- Amount of money matched
- Market liquidity
8. Remain Calm
You may feel a sense of nervousness when you make that initial ‘leap of faith’ and launch a new strategy, but if you’re forever placing bets with sweaty palms or over-excitement then take a step back.
Make sure you’re confident in what you’re doing. Keep the bet sizes within your limits. Reduce your variance by betting on lower odds. Make sure you’ve been thorough in your research and that you’re satisfied with your selections. Refer back to historical data if necessary. Don’t rush into something that you’re unsure about.
If you think you’re in a rut then try to address it early on. For more information read the Q&A: Gambling Problems & Addiction.
9. Use Helpful Data Sources Where Necessary
Instinctively, I wouldn’t use Tipsters a go-to source. It’s raw data that you want.
Professional bettors typically search for their ‘edge’ by collecting data of their own, or paying for reliable data sources. This is particularly true for horse racing — where meetings are traditionally analysed using data sources such as the Racing Post or other stats-based websites.
The use of statistics is very popular in horse racing because there are so many factors that impact a race. Some of the most-used data items are:
- Horse-specific: How the age, sex, fitness, and weight-over-distance ability compares with the other horses
- Form: For example, the Jockey/Trainer strike rates
- Race type: How horses are likely to perform on a specific race type based on their track record
- Weather conditions: How the horses typically perform under the current weather conditions.
Smart bettors will often consider such factors, and deliberately or subconsciously assign a level of importance (“a weighting”) that this has on his betting selections.
But finding an edge is like any business — those who have some type of advantage will succeed in a competitive market. Under this principle: the more research your betting system requires, the less people are doing it, and the more chance you have of finding that competitive advantage.
The problem is, popular data sources like Timeform and the Racing Post offer their data to the majority of horse racing punters. It would be naïve to expect to discover something here that other bettors don’t already know of, or haven’t already seen themselves. There are people, recreational and professional, studying and analysing the (same) data constantly in order to find an advantage. The good opportunities are therefore sparse and short-lived. With this in mind, I highly recommend seeking alternative sources.
10. Don’t Chase Losses
You would’ve undoubtedly heard this (rather clichéd) tip already. And it’s true. If you’re chasing losses then you’re lacking discipline.
The successful gambler doesn’t feel that they’re fighting against the Bookmaker to the extent that they need to ‘force’ a win. Professional gamblers look for a long-term ROI — not short-term gains through generating winnings that cancel out previous losses.
I recommend focusing your attention on developing a high frequency strategy (of low risk), as opposed to a high risk approach using large stakes on fewer outcomes. You’ll experience less variance in doing so, and you’ll quickly unveil the true ROI of a strategy through collecting a greater number of data points. Arbitrage Betting is a perfect example of a disciplined, high frequency strategy — and it’s risk free.