Countering the bookmaker’s margin - Part 3: How to get an edge
07 April, 2020


In our two previous articles about countering the bookmaker’s margin, we explored how you can reduce the margin by betting with several betting companies, and how to apply the concept of value betting to make sure you aim to only place bets for outcomes that have a positive expected value. In this article we will explore some of the tools and concepts you could employ to make it more likely that you will place value bets.

The web abounds with people touting a multitude of “winning betting systems”. The reality is that more or less all of these so-called winning systems are completely worthless. If an actual winning system was disclosed in a public forum, its edge would very quickly be absorbed by the market and it would cease to be a winning system. This article, then, will not be providing a blueprint that guarantees success.

The best we can do is to point out and discuss some of the approaches and tools that are available to you. These include:

1) Knowledge of a particular sport

2) Information about a particular sport

3) Models for a particular sport or market

4) Patience

5) Market selection

6) Tipsters


Many people think they will be successful at sports betting because they consider themselves knowledgeable about a particular sport. However, there are many other factors at play when it comes to sports betting. Furthermore, many of those who believe they are knowledgeable do not actually possess any information not already absorbed by the market, and as such incorporated in the odds.

It is entirely possible to use not much other than knowledge and understanding of a specific sport as a driver for profitable betting. Many people have done that for years or even decades. However, most would agree that this is getting harder and harder as the betting market seems to be getting sharper all the time, producing more accurate odds.

A good illustration of this is to consider how many TV pundits are known to be successful punters.
Many stars, both current and former, deserve praise for admitting they have a gambling problem and warning the public of the dangers of addiction. As it seems likely that most would suffer in silence rather than making their addiction public, it is plausible that there is a strong betting culture among top-calibre footballers in Britain.

In their role as TV pundits, former players and managers are uniquely well positioned. They have access to streams of information from sources they established during their careers, and most also possess a thorough understanding of the sport they played at the highest level. Even so, there are hardly any known examples of these pundits being successful sports bettors.

The most likely explanation for this is the fact that sports betting is a complicated activity. Most of the knowhow brought to the table by pundits has already been incorporated in the market odds. This shows that a deep knowledge of a sport, by itself, is not necessarily enough to successfully bet on it, particularly as there is a tendency for many to overrate their knowledge.

It is entirely possible to use not much other than knowledge and understanding of a specific sport as a driver for profitable betting. Many people have done that for years or even decades. However, most would agree that this is getting harder and harder as the betting market seems to be getting sharper all the time, producing more accurate odds. And it is important to realise that the larger the betting sport the more information is likely to already be absorbed by the market odds. With that in mind, an individual is more likely to make a profit betting on a more minor sport if they are relying on sports specific knowledge alone. In our opinion it is better to view bigger sports and markets as modeling competitions, rather than a test of sporting knowledge.

The irony is that many punters are worse off knowing a lot about a sport than knowing nothing at all. This is easily understood by looking at a quote often - and probably incorrectly - attributed to Mark Twain:

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Many punters are certain that knowing a lot about a sport will enable them to be successful at sports betting. They do not realise that what they know about the sport has already been incorporated into the market. This belief that they know something valuable ensures, in most cases, that they will be long-term losers.

On the other hand, punters who realizes that they have gaps in their knowledge may take a more analytical approach. They are more likely to study how the betting market works and what is required for long-term success.

The reality is that few punters will be able to leverage solely their knowledge of a sport into profitable betting. Most would be better off by realising this and not betting at all, or only betting limited amounts purely for entertainment purposes. If you are not deterred by this, it would be wise to consider taking it a step or two further by organising and systemising your knowledge. For individual sports a logical move could be to build result databases with the ability to make notes both next to the results of the various athletes, but also about the athletes themselves. Such databases can be powerful tools, especially if they are linked to video libraries, preferably consisting of edited videos, enabling you to easily and rapidly watch the performances of the athletes again as needed. It is vital to realize that you must supplement any domain or sports specific knowledge with knowledge of the betting market itself and money management.

Another way to obtain an edge is to have access to better information than the market, or to receive the same information earlier and be able to act on it before the market. However, this will be difficult unless you are exceptionally well connected. It is also possible to understand the ramifications of news better than the market, but for the mainstream sports this is exceedingly difficult.

For the larger betting sports, it is very difficult to know something the market does not. New information normally gets absorbed very quickly. As an example, when surprise starting line-ups for mainstream football matches are released, the market absorbs this information almost instantly, as visible in odds graphs.


