7/2, 1/12, 1/2. 6/4 etc – See ‘odds’

Antepost – A bet placed before the day of the event. Unlike a normal bet where stakes are returned on ‘non-runners’, antepost bets tend to be ‘all in run or not’, i.e. the bet stands even if the selection does not take part in the event (usually a horse race but you can also have ante-post bets on, for example, next US president).

Back – To back something is to have a bet on it, if the bet wins you win. The opposite of to lay.

Betting exchanges – An interface where gamblers can match bets with each other, i.e. a place where one can offer bets to back or lay or back or lay bets other people have offered, thus cutting out the bookmaker. The exchange, in return for providing the interface, takes a percentage of the winnings. Betfair currently retains an all but monopolistic hold on the betting exchange market.

Bluff – In poker a bluff is an aggressive bet made with weak cards intended to convince your opponents to throw their superior cards away such that you win the ‘pot’. Players bluff for two reasons: Firstly, the obvious reason, to try to win a pot they would otherwise lose; secondly, and equally importantly, to create uncertainty in their opponents’ minds for future hands.

Form – The recent short-term results in a sport (generally taken, largely erroneously, to be highly predictive of the future), a contrast to ‘class’ (the underlying ability shown over the longer term that is far more predictive), as in ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’. This dichotomy is less true in sports such as horse-racing where improvement and decline are more linear – here ‘to study form’ is a good thing, theoretically taking in all previous results not just recent ones, a contrast to the research free methods of most punters.

Kelly Criterion – A mathematical formula, devised by Telecommunications engineer John L Kelly in 1956, that can be used to determine the stake for a bet (or an investment etc) that will provide the optimal growth rate to risk ratio. For various reasons (in particular the psychological difficulty in coping with the volatilty it implies) few gamblers actually use it though it is a good starting point for thinking about staking.

Lay – to lay something is to take a bet on it, if the bet wins you lose. The opposite of to back. In the past the punters backed and the bookmakers layed; with the advent of betting exchanges the general public can now back and/or lay. This is mostly a good thing though it does make it easier to profit from deliberately underperforming and as such has added to the problem of corruption particularly with regards to horse racing.

Multiple – A bet consisting of more than one selection. Should the first selection win, the return (profit plus stake) is bet on the next selection and so on until either a selection loses or all selections win. Generally struck in a spirit of greed rather than prudence but can sometimes be the way forward (for example ‘related multiples’ and ‘snidy each-way doubles’, of which more another time).

Odds – The prices offered by the bookmakers (and others). These tend to take one of two forms: fractional (e.g. 2/1) or decimal (e.g 3.0).  To give an example if a bookmaker offers 3/1 (or 4.0) on a horse a bet of £10 will win £30 for a total return of £40 (stake is returned on a winning bet). Thus 3/1 implies the horse should win 25% of the time or 1 time in every 4. A fuller discussion can be found in ‘Interpreting Odds’ on the top right hand side of the home page.

Off-course bookmakers – Bookies such as Ladbrokes or William Hill who take most of their bets offcourse – i.e. in betting shops, by phone or online.

On-course bookmakers – Bookies who lay bets at race courses. These tend to be individuals rather than large firms (though large firms do have on-course presences).

P&L – Profit and Loss; the amount you win or lose on a bet or on a collection of bets over a period of time.

Parimutuel – A parimutuel, or tote, system works by simply pooling all the stakes bet on an event, skimming a percentage off the top for the adminstrators of the pool, then sharing the remaining pot between the winners according to their stakes. Thus the amount bet on each selection determines its price. For example let’s say 5 people bet £10 and 5 people bet £30 making the total pool £200. Let’s say there is a 10% (i.e. £20) ‘administration charge’ leaving £180 to be shared among the winners. Let’s say just two punters (A, a £10 punter, and F, a £30 punter) have backed horse 1; between them they have bet £40 on the horse, the payout pot stands at £180, thus the price is 140/40 or 7/2. Should the horse win A will get a quarter of the pot (£45) and F three quarters (£135).

SP – In British bookmaking the Starting Price (or SP) of a horse (or greyhound) is determined by a rough averaging of on-course bookmakers’ prices at ‘the off’ (when the race starts). When placing a bet bettors can choose either to take the price available at the time they bet (if prices are available) or to take the SP. Generally if you don’t know what you’re doing you should take SP as most horses will be at their longest price at the off (bookmakers get more generous the closer it gets to the race, being more prepared to lay horses once the market has settled down and the chances they’ll get caught out by a gamble have receded). However once you know what you’re doing you  should usually take the price as you’re liable to be backing horses whose prices will shorten (i.e. horses that have been generously priced initially).

Value – A value bet is one with positive expected value (+EV) – expected value being the difference between what a bet costs (the market price) and what it is worth (the true price). A selection is value, in other words, if the market has underestimated its chances and is offering better than the true odds – 11/10 about heads on a coin toss, say, or 6/1 about rolling six with one roll of a die. The ability to identify value is the core skill required to win at gambling (along with the discipline to stick to backing value at all times) not, as most people naturally assume, the ability to spot the most likely winner.


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