6. WAGERING TO WIN, PLACE AND SHOW

 

If you knew the abilities of the players as well as the Fronton's Matchmaker, how would you bet? The answer depends on what post positions the players are assigned and what odds are offered.

 

POST POSITION ADJUSTMENTS
In Chapter 4, I explained how I assign all players numerical ratings, generally from 7 to 17. In doubles games, I simply use the sum of the individual partners' ratings to get a team score. This assumes that the frontcourt man is as important as the backcourt man and that a team with two 12-rated players is as good as one with a 10-rated man combined with a 14-rated player. In other words, it assumes that the skill of the team is solely related to the sum of the partners' skill indices.

In extreme cases, this may not be true. For example if you see a team with an exceptionally strong player coupled with one of the weaker players, their opponents will try to keep the ball away from the star, working on the weaker man instead. But these situations are not so frequent as to invalidate the general assumption.

More important, as was discussed, certain players complement each other so well as partners that their strength as a team is greater than the sum of their combined numerical ratings. I handle this by mentally adding one to three bonus points to a team's rating if I know they play better with each other than with most other partners. This is not a point to treat casually. Points are won by good team play. If you know that two men play very well together, this is a very important edge for you. This type of knowledge is hard to come by. Don't go overboard on this, however. You can go broke betting on teams that have had a slightly higher than average win frequency. When you find two men who really play well as a team, like Bolivar and Lecue in Hartford, everyone in the house will probably be betting them down to unacceptably low odds. What I do is rate teams without any team bonus points, then use team records to break ties or near-ties. If you assign ratings taking ability to play with different types of partners into account, you will find that the number of instances where the team rating of two players is greater than their individual ratings is small.

Be all that as it may, what is the importance of post position, once team ratings have been established?

To start off, we will compare the actual frequency with which each post position wins (based on over 15,000 actual games at six different frontons) to what the computer predicts would happen if all teams were identical in ability (i.e., if the chances of any team versus any other team were exactly 50-50 on every point)

Post Position Actual Win % Win % if Skills Equal Difference
1 13.5 % 16.5 % - 2 %
2 15.5 17.5 - 2
3 12.5 14.5 - 2
4 11.5 12.5 - 1
5 11.5 10 + 1.5
6 11.5 9.5 + 2
7 11 8.5 + 2.5
8 13 11 + 2
  100 % 100 %  

The reason for the significant differences is that the teams do not have equal skills. The stronger players are usually assigned to the worst post positions. As can be seen, Post Position 2 is the most valuable, followed in order by 1, 3, 4, 8, 5, 6 and 7 (least valuable). Post 2 is slightly better than 1 due to the fact that Team 1 always serves to Team 2 for the opening point of each game. But why the last team to get a chance to play (Team 8) should be in a more advantageous position than those in Posts 5, 6 and 7 is not so immediately obvious.

The answer lies in the rules of scoring. Remember that under Spectacular Seven scoring, points double starting with round 2. While it is a disadvantage to be last up in round 1, it is a big advantage to be first up in round 2. If Team 8 wins their point in round one (which they should about half the time), they only need three wins in round 2 to score 7 points and a victory.

Looking at it another way, how many consecutive wins does a team need to throw a perfect game? Teams 1, 2 and 3 need seven wins in a row. Teams 4 and 5 need six wins in a row; Teams 6 and 7 need five straight. The fact that Team 8 only needs four consecutive wins for a perfect game goes a long way toward offsetting the fact that it is the last to play. If Team 8 wins its first point, its chances of ultimately winning the game double, according to the computer.

The method of determining adjustments to team ratings to reflect post positions may be of interest. We knew what the computer had calculated the win frequencies of each post position would be if all teams had identical skill indices. Then we asked the computer what team skill indices would there have to be in each post position in order for all posts to win with approximately the same frequency. The differences between the constant skill indices and those needed to produce constant win percentages represent the handicaps (i.e., effective modifications of skill indices) for each post position. * The arithmetic is shown below.

