A friend once told me that many years of betting had taught him one thing: Never bet progression unless you can make a profit betting level stakes, and have a selection plan that returns a high percentage of winners.

The argument that pits level stakes against progression is an ongoing one in racing's cruel world of betting. The truth of the matter is that few punters slavishly follow one or the other approach. For most, it's still a hit and miss affair when it comes to bet size.

Unless progression betting plans have a built-in safety mechanism they are likely to lead you into big financial problems should your bets keep increasing during a losing run.

With level stakes you don't face this particular problem. The losing runs will still hit you but you won't be escalating your outlay.

Another aspect of this type of betting is that no-one ever knows exactly where the winners will fall in any series of bets. Using a progression system of bets you might find, to your wretched luck, that all your winners were hit with small bets and all your losers carried large amounts.

In many test runs of progression plans you will find that level stakes outdo them. This is because of the fact that the winners fell at the 'wrong' times for the progression series.

Some years ago, we did some thorough testing on progression plans. We found that sometimes they proved better, percentage-return wise, than level stakes; other times, though, they fared significantly worse. There seemed to be no ideal centreline.

The same went with 'percentage of bank' plans against level stakes. Four years ago, we tried a 4 Per Cent of Bank Plan on a-selection system and thought we were doing well when it showed a profit on turnover of 8.95 per cent. But then we tested the same set of bets at level stakes and this produced a 10.9 per cent profit on turnover - or a 21.5 per cent percentage difference in the actual profit figure!

Had the progression method struck two or three of the system's winners at the right time it would have been a different story - but it didn't and the old level stakes approach outdid it.

When we talk about betting level stakes, let's think in the following manner: Let's assume we are going to aim for 10 per cent profit and let's decide on a bank. Say, 1000 units.

My suggestion on the way to bet is as follows:

Start with a bank of 1000 units and bet 2.5 per cent, but adjusting your betting at the following stages:

(a) When the bank increases by 250 units, re-calculate the 2.5 per cent and bet accordingly (30 units approx).

(b) When the original bank increases by 500 units, withdraw this as profit and re-start the series.

(c) Repeat this procedure on the next series.

(d) Having repeated the procedure you are now betting with profits. Now you do your re-calculations every 250 units but you don't withdraw any capital.

(e) When the bank hits 2000 units I suggest you declare a second dividend of 500 units and return then to a base of 1500 units (a 2.5 per cent bet then being 37.5 units).

This is a pretty sensible way to bet. You are never increasing that 2.5 per cent level stakes unit but you are betting more when your bank increases.

The thing about level stakes betting is that YES you are chasing losses, just like everyone has to do, but you are not lifting your bets to do so. This is in contrast to progression betting where you do chase with raised stakes. So there's more risk attached to the game.

The old pro's will tell you that any staking plan that chases losses is fraught with peril. A mild progression is always the safest to play, and even then you should only use such a progression provided you are confident you will not strike long losing runs.

Human psychology tends to take over on those long (and lonely) losing streaks. The punter is likely to be scared off if the losing bets' total rises rapidly. Of course, when this happens the lesson to be learned is that you are using a staking plan that is simply not in tune with your psychological makeup as a punter.

If you pale at the prospect of increasing your bets, then stick with level stakes at a very conservative mark. Maybe you're the type of punter who would like to bet only 1 per cent of your total bank? If you had 1000 units, you'd bet 10 units and feel happy about it.

Even a rise in your bank to 2000 units (you should be so lucky!) would mean a bet at 1 per cent of just $20. Nothing to shake the foundations there.

Let's now look at just one example of progression versus level stakes. The progression used assumes that the average price of winners will be 2/1 (that is, 1 - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 6 - 9 - 14, returning to the beginning of the series after a winner is struck). The tips are those of the Sportsman's Wayne Hickson at Canterbury on September 21.

The progression betting went as follows:

Gom Jabb.1Nil
P. Patch13.25
Freeway1 Nil
A.T.1 Nil
C.O. Fire1Nil
Rose B.R.3Nil
Total Stakes: 13
Total Returns: 9.75
Loss On Series: 3.25 (-25% on turnover).

Had those 13 units been spread at level stakes over the 9 races on the card it would have meant, theoretically, 9 bets at 1.44, but for the sake of this exercise we will assume level bets on each selection of 1.5 units, an outlay of 13.5 units.

The level stakes would have returned a total of 9.75 units. Dead equal to the progression! But what if the next bet had been a winner at, say, 3/1. At level stakes you would bet 1.5 units for a return of 6 units. That would make a total outlay of 15 units for a total return of 15.75 units.

But the next progression bet would have been 4 units at 3/1 for a return of 16 units. Now the progression plan has outlaid 17 units for a return of 25.75 units, a profit of 8.75 units (or 51 per cent profit on turnover).

This is what I mean about the 'fall of the winners' - you get a winner in the right spot with progression betting and you can leap ahead on the profit scorecard.

Let's look at another example from the same day's racing. This is done using the second selections of the Sportsman's Brisbane expert Warwick Barr at the Ipswich meeting.

Henley B.13.75
Chief Ed.1Nil
H.Saint2 Nil
Just A T.36.00
D. Times1 Nil
Total Stakes: 11
Total Returns: 13.00
Profit: 2 units (18.18 per cent).
At level stakes of 1.5 units each (stake 12 units) the return would have been 13.5 units, a profit of 1.5 units (12.5 per cent). So, again, the progression wins out, though not by much in terms of units won.

Working out by how much you should 'progress' on any betting scale is determined by the average price of your winners. If you're a sensible punter who likes to stick with well fancied runners, say no longer than the 3/1 mark and you find the average price of your winners is 5/2, then you should look for a progression like the one I have outlined already. It is specifically drawn up with 2/1 winners in mind.

If your average winner's price is 3/1 then the following progression should be considered:

1 - 1 - 1 - 2 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 7 - 9 - 12.

The longest priced winners you should be considering for a progression bet is around the 4/1 mark. This would give you a likely rise in stakes as follows:

1 - 1 - 1 - 1 - 2 - 2 - 3 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 8 - 10.

Once you get past the 4/1 average you are entering high-risk territory. The losing runs you might encounter could be embarrassing, believe me. So, with progressions the key is to use them in conjunction with selection plans that keep your winners around the 2/1 to 4/1 mark, and which can show some sort of profit at level stakes.

If your selection plan shows that it loses at level stakes after a lengthy period of testing then progression betting is not going to be much help to you. (An exception would be the 6 Point Divisor target plan which we published last month).

Tom Ainslie, the noted American racing expert, has the following to say about progression betting: " Some people sell systems based on progressive betting plans, involving increasing the size of a wager after each loss, and cashing a large bet on the inevitable longshot winner. 

"When events unfold that way, an otherwise losing series of bets might well become profitable. But no law of God or man requires the winning horse to materialise at the end of a losing series.

"When it comes at the beginning, while the bets are inconsequential, the comparatively small profits are dissipated by subsequent losses. No system of money management can make a good handicapper of a poor one.

"Until the handicapper is able to pick enough winners at odds high enough to show consistent profits in bets of equal amounts, the best course is to study handicapping and bet minimum amounts, if any."

Alan 'Ace' Davidowicz, another American, reckons progression plans do not, in the long term, improve profit percentage on turnover. Absolute profit will be higher but only because far more money is outlaid.

Click here to read Part 2.

By Martin Dowling