A Very Important Thing To Know

Even with a 57+% expectation-per-bet, you’ll reach new bankroll highs less than 5% of the time

While doing research for my book, How Professional Gamblers Beat The Pro Football Pointspread, I enlisted the help of Dr. Jeffery Allbritton, Professor of Mathematics, Middle Tennessee State University. He double-checked the math in the book, including my findings concerning the probabilities involved not only when dealing with team statistics and predicting winners, but even more importantly, when dealing with money management.

My research made it clear that the use of a correct bet size is every bit as important as the ability to predict winners. Make no mistake about it, the failure to use correct money management will put you out of the sports betting business even faster than a failure to predict winners. This concentrated study of expectations led to the single most important thing I ever discovered about sports betting. It is safe to say that less than one in one thousand sports bettors is aware of this extremely important fact: Even with a 57%-58% expectation on every bet, you will have less bankroll than you’ve had at one time or another in the past more than 95 percent of the time.

That’s right; – less than 5 percent of the time can we expect to set new all-time highs with our bankroll.

It is essential to our well being that we recognize that fact. Like it or not, we must accept that such a condition exists, and that it is wholly normal. It is dictated by the mathematics of the situation. By recognizing and accepting that this condition exists, we can better deal with that nagging feeling of having to ‘do something’ to catch up. Even if we’re showing a profit over the last couple of months, if our bankroll is less than it was last week, we tend to get that knot in the pit of our stomach that reminds us we’ve been losing.

That knot in our stomach is not conducive to clear thinking. It is the first step to a feeling of desperation.

It would be wonderful if our bankrolls increased predictably and smoothly, week-by-week, but that is simply not the way it works. We are not dealing with an escalator moving smoothly and predictably upwards; we are dealing with a pogo stick bouncing crazily up a long, low, uneven grade. Less than one ‘bounce’ in twenty of our pogo stick will result in a new all time ‘altitude’ record.

The important thing is to recognize that the condition exists, and that it is simply not avoidable, and to accept it as being part of the overall picture. If you are aware that this circumstance is supposed to happen you will be better prepared to cope with it on an emotional level. Keep in mind that any particular series of wins and losses is a ‘streak.’ It is just as much a streak to have a long series not dominated by either wins or losses as to have a long series dominated by wins or a long series dominated by losses. To illustrate what can be expected from having a winning expectation of, say, 57½% per bet, I have often used the analogy of 1,000 marbles in a sack; – 575 white marbles (winners) and 425 black marbles (losers.) Your job is to draw a marble from the sack without peeking, note whether it’s a white marble (a winner) or a black marble (a loser), replace it in the sack, shake the sack, and repeat the process. Given enough draws from the sack, it is obvious you are guaranteed to pick more winners than losers. After all, every time you reach into the sack you have a 57½% expectation of “winning” and only a 42½% expectation of “losing.” Trouble is, those 425 black marbles can be a real pain in the patootsie. It is amazing how many losers you can draw over any sequential 10, or 20, or even 50 chances. In spite of having a clear advantage, you are absolutely guaranteed to have losing streaks.

The most disastrous streak I ever heard of happened to professional handicapper, Tony Diamond. Tony has been a pro for many years in Las Vegas, and his handicapping ability is generally well respected. The streak happened in 1997. Tony was sailing along against the NBA at a winning clip of 59+% when he hit The Mother Of All Losing Streaks, – an unbelievable string of 27 straight losses.

It made Tony more famous than ever. A math professor from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas figured Tony’s odds of going 0-27 at something akin to 4.5 million to one. Stephen Nover, a reporter for The Las Vegas Sun wrote an article about the streak. Tony was interviewed on radio & television about it.

It was a brutal lesson in correct money management. Your long term goal is to be able to keep picking from the sack enough times so that the streaks will even out. With 575 winners and 425 losers in the sack, you must eventually pull more winners than losers. That’s the law of probabilities. What happens over a dozen or two pulls won’t and can’t dramatically change the long term results, – but you can certainly experience a bumpy ride over the short term. My own worst streak was back in 1985. I had a 57½% winning expectation against the NFL, and in Week 15 I went 0-13. That’s right; – zero wins and thirteen losses. It was the worst beating of my life. (That same week, a television show I’d been writing for four years was also cancelled…Bummer.)

It was that beating that drove me to a closer examination of probabilities. What precisely are the chances of going 0-13 if you have a 57½% winning expectation per bet?

They’re not big. Wiith the help of Professor Allbritton, I worked out the chances to be about the same as being dealt a cold straight flush in five card stud poker; – over 60,000-to-one. Trouble is, if you play five card stud long enough, sooner or later you’re going to be dealt a cold straight flush. It’s the old rule about an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters. If you bet on sports long enough, sooner or later you’re going to go 0-13. (I don’t remember ever having a 13-0 day against the NFL, by the way.)

The critical point is to recognize the parameters of the eventualities. Having less bankroll than you had at one time or another in the recent past is simply the way it is more than 95% of the time. It is the natural condition. It is the nature of the beast. Life can be much easier when you recognize and appreciate that fact. It ain’t the 0-13 streaks, or the 0-27 streaks, or the 0-and-anything streaks you have to worry about; it’s the 3-13 streaks, or the 5-27 streaks which are much more common, although far less dramatic.

In 1998 against the NBA, our picks in PROFESSIONAL GAMBLER Newsletter made a season-long profit of about 29 units. That’s less than we normally make, but it’s still a good profit. (A normal year nets 40-some units; we made over 90 units in 1997.) Trouble is, somewhere around the first of March in 1998, we’d already zoomed to a high of 53 units! From March through the playoffs we lost about 24 units. Even though we produced a net profit for the entire NBA season of about 29 units, some of our subscribers went broke by getting too optimistic with their bet sizes.

The real key to a relaxed professionalism is in having done enough research and having had enough experience to be confident that the ‘sack of marbles’ does, indeed, contain more winners than losers. Once you are absolutely positive of that, your very next goal is make certain nobody can stop you from drawing from the sack. You want to draw from that sack as often as possible, of course. With a solid edge, you must inevitably draw more winners than losers. After that 0-13 disaster, for example, I never doubted I had a 57+% expectation because I had years of experience to prove it.

Strangely enough, the most likely person to stop you from drawing from the sack is you. If the sizes of your bets are too high in proportion to your bankroll, you will be forced to stop drawing by a short term losing streak. Sooner or later, if your bets are too high in relation to your bankroll, you will go broke, – even though you have a clear long term advantage.

I am wholly convinced that sports bettors go broke because of bad money management, not because of bad handicapping. The next time some tout in a bad suit advises you to use a progressive betting scheme, such as <“one-star, two-star, three-star,” or the so-called “Kelly criterion,” ask to see his Master’s Degree in mathematics – preferably in probabilities. As I point out in my book, the Kelly criterion should be called the “Kevorkian criterion.” It’s suicide. The fact is, if you have any kind of realistic advantage over the bookmaker, the safest and best “system” is to keep your bets as level as possible. Armed with a genuine understanding of what can be expected, you won’t find yourself waking up at 3:00 in the morning with sweaty palms and an irregular heartbeat.
thedailyspread.com | September 22nd, 1999

– – – – – – – – – – – –About the writer
JR is author of the sports betting classic – ‘How Professional Gambler’s Beat the Pro Football Pointspread”. He’s also the greatest all around handicapper we’ve ever seen.

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