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How to win a bet on football

Learn how bettors reduce losing streaks and find more value within your soccer selections. Understand how to win a bet on football and extend your bankroll.



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Updated on 02 October 2018
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Betting Tips for Today's Football

Find more value in your next football bet. You could gain a betting edge by checking out the tips and stats for today's and tomorrow's fixtures...


If you are reading this blog, the chances are that you are someone who likes soccer, likes a bet on it, and would not mind getting better at it; you don’t necessarily want to be a professional or even semi-pro, but you want to get more out of your football betting, and at least curb your losses.


Likewise, if you have arrived here via Google, the chances are that you have been looking around for some techniques to help you get into the pay out queue a little more often.


If you have searched Google for statistical techniques on how to win a bet at football, then you will probably have noticed two things.


•    The first is that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of blogs, websites and code snippets that offer assorted techniques for predicting football matches, and it is quite bewildering when you first look at it.

•    The second thing is that you will have found an equal number of posts saying that it is pointless using these statistical techniques, because unless you have the huge team of quant PhDs available to Tony Bloom or Matthew Benham, then they will not get you very far.


You might find a way to make slight improvements, but unless you know what you’re doing the market may crush you in the end.

Profitable football betting is possible, but it’s far from easy


This blog argues that you can still win a bet at football even if you are an absolute stats novice, and you should absolutely try out some of the modelling techniques available, for three reasons:


1. Algorithms to beat the bookies

2. Start with the basics and grow from there

3. Simple is always the best approach


1. Algorithms to beat the bookies


The first is that you might not want to develop some wonder-algorithm that defeats the bookies, you just want to understand more about how to bet intelligently in terms of probability and staking so you can enjoy your betting more.


This is where most people start; a stream of small losing bets is annoying, and people want to learn a few techniques to try and turn the tide in the other direction a bit.

2. Start with the basics and grow from there


The second reason you should look at some of the information elsewhere on this site is that starting out with some basic models makes it much easier to move on to some more complex models if you get a taste for it.


Once you have gone through the process of building a simple Poisson distribution in Excel, it suddenly does not seem quite so daunting to do the same in Python, and once you have done that it seems a reasonable next step to build a multinomial regression, and then you can see a future of Long Short Term Memory (LSTM) and deep learning models.


3. Simple is always the best approach


The third is that in betting as in business, KISS – Keep it Simple Stupid – applies; a properly applied simple model will always do better than a misconceived uber-model.


So, as you browse some of the stats and models on this site, do not fall into the trap of thinking that you need something incredibly complex to win your football bets consistently.


A good grasp of probability, sensible staking and discipline with a simple model will get you a long way to being a good if not profitable football bettor.

Where do you start if you want to win a bet at football?


The answer is the exact opposite of popular opinion, but it may be best to ignore statistical technique at first.


Initially, you need to find a market that suits your interests and your personal betting psychology; there are a world of bets the beyond popular 1x2 win/lose/draw bets. You might be more comfortable looking at goal markets, handicap betting, scorers or something more exotic like the number of corners, yellow cards or substitutions.


Browse around the posts on this blog and the tools elsewhere on the site and see what catches your eye; most people have a market or bet type that instinctively makes sense to them.


So, let’s say that you feel most comfortable with the goal markets; even if you are not sure who will win, you feel that you have a good intuition for the number of goals there are likely to be within any match.


You can substantiate this intuition, and try and remove some bias, with some statistics and Excel, but we need to separate the process into two parts:

•    Part one is working out the probability of the number of goals in any given match

•    Part two is understanding how to turn that into a stake on a football bet that you will win.

How to use a Poisson distribution for football predictions


A Poisson distribution is by far the most common methodology for understanding goals in a game. It is a simple statistical procedure that estimates the number of events that are likely to happen in a given period; in this case, the events are goals in a 90-minute football match.


There are hundreds of tutorials on how to build a Poisson distribution in Excel online and on this site, so I will only give an overview here.


For the model to work, you need to know the goal-scoring and defensive prowess of each team at home and away compared to the league average. So, you can get a reliable spreadsheet of data from somewhere like football-data.co.uk and then start to manipulate it.


There’s a bit of a process to go through in terms of summing all the required data points per team, and then setting up the Poisson distribution matrix itself, but the process is as important as the destination; you will be a more knowledgeable soccer bettor for having done it.


The end product is a matrix that shows the probability of a particular score line occurring; if we want to get a little more technical, then we can observe that this simple model underestimates the probability of low-scoring matches and draws and has no facility for treating the most recent data as more important than data from three years ago.


If we wanted to build something more complex in python, then we can apply the advice of Dixon and Coles seminal paper to fix that, and we would generally expect to see a significant improvement in prediction performance and accuracy.


We might also use shots-on-target as a more accurate predictor of score probability than just goals; it’s worth reading and experimenting on different methodologies for using a Poisson distribution, as it has more going for it than some people think.

How to go one step further


If you find this enjoyable, there is a statistical analysis package within Excel that you can enable and use with statistics.


If you find some interesting soccer statistics databases on here or another site, it is worth spending the time regressing several variables against goals or wins, to see if there are key relationships or correlations; you may find, positive correlations between shots on target and goals scored or pass completion rates and winning. All areas are useful ammunition in making winning football bets.


Once you have spent an hour building your Excel spreadsheet, you should have a matrix of probabilities.


You can do some additional computations to sum the probabilities for all scorelines that result in a draw, over 1.5/2.5/3.5 goals, or have one team not scoring.


However, you may then need to know if these probabilities represent a football bet that is worth your stake. This is where the Kelly Criterion comes in.

What is the Kelly Criterion?


The Kelly Criterion is a calculation for working out how much of your bankroll you should wager on a given bet, based on what you think the probability of winning is, and what the available odds at your bookie are; thus, calculating if you have an ‘edge’.


You will also find some analyses online that suggests that the best thing about the Kelly Criterion is that it can facilitate exponential growth in your bankroll; however, life is rarely that simple, so put that out of your mind for now.


The Kelly Criterion is a very simple calculation to do in Excel.

(bp-q)/b

Where:

•    b is the odds of an event -1, expressed as a decimal; if you have an online bookie it is easy to set the odds to decimal rather than fractional or American, or there are many converters online.

•    p is the probability of that event occurring, as you have calculated in your Poisson distribution.

•    q is the probability of that event not occurring (which can be calculated by 1-p, which is just one minus your calculated probability).


If you have a positive value returned, that indicates the % of your bankroll to invest; if you have a negative value returned, it means the bet is not value and you keep your money in your pocket.


This simple guide will not turn you into a football betting guru, but it may help you win more bets at football.


The best thing about it is that it stops people over-staking on bets, which is the biggest sin that amateur bettors commit, as well as helping you avoid bad bets.


So, the very worst outcome is that you will make your funds last a lot longer, but you might well find this is just the first step in a longer journey into football analytics.


Good Luck!



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