Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Approaching a Super League game

I have recently had a couple of queries as to how I approach trading a rugby league game and whilst long time readers of the blog will be more than familiar with the central tenets of my strategy, it won’t hurt me to lay out some of my more general theories in one post.

Or rather two posts for I believe there are two main building blocks in my trading; namely how I approach the match when considering what could happen and how I look to trade the match.

Quite unlike most people, the number one difference I believe in my trading style is that I largely disregard form. Now, I don’t use spreadsheets or have ratings or anything like that. I just compare the strengths of the expected playing line ups in conjunction with any general believes I hold.

Now this may sound like a direct contradiction – how can I disregard form but stay true to general thoughts. Well, I shall try to explain although it may not make much sense.

I do not have specific results, but I can recall the fact that Brian Noble coached teams tend to perform well against Leeds. I can happily recall all the times that Warrington sides have beaten favourites and lost to underdogs or choked away seemingly unassailable leads to St Helens! This is something that I have observed over the past 10 years. Now, is there anything to back this up? Possibly. Possibly not. The truth is that is a theory that I have picked up over time which is also true with a general approach.

Whereas I consider form to be something different. Form to me is just the result of a previous random event and I consider that the markets overreact to an individual instance. For example, let us consider that fifteen kicks are made to the St Helens backline in a game with five going to Paul Wellens, five going to Ade Gardner and five going to Francis Meli. Imagine that Wellens drops 3 and Gardner and Meli drop 1 each.

All of a sudden should we consider that Paul Wellens is now the weakest of the backline at catching kicks? And what can we use from this information? Well, we do not know the nature of the kick. What if the kicks to Gardner and Meli were directional kicks with no pressure whereas Wellens was dealing with high balls and pressure?

“Form” is just a previous result with insufficient data to fully explain it. On the pitch, I believe that each individual action is a random event within the game and this is why I will usually look to lay favourites. Although each incident may be one random event,
I will tend to place my trust in observations of a more long term duration and I will always prefer my feelings to any statistics.

I don’t care that Team X hasn’t won at Ground Y since Year Z. They will have never played Team A at time B and in any case, does not each unsuccessful attempt merely bring you closer to success? If you throw enough mud….

So, if you look at a game and consider team A to have the stronger outfit and to possess a much stronger forward pack which will allow their halfbacks to control the game, you should ignore that they lost last week and that they haven’t won on this date for fifteen years.

However, not everyone believes this and it is definitely true that a side who has won three consecutive games will have more natural confidence and higher morale than their opponents who have lost six in a row.

My assertion in this instance is that the market overrates this impact and for this I would like to refer you to two matches last year that I believe are the gold standard for my way of thinking.

Round 23 – Super League

Bradford 2/7
Quins 7/2

The next week – Super League

Quins 8/13
Bradford 15/8

There are plenty of other instances of this. For example, Hull made a terrific start last year winning five from six. As a result, despite then going on a very bad run to finish 12th, the market seemed almost blind to their struggles at first – just referencing their initial results to support a conclusion that they were a good side.

In the above example, a side who were large underdogs become favourites in one week because the game is being played at a different ground and because they won their game in the previous week. I don’t want to say I told you so…

Which leads me into my second point which concerns “home advantage”. Now, I agree that there is definitely some benefit in having home advantage although I don’t know if it is as big an advantage as considered. Some teams prefer the routine involved in an away game, some teams dislike the travelling. Some players prefer to play in front of their own fans whilst others may prefer to be the “villain”.

Of course, another reason for home advantage is the impact some consider it has on the referee. I don’t buy this and much prefer to believe that refereeing decisions are, if anything, consciously evened up as opposed to being influenced by the crowd although I largely believe that all refereeing decisions are neutral and of themselves random. After all, you could penalise every tackle and every play the ball if you were so inclined.

Whereas home advantage gives a major shift in the odds which I believe is disproportionate. Of course, in a new year, this theory may prove to be incorrect but if anyone wants to have a look at the maths from 2009…

So, as you might be able to guess, in Week 23, I believe that the market grossly underestimated Harlequins’ ability to win and looked to support them. In week 24, I believe they went too far and supported Bradford. I am not concerned with who will win the game as who I perceive to offer the greater value.

So, what am I trying to say? In one easy to understand paragraph?

Analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the teams playing. Account for long held opinions and consider the true prices of each team’s chance of victory. Refer to variables such as possible weather conditions and the referee when considering value. Finally, look out for form / reputation / home advantage considerations which may skewer the prices available.

Anyone still reading would probably think that this post is completely useless. That I am making it up as I go along. And you may be true. After al, I consider the number one most important trait to have will be the ability to constantly switch opinions during the game. However, up to now anyway, this strategy appears to work for me and whilst you may not be more informed now, hopefully my next post, on various trading methods during the game will be of more use.

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