Talking Betting With......The Sultan
How do you become successful betting and trading on tennis? As we head toward the French Open, today on the blog we continue our Talking Betting series as writer of the Centre Court Trading blog, The Sultan offers us some tips for successful and profitable tennis betting and trading.
How did you start out betting/trading?
Unlike most people involved with trading, I had no background at all in gambling when I first discovered Betfair. I'd never played cards for money, I didn’t even have £1 on the Grand National each year and had only set foot inside a bookies once. I have a mate who loves a bet on the football and he coaxed me into having a tenner in Ladbrokes whilst he popped in. The bet lost (my first in almost 30 years on the planet!) and I vowed never to gamble again, so gutted was I!
A few years later, I found myself made redundant and in need of some cash. I'd just got a subscription to a sports channel and started having a few small punts on matches online, just to pass the time. At the same time, I discovered bookie bonus bagging and stumbled across Betfair. I made close to a grand just from matched betting and could see the potential in trading but as I was new to betting full-stop, I found it all a bit daunting. I am not a numbers man. I am much more of a word smith than a mathematician, a creative mind rather than a logical one. So I decided to stick to pure gambling and take advantage of the lay facility on Betfair. But I didn't really know what I was doing.
I became a 0-0 layer but ended up with huge losses. I gave LTD a go. Like everyone else, I bought The Football Cash Generator (£200 that set me back!) and thought I would soon be on the road to riches. That was doomed to failure too! I ended up in a massive hole because I made all the classic mistakes that new traders make: chasing losses, betting with money I shouldn’t have, not having any knowledge of value, not sticking to any strategy for long enough, not taking any notes........I was your classic Betfair loser.
But I could see the potential in trading, as opposed to gambling and I think it helped that I had never been a gambler because I didn't get a huge buzz from it and it wasn't ever something I wanted to pursue recreationally. I got into trading/betting to make money - that's it. If I could do it whilst watching something I loved since the age of 5, even better! I just needed to work out how to trade properly.
How long have you been betting on tennis for? Why did you start betting tennis in particular?
I've been trading tennis for 3 years. I decided to switch from football mostly because I was rubbish at it and was ready to give up! But I always felt like I was gambling, rather than proper trading. Football markets are so tight and efficient and lacking in dynamism, I couldn’t see where I could find an edge. Tennis was really a last resort after a couple of painful years staying up till 4am chasing losses on Copa Libertadores and MLS soccer. I could have told you anything you wished to know about the Bundesliga 2 or Japanese J-League but I had barely watched any tennis for years and couldn't tell you the names of more than 5 or 6 players.
However, I used to love playing and watching as a kid. As I hate horse racing, golf and US sports, it was really my only option left if I wanted to make it as a trader! I found that the dynamic nature of the tennis markets suited me much more than the slow, predictable football markets, so it was a great fit. Tennis markets are exciting, unpredictable, vibrant roller-coasters.
Above all, the sport hasn’t been ruined by money in the way football has. I'd almost gotten to the point where I hated football, I’d seen so much of it. Now, I struggle to sit through an entire match; the cheating, gamesmanship, uneven distribution of wealth and dull cliches have rendered it less entertaining to me. These days, I get most kicks from mocking football; @footballcliches and @usasoccerguy give me greater pleasure than the actual matches.
Tennis on the other hand, was still relatively new and I think I relished the chance to learn about and eventually love, a new sport. Also, it runs for 10 and a half months a year and unlike football (where you are scratching around for decent competitive matches to trade in the summer) the tournaments remain high quality right the way through and every week sees between 1 and 5 tournaments to trade - perfect for if you are considering going full time as it is rarely quiet.
When did you realise this was something you were good at?
A year ago. I already knew I had the knowledge of the tennis markets and the sport to become a successful trader but I didn't have the perfect mindset or a strategy that I was 100'% happy with. Then, February 2012, it all finally clicked into place and I started making good profit. I haven't had a losing month since.
Six months earlier, I began a complete overhaul of my tennis strategy. I had struggled for 18 months and just wasn't getting anywhere. Ironically, it was the introduction of the super premium charge that forced me into action and eventual success. The tennis markets changed (albeit only for a few months) as the big players left, leaving us smaller fry fighting over scraps - I was finding it much harder to get matched.
Truth be told, I had never felt comfortable with what I was doing anyway but this now was the last straw and it sparked a new injection of work ethic within me because I knew if I didn't change, it was all over. I learnt about value, read blogs more deeply, downloaded more trading literature, took more detailed notes and began looking at entirely new angles that I had previously ignored. In particular, I worked on psychology more, thinking up plans to combat my terrible mindset issues. It was that 6 months of hard graft which eventually resulted in a full year of profitability for the first time in 2012. I've a long way to go before I consider myself truly successful but I am confident in my ability to consistently make money now.
