I guess there’s no better time than the beginning of a new year to start thinking about one’s approach to betting and to consider ways of improving strike rate and returns.

I’ve taken time out recently to pore over my collection of books and to pick out from them the “bits” I think may be able to give something of a boost to my own selection and betting processes.

It’s an interesting exercise to undertake and if you’ve a punting armoury of books and magazines, then I suggest it will be of some benefit to flip through them and to mark off those passages which contain nuggets of potentially useful information.

Last month I reviewed Dave Nevison’s book A Bloody Good Winner. Nevison is perhaps Britain’s most high-profile professional and he has plenty to say about the business of winning (and losing). If we want to glean some nuggets of advice then he’s among the first we can turn to, although it must be said that he has a particularly “personal” way of going about his daily betting (as the book explains).

A problem he has in Britain is actually getting his money on. The bookies are awake to him and often his asked-for big bets are cut right back, so his money needs to be spread around across a range of bookmakers, much of it placed by agents.

I doubt the average rank and file punter in Australia would experience too much trouble getting on, though stories abound of weak-kneed bookmakers cutting off the accounts of punters, even modest ones, who get the better of them. This is not confined to solo bookmakers. I hear many stories of the so-called “big” corporate bookmakers refusing to deal with winning punters.

Dave Nevison says if he asks for a 25 pounds each way Yankee on the day’s big races, quite a few bookmakers will cut him down to 10 pounds each way.

But let’s examine the more positive side of learning things from professionals like Nevison. We can never simply copy his approach because it isn’t that clearly defined, but the “bones” of what he’s on about are there to rattle.

For instance, here are a few points he makes in his highly readable book:

  • At a big Festival meeting I will often have a multiple bet, perhaps a 100 pounds each way Yankee or a 200 pounds each way trixie, and have it at SP for two reasons: first it makes it much easier to get the bet on and, second, SP margins are less than the margins in the early price markets.
  • I will spend extra time studying handicaps with 16 or more runners because bookmakers pay one quarter the odds the first four places when the maths suggests they shouldn’t . . . If I like two horses at 6/1 and 8/1 in a 16 runner handicap I will back them both each way, often quite heavily . . .
  • If you look at the place odds on Betfair they represent the chances of a horse being placed far more accurately than the bookmakers’ place terms.
  • The tissue (his own prices) is the engine room of our operation. Everything depends on the merit of my tissue. If it’s not good enough, I’m going to be out of business.
  • I have to put up a price next to every horse in a race because all of them contribute something towards the final percentage figure of 100.
  • Normally I start by identifying the likely favourite. If I think there are good reasons for thinking it might be beaten, then I’ll put in my tissue at a price that is probably longer than in the newspapers or in the bookmakers’ early prices, which means that there should be some value available about other horses in the race.
  • If I can’t see a way of beating the favourite and I put it in at a price shorter than in the newspaper, it may mean that I end up backing it.
  • If I am wrong about the favourite, it means I am wrong about other horses, too, and when I compare my tissue with the forecast prices in the paper or with Betfair’s prices, I sometimes feel either very good about it, or I suspect I’ve made a terrible mistake.
  • I’m either gloriously right or horribly wrong and I will look at the race again to see whether or not I still feel the same way.

There are a number of compelling points made by Dave Nevison. I think one of the most interesting is his willingness to bet each way, not on just one but two horses in the same race. Granted, bookies are paying down to fourth place in the UK, but the general thrust of his approach remains valid.

In my Daily Specials tips for the PPD Club, I often go for a “bracket selection”. These occur in races where I have found it impossible to split two contenders. My belief is that it’s no good trying to guess which one to back, simply back both, and if the odds permit then whack them each way.

Nevison places a high value on his market framing. In fact, he more or less admits that without an accurate assessment of a race, translated into prices, his betting attack is vulnerable. I have found the same thing.

I draw up a priceline on any race in which I am going to tip and usually my top selection will never be priced at longer than 3/1. It must have a minimum 25 per cent chance before I’ll tip it. Usually, I will have the horse priced much shorter than that. Just like Dave Nevison, if I get it wrong then I’m in trouble.

I think the importance he places on a personal “tissue” underlines what a lot of professionals say; that is, to understand a race and to understand value, you MUST decide yourself on a price for each runner. Only in that way, using your own knowledge, commonsense and skill, can you be confident what you are doing has the ring of sensible value about it.

The lesson, then, is to work at producing your own prices. You may find it frustrating and laborious but if you are anywhere near accurate, measured against the market, then it could very well transform your betting.

Nevison gives you the right lead-in: Look for the horse likely to be the favourite. Examine it carefully. Does it deserve to be the favourite or is it a false favourite? Can it be risked? If so, who do you back instead?

If, of course, the favourite looks the winner, your task is to assign a “true” price to it. Is it a 6/4 chance, a 2/1 chance, an odds-on  chance? How you assess its chance will determine your bet.

On selection and staking, Nevison makes a number of significant points in his book. Such as:

  • My confidence in my tissue is greater for some types of race than for others. For instance, I prefer races with older horses, where the form is exposed and their running tends to follow a reasonably predictable pattern.
  • If, for instance, I don’t fancy two of the forecast favourites and have them both at 8/1 in my tissues, we have to decide whether it’s best to simply lay both of them, or back several other horses against them, or look for other ways in which we can most lucratively oppose those two favourites.
  • Gambling is not just a mental test . . . it is also an emotional test. Emotion plays a massive part in my betting. I don’t have any rules and when I have a strong gut feeling that I’m right about something, I’m not afraid to step way above my normal mark and really try to knock it out of the ground.

That last point of Nevisons is, I believe, all-important; it goes to the heart of betting. That is, how much are we prepared to risk? Too often, we hear the lament that “I didn’t have enough on the big priced winner” and it’s all too true, sadly.

Punters do tend to underbet when they are backing longshots and of course they tend to overbet on lower-priced horses. What many punters fail to do is to recognise when to jump in and bet big.

Dave Nevison relies a lot of intuition, that gut feeling you get sometimes about a horse. When he recognises it, he acts. What do you do? Is your betting life littered with what-might-have-beens? Winners that you picked at big odds but had only a small bet?

I’ve been in the same boat. Many moons ago I picked out a horse and thought I’d be lucky to get 6/1 or 7/1. At the track, however, 40/1 was freely available. I started to doubt myself. Had I got it terribly wrong? What was making the rest of the betting crowd so doubtful of this horse?

I succumbed to fear itself. My bet was just $20 each way. It should have been 10 times that (three races earlier I’d bet $150 on a 6/1 chance and lost). The horse won and although I had a nice win I should have cashed in big time. But I failed to heed my own ability and intuition.

The point Nevison makes about the emotions of betting is right on the mark. It is very emotional and more so when you are putting on big money or shooting for a big win with a small outlay on the quadrella or the First 4 or the trifecta.

Learn to understand the emotions that drive you and you will go a long way to understanding a key area of the game of betting.

Nevison admits: “Despite my ability to deal with betting misfortunes, things do happen that trigger bad betting behaviour. Even after all these years I’m still not immune to chasing losses, an almost universal affliction among punters.”

A BLOODY GOOD WINNER, by Dave Nevison, is available from Internet booksellers (try www.highstakes.co.uk).

By Brian Blackwell