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Cricket news - Professional betting and how it works during IPL

Teams like Mumbai Indians tend to attract a lot of interest in the market.

The Indian Premier League does not just mean big money for players and coaches. For professional gamblers, it is the most lucrative two months of their year.

We are not talking your casual punters who might throw a fiver on a Sunrisers Hyderabad or a tenner on Chris Gayle to hit a few sixes. These are serious individuals who make serious amounts of money off legal and legitimate betting sites: doing their homework on teams and players to find an edge and exploit it to make their living.

Unlike walking into your local bookmaker on the high street, professional cricket traders do the majority of their work through betting exchanges, meaning their bets are matched against others. The sequence runs that an individual places a bet on or against an event taking place: a win, a wicket and so on. A bookmaker is on the other end of your bet, so when you place 5 GBP on a 2/1 shot, they provide the 10 GBP you stand to win. But in the exchange system, that 10 GBP comes from another bettor in the market who has backed the opposite result to you.

During the 2018 IPL an astonishing 4.3 billion GBP was traded on the Betfair Exchange alone, but that figure makes up only a part of the total amount bet legally on the tournament across the world. It is a massive enterprise and one fraught with considerable risks.

Trevor (not his real name) is a professional trader based in London who has been betting full-time on cricket since the 2011 World Cup. Ahead of the 2019 edition, he opened his doors to Cricbuzz to chat about his life playing the odds and how the IPL contributes to his livelihood.

"It's been a very good competition to me," he says as he takes us into his beautiful open-plan kitchen. "This is the house that Chennai built."

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As a professional cricket trader, where does the IPL rank as a money earner for you?

The three biggest tournaments are the IPL, Big Bash and an ICC event. There is enough liquidity (volume of money in the exchange markets) to just do those three tournaments and make a healthy living as a pro-trader if you wanted to. With the IPL, it is the biggest tournament. The average money traded on a game has been around 60 to 70-million GBP. This year, I expect an IPL match to trade around 80 million GBP. The volume traded on IPL matches has gone up and down over previous years. The one thing that decides how much gets staked from a cricket point of view is if Indian bettors are able to get involved.

A crass question straight off the bat - what about you personally? How much are you looking to make for this edition?

If I look at it per game: then there are 60 games, I'd look to make between 1,000 and 2,000 GBP per game. When you put it together over a season, you expect to make those kind of sums. If you "only" win 500 GBP a game, you'd still make 30,000 GBP. It's better than a normal job, isn't it?

To the uninitiated, how can you make your money on an IPL game?

You can bet on a few things: match prices (who is going to win), innings runs, Power Play runs, which they call 'sessions out there', and CMM (Completed Match Market) but that is only open if it rains. Some other firms allow you to bet on player runs, fall of wickets and so on. These are known as "fancy" markets.

What teams tend to attract the most interest in the market?

Royal Challengers Bangalore are always way too short odds. People think because they have got Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers they are way better than they are. You always get money for Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians as well. The "Big Three". That's driven by Indian punters mostly.

Really? With betting being illegal in India, how would that money reach those in the UK?

You could probably write a whole article on this, but money from India comes through "white labels", which are like sub-accounts. For example, if you live in Mumbai, you can't log on to any UK betting sites. But you can log on to one of these Indian websites and bet through them, even though betting is illegal in the country. Bear in mind - what you see on UK sites is such a small fraction of what is being bet globally. That's just the legal money from mostly British punters.

With that in mind, did the IPL spot-fixing investigation in 2013 have any effect on liquidity you were seeing?

The volume of money in the market definitely went down because some big-money users on exchanges were banned by betting companies. But generally, in the last two years, it has increased because of these "white label" sites. Before, a lot of illegal betting was done over the phone. Now it happens online.

Another crass question - you don't pay tax on your betting winnings in the UK, so that must be pretty sweet.

No, you don't get taxed on your winnings, but betting companies have a commission charge for their regulars. Long-term users of UK betting exchanges have to pay a regular "tax" of up to 60 per-cent on their winnings. Some sites have emerged, like Abx247.com, who actively court UK traders by offering incentives like zero per-cent commissions.

Staying with the UK, is the increased presence of English players in the IPL reflected in more money coming from these shores?

It all depends on what the TV coverage is. If it's on terrestrial television, then yes. But with the issues over Sky broadcasting the competition (which will now be shown on Star Gold in the UK), it's hard for people to know when it's on. When ITV had it, for example, they barely publicised it.

