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The Timeform Knowledge: Cognitive Biases and Psychology of Betting

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The latest edition of The Timeform Knowledge looks at cognitive biases and the psychology of betting.

It is difficult to be involved in betting for any length of time and to any degree of seriousness without considering the role played in the activity by cognitive biases and psychology.

Unless you hand over all betting responsibility to algorithms and “bots” (robotic software), or to another human – the doing of which involves making a choice in itself – the unavoidable fact is that you will have to make decisions, and those decisions will be influenced by the way in which you think.

The betting edifice is, as we are often reminded, a broad one. It caters for the highly rational and serious to the superstitious and purely recreational. Even highly rational bettors are prone to so-called cognitive biases, or instinctive deviations from rationality: it is part and parcel of being human.  

It is possible to train yourself to overcome these biases to a greater or lesser degree, and if you want to be a serious bettor then that is recommended. But perhaps the first step is to understand what those biases are.

The following is a by-no-means-exhaustive list of the cognitive biases and heuristics which tend to affect horseracing bettors more than others. Most of them are recognised in the field of psychology (with thanks to Wikipedia), but some of them have been adapted for this module.

Cognitive Biases and Heuristics in Horse RacingKnowing about cognitive biases, and training yourself to avoid them, or to use them to your advantage, is one thing, but avoiding the psychology of betting more widely is impossible. We are all human and have preferences for security or risk, or capacities for instinctive or rational thought, that are deeply ingrained and specific to us.

It is easier to change one’s specific behaviours than to change oneself.

When all is said and done, it may well be best to engage with betting in a manner which plays to your existing strengths, rather than to try to change what those strengths are. This is a message that comes through loud and clear from many successful bettors.

If you are the sort of person who requires regular positive reinforcement, then backing 33/1 shots once or twice a week may not be for you if you want to avoid becoming a nervous wreck.

On the other hand, if you have the sort of temperament and self-belief which are not rattled by long losing runs then you may find you are well suited to siding with horses at big odds that others tend to ignore and/or misprice.

Working outside your psychological comfort zone may well result in you making bad decisions when things do not go well, or even when they go too well. To err is human. But erring is likely to happen less if you are in control and feel comfortable with what it is you are doing.

“Cognitive Biases and the Psychology of Betting” could easily run to tens of thousands of words, and the above is intended only to whet the appetite for what is a fascinating subject. Anyone wishing to learn more about cognition in general could do a lot worse than read “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman.

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NEWMARKET (ROWLEY) 15:50

Wednesday 20 October
2. BASHKIROVA 106p
Tom Marquand silk Tom Marquand
William Haggas
4. STATE OCCASION 105
Rob Hornby silk Rob Hornby horse for course
Ralph Beckett hot trainer
10. WIDAAD 104
Nicola Currie silk Nicola Currie horse for course
George Boughey hot trainer
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LATEST HORSE RACING RESULTS

20:30 KEMPTON PARK

1st Ben Sanderson silk 7. ANGELS LANDING (IRE) 20/121
2nd Jason Watson silk 1 9. ARRANGE (IRE) 14/115
3rd Joe Fanning silk 5. COUPE DE CHAMPAGNE (GER) 14/115
J: Ben Sanderson (3)  
T: Ian Williams  
13 ran. NRs: 14 
FULL RESULT

20:00 KEMPTON PARK

1st George Rooke silk 13. BASCULE (FR) 10/111
2nd Richard Kingscote silk 12. DIAMOND BAY 3/14
3rd Rossa Ryan silk 14. SARATOGA GOLD 20/121
J: George Rooke (3)  
13 ran. NRs: 7 
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19:30 KEMPTON PARK

1st Daniel Muscutt silk 7. MELLYS FLYER 9/25.5
2nd Oisin Murphy silk 4. KINGSHOLM (IRE) 11/43.75f
3rd Charles Bishop silk 3 1. KENDERGARTEN KOP (IRE) 17/29.5
T: George Scott  
11 ran. NRs: 10 
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19:00 KEMPTON PARK

1st Hector Crouch silk 1. WHOPUTFIFTYINYOU (IRE) 13/82.62
2nd Joe Fanning silk ½ 8. SHARESA (IRE) 4/15
3rd Oisin Murphy silk 2. ANTIPHON (IRE) 10/111.9f
T: Clive Cox  
All 8 ran.
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18:30 KEMPTON PARK

1st Rossa Ryan silk 3. BUSBY (IRE) 10/34.33jf
2nd Oisin Murphy silk 5. HEADLEY GEORGE (IRE) 4/15
3rd Rob Hornby silk ¾ 7. HELLAVAPACE 11/112
J: Rossa Ryan  
T: Philip Kirby  
All 14 ran.
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18:00 KEMPTON PARK

1st Thore Hammer Hansen silk 11. EPIC EXPRESS 9/25.5
2nd Louis Steward silk ¾ 2. BEARWITH 5/42.25f
3rd Oisin Murphy silk 8. DIAMONDS AT DUSK 14/115
T: Chris Dwyer  
13 ran. NRs: 1 
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17:40 NEWCASTLE

1st David Allan silk 9. BIRKENHEAD 5/16jf
2nd Paul Mulrennan silk hd 12. LORD OF THE GLEN 6/17
3rd Theodore Ladd silk 6. FOR PEAT'S SAKE 18/119
J: David Allan  
T: Les Eyre  
12 ran. NRs: 14  4 
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17:30 KEMPTON PARK

1st Adam Farragher silk 1. HURRY UP HEDLEY (IRE) 1/12f
2nd Silvestre De Sousa silk sh 3. AURELIA GOLD 7/18
3rd Pat Cosgrave silk ¾ 9. MIDGETONAMISSION (IRE) 17/29.5
J: Adam Farragher (5)  
All 14 ran.
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17:23 YARMOUTH

1st Martin Dwyer silk 5. SHECANDOO 14/115
2nd Jamie Spencer silk 2 2. SHAMAROUSKI (IRE) 11/43.75f
3rd George Wood silk ns 4. MISS BELLA BRAND 7/24.5
J: Martin Dwyer  
T: Conrad Allen  
13 ran. NRs: 13  14  15 
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