Comparing the Strategies of Poker and Sports Betting

[ 17.11.17 ]

Comparing the Strategies of Poker and Sports Betting

For the average punter, having a flutter on the outcome of the big match might seem like a safer bet than raising the stakes in a game of poker, but the two require completely different strategies. A sports bet is often confidently considered an investment, based on the relative form of the two teams involved, as well as countless other factors, such as squad, injuries, home advantage, etc. Betting on a poker hand, by comparison, may appear much more of a game of chance, as there is no form on which to base your call. And while a winning team is likely to continue winning, the next card out of the deck has nothing to do with the last card.

But is it as simple as that? Are sports predictable and cards truly random? Do they both equally come down to luck? Or are seemingly random cards more predictable than the behaviour of a star quarterback?

Peyton Manning — more reliable than a deck of cards?

Caption: Peyton Manning — more reliable than a deck of cards? Source: Wikimedia

Which is more random?

There are endless tipsters who will tell you that sports are highly predictable. By applying scientific analysis, studying form, knowing the strengths and weaknesses of key players and having a little inside info, they would say that you can predict the outcome of almost any game with reasonable accuracy.

And yet with so many variables in play, the opposite is also true. Everyone can have an off day; every team can become inspired by something outside of the game that you never saw coming, and that gust of wind that blows the field goal either inside or outside of the post simply cannot be predicted.

At the same time, with just 52 cards in the deck, the odds of getting any given hand are fixed in stone, and it doesn’t matter if the dealer has had a row with his girlfriend before the game, the outcome will still be the same.

Sports strategies

With so much form you can follow, it seems easy to come up with a sports betting strategy and pick the likely winning team. For example, at the end of week nine of the NFL, the Philadelphia Eagles were 8 and 1 while the New York Giants were 1 and 8. And if you were going bet, you would probably pick the Eagles every time.

The Eagles are very backable at 8 and 1 from 9 games

Caption: The Eagles are very backable at 8 and 1 from 9 games. Source: Wikimedia

However, with form like that, the Eagles are going to have very short odds, probably odds-on, so you wouldn’t make much profit unless you bet big. Of course, you must remember that they have already lost once, so if you go big on your bet, you might lose big because they might lose again.

On the other hand, the Giants will have much more generous odds, so you don’t have to risk quite so much. Plus, they have already won once this season, so you could be in luck if they win again, even if it is far less likely.

Unpredictable teams

While it’s easy to spot the Eagles and the Giants of the NFL, it all becomes much trickier when it comes to the middle teams. At the end of week nine, there were 10 teams either 4 and 5 or 5 and 4. Predicting which way their next game will go is much harder, but then you will get better odds that this reflects.

You will also probably be right as often as you are wrong, so if you are looking for a strategy that gives you some fun and excitement throughout the season, without risking too much either way, then the middle teams are where the action is.

Picking the outsider

Some people trust the oddsmakers and have a strategy of backing the favourites every time. This makes a lot of sense as the odds are set by experts who have weighed a plethora of factors to reach their decision. Who are we mere mortals to argue with their educated opinion, especially when they have access to a whole team of data analysts, and we’re just lowly fans on the sidelines?

Leicester City, 5,000-1 winners of the English Premier League

Caption: Leicester City, 5,000-1 winners of the English Premier League. Source: Wikimedia

With that said, even this strategy can go spectacularly wrong or spectacularly right if you love a long shot. Famously in the U.K., lowly Leicester City won the football Premier League in 2016 at odds of 5,000-1, beating out short odds favourites like Manchester United and Arsenal. And in the U.S., the St. Louis Rams picked up the Vince Lombardi Trophy after having been 300-1 in the pre-season while their neighbours, the St. Louis Cardinals won the 2011 World Series after having been a massive 999-1 at one point.

Of course, these odds-breaking wins are rare, but even this year, the New York Jets were an unheard of 1,000-1 in the pre-season and are currently 4 and 6 while it is their Big Apple rivals, the Giants, who are struggling. And odds of 1,000-1, you only need to come out good once in 1,000 bets to make your money back.

Texas Hold ‘em or Fold ‘em

In the world of poker, things are far more mathematical, and you can work out the exact odds of any given hand. For example, in Texas Hold ‘em, there are exactly 1,326 possible combinations of two cards that you can be dealt as your hole cards. No more, no less. And there are 169 unique combinations of numbers and/or suits once you take out equal value hands.

However, there is just a one is seventeen chance of getting a pair, and just a four in seventeen chance of getting two cards of the same suit. These are also set odds, so immediately, you can work out the strength of your hole cards and whether to play or fold.

You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em...

Caption: “You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em...” Source: Wikimedia

Taking it further, you could mathematically work out the odds of getting the cards you need with the flop, the turn and the river. While luck is still a factor in the exact order the cards appear, you could, in theory, work out exactly how much to bet on each hand to guarantee a profit over time.

Poker strategies

While it is impossible to do the kind of math described above in your head, there are various strategies for calculating the value of your hole cards. For example, multiple World Series of Poker champion Phil Hellmuth has a six-tier ranking system while David Sklansky has an eight-tier ranking to help you decide whether to play or pass. Alternatively, you can try the Chen formula, which gives each pair of hole cards a value.

The Sklansky charts for Texas Hold ‘em

Caption: The Sklansky charts for Texas Hold ‘em. Source: Wikimedia

While you still can’t predict exactly what your next cards are going to be, at least with these formulas you will have a good idea of the likelihood of getting the cards that you want.

The Packers or the pack

What it all boils down to is where you place your trust. Do you trust your team of finely honed sportsmen and women, with all their human frailties, or do you trust the pure mathematics of the deck of cards, with all its predictable unpredictability?

Either way, the harder you work on your strategy, and the more time and effort you put into learning your game inside out, the better your chances will become. And remember that nothing is ever guaranteed. Just ask those lucky Leicester City fans!

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