The Probability (and Psychology) of Losing

Losing runs. We have all been there. You’ve been 6 days without a winner. You spot one at Kempton priced at 10’s with a perfect draw and he wasn’t far away last time out. Overpriced and has a great chance. Come post time it is 3/1F and you are already counting your winnings, thanking that your harsh run is over. He breaks well, settled nicely in 4th. Turning in, he is still on the bridle. The claiming jockey tries to angle him out, but the door is slammed shut. He coasts home for 3rd, beaten by the 20/1 outsider. What have you done to deserve that? How on earth are you going to get out of this rotten run, and get back to winning ways?


As many people say, losing runs are part and parcel of horse racing, and sports betting in general. Before we look at as to why this is, we first must consider what we are doing when placing a bet, and what we are actually doing when trying to beat the bookmaker. Essentially, we are looking to take greater odds about a horse than we would give it ourselves. As an example, we would love to take 5/1 about a horse that we think is an actual 5/2 shot. This means that we are giving a horse a true 28.5% chance, when the bookmaker is willing to pay based on a 16% chance. That difference is our “margin”, and it is what makes us win in the long run.


Rather than dwelling on this subject of how to win, as it is one I could talk for hours about, we want to look at what this means in terms of losing. Again, it is all based on probability. Let’s say that we back five horses (singles only) that we believe each have a 10% chance of winning, and bookmakers are giving us a nice bit of margin on the price. What are the chances of all 5 losing?


The Probability


Well, the probability of the first one losing is 1 minus the probability of it winning, and the probability of it winning as outlined above is 10%. Therefore the probability of it losing is 90%. Seeing as in this simplified scenario we have given all 5 horses the same chance of winning, our formula is:


90% x 90% x 90% x 90% x 90% = 59.05%.


What about the chances of all 5 winning?


10% x 10% x 10% x 10% x 10% = 0.001%.


We can break this down into each permutation from these 5 horses:


1 of them winning: 32.8%
2 of them winning: 7.29%
3 of them winning: 0.81%
4 of them winning: 0.045%


This means that the most likely outcome, is for all 5 to lose. This is simply to highlight how probability is so important in deciding your profitability as a bettor but also to highlight the likelihood of losing. Just because a tipster puts up a few bets at 16/1, it does not mean they are going to win, and it is by far the likeliest outcome that these will all lose. Over time, of course, if you are betting properly your margin takes over and will bring about profitability, but it just highlights how losing is part and parcel of sports betting, and we dive into this further below.


Hugh Taylor did a really good piece on losing runs for At The Races a while back, and in it ran 10 simulations about a punter who backed 500 horses, at 10-1, with a 10% strike rate. The longest losing run over this hypothetical period endured is 51, but on average the longest losing run was just short of 38.


In order to work this out for your own statistics, there is a widely available formula that calculates the likely longest losing streak of you betting. This is Log(RUNS) / -Log(PROB). It may look daunting but it is actually incredibly simple to do on any type of excel software. RUNS is the amount of bets during the period and PROB is the strike rate of winning bets during that period. For The Snout members, since the beginning of June 2015, we have had 1381 selections, with a win strike rate of 15.1% (for ease of working I have excluded each way returns). This means our probability of selecting an unsuccessful horse is 1-0.151 = 0.849, or 84.9%. Therefore our formula is:


Log(1381)/-Log(0.849) = 44.17


That means at some point during that 1381 betting sequence we can expect a losing run of 44 selections. Even if you bet at short prices and have a 25% strike rate for 500 bets, that losing streak still reads as high as 21. When you consider that my own longest losing streak is currently 35 bets, this doesn’t seem unrealistic, and it gives a very easy way of calculating expected losing runs, and from a purely mathematical point of view it proves that long (ish) losing runs will take part within our betting lives.


That may make for painful reading, but as long as we are prepared for it, we stick to staking plans, and our betting methods are correct, then there is no need for concern. Here is where we come to the Psychology part of losing.