How would you describe yourself as a bettor/trader?
Emotional! I realised a year or so ago that I am never going to be one of these stone-cold, stoic, robots that are supposedly the holy grail of what a trader should be. I don’t actually subscribe to that belief.
We cannot deny our emotions, only suppress them. I am always going to be pissed off when I lose a trade because that's just the way I am - a perfectionist. The difference between me as a successful trader and me as a losing trader, is that I don't let my emotions rule my decision making any more. I no longer become overwhelmed by anger or fear or greed. Those emotions are still there (mostly just anger these days!) but they don’t affect my trading.
I still get pissed off when a player sends a simple smash into the net or I miss a huge market move by one point and if you are in the same room as me, you will know exactly what has happened! Emotions are not a bad thing in trading, you need to have them to some extent to keep you alert. Besides, I find letting out frustration much more beneficial than suppressing it inside. That's just storing up negative emotion and it has to come out some time - best to do it immediately rather than store up a volcano-load that can do serious damage when it blows!
A book by Curtis Faith 'Trading from Your Gut', was a key factor in defining my own style. It showed that you don't have to be a 'system' trader (more reliant on stats, trigger points and strict systems) to be successful. In fact, you need to have elements of a 'discretionary' trader, who tends to be more reliant on gut feeling and instinct. On the sliding scale, I am definitely much, much closer to the pure 'discretionary' trader. I don't have any databases or mathematical models and my strategy is fairly flexible and allows for game reading and instinct to take precedence.
On the technical side of things, I am a value trader. I look for prices in-play predominantly, that I believe are out of line with what they should be. It's my opinion that very few tennis matches hold real value pre-match. But the beauty of in-play trading, is that people's emotions come into play a lot more and too much emotion can cloud your judgement and cause people to make rash decisions. I aim to take advantage of those over-reactions.
What was your most disappointing loss and your greatest win?
My greatest win is probably my lay of Reading this season, when they were 4-0 up against Arsenal in the League Cup. Arsenal scored literally seconds after I placed the lay, so going in at half time 4-1 down, I knew I had a serious chance of getting a huge payout. I fully intended to green up at 4-2 but the second goal didn’t come till about 20 mins to go, so I was forced into staying in the trade because I was barely in profit. They equalised in the dying seconds and I can tell you, I went mental in a way I haven't done for years!
I have so many disappointing losses its hard to keep track, so I will go with a moment instead! I often hark back on my blog, to a time I call 'The Dark Ages', which was when I first started blogging. I began with the usual verve and optimism, thought I'd be the envy of the trading world once I started raking in the cash for all to see.
The reality soon became a nightmare as within 2 months, I'd almost blown my bank of thousands but worse than that, I was a complete wreck. I'd become anxious every time I entered the market, couldn’t bear to be in the same room as the laptop to watch matches unfold (invariably, against me) and my anger levels were so high that I would see red on a daily basis, completely losing all sense of rationality and slapping down stupid bets to chase losses. I couldn't sleep at night and my heart was beating out of my chest for 8+ hours a day. It was truly horrible and I'm afraid that is the ugly side of turning 'pro' - I wasn't anywhere near ready to do so and paid the consequence.
Those 'Dark Ages' eventually lead to better bank management and an upturn in fortune but I'll never forget how awful I felt -I can't even if I tried, as it's all documented on the blog! But I think without that period, I wouldn’t have built up the following I have on the blog (readers seemed to appreciate my honesty) and wouldn't have the understanding I now have about the pitfalls of trading being your only source of income.
Have particular tournaments been more successful for you than others?
Not really. I treat every one the same; from Wimbledon to a tiny event in Colombia with no one inside the top 50 in the draw. It really makes no difference to my style of trading - value is value, no matter who is playing or where it is. I've had dreadful Grand Slams in the past and made more money in 250's, so it really just depends on what you are dealt on any given week and how you deal with it.
I don't choose what I trade based on what tournament it is, I choose based on the match up and whether I feel it will produce opportunities in-play.
If there were 3 things that are key to successful tennis betting/trading, what would they be?
Specifically focusing on tennis, the first would be knowing the markets. They can be extremely volatile and this scares a lot of traders. If you fear the market, you are always going to struggle. But you only get to that point where you are fearless, when you have studied them for long enough. It's not like football, where you know that the same pattern will occur every single time - a slow erosion in the price as time ticks on. With tennis, it is going to jump around and flip between players and at times, it will happen very quickly and in huge momentum shifts. You have to learn to be comfortable with that and that's something most traders never get to grips with. Yet that is not to be feared because that is where the money lies in tennis trading.
