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Managing a losing streak.

By Nolan Dalla. July 2002.

(Reprinted unedited by permission of top rate gambling site madjacksports.com)

PART 3: Why negative streaks happen

As we discussed in Part 1, a losing streak becomes more likely:

(a) the longer you play, and

(b) the more games you play.

As we discussed in Part 2, there are several ways to stop a losing streak, or at the very least reduce its negative effects, including:

OPTION 1: "QUIT BETTING SPORTS"

-- Face it, some people are not cut out for this business.

OPTION 2: "TAKE A BREAK FROM BETTING SPORTS"

Recommended when:

-- Losses start to disturb you emotionally, or

-- Losses begin to hurt you financially.

OPTION 3 "CHANGE SPORTS"

Recommended when:

-- There are multiple sports being played, and

-- You have been closely following more than one sport

OPTION 4: "REDUCE THE SIZE AND/OR NUMBER OF WAGERS"

-- Always a good idea when you are losing

OPTION 5: "INCREASE THE SIZE OR NUMBER OF WAGERS"

-- Not recommended! Never try to recoup your losses by wagering higher!

OPTION 6: "FOLLOW A WINNING HANDICAPPER"

-- A temporary, but not long-term, solution to a losing streak. Most sports bettors want to develop their own methodology and following the picks of others does not allow you to work out the kinks in your own methodology, which is essential if you plan to continue sports betting for years to come.

In this, Part 3, we will discuss the reasons why a losing streak may (possibly) be occurring.

The first thing to remember is that it is mathematically probable (if not certain) that you WILL suffer a losing streak at some point this season, and/or this year. So, a losing streak does not necessarily mean you should make any changes to your handicapping methods. It's possible that your methodology and money management is based on solid fundamental concepts. Nevertheless, you will still lose an inordinate number of games within a short time frame based on the laws of probability.

In this case, you just have ride out the bad streak, as difficult as this may be. When the approach you are using to handicap games is not working, it takes great courage to stick with a system. Assuming you have a system that has been profitable for an inordinate amount of time, you can probably stick with it and ride out the streak with positive expectation.

By the same token, you must also be aware of rule changes and dynamics that have altered both professional and college sports in recent years (such as free agency, guaranteed contracts, and other key issues which influence motivation and team chemistry). The economic and social changes of sport have begun to render some handicapping factors obsolete. More on this topic another time.

So, the question is….

SHOULD I CHANGE MY METHODOLOGY WHEN I'M RUNNING BAD?

There are many different methods used to handicap sporting events. In fact, I've never met any two serious handicappers who used the exact same system (developed independently). We all have our own way of doing things. This is compounded by the fact that this is a business that attracts individual thinkers and mavericks who are not accustomed to listening and taking advice from others (although this forum is something of an exception and even encourages a communal or team approach). Some handicappers prioritize trends -- which largely eliminates subjective judgement and reasoning from the analysis. Others primarily use statistics and have come to develop prediction models based on numerical values. Power rankings are a good example of statistical-based methodology. Other handicappers look closely at individual player mathups and try to predict game results and totals (I admit to being in this category -- although I weigh other factors, as well). Others use team history, such as previous results and won-lost records (SU and ATS). Others handicappers prioritize the emotional and fatigue factors that are part of every game. Of course, most successful handicappers use some combination of all these determinants. Deciding WHICH of these are more important from game to game and from night to night is the real TRICK of successful sports betting. In short, no technique works all the time. This is why even the best handicappers only hit about 60 percent of their games.

Which now brings us to the next question….

HOW AND WHY ARE YOU LOSING GAMES?

One way to determine if you methodology is based on solid fundamentals is to look at THE WAY you are winning or losing games. In the NBA or college basketball, if you are repeatedly losing games by late baskets or in overtime, you are more than likely just getting some bad breaks. Although there is really no such thing as "bad luck" in games of skill (which includes all sporting events) -- some events cannot be predicted. If a coach decides to pull his starters off the court and play the reserves in the second half, thus allowing a backdoor cover for the underdog, there was probably no way to predict this in advance. Similarly, if you are losing NFL games because of "trash" touchdowns and unforeseen injuries or turnovers, then it's probably advisable just to stick with your methodology and forge ahead. I've seen plenty of games where I had the right side -- say an UNDER where both teams combined for a low-scoring total in regulation. Then, the game unexpectedly went into overtime, which gave both teams an extra five minutes to go over the posted number, and lost. We had the right side. The loss is inconsequential to our methodology. On the other hand, if you are betting games and consistently losing by double digits, something is probably wrong with your approach and your research. Sure, you will lose an occasional game or two by a blowout. But when you are losing a string of games by very wide margins, it's time to re-examine the system you are using to handicap games and make some adjustments. No system should be giving you losers over and over again by wide margins.

