Staking forum hosted by Brian Blackwell.

Should you stop betting for the day as soon as you go into a profit situation? It's a point that many punters have probably talked about a great deal over the years. It sounds deliciously easy as a way to make consistent profits, doesn't it? But is it really that easy?

I put the question to the Ausrace Internet group recently and a very divided forum ensued. Most were sceptical, some ridiculed the idea, while a few were more cautious and admitted there was at least some sense to the idea. The following is an edited extract from the forum.

BB: Let's say Punter Bill goes to the track with 3 bets in mind each Saturday. His sole aim is to make a profit. He bets level stakes. He has a strike rate of, say, 30 per cent on his selections. He backs a winner with his first bet at 2/1. He is now 200 per cent up. He quits. He will be back next Saturday. Can someone tell me what is wrong with this thinking?

Wayne R (WR): No, it's not the perfect way to win. You have to get in front before you stop. That's the problem. To me it makes as much sense to stop after you are behind as it does to stop when you are in front. My opinion sounds logical to me, but maybe not to others. Any strategy that will result in a profit at level stakes will still result in a profit whether you stop at the first winner or first loser. The probability of winning on the next race is totally
independent of any previous races and any future races. Therefore, to stop is illogical.

Tony Z: On Punter Bill's theoretical betting, I decided to check it out for myself by writing a little simulation programme. Assumptions: Bill goes to the track each week for 20 years, with 3 picks per week. Each selection has a 51 per cent chance of winning and pays evens if it wins (i.e. Bill is getting a slight overlay). Bill stops if he is up on the day. His mate Ben selects the same horses but doesn't stop when he is in profit. Both bet the same amounts.

I ran 10 random-number simulations and in all of them, Ben beat Bill on the final bank. Even with his overlay, in 3 of the cases Bill ended up losing money overall. I also looked at underlay situations where the chances of each horse are 49 per cent, still paying evens. Here, Ben under performed in 8 out of 10 simulations but even though Bill fared better, he still only managed a positive overall return in one run out of 10.

The moral of this is that if you have a statistical edge (tend to pick overs), then you are better off not stopping, since you are denying yourself chances to generate more profit. If you tend to pick unders you are better off stopping, but you'd be even better off not betting at all.

BB: Let's look at it another way: Punter Bill could lose all 3 bets and be down 3 units. When he goes to the track the following Saturday, he knows he is 3 behind and will need to catch them up before he can consider himself in profit. Let's say he backs another loser and then a 5/1 winner. He has now outlaid 5 units for a return of 6 units, giving him a 20 per cent profit. He's happy. He stops betting for the day.

WR: True 5/1 chances only win one race in every six, so the ' scenario you make is by no means a certainty; in fact, it's far from reality. Using this approach it is inevitable that sooner or later he will need to hit a 25/1 or 33/1 winner to get back in front. The logic you use is the same logic as not stopping at all - that is, you reset your counter when in front but add up your losses from week to week. It is seriously no different than resetting after your losses and carrying your wins from week to week.

BB: Why is it inevitable that the 'stop-at-a-profit' punter will eventually be needing a 25/1 or 33/1 winner to get back in front? He doesn't have to get back all losses in one bet. Like any other punter he can gradually pull back losses. If he faces this problem, what about the punter who doesn't stop at a profit? Doesn't he face the same problem? Isn't it a case of conservatism versus more risk? Better a dollar in the hand than risking that dollar further.

Dave Maher: I'm a great believer that punters go in and out of form. Just like horses. Some days you feel good, confident, and everything falls into place. Other days you are distracted, uneasy. If your judgement is IN, then why stop when you get ahead? Surely that is when you are most likely to follow up with more winners? When your confidence is high you think clearly, but when you are down on confidence you punt unsteadily and uncertainly and you clutch at straws. But what would it do to your confidence if you pick a winner early, stop betting, and then miss out on a couple more winners? Disaster!

Roman K: I have never been able to see the point in stopping as soon as you are in profit. If you do, you are still having a series of bets down the track, with the only difference being fewer bets, assuming you have some profitable days. Either way, punting is about a series of bets and winning on that series, whether it's one bet a week or many bets per week. The stopping at a profit method is just a psychological ploy with yourself.

Mike Rollo: If you use a consistent handicapping approach for all the races you bet on, then each race is an independent event in the context of your betting. It can only be a psychological factor that would drive anyone to stop when ahead for the day. All of your other selections have the same expectations - why forgo the possibility of further winners and profits?

In short, then, a 'red light' approach can only be a psychological factor; maybe important to some but one which does not stand up to closer examination. Back yourself and your handicapping method by backing all your elections!

Eric Kratzer: I go to the racecourse knowing exactly which horses I will back, and the size of my bets depends on a staking plan. I reduce my bet after a winner. But I don't stop betting. I keep an accurate record of my bets and over the last 4 months am on a 10.5% profit on turnover. I checked back and eliminated all bets for the day after I had a winner. If I'd done that I would have lost 27.5% on turnover. That's enough proof for me.

Phill Clarke: I think that one important aspect here is the psyche of the punter. If you're a serious punter who bets for a profit and hates to lose, then perhaps there is a valid argument for stopping once you are ahead. But in my own case, when I bet or attend the track, I do so because I enjoy it, not to make millions of dollars.

I only take what I can afford to lose. If I come home ahead, that's a bonus. If I lose, well, I think this is also fine because from the outset it was money I could afford to lose. If I was to stop when I had a profit, say for instance after race one, then what do I do for the rest of the day? I love winning but it isn't everything.

Terry Woods: To me, stopping when in profit is more psychological than anything else. I do not stop betting but I do become more selective by protecting those profits. As a sportsman, a coach and a player, I guess it is like protecting the 'lead' in a football game; when in front, you introduce strategies that will allow the team to stay there. This may mean becoming more conservative at times or going for the kill, depending on the opposition, etc.

Just like losing a game after being ahead, I do find it disappointing to finish a loser on a day's betting after being in profit. I guess that is the psychological part However, I then remember that I have long-term goals to achieve and that one day's betting is only one game in a long season.

Julian: It would be sensible to stop when in front - if you actually stopped. Because, if you bet again, no matter when, you haven't stopped at all. Then, with a longterm negative expectancy, you will lose. In all forms of gambling, so the theory goes, there is the longterm expectancy. This is usually constant and negative. I know of only two forms of gambling where expectancy varies, horse racing and blackjack. The 'quit when you're in front' theory does not take this into consideration and you may well be quitting when the odds are in your favour and coming in when the odds are against you.

BB: What about the punter who goes to the track or the TAB and bets every race, all day? Surely he would be better off cutting his betting once he got ahead? Especially if his all-day bet records show he is going to lose 9 times out of 10 by insisting on betting through the day?

WR: I agree 100% with this scenario. Betting on every race is almost a certain way to lose your money The true expectation is negative and it is sensible to stop when in front (which will not be very often!). just think in terms of poker machines or roulette; if you play long enough you will lose every time.

By Brian Blackwell

PRACTICAL PUNTING - OCTOBER 1996