Month: February 2012

Be the bookie

This is part betting strategy, part parlour game.

It can be illuminating to play bookmaker and price up an event yourself. Compare the spread you come up with against that of the betting firm and it might help you locate where the value lies (at least in your eyes).

I tried to do this (without peeking, I promise) for this weekend’s round of Six Nations fixtures.

My predictions:

Worth-a-spin Spreads Ltd

Ireland vs Italy (Saturday, 13.30)

Ireland are at home, played only the one fixture where they ran Wales very close. Italy looked strong against England, but does this mean they’ve played their ‘cup final’ and are there for the taking? In Six Nations history Ireland have always beaten Italy, and by an average margin of 18.5 points. However, we know Italy are certainly competitive this time out.

Worth-a-Spin goes Ireland/Italy 10-13

England vs Wales (Saturday, 16.00)

An incredibly tough one to call. I don’t think history or stats will have too much influence on this one – we’re dealing with a new-look England side and  this is effectively a ‘title eliminator’. Wales are surely the stronger team and pose a more potent scoring threat, but it would be foolish to overlook England’s home advantage. I might be tempted to make England the most marginal of favourites.

Worth-a-Spin goes England/Wales -1 – 2

Scotland vs France (Sunday, 15.00)

France have had the gap in their schedule after the postponement of their game against Ireland. I’ll imagine les bleus will be desperate to keep pace with the competition. Scotland were dogged against England in the opening fixture, but their ability to score is still very much in question. France have played the single game but had no problems dispatching Italy and scoring 30 points in the process and history tells us that, away from Paris, France score 2.5 tries per game in the Six Nations.

Worth-a-Spin goes France/Scotland 14-17

Now let’s have a look at the Sporting Index spreads (correct at time of publication):

Ireland/Italy: 16-19

Wales/England: 2-5

France/Scotland: 6-9

I’m under the spread on Ireland/Italy and might think about selling, whereas I have a higher opinion of France than the SpIn market maker, perhaps a buy at 9 is in order here then.

As far as England vs Wales goes…I think it’s best left alone and enjoyed as a spectacle of rugby instead!


Lack of happy returns

It was a quiet betting weekend what with no Premier League action, the Six Nations taking a break, and England’s cricketers finding form and polishing off Pakistan without much bother in the desert.

Heaven knows I'm miserable now

I learned the hard way to beware the boredom bet. When there isn’t a market on which you have a strong line, often it is best just to leave well alone. Even worse is to punt for the sake of it, to scratch an itch as it were.

Things started to go wrong on Saturday morning. On my way to play rugby for the mighty Shooters Hill 2nd XV, I was casting round for a bet on the Chelsea/Birmingham cup tie. None of the prices seemed especially attractive until I noticed a market I’ve never had occasion to use before hiding at the bottom of one of SpIn’s new drop-down menus: ‘Stop @ goal’ – a prediction on the number of shots on target before a goal is scored. The spread is 3-3.5, and, as I bumble through Welling on the top deck of the 486, I think that seems rather low; I buy for a fiver and am punished when Birmingham score after only one attempt on goal. It serves me right for playing a market with an abnormally wide spread (a Jordan/Denise Welch/Katona in the trade) and one for which I had no feel – I didn’t even bother to check if ‘shots on goal’ included headers or not.

To make matters worse, Shoots lost 10-3 to local rivals Foots Cray in miserable driving sleet, which, for ten minutes, I had to experience shivering on the sidelines after my 3rd yellow card of the season.

Things don’t get much better on Sunday when a trade that looks to be going rather well (buying Hull FC over London Broncos in the Super League) falters when the fantastically named Sam Moa (sadly from Tonga) is dismissed and the home side are forced to cling on for a narrow victory rather than the handsome margin I’d hoped for.

I managed to fluke a profit on the FA Cup though, buying Liverpool’s shirt supremacy over Brighton. I did have a moment of panic when I though og’s might not count; thankfully, they do and Liam Bridcutt has the decency to wear 26 on his back as well as be shit.

Monday was the bleakest of the lot. It was my 26th birthday (bad enough), but being a ‘school night’ I thought I’d delay celebrations until the weekend. Seemingly the only sport happening in the whole world was a thoroughly unappetizing League 1 clash between Brentford and Carlisle – oh the glamour. I flick over to it 17 minutes in, see it’s nil-nil and idly sell goals at 2.3.

I have no interest in watching the match so I turn over to watch, well, anything else. When I peak back 20 minutes later Brentford are in the process of celebrating their 3rd goal and the bet is already dead in the water. I spend the rest of my birthday evening trying to construe a strategy to minimize my losses; fortunately, I do get out before Brentford score their fourth in the second half.

The moral, if there is one? Don’t feel you have to bet just because you can. Wait your moment and pick the right market.

Trading Rugby League

There are two types of betting blog out there: the tipper and the bragger. Doubtless you will be familiar with both. Tipping blogs offer up pearls of wisdom before the event but then disappear into the ether following the result; braggers offer a gloating running commentary on successful punts that, often, seems rather too good to be true.

