I have seen lots of dashing gamblers in my time. Some have even hit the headlines with their betting coups but if we take the group as a whole, few of them were able to "see out the distance".
That is, they went broke or they retired in the knowledge that if they didn't then they would go broke. In the same period, some 25 years and more, I've known many professional punters who have beaten the game. A few have retired with money intact. Many are still doing it.
Professional bettors, in my experience, operate in various ways but those who have proven themselves the most effective have been patient "multiple bet" types. These are the guys who make betting a serious business interest.
They haven't sought a massive fortune from the game but they have set out to make a living from it. Not an easy assignment.
On the other hand, some of the more reckless gamblers I've run into didn't plan long term. Instead, they lived for the moment and they went for the big hits, often risking everything on one bet.
I was reading an interesting article the other day, from a magazine published in the '60s, in which the writer told of his experience at Randwick one day.
Here's what he said and I put it forward here as an example of the differences between sensible and reckless betting.
"I was having a cup of tea with a gambler who, halfway through the first day of the two-day meeting, was down $17,000 after four races. He asked me my view of a Novice race and I told him there was not more than a kilo or so between Horse A and Horse B, with none of the remaining 11 starters figuring to win.
"The gambler said that was the way he saw the race and he said he was going for a big hit on Horse A. He said his connections at the stable had told him it was a certainty.
"He was talking as a gambler, not an investor. He agreed with me that there was no more than a half length or so between the pair yet he was going to put everything on one horse. It didn't make sense.
"Why not play safe and back both, I said to him. He laughed and told me he thought Horse A would win and it was silly to waste money on another runner.
"I just could not follow his line of thinking. He admitted that one of two runners should win, that there was next to nothing between them, yet he was declaring for one.
"In the end, he had $22,250 to $10,000 on Horse A and what happened? Horse B at 3/1 won the race, beating Horse A by a head. The tragedy is that Horse A was a good thing beaten. It finished up that this gambler had to ask for time to pay yet he could have played safe by making full allowance for the bad luck of the race.
"I recall my bet. I had $385 to $100 on Horse B and $345 to $155 on Horse A. Then to make Horse B my best result, I took $100 to $33 on Horse B and $200 to $100 on Horse A at the close of betting.
"My total investment was $388. Horse B returned me $618 while the return had Horse A won would have been $800. On the way the race figured, it was a satisfactory investment.
"Had the gambler bet in this ratio he would still be in business. Or if he thought Horse A was the best, he could have had $8050 to $2300 on Horse B and the balance of his $10,000 on Horse A with a bet of $17,355 to $7700 had he secured top prices. Instead, he put all his eggs in the one basket and ended up with a mess of broken shells.
"There is no strict formula to multiple betting. It depends to a great extent on odds and chances. The idea is to make a book against the bookies by backing all the chances, some to square the transaction and others to show a profit.
"Or, if the prices permit, to gain an equal profit if any of your fancies wins. I will rarely lay odds-on a horse winning, or just back one runner. The only time I ever break these rules is when I come to a race in which there is NO second best. Even then, I hesitate about taking odds-on.
"In multiple betting, if I can trim the field down to a point where one of a number of runners MUST win, I will bet odds-on finding the winner. My policy has always been to find what I consider to be bettable races; that is, a race in which there are a limited number of chances with the prices permitting me to invest on them all.
"In the majority of instances I decide how much I will lay out. I then insure myself against total loss by backing the dangers to return me the full stake. I place the balance of the money available on my prime choice.
"Provided you do the form, and bet in this manner, you won't have many worries. Most times you will break square or show a profit.
"On other occasions, if there are two outstanding chances and only one danger, I will make the latter the 'saver' and back the other two to produce a clear profit irrespective of which one wins. If there are only two chances in a race, I will, if the odds are right, support both to win the same amount."
By Richard Hartley Jnr
PRACTICAL PUNTING - MARCH 2004