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Identifying Value Bets and Making a Profit

By comparing fair odds defined by a numerical rating system to those of the bookmaker we can determine whether we have identified a value bet. Where the bookmaker's odds are superior to our fair odds, we have potentially gained an edge, provided that our ratings system furnishes an accurate forecast, or more appropriately an accurate expectancy of the result. In such a case the bookmaker has underestimated the probability of the result, and is offering, by our forecast's assessment, higher than the mathematically fair odds. Over the long term, provided the ratings analysis is accurate, one should make a profit. The distinction between result forecast and result expectancy is an important one, and is central to the principles of value betting. It is not enough simply to predict the most likely result. To potentially make a profit over a series of bets, we must always compare our fair odds to those of the bookmaker, and think of the outcome of a match in terms of a probability distribution rather than as simply win or lose.

Unfortunately, the majority of bookmakers are rather good at pricing football matches. Football betting is the most popular of all sports betting, particularly in the UK, where football is the national game. Consequently, the bookmakers can lay their hands on a tremendous amount of information to assist with odds pricing, and the punter will always struggle to do better. With a further 11 to 12% disadvantage in the shape of the singles overround to overcome, it may come as no surprise that the majority of bets do not offer any betting value.

Nevertheless, bookmakers, like punters, are capable of making mistakes. Using the recent goal supremacy rating system to identify value home wins for English league games played during the 2001/02 season, a total of 526 of the available 1,746 games were identified as having value in the home win fixed odds. Taking the best available betting price would have returned a profit over turnover of 2.1%. In contrast, betting blindly on all 1,746 games would have yielded a loss of 3.7%. As such, this rating system successfully predicted the outcome of home wins by nearly 6% more than the bookmakers offering prices on those matches. Although small, this improvement is not insignificant, despite the ratings system adopting a relatively simply approach.

With historical results and betting odds data, any rating system's predictive capability can be tested without even risking any betting capital.