This blog is neither, it’s a more ramshackle affair that looks at sport through the lens of spread betting. It’s not afraid to stick its head above the parapet and take the flak when tips go bad (likewise would be nice to receive some gratitude and 10% of your winnings if I give you a good steer).

Successful spread betting is a trading game – that means you have to respond to what’s happening in an event. Positions aren’t necessarily static, they exist to be maneuvered in and out of. Whilst I might have underestimated Italy and blow me if Scotland didn’t score a try (admittedly from one yard), I did, nevertheless, manage a pleasing weekend’s betting on both codes of the oval ball game.

Warning: what follows is a sick brag, but sometimes things go so well you just have to share them. This is the Rugby League flip-flop.

For St. Helens’ Friday night Super League clash with Salford City Reds, SpIn offered a supremacy spread of 25-28. The final score was 38-10 in favour of the Saints, so if you’d taken the opening price you would have just broken even after a nervous 80 minutes. I built a 25 point profit.

I’ll often look to initially sell a strong favourite’s supremacy in Rugby League – this was particularly attractive in this case as St. Helens were playing the first home match at their new stadium and the occasion could well overawe the players. I sell at 25. I have no intention of allowing this position to run the entire game; I will be looking to trade out at the right price around half time.

Isn’t it wonderful when a plan comes together? This match played out in textbook fashion. St. Helens made a faltering start, frequently putting in weak kicks on the fifth tackle, and the Reds (wearing Green) built a ten point lead. The supremacy drops to 11-14.

Now’s the time to move. Rugby League is a game where fitness and quality tend to show in the end – there are often significant point swings in the final twenty minutes. I know St Helens are a stronger team than Salford; the Reds will tire and the Saints will find gaps to exploit.

I execute the flip-flop, buying St Helens at 14 thus locking in an 11 point profit on the original sell and switch my allegiance to the favourites. The Saints don’t disappoint and right on cue, with a little help from the video referee, they put 38 unanswered points on the board. The eventual supremacy make up gives me a further 14 point profit.

This is Spread Betting 101, but this example illustrates the value of appreciating a sport’s dynamic in making decisions. To reinforce the point, I repeat the tactic with Wales’ Six Nations match against Scotland: I sell Wales early doors, enjoy a low-scoring first 40, flip-flop at half time and reap the rewards.

When in Rome

Italy vs England – Saturday 11th February

It’s a sporting platitude as worn out as the notion of there being no easy games in the Premier League that Italy are a tough side to play against. Both, in my opinion, are wrong; the Premier League is overflowing with mediocrity and Italy’s egg-chasers are the Six Nations’ soft touch.

Will Robshaw captain England to victory again?

The statistics don’t lie: Italy have lost all 17 of their fixtures against England with an average margin of defeat in excess of 29 points. SpIn go 7-10 England over Italy for Saturday’s clash and I think it could be worth going long here. Admittedly, the last two clashes in Rome have been close-fought encounters (12-17 and 19-23 in 2010 and 2008 respectively) but I expect, having held their nerve last week at Murrayfield, Lancaster’s men will stamp their authority on the tournament and brush aside the Azzurri.

This tip is, perhaps, against my better judgment; normally I’d advise against buying England on the spreads – they always suffer from a 2-3 point inflation, but I reckon there’s value here. Of course, you could well end up doing a ‘Brian Moore’ come 5pm Saturday.

France vs Ireland – Saturday 11th February

After last week’s disappointment against the Welsh, Ireland will be looking to bounce back swiftly. However, unfortunately for Kidney and co, it’s a sporting cliché very much supported by hard evidence that it’s tough to take anything but bruises away from the Stade de France.

France looked good last time out against a physical Italian defence and I could be tempted to have a sniff at buying their tries at 2.9

Wales vs Scotland – Sunday 12th February

Wales look to be fully priced at 12-15 over Scotland, indeed, there might be room for a sell here. SpIn go 1.1-1.4 on Scotland tries. With the Scots avoiding the try-line like their countrymen do fresh fruit, I’d be selling big even if the spread were 0.1-0.4.


Keep selling kicking metres. Make-ups were short last week and the markets are still overpriced in my opinion.

Practical criticism

My Prac Crit skills are a little rusty, it’s been a few years since Tripos now, but I’d thought I’d flex my critical muscles on this intriguing sonnet I came across recently:

"vast and trunkless legs of stone"


I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,

Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown

And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,

The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed.

And on the pedestal these words appear:

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

Nothing beside remains: round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,

The lone and level sands stretch far away.


The poet uses an encounter with a “traveller from an antique land,” whom scholars have confidently identified as a Barmy Army cricket fan, to muse on the mutability of power and the transience of world domination. The text posits that the passage of time renders previous great achievements moot.

The speaker, having been introduced by the poet, begins with a reference to Ian Bell’s attempts to counter the Pakistani spinners – “two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert” – although certain critics (cf. Atherton, Boycott, Pringle et al.) have argued that this might refer synecdochally to the entire England middle-order.

