The Advice Of Profitable Punters

In a previous job, I worked with several profitable punters for whom betting was their sole source of income. The experience was transforming: listening to and observing those who made the game pay led to numerous, invaluable insights as to why my own punting, at that point, was unprofitable.

Over time, as I better understood their approaches and methods, I was able to – slowly and with many setbacks – remodel my unsuccessful habits and start to make more fruitful betting decisions.

Reaching Out

With a couple of exceptions, I hadn’t been in touch with most of those punters for over a decade. It seemed unlikely, then, that any of them would reply to an unsolicited email from some bloke they hardly remember. Nonetheless, an email was sent, the pertinent part of which read:

I am writing an article about how to become a profitable punter.  If you had to identify one thing that others should do to improve their betting, what would it be?

Despite my doubts, though, most did reply. I sent 15 emails and, over three weeks, 11 came back with answers. Two further emails were returned asking why I was bothering them after all this time and requesting that I don’t again. Two of my emails await a response and, I suspect, will wait indefinitely.


The 11 answers are remarkably uniform, with nine giving what amounts to the same response. It wasn’t the response I anticipated. This was disconcerting. After all, these people had inspired my Damascene conversion to profitability all those years back, so surely I would be able to predict what they would say?

It seems not. I expected them to say that profitable punters take a data-led approach to punting. I imagined them writing back about tracking and monitoring, using statistics, being driven by databases. I assumed they would celebrate the quantitative methods I know them all to use.

And, to be fair, the two outliers did talk of such things. But nine didn’t. Which rather scuppered the article I thought I would be writing today, encouraging you all to find, re-find, or reinvigorate the data-lover within.

On reflection, I perhaps shouldn’t be surprised that the majority didn’t identify anything as prosaic as the need to keep sophisticated spreadsheets. Because, back in those days where I tried to absorb all I thought they had to teach me, it was their mindset and emotional approach that fascinated me more than the practical methods they used. They fascinated me so much, in fact, that they provided the inspiration for much of my work since, including many of the articles I have written for this website.

So, to the reveal.

The nine, using different words, all said that the one thing punters should do to make themselves more profitable is to shift from binary to probabilistic thinking.

Most punters, they say, instinctively believe that events in the future are somehow predestined, that the winners of sporting contests are already crowned; and if only they, as punters, can interpret the signals that the gods are giving them, they can know what that certain-future looks like, making huge profits as a result.

The world, according to nine of my respondents, though, isn’t like that.

One of them wrote extensively about weather forecasting, lambasting the stupidity of people’s reactions to it.  Forecasters, he argues, are making highly complex, four-dimensional probabilistic predictions about future weather, and have become remarkably good at doing so. Tracking all the occasions forecasters have said there is a 20% chance of rain, he says, it turns out they are remarkably accurate: one-in-five times after such a forecast it rains.

And yet the public, hearing that a sunny day is most likely, deride the forecasters when showers arrive, believing that their prediction of a 20% chance of rain has been proved wrong, and that there was always a 100% chance, if only the forecasters hadn’t been so inept as to not be able to see it.

No, the world is complex, my profitable punters argue; at any point, outcomes are undecided, still there to be nudged and influenced by a multitude of factors, only some of which can be fully known. 

It seems that profitable punters instinctively think about the future in this multidimensional way, knowing that their role is not to be right or wrong about future events, but simply to assess the likelihood of future outcomes at a slightly better rate than others. Unprofitable punters, meanwhile, see their role differently as more akin to a fortune teller.

That’s why, another respondent argued, losing bettors are so reticent to create tissue prices before events. To do so – to commit a percentage chance to a range of possible outcomes – creates cognitive dissonance. If you think binarily, then the idea that there are multiple possible futures is anathema to you: it’s almost as if your brain won’t let you.

And perhaps in that respondent, we have a way of shifting ourselves towards greater profitability. If those who make a living from punting are so unanimous in identifying the shortcomings of the unprofitable, it makes sense that we heed their advice.

So, before you place your next bet – and before you have even looked at the odds available in the market – take some time to price up the event first. To help, try asking the question, if this event took place 100 times, how many times would each possible outcome occur?


There are various methods to support answering this question. Should we use an Elo rating system?  Monte Carlo simulation? A Poisson distribution?

In focusing so much on the method we use to create the tissue odds, though, we are, perhaps, missing the more important point: profitable punters like the ones I emailed will vary in the approach they use to understand the future, but they are unanimous in how they see it.

The future’s uncertain. Embrace this mindset and let it shape your punting, whatever methods you choose as a result.

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