“BOT: definition…is a software application that runs automated tasks (scripts) over the Internet. Typically, bots perform tasks that are both simple and structurally repetitive, at a much higher rate than would be possible for a human alone.”
OK, now – courtesy of good old Google – I know what a BOT is! Sorry but a Bot didn’t exist when I had a brief university dalliance with statistics, in between extended visits to the record library, at a time which predated the widespread use of the internet by a decade or so.
Anyway, despite my antediluvian education, the concept of a BOT seems straightforward enough. And it was something I needed to know before speaking to David, a 36 year-old Betfair trader from South Australia whose computer science background and interest in racing inevitably led him to that path.
And why not? We can simply apply to our betting system of probable outcome, pricing, backing and laying which has been thoroughly tested via historical data and bingo – go to bed and let it run on the hundreds of UK greyhound races run overnight.
The outcomes will converge if we have enough of them and if our predictive parameters are sound enough we can expect a (relatively) small percentage return in our favour based on a very large number of events.
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That is, very loosely I hasten to add, what David has done. His background in computer science and IT of course helped but, even with that, it’s not quite as simple as I have portrayed it.
For starters, you can try ten hours work a week, every week for five years to develop the Bot which is what David did. You will then have to be very sure that the variables you add do legitimately add value and hope the market remains sufficiently ‘loose’ to give you an edge.
If that sounds all too daunting then you will be encouraged to know that David adds: “If I knew then what I know now, then I think I might have been able to develop something in a few weeks.”
A few weeks! Can you imagine someone of my generation comprehending this or the notion that a betting program simply runs by itself.
OK, again! I’ll stop being coy and endeavour to put this into some sort of perspective and please excuse the first person indulgence but I fancy it’s relevant here. I went to university in 1975 and, a couple of years later, managed to get a job in racing at The Sporting Globe.
At that time, there were no videos. You watched a race once and that was it. You could refresh your memory for city meetings, to some extent, by looking at the Sporting Globe photo form (for the younger readers that’s akin to the race finish pictures you still see in the Sunday papers). As to the country meetings, if you didn’t go, your only hope was to subscribe to a service provided by Kevin Eddelbuttel which replicated the Globe photo form for the country meetings.
You ran to the nearest TAB to place a bet midweek; you didn’t ring up or log on! Even the horse’s form was years away from being computerised. We literally hand wrote the horse’s performance after every race with each horse having its own A4 sized card which, of course, were stored alphabetically. When race fields were declared, we’d literally go through the laborious task of picking out the cards to put them in race and field order – before we proceeded to write a comment…. on a typewriter.
Betfair and Bots were simply unimaginable. Probability and analysis we’d have got, but the automated application….?
“The actual probabilities are calculated using logistic regression. But basically, it gets fed a whole lot of variables and outputs my own probabilities which are used to either back or lay depending on the price available,” David explains.
In the simplest terms, the probability is based on the predictive analysis being sufficiently accurate to return, say, 5% over thousands of races rather than the randomness of being right on one or two races.
“It’s based on the assumption (or actually proof),” David says, ‘that my predictive model is slightly more accurate than the public’s final odds, given that my model is a combination of the public’s final odds, plus other independent variables.
“Regarding the variables, my model uses about 10 and they do include things like the obvious speed ratings, box draw, trainer, early speed etc… My testing was done using two years of back data (which is an extraordinary amount of races) and one year of out of sample data to validate the results. Obviously the more variables you can use the better, but there is no point feeding in 30-40 variables that add no value to the model.”
Making the Bot Work
David’s 10 years working in the IT industry and an even longer predisposition towards having a bet was destined to lead him to a computerised approach and to Betfair. “I guess you could say, like most others, I was a mug punter for years but I always refused to believe that it couldn’t be done. That is, make money from betting.
“Progressing the Bot started out as something of a hobby but eventually became a more serious endeavour. I mucked around for five or six years determining what were the key variables and eventually found the greyhound markets provided me with the best opportunities as the horse racing markets were generally far too accurate,” he said.
The Bot, once running, is of course completely emotionless. That’s the beauty of it, not only in terms of practicality, but also in outcome according to David who hasn’t worked ‘conventionally’ for two and a half years.
“Any emotion is eliminated and that’s desirable given that most punters, whatever their approach, tend to fall down in terms of discipline or psychology. And practically, it would be near impossible for me to place the amounts of bets required manually and, of course, I’m operating on races run overnight.
“The attraction with Betfair is its sophisticated automation which allows me to set it up (the Bot) and let it run and do its own thing,” David said.
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Betting Software Maintenance
While conventional work has been set aside, David is anything but idle. The Bot demands consistent maintenance and he’s also expanding his interest in more form related betting on thoroughbred racing in Australia and Asia.
“You’re always spending some time maintaining and developing the Bot and fiddling with the variables. Testing one set of data against another. Each variable has its own coefficient and you may find the value of certain coefficients come down as the market is getting smarter.
“You also need to be objective and confident in your data in terms of which variables are going to add value. Your speed ratings, for example, may add nothing unless they’re exceptionally good,’ he said.
And he acknowledges that his own success and the liquidity he creates in certain markets can work against him. “It’s likely that as the liquidity grows in the greyhound markets, the bigger computer syndicates are attracted. There’s more greyhound racing being broadcast in the UK now and that is stimulating interest. The greyhound markets are getting smarter,” he said.
And as that market gets ‘smarter and tighter’, David is turning much of his attention to thoroughbred racing. “The closed pool of horses as in the various Asian jurisdictions has some appeal but I’m open to all markets,” he said.
The Golden Rule of using Betting Software
As to the science of form study, he adheres to many of the well-established maxims which have stood the test of time. “Money management is obviously critical and ensuring that you have the bankroll and the discipline to sustain whatever approach you take is vital.
“The psychology and the consistency of your approach is probably more important than your ability to find a winner. You will lose on more races than you win on…. it’s about the methodology and the end result and not about isolated outcomes.
“And you have to be prepared to acknowledge and correct weaknesses by trying to understand why the market acted in a way you didn’t expect. Trying to understand and work out why a market moved in a particular direction will improve your punting greatly,” he said.
So is there one ‘golden rule’ according to David? “Yes is the answer. The key to everything is to convert whatever analysis you’ve done to a price and bet accordingly,” he said.
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