The following lines cryptically identify other protagonists – once proud performers who now lie ruined in the desert: we have “half sunk,” doubtless a reference to Eoin Morgan’s batting average; “shatter’d visage… whose frown and wrinkled lip,” a somewhat cruel description of Graeme Swann’s face; and the “sneer of cold command,” a swipe at Strauss’ aloof and unimaginative captaincy.

The following three lines (6-8) form a conceit detailing how the team’s reputation has been destroyed by the very agents that elevated it (namely the media and zealous fans). Some commentators have ventured that these “lifeless things” are, in fact, the one-day squad who must remain amongst the cruel sands and mocking hands.

Critical consensus has associated the “Ozymandias” of the poem with Kevin Pietersen; this reading would appear consistent with the South African’s eye-watering arrogance and refusal to acknowledge that he is hopeless against left-arm spin. The text devastatingly unpacks the discrepancy between that batsman’s words and his recent accomplishments; the would be “king of kings” is now humbled, reduced to missing straight ones and sweeping lamely down fine-leg’s throat.

The line “look on my works, ye mighty, and despair” is, in fact, a biblical reference taken from the Book of Boycott and, through this intertextual nod, the poet asks us to juxtapose Pietersen’s failings with the supposedly unblemished career of the great Boycott.

The final three lines of the closing sextet bring the reader back to the point of departure, the oasis stadiums of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, but also look anxiously to the horizon, and an upcoming tour to Sri Lanka.

Kicking yourself

Rugby Union – Six Nations, starts 4th February

A puff-piece in Tuesday’s Evening Standard had SpIn trading spokesman Wayne Lincoln expressing his desire for “tight scrappy games with few points”. Human nature makes us buyers of tries and points; we want to see the extraordinary happen, we remember the 42-33 thrillers and forget the ground out 5-9 slug-fests, we are tempted by the unlimited up of the buy against the limited return of the sell.

The fact that markets are often skewed against the buyer is no secret. Sporting Index is quite happy to advise punters to sell – they know human nature is difficult to overcome and, in any case, I’m sure they’d all sit more comfortably at the trading desk with a more balanced market. It would take an extraordinary doublethink to imagine that a bookmaker (or market maker if your snobbery prefers) is doling out benevolent information from the kindness of their icy flint hearts.

This year’s tournament is as open as ever. France are favourites on the outright index (60/40/20/10/5/0) at 37-40 and England are a lowly fourth at 24-27. Disregarding Scotland and Italy (sorry), all of the four other nations are title contenders, but each has positives and negatives.

France might have reached the World Cup final, but let’s not forget, at times in the group stages they looked abject. Wales were by far and away the best home nation in New Zealand, but can they shake off their tag of perennial ‘nearly men’? England’s disastrous World Cup has been exhaustively documented; they enter the Six Nations with a new-look squad eager to impress. Ireland look solid, full of experience, and have the advantage of three home fixtures. As far as the outright index goes, I think it’s a case of take your pick.

Rugby Union, perhaps second only to cricket, is a sport designed for spread betting. Points, tries, drop-goals, shirts, yellow cards all offer potential. As such, each individual match and the tournament as a whole offers myriad markets. I’d echo the advice of Brett Arends’ book Spread Betting: A Football Fan’s Guide, a dated tome but still full of good sense, that it is better to focus on one or two markets rather than spread oneself thinly to cover a variety of potentially contradictory indices.

Assume Standard readers have heeded Lincoln’s sagacity and are now proudly selling tries, allowing Sporting to even their exposure in the process, – let’s leave this market alone. I think the Kicking Metres markets are worth a glance and are, potentially, overpitched.

The market is a prediction of the ‘aggregate distance’ of all successful kicks at goal. Sporting goes 730-760 on England’s kicking metres for the tournament. It’s saying it thinks the make-up will be around 150 on average in each match England play.

This feels high to me. Sure, it might be tempting to think Hodgson, or whomever Lancaster picks to wear 10 by the end of the tournament, will bang over three penalties from on or around the half-way and you’re in gravy. This market exploits the buyer’s folly that extraordinary kicking performances happen more often than they do.

Things can, and do, go wrong: the wind might be adverse, the kicker might have an off day, tries are scored in the corners making conversions devilishly tricky. But there’s another consideration – the match conditions. There can be little more demoralising than the buyer of kicking metres watching his side go a couple of tries down early on – the side are now likely to go striving for tries in an effort to make up the deficit and will often turn down kickable shots at goal in the search for a five-pointer. This can lead to alarmingly low make-ups, trust me, I don’t think I’m ready to forgive Rory Clegg just yet.

Ireland’s kicking metres are pitched even higher, 740-770, and they will play three fixtures at Lansdowne Road where the weather can be absolutely filthy with mists as thick as soup. Certainly scope for a sell here, despite the undoubted quality of O’Gara and Sexton.

The joy of spread betting is it allows us the freedom to flick allegiances between sides and enjoy what is always a glorious tournament. Selling kicking metres has the added advantage of following Lincoln’s advice and ditching buying, whilst still allowing us to pray and hope for flowing, running rugby with plenty of tries (preferably in the corners into the wind).