IN the second of a new series, professional sports bettor, Neel Shah (@MyBettorLife), reviews some of the very best books out there that can raise your betting to the next level. This week, he looks at Bryan Nicholson's fascinating book: Hypnotised by Numbers.
Hypnotised by Numbers: Psychology and logic versus data in sports and betting
I’m a big fan of an epic trilogy and pro punter and golf expert, Bryan Nicholson is midway through his betting saga.
His second instalment is a more general focus on finding value in the betting markets and is designed to guide readers who want to improve their ability to beat the betting markets and to show the way to do this without complicated models or advanced mathematical knowledge.
Having said that, Bryan is an engineer by trade and has a solid mathematical background that has informed his own betting for over two decades. This has helped him develop a number of tools to guide him in his own personal betting as well as poker at a very high level.
Although this isn’t the prime focus of the book, it covers some key betting fundamentals and an insight into how bookmakers provide their lines, the difference between sharp and soft bookies as well as ways to beat the market by advantage play, maximising offers and places. There are also some valuable nuggets in here on how to maintain accounts and go under the radar for longer.
The book is chock full of examples of where bookmakers have gotten their prices plain wrong and explanations of why and how to apply this knowledge to future opportunities.
Although the examples are mostly related to golf and football, the methodology can be applied to almost any market and a key tenet of the approach is to build up an informed knowledge of the sport you’re following along with a fundamental understanding of the betting markets and how expected value works.
In particular, I enjoyed the chapter on props betting in football, as this is something I spend a lot of time with myself. It was encouraging to see Bryan outline similar processes that I use myself to find value in these markets and micro angles that the majority of bettors often miss.
Bryan uses some excellent examples in the in-play golf markets where knowledge of particular players in particular situations on the course are often priced incorrectly and there is excellent value to be had if you have a read on particular player strengths and weaknesses.
Ultimately this comes down to the conservative nature of bookmakers to price events around mid points, meaning that opportunities constantly arise if you attack specific segments of the market. This was referenced in ‘the logic of sports betting'; looking at surface areas of attack.
Contrary to how many gamblers bet (and even some of a serious level), the trick is to find participants in high margin markets where the bulk of the serious action is going on the shorter priced plays, leading to more generous prices further down the list.
Knowledge is power, form is temporary and class is permanent. Bryan illustrates a plethora of examples where taking a slightly contrarian approach and having a solid process in place can lead to steadier profits in the long run.
Applying filters beyond the basic analysis most bettors carry out can often lead to promising results. A key example of this is where he explains the idea of course fit, strokes gained and progressive form in golf.
The book cuts through the hype around ‘trendy’ ways to bet that actually add minimal value to the process at best and potentially diminish returns at worst. There is an excellent discussion on Bayesian and Frequentist approaches to looking at the available data and the pros and cons of each as well as how and when heuristics can be applied successfully into our process.
This is really a core theme of the book, to consider when the data we are presented with is telling us something meaningful and where we really need to consider potential drawbacks to using this data blindly.
For example, the illusion of clusters and streaks (often referred to as the ‘hot hand’ in the US, and something I have written about previously) as well as the black box paradox- assuming that the results are the only thing that matters, without looking into how those results happened.
You also often hear closing line value (or CLV) as being the gospel among serious bettors to indicate the ability for long term profit. And to a certain extent, this is true, but Bryan explains in detail how market efficiency and the closing line can often be a fallacy, depending on the markets you are participating in.
The book is a grand and ambitious project, and as such, it is very difficult to cover many of the topics here in depth while at the same time making it accessible to read. However, the sheer range of topics covered means there are some excellent jump off points for anyone wanting to investigate further, or perhaps needing some more clarity or detail on particular points raised .
I thoroughly enjoyed the book and needed to re-read much of the content to fully absorb the points raised, because it is rich in detail and densely packed with information but written with good humour and panache for what can often be a dry subject to write about.
If you wanted some fresh angles on how to bet smarter and confirmation of any processes you’re doing right now, it’s definitely worth a read.
About Neel Shah
This year, through a combination of circumstances and an ambition I’d had for a while, I took the plunge to become a full time sports bettor and to spend a year immersed in betting, trading and devouring as much knowledge as I can on the subject. I still have a lot to learn and it’s nowhere near the glamorous life people think it might be, but it’s been an amazing and profitable experience so far and I’ve absolutely loved it.
I hope my articles can help others in their own betting journey and we can all make our lives a little easier and more comfortable by betting smarter and making some £££ along the way!