In my younger days, I once worked on a building site in England. I was doing the time-honoured 'Aussie boy goes back to the Old Dart' routine (and I had the time of my life). Anyway, the foreman said to me on my second day that I should 'nip up the scaffolding' to carry out some task or other.

It meant I had to ascend a ladder and then monkey my way through the scaffolding to reach the spot where I had to work. It was my first time 'at heights' and I was, frankly, rather terrified.

"This'll test your temperament, lad," said the foreman, ushering me to the foot of the ladder. My workmates looked on. I knew there was no backing out. I climbed the ladder.

I've often thought about that defining moment in my life (yes, I made it to the top and it was as bad an experience as I thought it would be) when I've confronted the harsh reality of a long losing run with my betting.

Losing runs do test your temperament. They are tall ladders indeed and result in many a disastrous fall for a lot of punters. It needn't be so.

The best thing you can do in the event of a losing run, a bad one, is to re-evaluate your approach; stop betting for a while if need be. Don't just keep on climbing the rickety ladder in the HOPE that you won't fall off.

A long losing run is an indicator that you are doing something wrong. It's a warning sign. One you must heed.

If we are all honest enough to go back to our 'origins' in racing and betting, we should be able to say, with some authority, whether we ever did enough to acquire the right temperament to be a gambler.

The English handicapper Che Van der Wheil has talked about temperament in his many controversial writings on racing over the years. I think what he has to say is worth looking at more closely but I know many of you will hotly disagree, especially when he claims there is no room for 'fads or fancies', something a lot of punters call intuition and which helps them win money.

The following extract is from the book Betting The VDW Way, edited by Tony Peach (Moss Publications, 3 Alfred Ave, Rose Green, Worsley, Manchester M28, 2TX, England).

Van der Wheil writes: "Without it (temperament) you will never become a successful punter. The dictionary defines temperament as 'a manner of thinking, behaving, or reacting characteristic of a particular individual'.

"The temperament of a successful punter demands that he sees things as they are, and to evaluate everything with cold, unemotional logic. There is no room for impulsiveness, no room for fads or fancies, no room for high elation with success, or sickening gut feeling when things go wrong.

"It follows that you have no time for chopping and changing but must ever proceed in a methodical manner, fully researched and governed by logic. Every thought and move must be positive, always resisting the immense power of negative force.

"Because a supposedly knowledgeable person makes a statement it does not follow that it has to be correct. Does it follow that because a hen lays an egg in a pigsty, that a swine will hatch from it?

"Any opinion which has even the remotest personal connection will almost inevitably carry bias and is, therefore, suspect. Learn to have confidence only in your own ability Get to grips with the real odds and do not flaunt them. Start to invest instead of gamble."

What Van der Wheil is saying is that, in his opinion, the successful gambler will limit personal opinion, even his own, stick to a strict, methodical approach and judge everything about a race on stark, straight facts (evidence).

This is all very well, but I still believe one needs to exercise personal judgement, except when using a totally mechanical system which throws up selections without subjective input of any kind.

Someone drawing up ratings, for example, will always need to be showing personal likes and dislikes. I guess Van der Wheil is really saying that if you do draw up ratings, then draw them up in as coldly logical a manner as you can, and don't be deceived by what he calls 'fads and fancies'.

A contrasting view on the so-called 'mind games' of betting comes from the American writer Mark Cramer, author of a number of best-selling books on selection and staking. Cramer's philosophy is that the bettor needs to free himself from the constraints of trying to be like everyone else.

The 'kinky' handicappers, he maintains, will inherit the earth. He rightly points out that most punters adhere to handicapping methodologies that are 'derived from the mainstream thought processes and conformist mentalities'.

In other words, 99 per cent of punters make up 'the crowd' and, as we all know, the crowd loses. Cramer's devotion is to those who can use their own mind games to throw away the mantle of politically correct betting.

In his book Kinkier Handicapping, he wrote about successful punters who have been winning substantial amounts over long periods of time because 'they found their own path and do not become handicapping hacks who follow the crowd'.

And he adds: "If horse-players belong to a subculture, then these winners belong to a subculture of the subculture. They are not the normal breed of bettor who follows any one of the standard speed, pace and class routines."

But even Cramer admits that the wildcat punters tend to be consistent in the way they adhere to their particular methods. They don't jump from one whim to another. What they do most effectively is to operate on the basis of 'calculated risk', and not wild risk.

The legendary American professional Andy Beyer, the man who made speed ratings a cult in the USA, has much to say about the mind games involved in betting. He has written several books in which he discussed temperament and its involvement in successful betting.

Beyer sums it up in his book The Winning Horseplayer by saying: "Nobody can beat the races with wishful thinking. Nobody can make an overnight transition from casual betting to successful professional gambling."

He goes on to point out that not everyone is equipped to beat the races, even with an all-out effort. He then discusses what it takes to be a winner. "He must ... develop the capacity in the face of tremendous stress, to maintain his emotional balance and especially to prevent bad luck from affecting his judgement. This does not come naturally for anyone, but a gambler must realise that his emotions are his own worst enemy and that they can undermine all his handicapping and betting skills," says Beyer.

He believes that humility is required, too. The offence that's punished the worst in the racing game, he says, is the sin of hubris. In other words, don't make a song and dance to all and sundry about how you've got the game beaten or that you're the world's greatest tipster, or whatever.

If you do, the curtain falls. The 'gods' hear it all and they'll send you broke!

Says Beyer: "It may not be the Goddess of Wagering who is responsible, but the very nature of the racing game does punish arrogance and overconfidence."

On a final note, the thoughts of Dr Robert Anthony make a lot of sense. In his book Betting On Yourself, Dr Anthony says winning is 'an attitude'. In short, a winning punter is someone who is accustomed to achieving his goals; a loser is someone who doesn't have what he wants and feels he is a victim of people, circumstances and conditions.

"If asked, he will generally admit he feels trapped or stuck," writes Dr Anthony He urges punters to get rid of negativity. Negative thoughts, he says, generate fear, anxiety and discouragement and once you allow them to become dominant beliefs they are certain to undermine your plans, and failure is the inevitable result.

"The starting point of any change is the belief that it is possible to change," says Dr Anthony. "Yet so many people find it difficult to make positive changes. The reason for this is that we have been programmed or convinced we are powerless."

Dr Anthony, of course, is preaching the philosophy that says any mug can pull himself up by the bootstraps and get himself a new mind-set, be it in gambling or in life generally And his ideas are not to be laughed at because it  behoves each of us to inject a really positive note into our temperament as it applies to betting.

Get it right in your head and you'll get it right in your pocket.

  • Betting On Yourself, by Dr Robert Anthony (Berkley Books, New York, 1991);
  • The Winning Horseplayer, by Andy Beyer (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, USA).

NEXT MONTH: More on Dr Robert Anthony's formulas for turning yourself into a betting winner.

Click here to read Part 2.
Click here to read Part 3.

By Jon Hudson