Choosing how to bet? What do I mean by this question?

Well, let's say it encompasses many areas of betting, from the actual way you bet (win, place, eachway, exotics) to how you cope with the money management side of things, and even the selection process itself.

It also means whether or not you choose to bet sensibly, or stupidly.

Whether you succeed or not as a punter is probably going to be determined by the way you choose to bet. If you go about your betting in a reckless manner, you won't win. You may jag the occasional big divvie, but overall you are going to lose.

With a betting bankroll, you need to be sensible. You don't have to be a hard-core professional to be sensible. A poor man's modest bankroll is worth as much to him as a rich man's large bankroll. Everything is relative.

So what do the experts say? Our regular US correspondent Barry Meadow is a serious bettor, as longtime readers of PPM will have gathered from his many articles in the magazine. Barry, the author of a number of best-selling books on racing and publisher of the successful Meadow's Racing Monthly, is never afraid to speak his mind, and to tell things "as they are".

If you're a punter who has chosen to do the right thing, to get yourself a bankroll, to map out your betting operations, then Barry Meadow has some firm advice for you. Even if you're not in the "do it right" camp, what he has to say is worth heeding.

"Chances are, your gambling bankroll today is not the highest it's ever been, even if you're a winning player," says Barry. "Bankrolls grow, or decline, in fits and starts. Luck is simply another name for bankroll swings.

"You win some and lose some, never in a precise or predictable way. If you could predict your next win, you could simply bet every dollar you could get your hands on and win all the money. But it doesn't work that way.

"Heavy swings mean it's difficult to predict what your gambling bankroll will be September 1. You simply can't say, which is one reason why you shouldn't use gambling income, or lack of it, for household budgeting."

Barry says the extent of your fluctuations depend on several factors which he defines as follows:

Let's say you are a straight win bettor. Do you mostly bet 8 / 5 shots, or mostly 9/1 chances? If you specialise in trifectas, do you go for low percentage, high payoff plays? Or do you prefer keying a solid 6 / 4 shot and using a whole bunch in the 2nd and 3rd slots?

Any time you make longshot plays, you'll have a low hit percentage. And the lower the hit percentage, the greater the fluctuations. Either you hit that $3400 collect or you don't, which makes a large difference in your bottom line.

It's not the type of bet which makes the difference. A place bettor who bets mostly on 2/5 shots will have only small bankroll fluctuations, while another who looks only for horses that are 15/1 and up will have much greater swings. The key is the hit rate.

When horses pay little, each individual result has only a small result on your overall fortune. When bets can return giant amounts, it's a different story. Just a single score can make your entire year; losing that five-figure photo might just make it in the opposite direction.

This goes along with the first factor (odds). If most of your bets are on 12/1 shots, a hot or cold run may result in significant fluctuations. When you are trying to make big scores, expect big swings, good and bad.

Take two punters with $5000 bankrolls. One bets $5 a race. The other bets $200 a race. The latter not only has a much higher chance of going bankrupt, but his fluctuations will be huge as well. One week he might have a $7000 bank, the next only $3000. If you play high considering the size of your bankroll, be prepared for wild swings.

The lower the variation, the lower the fluctuation. The higher the variation, the greater the fluctuation. If you get $20 on one race, and $180 on the next, the bigger bets will have a huge effect on fluctuation.

Bankroll fluctuations are neither good nor bad. They're simply a fact of gambling life. If you're a winning punter, your bank will eventually creep up, though there may be significant downturns along the way.

Those, then, are some thoughts about betting from Barry Meadow. It's basically all about your bank, and how you need to be prepared for those roller-coaster ups and downs of any punter's life. Bet big then big fluctuations.

British expert Nick Fox has strong views about choosing how to bet. He believes punters can get benefits from betting exchanges.

The pros, he says, are:

  1. The prices offered are usually better than those offered by bookmakers.
  2. You have the chance to bet against a horse winning.
  3. There's the chance to take your profit, even before the race has started.
  4. It's easy to place bets and you get quick settlement.

The cons, he says, are:

  1. Commission has to be paid to the website operator.
  2. Debit and credit card betting can cause problems if you are prone to gambling, rather than sensible betting.

Nick says: "Betting exchanges, like Betfair, are the fastest growing betting businesses around. Again, you don't need to find the winner. Correctly anticipate which horse might be backed and you can bet on it at, say, 8 /1 and (if all works well) lay it back before the race at, say, 6/1. Then you have a guaranteed profit whether the horse wins or falls at the first fence.

PPM's editor Brian Blackwell has his own very strong views about how punters should bet. But he's the first to admit that his way of thinking goes against "the grain" so far as die-hard conservatives are concerned.

Brian says: "If you want to win, you need to be creative. I've mentioned before in PPM about adopting the psychological approach of maximum boldness, and any punter who hopes to make a profit, a decent profit, needs to think very clearly about this.

"Choosing how to bet is so important. My own approach is to go for big wins, and when I bet the size of my bet is always guided by the odds available. The better the price, the more I put on.

"I look at it this way: When I pick a horse, say for the PPD Club, I have a top price in mind of 3/1; that is, any horse I select I claim will have a true chance of at least 25 per cent and probably better.

"So when I see one of my selections at greater odds than the top limit of 3/1, I start to get really enthusiastic. In my own mind, I have decided that the selection is value at anything above the price I have in mind, the worst rating of all would be that I would regard it as a 3/1 chance.

"When my selections go off at $8, $9, $10 and better, I love it. This is the way I choose to bet. It's that maximum boldness coming into play. You know, punters are conditioned to get cold feet when they see their selection at a big price. They think, hello, there's something wrong here, my judgement must be out of kilter.

"So he'll cut back his bet, or even drop off the selection altogether. I go the other way. The more my selection goes against the crowd, against the other media tips, the more I like it."

Brian, as happy PPD Club members know, is also a keen advocate of long-range betting on major doubles.

He says: "I've made more money in a handful of bets over the years than I ever made as a cautious, doit-by-the-book punter. With the long-range bets, you can obtain extraordinary odds and if you're smart enough to get your selections actually running in a major race you can be looking at a return of many thousands of dollars.

"With this in mind, you have plenty of leeway to hedge your bet on raceday by backing any number of runners to "save" your entire stake. It's a dream.

"I concede that it's hard to get a horse to the post, but it's worth a try. You don't need to outlay a great deal so it's not as if you are breaking your bank to put yourself into the position of getting a mammoth return."

So, Brian's approach flies in the face of much of what we have been told about punting; that you have to be careful, you have to bet level stakes, you can't bet long-range, you can't back outsiders, and so on.

It's not the choice many punters would take, but I do know that a huge number of punters have suddenly become very successful by following Brian's lead via the PPD Club, which has been an extraordinary success story in its own right in the last few years.

In next month's PPM, I'll bring you some more views on choosing how to bet, including some valuable advice from American superstar Andy Beyer. 

By P.B. King