Secondly, you need to know your players. You can look at stats till you are blue in the face but they will never give you a complete picture. Watching matches and getting a feel for each individual player is vital. The more you know, the better. Limiting yourself to just the top 10 will only get you so far - I'm pretty clued up on almost everyone inside the top 200, men and women. Get to know who plays well on which surface and in which tournaments, who tends to be more consistent in a match, who tends to be more streaky, who tends to give away their serve after breaking, who will fight harder when they are behind, who often starts slowly etc. Look for little personal habits that often signal whether a player is struggling or just not up for the fight and those signs that a player is confident. You get to know from the way a player walks around the court, the way they show frustration, the way they strike the ball, facial expressions, how they are likely to perform and those are things that the market doesn't necessarily pick up on.
Thirdly, I would say have patience. This goes for any sport you trade but having spent a fair bit of time on Twitter over the past year, it has confirmed what I already had an inkling about - that the average tennis trader has little or no patience. Everyone seems to need to be 'on' someone at the start of a match. Many traders seem to be involved in a game from start to finish, dipping in and out and changing position constantly. OK, maybe that is their suitable style of trading and if so, they should stick with that but I'm convinced that too many people are desperate to be involved so that they don’t miss out, when I would say that waiting and being patient is far more likely to reap rewards.
I don’t think this is a trading issue though, it's a personal / societal issue. We all want everything NOW in this consumer age. Everyone is busy and has little time to fit what we want to do into the day and as a consequence, very few people have any patience. Yet it's a quality that is VITAL in trading; the ability to wait and only enter the market when there is real value plus the ability to think long term and slowly build a bank. I didn’t have it until very recently and if I had, it would've saved me years of learning and no small amount of money. I always say to myself now "There is always another match just around the corner" and it helps to keep me patient because there really is always another match on within a matter of hours. With tennis in particular, there is no need to always be getting involved so early because there are loads of matches on almost every day and plenty of momentum shifts in many of them.
In general what stats are important in assessing the form of a player?
This is where my views will no doubt cause some controversy but I don't really take into account any in-depth stats. That's partly because most stats analysis bores me to tears and so I refuse to do any but also because I think there is no substitute for actually watching matches, even when you aren't involved in the market. When I first started trading, I looked at stats far more than I do now but soon realised that they are just as likely to go out of the window once the match starts, than be any use. I'm sure many traders will disagree with me and use them religiously to determine their every move in the market (those will be the pure 'system' traders I mentioned earlier) but I don’t and I do alright! If you want to really assess a player's form, watch them play - you can pick up far more in body language and style of play, than from numbers after the fact.
Match stats can give you an indication of how well they played but they don’t always tell the full story. If a player converts only 2 of 10 break points (BPs), it looks like they struggle on big points but what if those BPs were in just 2 games? They still broke in both games they had BPs. Stats won’t normally show you that. Certain stats can be manipulated to suit what a trader is looking for and I think that's something we all have done at some point. Some wins can look better than they actually were, on paper. If I've not seen a player actually play recently, I can usually gauge by who they've beaten and the scoreline, just how good their form is (though this is only something I've acquired through thousands of hours of watching tennis). Going any further and looking at serving percentages and net points won and BPs saved has little influence on my style of trading but it might be a winning formula for someone else.
I believe that everyone should stick to their strong points when developing trading style and mine has always been reading players, not analysing stats.
Are there any players you are more wary of than others? Which players do you think are the most dependable?
I've heard of traders having 'blacklists' and players they won’t go near but it doesn't matter to me who is playing. Again, it's about knowing your players. If you know who the erratic, unpredictable ones are and get a feel for when they are on a good day or bad day (or good spell within a game or a bad one) then you have no one to fear, in the same way you would no longer fear the market if you understand how it is likely to move. There are two broad categories of player: solid, reliable, consistent players who will fight hard in every match, no matter what is happening and erratic, unreliable, streaky players, who are just as likely to produce breath-taking tennis as they are to shank every single shot into the tramlines or the net. Most players will fall somewhere between the two extremes. Once you know who falls where, you get to eventually know how to read them on any given day.
Fernando Verdasco is always the male player I use as an example of your erratic player; one of the few players good enough to challenge Nadal on clay at his best, yet just as likely to get knocked out in round 1 by an unknown qualifier. He not only varies wildly from match to match but from point to point; he can break an opponent in spectacular style but then fail to hold serve straight afterwards with the most pitiful service game you've ever seen. You just have to know how to play him and adjust your position to take his individuality into account. Youhzny, Fognini, Wawrinka, Dolgopolov, Monfils, Mayer, Gulbis........all players in the Verdasco category. With the women, Goerges, Ivanovic, Kvitova, Cirstea, Stosur, Petrova, Barthel, Li Na spring to mind. I used to hate Verdasco because I never knew which version would turn up. These days, I can read him like a book and he has become one of my fave players to trade. Same with Sam Stosur.