EXAMPLE: An example of faulty methodology was the NBA string I encountered just last month. I had several plays lose by 20+ points, including three "Best Bets" in a single week. Note that I had done just as much work on the games as before the streak occurred. I had applied the same factors during the losing streak as when I was 17 games over .500 -- but the games quite simply did not play according to form. After a string of losses, I re-examined my plays in sequence and I decided that the wear and tear of the regular season was beginning to neutralize so-called "advantages" I had in statistical methodology and that emotional and fatigue factors were becoming more important later in the year. This happens frequently when "meaningless" games are being played the last six weeks of the season. If losing teams think they can still make a playoff run (which is the case early to mid season), most teams will continue to give a solid effort each and every night -- which means most teams will at least TRY to give a solid effort enhancing a game's predictability. When this is the case, you can simply determine a team capabilities and then make a judgement based on the line. But as the season progresses, team and individual motivations become mixed and more difficult to determine from game-to-game. You just never know which team will show up from night to night. For instance, which team will show up the next game -- the Cleveland Cavaliers that scored 122 points versus division-leading Milwaukee on March 4, or the Cavaliers that scored 78 points against the NBA's worst team, Chicago just three night earlier? Damn the statistics and the methodology, some games are a total crapshoot.

Hence, the three plausible explanations for a losing streak are as follows:

I. BAD LUCK:

This explains losses only to a certain degree. Anyone can run bad for a week or two. But if you begin to lose above and beyond what would normally constitute a temporary down cycle, you are outside the realm of statistical deviation. Once this occurs, this is an indication of at least one of two possibilities (1) faulty methodology and/or (2) bankroll mismanagement. The best way to determine if your losses are an aberration or not is to examine your losses. Did the majority of losses (in general) play according to form, which means the games pretty much turned out as predicated and you got a few bad breaks, and lost? Or, did your favorites inexplicably lose outright? Or, perhaps your underdogs didn't even show up to play and gave a miserable performance. In either case, this is a sure sign you are doing something wrong in your pre-game analysis. This also calls for some subjective judgment on your part. But it is vital that you try to identify whether or not the streak is caused by temporary downswings or bad handicapping.

II. FAULTY METHODOLOGY

Since most handicappers apply a combination of factors when analyzing games, it is not easy to critique methodology. It is even more difficult to critique oneself, and make corrective measures.

NOVICES: First, let's examine novice handicappers and the mistakes they often make. The average sports bettor listens to sports talk radio, reads the sports pages of his local newspaper, and handicaps games largely based on personal sentiment. Trouble is, his selections are usually grounded in public perceptions and misperceptions of teams and players. Most novices play the favorites, and bet OVER the total. Most novices play the public teams and bet against teams of marginal interest To reiterate the point -- anyone who has ever worked for a magazine or newspaper knows how useless most "public" information is -- not only in handicapping games but in getting a true picture of reality. Sports writers generally focus on the entertainment angle of the upcoming games, including player personalities, out-of-context quotes and rarely delve into serious analysis. When games are analyzed, it is often wrong or based on hopelessly outdated information. I suspect that if you or I could just read the daily sports page and then somehow quantify going against this public sentiment, we would all be very rich, indeed. Players that follow sportswriters or TV prognosticators are a hopeless cause.

SERIOUS HANDICAPPERS: The most common mistake made by more serious handicappers is prioritizing the wrong factors when analyzing games. For example, let's say the Utah Jazz are playing at Orlando tonight. On paper the Jazz are the better team -- both statistically and in player matchups. However, let's also say Utah is at the end of an East Coast road trip and they played in Miami the night before. Let's make things even more interesting by saying the Jazz won in overtime. The Magic, on the other hand are coming off a home loss and have two night rest. While the Jazz are the better team and probably should be favored -- many "wise" handicappers would play Orlando in that spot. Right? Trouble is, the Jazz are favored for a very good reason and may very well play according to form. Remember that good teams usually play at or near their capabilities on a consistent basis -- whereas bad team play inconsistently. Bad teams can look pretty good on some nights against teams in a slump or that have an off night, but will more often than not play poorly. My point is -- good teams tend to play more consistently, whether at home or away, a fact which many handicappers may not take into account when looking at team matchups.

