It’s long odds against meeting a more intriguing character, in the world of gambling and horse racing or perhaps in any sphere, than 24-year-old Melbourne-based Betfair trader Sam.
That I’m sure of after an extended conversation with the self-confessed high school dropout. But despite the length of our chat, I’ll admit I’m still not entirely sure precisely how he uses Betfair.
Later we’ll explore his approach in his own words. In the interim we must note that he’s focused on the mental preparation for a day’s trading. He’s passionate and focused on many contemporary well-being tools and yet seems grounded (and eminently likeable) as he stops short of fanaticism and is not inclined to preach or indoctrinate. “It’s just what works for me,” he says.
His betting approach is 100% manual which seems almost contradictory to his ‘new age’ approach and somewhat mind-boggling given his modus operandi. It is based on an entirely intuitive read of the market. “It’s unbiased. I’m happy to let everyone else tell me what’s happening and interpret the betting data,” he said.
“I’ve got 10,000 hours of experience reading the betting patterns; everything in life is pattern related and the market tells me what smarter people think whether that’s based on form or ‘intel’,” he adds.
ENAHANCING FOCUS AND SWITCHING OFF
Just as importantly for Sam is the ‘focused mind’. He’s a walking, talking advocate for the age-old adage ‘men’s sana in corpore sano’ which dates to the Romans of the first century, but Sam’s approach is very much 21st century. We’re talking ketogenic diets, ketosis, yoga and even fasting.
“Yoga is huge for me along with diet, meditation, supplements and I know that I perform better when I’m fasting or have fasted. I’ve looked at what variables I can control and therefore change in my betting and one of them, of course, is that I can change me.
“The correct physical and mental state and controlling the mental headspace is the key to my success and to achieve that I take a holistic approach, seven days a week. Part of the process includes designated and planned down time. I set aside blocks of days or a week where I switch off mentally and completely let go to reset, it’s as critical” he said.
He’s a devotee of Dave Asprey and Bulletproof Coffee (a coffee loosely blended with butter and Coconut oil). “I’m not hungry when fasting, it’s all about improving mental clarity….,” he said.
The holistic approach however does not include any preparation linked to the actual races or form.
“On that score, I do absolutely zero preparation. Couldn’t even tell you where the races are tomorrow,” he said when we met on a Friday.
“And I’d say I’m terrible at maths. I see $3.00 and what happens at that price is part of a pattern rather than a percentage of 33%. All my intuition is based on pattern recognition. I don’t bet on sport as the markets are less volatile than on horse racing which doesn’t suit my approach”
“I used to prefer betting on the lower grade races but I’m confident now I can get the same read on the better class races as well. I will play on every thoroughbred race shown on Sky 1 on main race days, “he said.
“Every race,” I asked. “Well every race except New Zealand so it pretty chaotic,” was the reply.
That’s almost incomprehensible that anyone could sustain that level of concentration. Note to self, must start Yoga and Bulletproof coffee. “Oh, I’ll be frenetic at times, moving the yoga mat around and I have a small trampoline in the office. I’m often on the move rather than sitting the whole time,” Sam explains.
So, what is this pattern recognition he seeks?
“Well, I suppose anything which is intuitive is hard to explain. Just because something firms in the market doesn’t mean that it wins but I am looking for the ‘smart’ money on Betfair; there’s a few specific things I look for, most notably aggression on a price at any given time.
“The over-riding notion is that I want to be on the ones who are trying to win the race and the market is often the best indicator of this,” he said.
And, somewhat quaintly, he explains he has a fundamental drive not to lose money. “I’ve made mistakes and I’ve learned from them. I know now that if I try and make the market I get burned. I learned that one day when I lost $20,000 so I decided it’s a good idea not to lose money.”
He doesn’t necessarily watch the races as such even though he has multiple TVs set up. He also listens to the radio to avoid any possible broadcast delay. “I’m more inclined to watch the betting in play than the race itself and I’m happy to bet in play especially if I think there’s an emotive over-reaction. I used to love Hilton Donaldson who would virtually shout in some sort of condemnation when a favourite was last in the run,” he said.
High staking is also being instinctive and intuitive. “Sometimes it’s best to treat it as a game and treat the outcomes as your score. If I was thinking about every dollar I would bet less, and my approach could be compromised.
“I have zero rules for staking. I bet more when I’m confident, as simple as that. And I’m not aiming to arbitrage, that was more a focus early on but now I think it’s stupid to minimise potential profit. I can only imagine you’d do it if you’re scared of losing.”
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
“I take a very dispassionate approach which is entirely market driven. Betting for fun?
I’m normally having fun when betting, but for me, fun = winning, sure there’s losing days and races but if I lose on a race it’s something I can let go quickly.”
So, how did it all begin and what is the background of this thoroughly modern player?
“I used to live next to Caulfield Racecourse and started going when I was 15 or 16 and took my laptop to the races probably before that was the norm. I was looking for patterns even then and this time roughly coincided with the advent of Betfair, so I guess I’ve not known betting without it (Betfair).
“I played with every possible model at the track; tried the form but concluded doing the form was flawed in terms of consistently making a profit. For a very brief time, I tried looking at the horses but probably didn’t know what I was looking at or for…betting on the roughest dog or the one and the eight.
“There’s a myriad of reasons why I win, a clear mind, an ability to see and read the patterns, interpret the market, no sense of pressure, no wife, no kids.”
Sam left school at the end of year 10. “I haven’t ever felt the need to have a piece of paper to define me and have always believed I would be successful. I have the ability to learn from my mistakes,” he said.
He briefly studied international business and, at the age of 16, was offered a job by entrepreneur Ruslan Kogan. “I think he saw a bit of himself in me but a couple of weeks later the offer was withdrawn, perhaps he thought I was too young.
“Perhaps he did me a favour. My betting approach has been very good to me. Especially now as I have learned less is more with the focus only on main race days. Seven days a week was too much, and I used to hate gambling, but I love it now, creating balance is key” he said.
Sam did give betting away for a while to focus on self-development and travel but has returned to what he does best. “It overwhelmed me for a while when I was betting seven days a week.”
Pessimists who know Sam’s story have assumed that he must be a lucky person, but his outlay would convince those people otherwise. He’s spent the following on his setup:
- Over 10,000 hours observing and betting on specific patterns;
- Over $60,000 in market-leading technology;
- 25k Satellite TV feed
- 20k Business grade internet
- 12k Computers
- 3k Data feed
- 3k Televisions
- 1000’s of hours connecting with other gamblers;
- 100’s of hours researching new approaches to betting
“Luck is the proportion of an outcome that is determined by something outside your own control.” Sam explains.
Perhaps the following post provides the best insight into Sam’s approach. “With the words we say making up only 7% of our communication, there are far greater things to pay attention to. I approach gambling in a similar fashion. The fact that someone places a $100,000 bet is only about 7% of the necessary information I pay attention to. What is of far greater interest is the behaviour in which the bet is placed and who specifically places the bet.”
So, did Sam test his approach before applying it with real money? No, is the answer. And does he see any potentially radical changes? Yes, of course. “I often wonder whether we might have something like Twitch TV or some sort of virtual reality with the race displayed right around the walls of a room and you lay a horse by hitting it,” he said. Wouldn’t bet against it!