On the other side of the coin, your dependable players would include Ferrer, Tipsarevic (when he doesn't retire!), Robredo, Simon, Nadal, Monaco, Del Potro, Berlocq, Nishikori, Seppi. With the women, Radwanska, Errani, Wozniacki, Bartoli, Pennetta, Medina-Garrigues, Kirilenko. All these players have off days and bad streaks of form but they will 9 times out of 10, put up a fight - you have to beat them because they rarely beat themselves. But being more dependable doesn't mean they are a better bet. You have to take into account the match up because that is what tennis is all about - match ups.
It also doesn’t mean they won't hit poor form. 2 years ago, Shahar Peer was one of the most reliable players on the WTA. These days, she can barely string two decent points together. Tipsarevic has been one of the most consistent performers over the last 2 years but this year, I am very wary of him as his form has really dipped. The fight is still there but it doesn’t mean anything if you lack confidence. On the flip side, Gasquet has become extremely reliable in recent months and I would no longer have him in the Verdasco category. So you can't just simply box players into 'dependable' and 'undependable' indefinitely. Things can change rapidly in tennis and you have to be aware of that.
How do you see tennis betting/trader in the future? And what are your personal ambitions?
It's my opinion that the tennis markets are pretty mature now, so don’t foresee them changing much unless the game itself changes. That could happen; courts now are much slower across the board than a few years ago and return games are stronger because of this. It definitely seems that players struggle to hold serve as easily as they did. That could also be down to ball and racquet technology as well as improvements in fitness. Within the industry, I hope to see more tennis liquidity on Betdaq in-play. It happened once (back in 2011 following the super premium charge) so it's not impossible but I fear it may take more than the Ladbrokes take-over to really get things moving.
Personal ambitions: I've never sought to be rich from trading, only to either make a comfortable wage or to find opportunities to become involved in, something within the trading industry. With the hard work I've put in and experience I now have, I think it would be a shame to just quit and leave the trading scene entirely (as I've considered recently) but I'm less certain about exactly what I should do. I don't think I'd want to be reliant on my own trading forever, so I'd like to get my fingers into other pies.
Having my own blog has opened up a few interesting opportunities for me but only one truly excited me; when I was asked to trade on behalf of a syndicate. I would love to have that kind of opportunity again (it was pulled after a month, despite me making a good profit) but until that happens, I will continue to slog away on the ladders every week and see where it gets me.
I will also continue to blog. Posts have dried up this year but I may well be taking 'Centre Court Trading' in another direction (maybe even back to an old direction of daily posts). I've loved having a blog these last 2 years and don't want to retire it but I think I need a fresh angle or a new challenge to kick-start it and my trading as a whole. I'm still at a cross-roads right now and need to make decisions about exactly where to go with everything but I definitely am not ready to walk away from trading just yet.
If you were going to give one key bit of advice for anyone wanting to start out on betting/trading tennis, what would it be?
I answered this earlier - be patient! That's the biggest advice I would give for ANY trader. Don’t expect to make any money at all for months if not years (in fact, you should expect to LOSE money at first) because it will take years to learn your craft.
But if I could give another tennis-specific bit of advice other than the above, it would be that the tennis markets have changed from 2 or 3 years ago, when I first started. Techniques that were popular then, will not necessarily work now. Backing the server is not a great strategy any more. There was a time where everyone was doing this and it made it virtually impossible to get a reasonable number of ticks to make it worthwhile. The downside makes the risk-reward ratio very poor value. 15-40 is simply unworkable now - you will not get a big enough move on break point any more. Most of the market movement will have taken place earlier in the game. Scalping has always been a minefield but I doubt any serious long term traders use this technique anymore, unless they are court-siding. And if you aren't, you are at such a massive disadvantage to the courtsiders, that you are pretty much doomed anyway.
Learning about value is the best chance of finding an edge. The tennis markets are much more efficient now, so it's harder to profit unless you can spot value.
Look out for The Sultan's French Open analysis coming up on the blog in the lead up to the tournament. And if you're wondering which tennis tipsters to follow at bettingexpert, check out our Top 25 Most Profitable Tennis Tipsters.
Follow the Sultan on Twitter: @TennisSultan
And read more of his great work on his blog Centre Court Trading