Post
Position

Constant Skills

Variable Skills
Handicap
= Col (2) - Col (4)
Index Win % Index Win %
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)
1 20 16.5 % 20 12.5 % 0
2 20 17.5 19 12.5 + 1
3 20 14,5 22 12.5 - 2
4 20 12.5 24 12.5 - 4
5 20 10 27 12.5 - 7
6 20 9.5 27 12.5 - 7
7 20 8.5 28 12.5 - 8
8 20 11 24 12.5 - 4
   

100 %
 

100 %
 


* Note that these are for doubles games using Spectacular Seven scoring only. Since the significance of the serve is reversed in singles, these handicaps do not apply to singles games.

 

USING THE HANDICAP ADJUSTMENTS
One way to wager would be simply to evaluate each team, add or subtract the post position adjustments, and bet the team with the highest adjusted score. I find that this produces slightly more than one winner per 6 games, a high proportion of success. However, you don't need a computer to tell you to bet the stronger teams when they are in the better post positions. This approach concentrates your bets in the popular low-number post positions, resulting in an average payoff of a little over $12. While the combination of 1 winner out of 6 and an average return of $12 shows an overall betting profit using this approach, it is too small
* to be reliable or worth the effort.


* In an actual test of 500 games I came out with a profit of only 5%, or $50 (based on $2 Win bets on each game).

It is better than just betting on the favorite in each game, however. Favorites also win an average of one game out of six, but the average payoff on winning favorites is only $9. That results in a 25% loss, significantly worse than the results you would get betting at random. This means betting favorites to win in jai-alai is a very poor strategy. The reverse is true in horse racing where favorites win about one race out of 3 and a strategy of betting favorites, although it does not produce an overall profit, does cut one's expected losses in half. *


* For a discussion of this, see page 40 of Ainslie's Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Racing by Tom Ainslie, Trident Press, New York, 1968

 

BETTING TO WIN
How then should the smart bettor place his Win bets? The answer is that he shouldn't.

Before I tell you why not, let me tell you how to make a nice profit on Win bets. First you rate all the teams, ignoring any post position adjustments. You bet the highest rated team, depending on its post position, as long as the odds are as good or better than those shown in the table below.

Post
Position
Minimum
Acceptable
Odds
1 4 to 1
2 4 to 1
3 9 to 2
4 5 to 1
5 6 to 1
6 6 to 1
7 7 to 1
8 5 to 1

Many experts advise not betting unless you get at least 7-1 odds on your selection. However, our computer analysis assumes that your selection is the highest rated and that the average strength of the teams in the other seven post positions is distributed in fairly normal fashion, with the stronger teams in the later post positions. The computer tells us that it is profitable to accept less than 7-1 in most situations, if you have the strongest team, as long as the odds are not lower than indicated. *


* In the case of a tie, play the team with the highest odds above the minimum acceptable odds.

Tests indicate that this approach will produce a 10%-20% profit, assuming your evaluation of player and team skill ratings is reasonably on target. But why then shouldn't the smart bettor bet this way?

 

THE WIN POOL
The problem is that the Win pool just is not big enough to handle anything but the most nominal bet. When the odds are attractive, you bet ... that is the concept. But when you bet, your wager goes into the pool and becomes part of the calculation of the odds from then on.

When the total amount of money in any betting pool is large, your own wager hardly makes a ripple in the odds. Let's go back to the odds calculations in the example in Chapter 2. In the actual game illustrated, there was $2,010 bet to Win, ranging from a low of $176 on Team 4 to a high of $330 on Team 3.

Note that in that game the odds equaled or exceeded our minimum acceptable standards for Teams 1, 2, 4, 5 and 8, but did not for Teams 3, 6 and 7. (It would not be possible for the odds on all eight entries to be acceptable because of the effect of the "take" which was explained in Chapter 2.)

Suppose you felt that Team 5 was the strongest team. If you had bet $2, the total amount bet on Team 5 would have been increased from $238 to $240, and the total wagered to Win on the game would have gone from $2,010 to $2,012. This would have affected the odds on #5 this way.

