Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hindsight has its uses and history supports the "Dogmath" concept. But what happens today and tomorrow is all that matters to the bottom line.

My ever-stronger belief that backing underdogs exclusively offers the only positive expectation in sports betting has a whole season of baseball games behind it, plus around 700 NBA contests, and a couple of hundred games apiece from the NHL and NFL schedules.

But there is still this nagging worry that the validation I have found in almost 4,000 long-gone betting opportunities is a temporary phenomenon that will even out over a few more months of ball-chucking and puck-whacking.

The math says otherwise, and I trust the math with a passionate devotion, but starting November 1, I set the ball rolling on an experiment that cannot benefit from hindsight.

It's simple enough: seven underdog picks each day posted ahead of game time on Google Docs (a nifty platform Peter Punter and I used for a couple of months), then updated as the last of the day's results come in.

I have talked about subjectivity before and my quest to eliminate it, at least for now, and so I am letting the odds-makers choose my picks for me, ignoring what I suspect might be smarter selections.

The first two days were woefully low on underdog wins (30% overall vs. the 45% that arithmetic says is the level at which "dogs" can make steady money) and it took me until Friday to get out of the hole and start making progress.

As I type this, the 7-Dog strategy is a little more than 3 units ahead, down from a high of 12.7 units late on Sunday, a unit being $100.

I am applying the target betting rules here, and right now, four of the seven lines or series are in the red and so bet values are rising.

I am also tracking flat betting (down 4.5u) and scaled betting, which puts 3u on dogs with short odds, 2u on "middling" selections, and 1u on the longest odds in the range (down 3u).

So, I am 10 days into this little open experiment, conducted under the scrutiny of a couple of skeptics who were helpful to me when I first ventured into the brave new world of sports betting and who have zero confidence in betting by the numbers as an alternative to wisdom, experience and insight.

Who can blame them? After all, their special abilities took years to develop.

I start each new day scanning all the available options, and often wincing as objectivity denies me the right to place the largest bets on the teams with the shortest odds, or to favor underdogs defending their honor on their home turf.

Of course it makes sense to pick and choose, but for now I am not permitting myself that luxury because my whole theory rests on successfully demonstrating that in the end, it's just the math that matters.

As I work on my sports databases (sheer drudgery but always worth it at the end of the day!) I see countless examples of why it's just the math that makes the difference between winning and losing.

January 14 this year was an all-NBA day, for instance, with nine games matching the odds range criterion identified as optimal by databases already completed.

Five of those "dog" selections were losers, flushing $500 down the the drain.

But the four winners brought in $635 in profits, giving me an end-of-the-day surplus of $135 that represented a healthy +15.0% return on my original "investment" - a performance that was repeated over and over again as I kept punching in results from the 2008-09 NBA season.

The math that matters most is that if I had backed the favorites instead of the underdogs in those nine games, I would have had five winners and four losers, winning $332 and losing $400.

Result: a LOSS of $68 on the day in spite of being right more often than I was wrong.

What kind of crappy deal is that?

Betting the book this way, online and out in the open, is sure to have some seriously expensive down days.

But I confidently predict that soon enough, the bankroll will fatten dramatically, and prior winnings will fund each day's new investments.

I started out with a $1,000 stake for the 7-Dog Experiment and may have to dig deeper.

But the math is loud and clear: as long as the overall dog-to-favorite win ratio remains within a few pips of 0.82 to 1 (45%), the numbers will get greener as time goes by.

Worth noting, in spite of the fact that this test is less than half a month old, is that so far, "dog" odds have averaged +140 or $1.40 on the dollar, and the average bet was 1.37 units ($137).

The win right now, with $850 outstanding from four LTDs, equates to +3.3% of action.

Favorites outnumber underdogs 3-2 in wins to date (39/26) which, at 40% for dogs is below the overall win percentage that is not just needed but confidently expected.

I have learned one very important sports betting lesson among many others, and that is that bets on anything other than the money line, which is a no-frills bet that your selection will score more goals or points than the other guys, seriously screws up the math.

After several cash-less tutorials in the sports books at my local casinos, I cautiously opened my wallet and confined my picks to straightforward scores or "sides" bets, and did pretty well for a few weeks.

Then I talked myself into simultaneously trying multiple doubles or "round robins," and all of a sudden, the wheels fell off.

The damage was not great, but I was mad at myself from defying the arithmetic that I have always relied upon as the bedrock of everything I do with my money when I am inside a casino.

My friend Pete had the same experience and I was well aware of the trouble he got into, so that makes my mistake even less explicable.

Pete was several grand ahead of the game, even while ignoring my advice, until he started betting spreads and totals instead of plain and simple scores.

Jumping the tracks was a far more expensive mistake for Pete than it was for me, to the tune of around $10,000. Ouch!

Each one of the databases I am working on includes run lines, puck lines, spreads and totals so that one of these days I can take a closer look at betting options that for now are a mystery to me.

Did my guys win or lose? That's all I care about at this point, aside from remaining confident that picking more losers than winners won't hurt me because (sing along with me!) I'll win more when I win than I lose when I lose.

An important reminder: The only person likely to make money out of this blog is you, Dear Reader. There's nothing to buy, ever, and your soul is safe (from me, at least). Test my ideas and use them or don't. It's up to you.