Facing the Troughs

Punting can be like ocean sailing. Sometimes everything is rolling along smoothly; the wind might be partly in our faces, but we can still feel and enjoy the sensation of moving towards our goal, whatever that might be.

We might have periods where we seem to be in that section of the ocean called the Doldrums, where no progress is made for weeks at a time. There’s no wind on the ocean, and no results of any great import going into or out of our bank; we’re just lolling along, going gently up and down on what could hardly be called waves.

Boredom is our enemy here, just as it was for the old-time sailors who got becalmed in these areas. Sometimes in those situations, the crew would start to murmur about mutiny; citing the captain’s apparent lack of seamanship; or just as bad, begin fighting among themselves over what was the best thing to do. Often the rations would start to get low, as the period of stagnation lasted longer than anticipated, and they began to seek desperately for any way out of the trap.

Often when punting, we discover these same pitfalls. Frustration at lack of positive results causes us to make hurried decisions about changing our methods of selection, or our staking plans. It would be a rare punter who could honestly say they’d never become victim to any of these attention-diverting situations. When we do, it’s all too easy to find our financial rations dwindling, as our ‘nothing’s happening’ trot seems to drag on endlessly.

But as depressing as the Doldrums can be, they’re not likely to cause the ultimate seafaring or punting disaster … shipwreck!

We are threatened with this unwelcome destiny when we find ourselves caught up in a storm. When this happens we can easily lose sight of not only our goal, but even the very rocks that may be threatening to dash our venture to pieces, as the waves get out of control, and our horizon shrinks to barely encompass our immediate surroundings. In punting terms, storms can come upon us if we get over-confident because we’ve been doing so well lately. They can also afflict us if we get warning signs, but decide to ignore them, or ‘laugh in the face of adversity’ as the saying goes. Sometimes however, a storm can hit us without any foolishness or poor judgement on our part; these things in punting terms are simply a part of life; just another reflection of the truism that ‘bad things can happen to good people’.

In seafaring terms, there are various strategies adopted when storms strike a sailing ship. A sea-anchor will be deployed, to slow the ship’s headlong rushes across the peaks and troughs, and keep it headed into the squall. The aim is to prevent the vessel broaching, or getting side-on to the wind, which makes capsizing a very dangerous likelihood. We might liken this to having a strategy of reducing our bets when several of our best prospects have come to nothing.

Perhaps we have a policy of betting extra when there’s a good overlay (normally to be recommended, if we usually bet level stakes, perhaps not so necessary if working a percentage of an increasing bank). Now we suddenly find that what were well-reasoned wagers have reduced our bank dramatically, perhaps even by 50% or more. It’s easy to panic, casting around for the best policy now that our carefully-laid plans have gone awry.

Do we carefully safeguard what we have left, or do we reason that “This can’t go on much longer, let’s crash our way out of it with a few head-down-through-the-next-few-waves type strokes”, hoping to quickly recover all or most of our losses?

The origin of the term cut-and-run stems from this situation. Contrary to its modern shadings of shoddiness or cowardice in facing a task, cutting-and-running is a rational response to an extremely threatening scenario. If the storm is dangerous enough, the captain will order the sea-anchor to be cut adrift, enabling the adoption of the tactic of running before the wind, rather than having the vessel swamped by waves which are moving faster than the ship. At this stage, survival becomes the issue, not the original destination. Those on board must confront each peak, and face each trough as they rush down its far side.

So how does this somewhat complex metaphor relate to our punting?

Some of the things we might do which don’t produce the outcome we want have already been mentioned. Chopping and changing our methods just because things don’t always go our way is a recipe for failure. So is staking large portions of a dwindling bank in the hope of a miraculously swift recovery.

Remembering what we found about Probabilities, we will realize that even though we may have rock-solid Strike Rates and very satisfactory Profit on Turnover (POT), our results can come in every conceivable combination of streaks. Even with a strike rate of one-in-four, straightforward mathematics will tell us that we are certain if we carry on long enough, to experience at least one losing streak as high as 22 from a sequence of 500 bets. (Just as waves in a storm seem innumerable and can come at us from what seems like every direction). We have to remain calm and focused, making rational decisions; we are the captains of our banks!

It would be nice if we got a winner every 4 or 5 bets, and place dividends even more regularly, but it just isn’t going to happen like that, ever. Not for any extended period, anyway. The best graph of our bank balance that we can aspire to will look like a jagged saw-tooth, but trending upwards. That is our goal.

Therefore we must plan that no matter what pattern our results might adopt, we are equipped to ride it out. If it looks as though despite all that, we’re still going to go broke during some storm, it’s time to realize that our plans may have been less judicious than we imagined, and we should stop, retaining our bank, until we have assessed what is wrong with our process.

We will eventually succeed if we accept that when we lose, it’s our fault. Some may reason that stopping may see us miss the winners that would have recovered it for us. That’s true, but if our staking has got us into a situation where we‘re in danger of losing our bank, it’s probably at least as likely that we’ll lose the rest of it. Remember the sailing metaphor: our goal at such a dire pass is to survive. Our original destination is secondary. If or when such reassessment becomes necessary, it is best not to even look to see what would have happened, and then we won’t be tortured by doubt. Reassess, and then return to the fray, this time with a plan that will withstand the storms.

For example, if we bet 10% of our bank on each event (very, even foolhardily aggressive), it will take about 33 consecutive losing bets to reduce the bank to the point where it would be quicker to earn another, than try to win it back. This figure extends to 62 bets for a 5% stake, or about 150 bets for 2%.

Armed with this knowledge, we should be equipped, the next time we find ourselves in the midst of a punting storm, to ride it out. We will have faced our troughs (even if we got a bit soaked the first time), but we will have survived.