$2,012 (less 17%) - $240, divided by $240, yields odds of 5.96 to 1. This is rounded to 5.9 to 1 which is slightly less than the minimum acceptable odds of 6-1, but not by enough to worry about. But suppose you had made a $20 bet on #5, hardly a staggering sum. Now the odds would be lowered even more. The arithmetic would be:

($2,030 - 17% of $2,030) -$258, divided by $258 = 5.53

In other words, this additional bet of $20 would result in unrounded odds of 5.53 to 1. This is rounded to 5.5 to 1. On a $20 bet, if you had won, you would have collected only $130 rather than the $140 you would have gotten at the minimum acceptable odds of 6.0 to 1. The difference of $10 may not seem like much, but it is a 7% reduction in your payoff. You are already giving up 17% * to the "take." Another 7% is "too much." It represents between 1/3 and 2/3 of your profit margin if you are working on a 10%-20% return.


* 18% in Connecticut after July 1, 1977.

What can the smart bettor do? The answer is to bet in the larger pools (Quinielas and Perfectas) where you still can make rational selections and wagers without seeing your own betting action seriously cut into your odds. The Perfecta pool is usually about three times the size of the Win pool; the Quiniela pool is around nine times the size of the Win pool. Furthermore, since the usual procedure is to spread your total wager over more than one combination in those pools, your own betting has only a nominal impact on the odds if you bet Perfectas and Quinielas instead of straight Win bets. For example, instead of betting $20 to Win, consider a Perfecta wheel with your selection to win on top. This will cost you $21, but should produce the same average return on investment that a straight Win bet would (if you could bet $20 to Win without affecting the odds).

Therefore, you should bet "straight" to Win only if you are going to be a $2 bettor. Assuming some people will prefer betting to Win anyway, if for no other reason than it is simpler, I want to touch briefly on two other points.

 

SINGLE POINT SCORING
Everything in this chapter so far has been oriented around Spectacular Seven scoring. What do you do about the 12th Game on the evening programs at Bridgeport? Currently that is the only instance in Connecticut of a game where all points are scored one at a time.

In Single Point scoring, Post 8 is at the worst disadvantage. The post position adjustments vary quite significantly from those used in Spectacular Seven scoring. The two sets of adjustments are shown below.

Post
Position

Scoring System
Spectacular 7 Single Point
1   0   0
2 + 1 + 1
3 - 2 - 1
4 - 4 - 2
5 - 7 - 3
6 - 7 - 4
7 - 8 - 5
8 - 4 - 6

 

SINGLES GAMES
Singles games have a much lower luck factor than doubles games. Thus, the player who is "in the groove" often wins by stringing together consecutive points in either the first or second round. This is aided by the fact that the serve is an advantage rather than a disadvantage in singles play.

For these reasons I do not worry as much about post position in singles games. Picking the strongest player(s) is far more important than worrying about post position. The approach I take to handicapping singles games was discussed in Chapter 4. Specific examples will be examined in Chapter 8.

 

PLACE AND SHOW
If you want to go to jai-alai for the entertainment value rather than the gambling, but still would like to have the added excitement of a modest wager on each game without the risk of losing much, then Place and Show betting is for you. Otherwise, it is recommended only for the timid.

Betting on second and third place is bad for two reasons. First, the payoffs are small. You can't lose much, but you can't make much either. Second, you have to bet without knowing the odds. Smart gamblers don't bet without knowing what they stand to be paid if they win.

Because the Place and Show pools are small and the odds unknown, strange payoffs are common. "Strange" may mean exceptionally high or low. You never know, because you are buying a pig in a poke when you purchase one of these tickets.

If you still want to bet this way, here is a "tip." Earlier I said that betting on favorites to win is a bad strategy because of the low odds. In the Place and Show pools, however, teams which are at short odds to win don't seem to attract as much money.

For example, the average Win payoff on all teams which win at odds of less than 9-2 is $9.60. From this you would expect an average Place payoff of about $4.80 and an average Show payoff of $3.20. The actual average Place and Show payoffs are $5.50 and $4.00, respectively. Therefore, if you "must" bet short-priced teams, you will do better betting them to place or show than to win. I still can't recommend this as a way to satisfactory profits though.