When I see a game that encompasses all of the angles -- such as a hypothetical Utah-Orlando matchup, (if I play the game at all) I must determine which factors are important versus those that should be disregarded. This is the key. If I can accurately pinpoint which factors will apply on this night, the research is fairly easy to do. All I must look at is the margins of victory in recent games and compare this to the line, examine player averages, shooting percentages and a few other factors. Then, more often than not, I have the pointspread winner.

Of course, it's not quite that easy. Trouble is, what happens when a team like Utah or Orlando falls behind by 10 points? Will the team pack it in, and just play out the clock? Or, do these teams have the mark of a champion, since pride will not allow anything less than one-hundred percent effort? What about coaching? Will coaches insert bench players quickly when the starters are not playing well? Or, will the coach allow his players to play through a bad shooting night? The questions are critical.

It is my view that -- regardless of the sport --- as the seasons progress, you have to apply different factors for different teams, at different stages. You must be flexible enough to adjust your methodology and react to these changes. The winning handicapper is one who can foresee what's to come in the days or weeks ahead and will react simultaneously to the changes that are occurring around the league. Those who are "behind" the sequence of events and who make adjustments too late will ultimately suffer the worst losses. They are in effect, chasing the perpetual pendulum, which is always swinging the opposite way. They are always a step behind and will inevitably get the worst lines and make the least advisable plays. You see this happen when a play watches a game, is overly influenced by what he see in that one game (either good or bad) and then bets solely based on that observation. For example, the Lakers won by 25 points last night. Tonight they are favored by only 9 points. So, tonight I have to play the Lakers minus the points. Another example: Georgia Tech lost by 19 points their last game. Now, they are a two point favorite! Whoever they are playing, I'm betting the other side. This is horrendously bad (but very common) handicapping methodology used by many sports bettors

III. BAD MONEY MANAGEMENT:

Some handicappers pick more winners than losers, but still lose money. This is because they use poor money management techniques. Most commonly, they bet parlays and use progressive betting systems. All I can say is if you continue doing this, there is no hope for you. You will never win spots gambling.

Recommendation: If you are picking more winners than losers, but still losing money, the remedy is obvious. Make flat bets only! And stick to it!

General recommendations:

Examine your losses carefully. How are you losing games? By a couple of points on average? Or, are you getting blown out in many of the games? If you are losing badly, there is something wrong with your methodology.
What did you miss in the pre-game analysis in the games you lost? Did you place too much emphasis on statistics or emotional factors? Perhaps you missed a late report that a key player would be out of the lineup. Try to determine what you did wrong, if anything.
Adjust your methodology so that you will not make those same mistakes twice. If you missed news of a late injury, you need to gain access to better information. If you are losing with trends, perhaps you are now seeing "mean regression," where most normal random events revert to the statistical mean. This essentially means the trend you may have thought was a winning proposition may not be. Sort of like seeing a coin flip ten times and seeing it come up heads all ten times. You may decide it's a double-headed coin, when the fact is, it's just an uncommon streak. If you overestimate or underestimated certain factors, try to determine why the team did not play according to form, the make adjustments based on the loss.
Look for identical situations recurring later in the season and learn from your mistake by betting the opposite way. For example, if you have placed too much emphasis on travel and fatigue factors, the next time a team is on the fourth game of a road trip, you might want to look for reasons to PLAY on the team. This doesn't necessarily mean that you should always play the game every time. Only that many other handicappers will probably be making the same mistake you did -- but will NOT learn from their errors. You may be able to profit by going against conventional wisdom (such as playing teams on a long road trip, teams with a starter out of the lineup, teams coming into a game after an overtime win -- all of which are concepts that are not necessarily indicative of a sub-par night to come as is widely believed. The fact is, some of these teams get nice bonuses in terms of line movement.
Don't give up. Even if you take a break from handicapping, you can hypothetically test new theories and methods by wagering silently. It is not necessary to use trials with a financial commitment. You can use down time to examine new angles and methods -- which if they fail will not cost you anything since you are playing the game only in theory.

I hope this discussion on losing streaks has been of some interest.

Thanks for reading.


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