The Psychology


Jockeys are our first port of call into understanding how to deal with loss. I remember when I was younger reading an article on Ruby Walsh, and they were discussing how skilled he was in the saddle and easily the best NH jockey at the time. But what stuck out to me in that article was that they discussed how brilliant he is at taking each race as it comes, forgetting about what may have just happened in the 3.25 but focusing fully on the 4.00. It is no different in any other sports, or in this case, betting. You cannot let what may have been a tough result to take in the previous days betting affect your own process moving forwards. If you have been successful in the past, then you have proven your skills in becoming profitable over time. You cannot let a rough period change your process or tipping service. As we have explained above, losing runs are part and parcel of the game, so we should expect to have times when things get a little difficult. I always talk about consistency being the most important thing in sports betting and this is the reason why. Many people have this problem. Most generally will look for shorter priced horses to help get them out of a rut. But by doing so are potentially reducing their “margin” and changing their process that has made them successful in the first place. A few years ago I did this analysis on my own betting and I found that during losing runs, I was more likely to tip at higher average odds than I was previously, to help get me out of the bad run and remove all of the losses in one swoop. This of course is also wrong, as it could be interpreted as searching for long shots that in fact had no margin at all. The key is to sticking to what has made you successful in the first place, whether that be your own selections or following the same tipsters in the same way as previously.


Staking Plans


Part of this also relates to staking plans. Different people have different ways of advising bets, and advising staking plans, which is completely fine. There is no 100% correct way to do this, as there are different methods that provide the same end goal. As long as you have a betting bank which is fully prepared for a losing run (using the formula above to work this out), and your stakes are allowing for this, then there is no issue. When you have a system laid out like this it suddenly doesn’t become as daunting when you have lost a few on the bounce. The worst case scenario is if you’re stakes and bank are only allowing for a shorter losing run, so you become desperate in searching for a winner, which ultimately means you change your principles which has made you a successful bettor in the first place. Whichever way you like to stake, just ensure you have a reasonable bank in place to endure losing runs. You can even draw comparisons with the modern banking industry. Pre the financial crisis, many banks didn’t have the necessary capital to endure a worst-case scenario, meaning many went bankrupt when the housing bubble burst. Now, the holding capital required for banks is much higher, and there are often “Stress-tests” ran on the banks to ensure that if the worst were to hit (in our case, the longest losing run), they can deal with the consequences and still perform in the same way.




Another factor that I see plenty of people bring up on social media is “luck”. This is my least favourite word within betting. Sure, as per the opening example, events may unfold that prohibits your horse from performing up to the expectation. Luck is in essence completely random. It is a random factor that you have no control over. Just like the probability of losing runs occurring, there is a probability attached to the chance that your horse will meet trouble in running. The quicker people come to terms with this, the better, so it doesn’t effect what has made you successful in the first place. “Luck” also works both ways, and people never seem to realise when they have had something in their favour. It is a variable that you have no control over that in the long term will even out. I would also add to this blaming bad jockey rides. It seems to be at the moment that winners are given “great ride!” and losers are given “terrible ride!” status, when that is simply not true. It is not worth evaluating in this way, and that brings me on to my next point.


Assessing your betting


An extremely important part of any sports betting. You may have noticed that I am a lover for stats, and members will know that I often quote trainer strike rates or trainer/jockey combo strike rates etc, but in truth everyone should look at the statistics on their own betting all the time. It reveals some hugely important points that can help you improve and win more often in the future. Not only can it give things like expected losing runs as we have worked out below, but it can also help assess your true profitability and whether your staking plans are working. I recently ran a piece of analysis on my own betting that showed Yankee’s are much more profitable for me than each way doubles (excluding the famous four fold!). I also worked out that if I had stuck to win only bets over the jumps season rather than each way’s, I would be approximately 30 points better off. This types of analysis is invaluable for your betting. Not only this, but it helps keep you calm when things aren’t perhaps going your way, and you have had a few losers in a row. It may feel like you are just on a spiral downwards in terms of profit, but judging against long term results you may be in an extremely healthy position. This again helps to mitigate against changing your process/staking plan when you really don’t need to.


Summing up


As we have shown, losing runs are part of any kind of sports betting. No matter how much of a genius you are, or your tipster is, you will have periods where losing is a more regular feeling than winning. This is down to probability. However, by being prepared for this and keeping level headed throughout the winning and losing times, by sticking to well thought out staking plans, by assessing your betting regularly, and by not becoming influenced by “bad luck” or external variables on the track, you are giving yourself a platform for success in the long term, so the minor downturns should not be of huge concern. All of the above is something that I am constantly considering to help improve overall results and ensuring we stick to profitable methods, which, so far, has proved successful. Long may this continue. And as always, bet responsibly!


The Snout.

11 thoughts on “The Probability (and Psychology) of Losing

  1. A brilliant in depth statistical analysis, and the probability aspect is one to take into great consideration! From a tipping perspective if you believe a horse is overpriced and the odds will shorten nearer the start time is a more risk adverse approach to back the horse win only at the early price and then lay the bet on the exchanges near the off to guarantee returns and remove any probability of loss altogether? Obviously this would not work all the time, but I’ve seen it enough times from the TE tipping service that a pick has been assessed as overpriced so the ‘lay’ option could be highlighted within the tip (there’s a load of lay bet calculators on the web) if you think the price will drop significantly.

