Saturday, 18 January 2014

Trading Places: Don't believe the hype

Over the past few weeks and months there has been an ever increasing focus on sport and gambling with various stories of scandal and corruption breaking in sports such as cricket and football among others. The latest of these stories centers around tennis, which is a sport that is immensely popular with the sports betting community at large, particularly in Europe.

Unfortunately amid all of the reporting have come a substantial amount of inaccuracies and falsehoods that do plenty of damage, paint darkened pictures and misinform the public at large. Perception is reality when it comes to the masses, but now it's time to give reality an opportunity to set the record straight.

With that in mind this article hopes to convey the ins and outs of the processes by which a bookmaker trades a tennis match. Much is written about how bookmakers work but often by people who have never been on the inside which creates confusion and allows myths to develop and grow.


The first thing we'll do is explain the difference in the term "trader" as it relates to sports betting. There are two types of trader, the professional trader who makes their income from trading their own matches on exchanges, and the book trader who is trading matches on behalf of a betting company for the company.

Professional traders can usually be found in one place - Betfair.

Betfair is a betting exchange that allows customers the opportunity to create their own prices and bet for or against something. It is where you can often receive the best price on a selection with the percentage of the book far closer to or at 100% than you will find with a bookmaker who have built in margins (or juice) that for a tennis match may range anywhere from 103-112%.

These traders will back and lay through a match constantly managing their positions in the market. It's the stock market for sports, buying low and selling high is the ideal. A trader may take a position before the match or find an entry point during the match and in all likelihood will at some point oppose that selection to ensure a profit no matter which player wins if the opportunity arises later in the match.

A book trader is employed by a betting company to manage their in-play markets. You'll see a cross section of some of the better known bookmakers in the odds list below and they will have anywhere from 30-100 traders working on a number of sports, some of them specialist in particular sports and others roaming between different sports trading departments.

Book traders will create the pricing for the in-play matches (matches which are traded live in-running as they happen), manage those prices during the entire course of the match from the first point to the last, manage the liabilities that the company is building up through the match and monitor the bets that are being placed on the match to look out for any possible irregular activity.

Concentration is a key ingredient for a book trader as he (trading departments are predominantly male) must be on top of things at all times in the market, while a professional trader may wish to be done with a match once they have positioned themselves with a green market (meaning a profit no matter who wins the match).


Above you'll find the general set-up for most traders at nearly all betting companies. As you'll notice it comprises of a four screen layout and access to two PCs.

In the bottom left hand screen you will find the trading application and to the right of that application in the same screen is the Enetpulse feed which we'll expand on shortly.

In the top left hand screen you'll find windows open to both the company website and that of other companies who were trading the same match. In addition the monitor in that same screen where you can see the little red and green dashes is what is used to monitor all bets that are taken on that particular match for £10 or more.

In the top right hand screen you'll find my Twitter feed and IPTV which has access to streams and stadium feeds for various sports all over the world that are often anywhere from 5-60 seconds faster than you will find on live TV.

On this particular occasion there was no use for the bottom right hand screen to trade and thus you see a commercial being played. It was probably on Sky Sports News with Natalie Sawyer presenting.

To see or not to see...

There is a huge demand from betting companies to trade as many events/matches as possible. Why? More matches, more turnover, more profit. Most bettors are not good ones. It's widely estimated that around 95-98% of the regular betting public are long term losing bettors with only a very select few skilled enough and disciplined enough to make a living out of such a profession. Don't let anyone tell you it's easy to make money from sports betting, it isn't. If it was you'd all be doing it.

Given that need it is with an ever increasing regularity that matches are traded without pictures, meaning without any live TV or streamed action through an external source. The matches are essentially traded blind. The key ingredient is a scout client feed, such as Enetpulse, to be able to transmit the current score of the match to the trading application, at which point the application will change the pricing based on the model being ran, but the trader must ensure the pricing is what he is comfortable with sending out, and if not, to tweak and adjust. Over the course a match there will be countless amounts of tweaking and adjusting to be done, although less during a match in which you don't have access to pictures as opposed to one you do.

Why? During a match where you have pictures you have the ability to impart your own influence on the prices as you can clearly see how the match is unfolding. You may wish to make a player a bigger or shorter price based on what you're seeing and adjust your pricing accordingly. There are limitations to how far you can go with this, for example you cannot offer a bigger price on a selection that exceeds the lay price on Betfair, as you'll be opening an 'arb'. An arb is when different companies are offering prices on opposing sides of a market at a percentage book less than 100%.

If you can back player A at one company at a price of 6/5 and back player B at a different company at 11/10 you will, if you stake correctly, ensure a guaranteed profit regardless of who wins the match. Bookmakers don't want such situations created as it puts them in a no win situation long term, even if the selection taken with them happens to lose during that one instance.

It's important to note, which some bettors seem to forget at times, that bookmakers are there to make money and it's the job of traders to protect as well as increase profits. Arbing is a sure fire way to soon having your account restricted or closed once it becomes clear through monitoring that you may be such a customer. So if you see an arb and you're not a professional arber - they exist - ask yourself whether attempting to take advantage of one you find is going to be worth it in the long run by your account being restricted. You may get away with it a few times but the more you do it the more likely your account will see some changes.