For most punters, modelling is the approach that gives the best chance of achieving success as a sports bettor. Unfortunately it is also arguably the most resource demanding approach. Putting together a model good enough to beat the market is not child’s play and is often only feasible if a substantial amount of time and/or money is invested.


Having a deep knowledge and understanding of how a particular sport works can be a valuable asset when modeling. Some punters who are unable to win using nothing but their sports knowledge, could potentially use their knowledge to structure available data in a model sharp enough to beat the market.


The question is not only if you are able to build a model good enough to beat the market, but also by how much and for how long will it be able to beat the market? The right way to think of it, is likely as an arms race. Most people agree that the market keeps getting sharper, if this is correct the model would keep losing some of the edge, unless you continuously improve the model to ensure that it keeps getting sharper as well.

There is nothing wrong with acting as a recreational punter and betting on the matches you attend or watch on TV, provided you are able to stay in control of your losses.

Another thing to consider is - what kind of turnover you would be able to get from the sport/league your model is built for. Considering that most professional punters are only producing a profit of a few percent of their total turnover, you may need to have an average monthly turnover of several times the cost of building the model - for it to make sense as a business proposition. As it is of paramount importance to do good money management this could easily mean that you would need a very large betting bank for it to make any sense even considering building a model. If you decide to build a model, it could be wise to aim low from the start. You are much more likely to have success by targeting a smaller league than a mainstream one.

It may sound surprising, but patience is a concept you can use to get an edge. One of the biggest advantages a punter has over a bookmaker is the ability to pick his spots. Most bookmakers price up thousands of markets every day. A punter can evaluate the markets he has expertise in and only bet the prices he is confident have value.

There is nothing wrong with acting as a recreational punter and betting on the matches you attend or watch on TV, provided you are able to stay in control of your losses. However, some punters make the mistake of fitting their percentages to the odds available, tricking themselves into believing they have found a value bet for the match live on TV. If your ambition is to be profitable, you should remain patient and disciplined, only betting when you feel you have found a certain value bet.

Market selection is similarly important. Some punters and betting syndicates have a lot of expenses. These expenses can be connected to building, maintaining and sharpening sophisticated models, other tools or for information gathering. Such punters usually need to bet liquid markets with high wagering limits. If they do not, they will struggle to get a turnover large enough to sustain their expenses.

If you are just starting out, you are unlikely to be burdened with any expenses. This gives you an advantage when selecting your markets. If your bet size is 50 or 100 EUR, why would you bet the NFL point spread or the Premier League Asian handicap? Mainstream markets like the above are infinitely harder to beat than most newbies realise.

A bookmaker’s wagering limit is a good gauge of how hard a market is to beat. If the limit is high with a sharp bookmaker, it means the process of price discovery has already made these prices hard to beat. If you see a high betting limit with a soft bookmaker, that should tell you either that this soft bookmaker has put a lot of resources into making the odds for this market and/or that it has a very fast feed from the sharp bookmakers for this market.

If you are a recreational bettor, you should bet whatever gives you the most entertainment. However, if the point of your betting is to make a profit, you should choose markets that gives you a better chance of finding value bets.

Tipsters and forums can be huge assets for punters. There are many forums containing useful information related to sports and betting, and plenty of tipsters who can provide you with good value bets, particularly for smaller (and less liquid) betting sports or markets. You should be careful with tipsters, though. As we demonstrated in our article about survivorship bias, some tipsters - are not nearly as good as their numbers indicate. Other tipsters are downright cheats and inflate their numbers through a vast array of nefarious schemes. Furthermore, following a tipster will in all likelihood not produce the same result for you as is indicated by the tipster’s history, because you are unlikely to obtain odds as good as the tipster has in the tipping record.

You should therefore be wary of paying for tips, and carefully evaluate any free tipsters you come across. Most tipsters will only make very rudimentary statistics available, like actual profit and yield. This is unfortunate as we have shown in our article about closing line value that adding such statistics makes it easier to assess the quality of a tipster.

Some tipsters provide analysis that explains why their tip is a value bet. But many such texts simply seek to sell the tipster’s knowhow rather than providing valuable insights and information. When reading such analysis, you should always consider whether the information is likely to have already been absorbed by the market. If so, you should be skeptical of the quality of the tipster, particularly if the tip is for a liquid sport and market.

When looking for tipsters to follow, we suggest focusing on those who make available advanced statistics like expected profit/yield, and who deliver good results when measured on such metrics in addition to actual profit/yield.


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