Are you a better than an average punter?

You have agreed to take part in a questionnaire.  Please answer the following questions.

Question 1:

Rate your punting abilities from 0 to 9, with 0 being “very poor” and 9 being “expert”.

Question 2:

Review your answer to Question 1.  Rate how sure are you of the rating you have given, from 0 to 9, with 0 being “not sure at all” and 9 being “absolutely certain”.

Are you ready to take advantage of the BSP and get bigger returns on your bets this Spring?

How do you know?

In 1965, two researchers asked drivers in Washington State, USA, similar questions about their motoring ability. 50 were surveyed. All 50 considered their driving to be above-average.

Given the small sample size, perhaps this isn’t all that startling. After all, if drivers have a lifetime of safe motoring behind them, it makes sense that they would favourably judge their own competence – and maybe with good reason.

Except that the drivers in the study had every reason to question their own competence. All of them were selected because they had recently crashed their cars whilst driving and were in hospital with “multiple injuries”. In some cases, the researchers, Caroline Preston and Stanley Harris, had to wait for medical staff to discharge the drivers as fit for questioning before surveying them.

The ridiculousness of the drivers’ self-rating didn’t end there, though. Only 15 of the drivers accepted responsibility for their crash (police thought twice that number were). In two-thirds of the cases, cars were written-off as undrivable. Three of the drivers had killed another person in the crash. When investigating the drivers’ history of motoring, Preston and Harris found a litany of failed motoring tests and various prosecutions for poor driving, including six driving bans.

And yet, not only did the drivers consider their overall driving ability to be above-average, but more than two-thirds considered their driving to be average or better at the time of the crash, with only a few admitting a temporary decline from their usual high-standard of motoring.

Preston and Harris’ study didn’t receive much attention at the time but has gone on to form the bedrock of a now-accepted truth of human psychology: that even when faced with evidence that we are anything-but, humans tend to consider themselves as above-average in a wide variety of areas, from intelligence to health to social popularity. Psychologists term it illusory superiority.

So, back to the answers you gave in our questionnaire (which is directly modelled on the one used by Preston and Harris). How good a punter are you? And how do you know?

Given our human predisposition to think we are pretty damn good at most things we do, I suspect your answer to the first question would have been favourable. And that might be justified.

The concern, though, is that you might be wrong, which is why the second question is so important. If you also rated yourself as relatively certain in your answer, why did you?

One of the keys to long-term betting profitability is the ability to ruthlessly self-assess, rejecting what is not working and refining what is. The best punters are constantly vigilant.

The first step is to keep detailed and accurate records of the bets you make. At the very least, use a spreadsheet to record the date, stake, odds, result and return from every bet, keeping a running total of profit/loss.

You may want to be more detailed, though. Over time, a betting record can be a useful data source for improving punting. If, for example, you can sort it by bet type, you can uncover strengths and weaknesses in your models, like a tendency to haemorrhage money whenever betting on AFL match-winning margins, for example.

And you must be honest with yourself. An ex-colleague who left his job to punt full-time tended to create a new bet-tracking spreadsheet every time he changed his betting model. “Seeing how bad the last model did just gets me down,” he would argue, “and this new version deserves a fresh start.” It was little surprise that his foray into professional punting was short-lived.


If this sounds like you, it is worth considering asking a partner to record the bets for you: knowing that a second person will have sight of your betting behaviour – especially if you ask them to perform a monthly review – is a powerful way to improve your betting accountability. It makes it much harder to have a bet “just-for-an-interest” when you know someone will frown at every losing line on a spreadsheet in a few weeks’ time.

So, give them your account passwords, show them how it all works, and hand the tracking over to them. The very idea may cause you to feel anxious, because, after all, who wants their partner knowing all their secrets? Well, ultimately, it’s your call, but if you’re serious about long-term profitability and confident in your punting abilities (I refer you back to Question 1, above), then you have little to worry about.

Once you have your spreadsheet up-and-running, and your able partner-cum-accountant tracking your every transaction, you will have a rich data source that can be used to objectively score your performance. This might be as simple as tracking profit and loss, or may progress to using statistical measures of performance like a t-distribution analyses or a Pearson Chi-Squared Test.

More of those in a future article, though. For now, record those bets and improve your ability to answer Question 2 more honestly.


As a passionate sports’ fan and punter, Jack has written about sports and betting for over a decade, winning the Martin Wills Award for racing journalism in 2002 and writing Winning on Betfair for Dummies, first published in 2006 and now in its second edition, having sold over 35,000 copies in two languages.

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