Scout clients

We've touched on Enetpulse, who are they and what do they provide exactly? They are the exclusive worldwide distributor of official live scoring tennis data for the ATP and WTA. That data comes directly from the umpire's chair through to the client feed which bookmakers have linked up to their trading applications.

How does the umpire send this data?

If you've ever wondered exactly what the umpire is pressing on his pad, well now you know. He's sending relevant information from the score to whether an ace, net or fault has been hit in a match and that is relayed straight to the client feed and on to in-play traders at bookmakers. The key aspect is its speed as the data is delivered within two seconds unless the umpire is sleeping on the job, which can happen from time to time, as Venus Williams and Karolina Sprem will recall at Wimbledon once.

On the subject of speed and its necessity and the battle between bookmaker and bettor to receive the fastest information possible, I refer you to Ian Dorward's recent and informed article on the courtsiding story that broke during the Australian Open.

To be clear, courtsiding has absolutely nothing to do with match fixing. Nothing at all. It has as much to do with match fixing as washing my hair later has to do with match fixing. Nothing.

You'll note Enetpulse don't cover ITF tournaments such as Grand Slams, Davis Cup and Fed Cup. This is an immense pain for a book trader as it means they must add points manually themselves which requires an upturn in concentration. Given I traded the Gilles Simon/Gael Monfils match during the 2013 Australian Open you can imagine how fun that was to be focused on waiting 71 shots just for one point to be completed.

Trading application

Above is an illustration of what a book trader sees on their trading application and the functions by which they manipulate to adjust and change the pricing of a match. The key aspect is the serve hold percentage function which derives the price at which a player is likely to hold their service game. Through these inputs the match betting price is created and all derivative markets related to the core match betting price are aligned from that such as handicap games betting. The other key aspect is the expectancy for the total games in the match which can be manipulated to be increased or decreased and also determines pricing for various derivative markets relating to the games in a particular set.

There is also the option to take specific control of upcoming sets if a trader needs to markedly change the pricing of an upcoming set because a player may be tanking the set being played to conserve energy for the latter stages should they be a long way behind. This is very important as if you don't pay attention well enough or indeed don't have pictures to begin with, there could be some value offered to bettors in your pricing for the following set.


Recently I read on Twitter from someone who is involved in anti-corruption of the sports variety that a £50,000 bet is nothing for a professional bettor. This is utter nonsense. There are a number of problems with such a claim. To begin with a professional bettor would never be able to get almost any bookmaker (possibly bar Pinnacle who claim to never turn away professional bettors, although they have limits to their markets like any company) in the regulated betting world to to take a £50,000 bet, even if the price was very short. It just wouldn't happen.

Every market has a max bet limit, a max win limit and a max liability limit. When you open an account with a bookmaker, unless you are in a part of the world such as Eastern Europe whose accounts are usually restricted to begin with until further monitored, you will usually be a stake factor 1.0/2.0. This means you can bet 1x the max bet limit for that selection, which may be from anywhere from £25 to a few thousand, it would depend on the sport and market involved.

For example you can place far bigger bets on the Premier League than you can on the swimming world championships. That's because the Premier League market is flooded with turnover and uneducated money whereas a sport such as swimming doesn't attract many bettors and the ones who are usually betting on it are quite well versed in that sport, often to a far higher degree than the bookmaker involved. Football is very popular in the betting world and swimming is very niche. The more niche a sport the less the limits available will be.

As an example, a £50 bet at 22/1 on Federica Pellegrini at the European Championships was rejected by this particular bookmaker, who was only willing to take on £10 at 22/1.

While a £50 bet at 22/1 on a Premier League market you'll find will be accepted without much or any fuss provided the customer isn't already on a restricted account.

When you read about massive sums of money being bet on sports events with bookmakers be assured that the customer is most likely a losing long term customer who is more than welcome to place his bets with that bookmaker. I have taken a few bets of over £50,000 during my trading days (maybe around 20 in a near 4 year span that covered over 3000 traded events in football and tennis), the most was £140,000 on Ana Ivanovic to beat Vavara Lepchenko at 10/11 in-play in Beijing in 2012 during the second set. Ivanovic would go on to win in three after saving a match point or two if memory serves me well.

The reason this bet was allowed was because the customer in question had a stake factor of 50.0. Meaning he would be allowed as much as up to 50 times the max bet allowed on that selection. Why would he be allowed such a huge bet? He was a long term losing customer who the company knew would eventually be beat in the long run on the basis of his betting patterns and his lack of price sensitivity. He won that day, but he lost on others, you win some, you lose some.

So next time you hear someone had a huge amount of money on a qualifying match at a Grand Slam with a bookmaker don't be alarmed. It's likely not part of a match fix but simply someone with more money than sense.

If you've reached the end of this article, my congratulations. Thanks for reading and don't believe the hype (unless it's coming from me of course!).


  1. Great article. How do I access IPTV for sports feeds?

  2. Great article, with insightful comments. Just wondering, what you're writing basically means that it is nigh on impossible for a professional bettor to earn very big money, as the bookmakers limit accounts (I have had that in some types of bets) and betfair has a premium charge that limits your earnings after £250k gained?

    Once one is proftiable enough online that the accounts get restricted, what would happen next? bet at street bookmakers?

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