    1. Hi Sam, thanks for your comment! With regards to your point – yes, absolutely, and this is what plenty of people who are successful in the game do. However, if you think about it, if the “margin” is the difference between advised odds and SP, then there is no need to lay off in order to lock in profit as that laid off portion is effectively your longer term profit margin. So it would probably be a way of making your returns come through more consistently, rather than WLLLWLLLLLWWLL, if that makes sense. But as I said, plenty of people do the back to lay method and it works for them. Thanks for the comment!

      1. Thanks for your response and understand your point entirely. The only time I’ve gone down the lay bet route was in a Win Yankee on the final runner (Djakadam in the 2016 Gold Cup) to ensure returns were optimised as much as possible. Never approached it on a singles bet though as the place elements of an each way bet is what I perceive as being a means of hedgin the risk already. Great post and more of the same please!

      2. I see u said ur Yankees paid out was just wondering what you taught about Lucky 15 same principle but which would you reccomend please always 1.00 bet that works out 15.00 Euro and i myself do them to win. Which is the better bet to do .Sorry a point u made about punters blaming Jockey and Trainer First Day of Cheltenham all were Saying Ruby has lost it Willie Mullins had lost all his good Horses but it showed how fickle we all can be at times mate.

  2. Brilliant stuff, The only way you will ever learn either as a tipster or punter is to look through your results and analyse what works best and why within the sample size however large or small it is..

    I often read articles on various tipsters and always the focus is on Profit and ROI, This is wrong, Even though the aim is to make a profit and this is what we all want, It’s your Strike Rate that you should be focusing on, You may say what has that got to do with anything, Well it’s actually the “Boss” of everything..

    (A) As this article brillianty pointed out at the top, Its your Strike Rate that determines periods of losing sequences/runs etc, When you go on a losing run dont think about the horse losing or the jockey giving a bad ride, Its just your Strike Rate performing under expectation, Horse Racing is tougher than most sports from a betting perspective as there are way more variables to contend with, But it is definately the most profitable if you are good enough to beat it…

    (B) “The Mental Game”, When betting for a living or to make xx extra per year, if you are unable to conquer this you wont survive as you will deviate, Strike Rate helps with this, If you operate within the mindset of “My SR is xx and this is normal during a losing period” you wont deviate and all of a sudden things will get back to normal taking into account your past data.. If employing this type of mindset it helps to seperate you from the emotional aspect of betting as unfortunately there will be more lows than highs because of all the variables we have to contend with day to day…

    Fair play for writing up this article as you can see the effort put into it, Needs to be more stuff like this on the Net especially for newcomers to the game, As with anything, you are better off having some sort of an idea of what you are getting into than having no idea at all…

    Cheers again for this

  3. Good article. Downturns are inevitable. I’d say the best way to mitigate a downturn in any area is to have a portfolio of systems that make proven long term money, and obviously correct staking – enough capital in the first place to withstand the worst conceivable run.

  4. A really good article. As someone drawn to racing multipes, it is a timely reminder for me of the huge probabilities involved & a motivation to reconsider my staking plan & method.

  5. Hi

    Fantastic article. I have learnt plenty from this.

    Can you clarify how you worked out:

    1 of them winning: 32.8%
    2 of them winning: 7.29%
    3 of them winning: 0.81%
    4 of them winning: 0.045%

    1. Hi John,

      Thank you for the feedback! And of course. You are simply multiplying the probabilities of each event happening. So, with 1 of them winning (10%), the formula is:

      10% * 90% * 90% * 90% * 90% = 6.56%

      And then multiply this by the number of variations that could happen. So, as horse 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 could win with the others losing, there is 5 possible potential outcomes. This means you multiply 6.56% by 5 which becomes 32.8%.

      The process is the same for 2 of them winning etc, but be careful with the final bit as the number of potential permutations changes.


      The Snout

  6. This is such an excellent piece of writing and really a must read for anyone, from casual punter to pro-gambler. I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet of my betting lately and while it can be a bit depressing to see the losing runs pop up, it’s a great way to keep things under control and to keep an overview of how you’re doing.

    Anyway, great Kudos to The Snout for the effort put into this, great read and hopefully we’ll see more ont his sort of subject.

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