When you go to gamble you make a decision. There are a number of components - what to be on, how to bet on it (win, each way, doubles, quinellas, etc.) and how much to bet on it.

Are you aware of all the factors that can influence your decisions? Hopefully, after reading Practical Punting, you are able to appropriately analyse the relevance of the form of your horse, the form of the other horses, the barrier draw, the weight, the jockey, track, and distance elements of the race.

Finally, you look at the price either in the morning paper, or better, at the track before the race, and decide if there is value in that price for you.

You are well aware of all those factors, but you need to know that other factors you may be unaware of, or only dimly aware of, can influence your decision as well.

Psychologists and psychiatrists have studied these "unconscious" factors, and the aim of this series of articles is to make you more aware of them too. You may be surprised to find how often these factors may have coloured your judgement in the past, hopefully they will not do so in the future!

The first of these we will look at is the one described by the academics as "negative recency". More commonly this is known as the Monte Carlo fallacy, or "coming in on a grouter".

Basically this factor relates to the feeling we all get that when an event has not occurred for a period of time, it is more likely to occur soon. To explain this double dutch by a practical example, if you had tossed a coin 10 times and each time it came up heads, could you honestly say (presuming the coin was not a trick coin!) that you did not really expect tails on the next throw. Most of us would expect tails, yet the chances are just as good that it will be heads again, as tails. The previous tosses of the coin are irrelevant for predicting the outcome of the next throw.

Long runs of red, or black, in Casinos have been reported. The record is believed to be 27 consecutive spins with the same colour coming up. It is said the sound of champagne corks was only matched by the sound of pistol shots depending on whether you bet the run to continue, or to end.

In horse racing this has three applications. One is that when favourites have not won for three or four races, the public starts to expect a favourite to win. Their prices may then become shorter than they should be. I have seen one run of 14 races without a favourite winning, and it ended with an odds-on choice just scrambling home. A lot of favourite backers ended up emptying their wallets before this, and those that lasted the distance, did not really get a reward for their persistence.

The second application is the view sometimes expressed by followers of a tipster. Wait until there have been two losses, they say, then come in and follow the selections, increasing your bet. This has two strikes against it. One is, you may miss a number of winners while waiting for the two losers, and two, perhaps the two losers are the start of a run of twenty! The tipster may not be able to bring anymore skill into his judgement after two losses. Indeed as the run progresses his judgement may become worse and the losing run be prolonged.

The final application is that when the punter is on a losing run, the "negative recency" factor may apply to him, resulting in his becoming more and more convinced that the next bet will be a winner. The amount bet may then increase, with disastrous results if that elusive winner still does not arrive. Most gamblers will overrate the likelihood of backing winners - we all tend to remember our wins and forget our losses. When we hit a losing streak the expectation that it must end soon may lead us to bet more (and so get out), or to bet more often.

Be very careful of "negative recency" and of "utility"; No, it is not some form of truck! The boffins refer to "utility" as meaning the chance of gaining a big win from a little outlay. This aspect draws people into Lotto, Pools, and in racing, towards trifectas, doubles and even quinellas. The possibility of a big win blinds people into thinking about how likely it is to actually get that win usually very unlikely.

But such thinking has a bearing even on win and place betting. Consider this betting on every favourite shows you a loss of 7-9 cents in every dollar. Not good enough, you say. Well, with the Government and the clubs taking out 15-17 cents, that 15-17 cents is the average loss the average punter should show. As favourites only show a loss of 7-9 cents, they clearly are bet less than they should be. That means that, in relation to the money taken from the pool, favourites are actually good value. Not good enough to show a profit however.

What if you decided to only bet on horses at 10-1, or only at 33 -1 ? The answer is you lose more than the 15-17 cents taken out. On 10-1 horses, your loss is about 23 cents in the dollar. On 33-1 horses, your loss is 44 cents in the dollar.

This means these horses, despite their long prices, should really be even longer to ensure a loss of only 15-17 cents. These horses are shorter than they should be because the longer price attracts people to bet on them. "Utility" strikes again!

This has relevance to the average punter. When you are betting on a horse 6-1 or longer, check and double check your reasons for this. Try to make sure it really is a solid contender, and not a horse you are attracted to because of its price alone. Conversely, do not be put off by a short price. This is contrary to the advice many "experts" give, but, as can be seen by the information given above, the shorter priced horses will lose you less. So what, you are saying, who wants to lose less winnings is what its all about! Well at least with the shorter priced horses you are nearer the magical break even point. Again, close analysis may lead you to be very selective about betting on favourites and second favourites. They can sometimes be good value despite the shorter price, and if you add in an occasional longer priced selection that your analysis shows to be a genuine contender, then profits are possible.

This first article has encouraged you to abandon the idea that a winner is due, and to not be "sucked in" by the seemingly good returns from a long-priced horse. If you can discipline yourself to follow the advice, you are already being smarter than the average punter. That's who you have to beat in racing to make a profit not the bookie or the TAB. They just take off a commission for holding the stakes. It is the guy standing next to you in the queue that is your rival. If you are a smarter punter than he (or she) is then you have a chance of winning.

Next month we shall look at other factors affecting punters that you must be wary of if you want to be a smarter punter.

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

By Clive  Allcock