What also helps liquidity is "courtsiders". There is so much money to be made at a ground. Contrary to popular belief, they are never there to influence a game. If they see the ball go up in the air and it's the difference between six or being caught, they just press something on their phone or a specialised pad to put a bet on instantly to reflect what's about to happen. People don't realise when they're betting on an exchange that all the money that's up there at the front of the market is from professional courtsiders.

What is it about betting on T20 cricket that appeals to you?

Every ball is an event. Some people don't want to trade T20 matches because the market is so volatile. You've got to be really on it. Everyone is different, and it depends how you trade I suppose. Some people are just all eyes: they look at the pitch as the most important thing and can see if a player is on song that day or in a good run of form. Some may focus more on head-to-head player stats. Whatever works for you, there are many ways to find an edge still.

And what's your method?

My method is between the two: I have a model that runs away in the background but it does not automate. It gives me a rough idea of what it thinks the price is but, at the end of the day, I'm making a judgement call on what are value bets. It's not an all-singing, all-dancing model. Some people have amazing models, ones that help them control the market. Mine is much more basic. I mean, I'm not a model builder - I'm a punter. I'm probably 70 to 80-per-cent eyes.

This model, what do you put into it?

It's purely based on historical numbers from various Twenty20 leagues and international cricket. Of course, with new players there won't be any data on them so it's a case of plugging in median figures. But if you've got, say, international players that you know really well, it's far more useful. Obviously, it won't take into account things like dew, if a player is injured or just having a bad day.

Other people will have an entire model, where every ball is accounted and modeled for. You can get really advanced data, right down to "in this over, on this ball, 1.3 runs are going to be scored on average against this bowler". With all that information, you can run a simulation a thousand times and it will tell you what the actual odds should be. Mine is much, much simpler - it's just to make sure I'm not off with my estimations.

With these tools and the data that traders like yourselves have, do you feel you've got an edge on teams themselves? You're essentially doing the job of data analysts but just for your own personal means.

Certain coaches and captains are all number crunching now as every team has a data scientist. And with that, you're seeing it spill over into the commentary box where they are appreciating how, say, having a bowler who can take wickets between the Power Play and the death is crucial. But someone who is modelling it will have seen that edge first and kept it to themselves.

The fascinating thing I find is that there are team analysts running numbers and bettors running numbers yet there is very little crossover between the two. For someone like myself, I'm never going to get a job with RCB or CSK. But my data might be as good as theirs. Neither will make it into the public domain.

Do you have a particular bugbear with how IPL teams use their resources?

I think there is still a long way to go to make franchises as efficient as possible. Really, teams should be setting up to try and score 300 every game. But 160 is still the average. We saw in the Big Bash League when Brisbane Heat chased down 157 inside 10 overs without losing a wicket that 300 can be attained.

IPL teams are particularly guilty of not using their resources efficiently. For starters, they should "burn" more bowlers at the top of their batting innings. An example is Washington Sundar of RCB or even Rashid Khan for Sunrisers. For me both should open the batting. Sundar can bat but he can't really hit sixes. However, he does clear the infield. There's no point wasting him in the 19th and 20th over when he is only going to score eight runs per over. Lower end batsman who can hit the ball aerially, 40-60 metres, are still really useful, but at the top of the order when the field are up. Opening, during the fielding restrictions, he could probably go at 12 or 13 runs an over like Narine. Sure, he'll get out a lot, but that's fine, you have got off to an above average start and saved a good batsman for that middle phase.

Was there a particular trend or tactic you noticed from recent IPLs that's counter-productive to your all-out-attack T20 approach?

There was a theory going around that if you lost a wicket in the sixth over - the final Power Play over - it really sets you back. That you want to keep a set batsman in that middle over phase. I think it was championed by Ricky Ponting. What you saw last year was the sixth over run rate had dipped slightly from previous years. It used to be the highest scoring over in the IPL apart from the final two overs. In the last edition, it was something like the 14th or 15th highest. Teams are almost having a five-over Power Play now and thinking "actually, we're going to consolidate" and starting the middle over phase in the sixth over. Personally, I feel it's an awful theory, every ball in the powerplay should be maximised and you have a specific batting powerplay line up. As soon as the 7th over arrives then you send in the middle over specialists to set you up for the launch and death phases dependant on how many wickets you have left. I would never for example send in your best middle over player or finisher in the powerplay. I think it's a remarkable waste of resources.

I have to ask about your Wall of Fame in your office: framed photos of Quinton de Kock, Rohit Sharma, Andre Russell, David Warner, Yuvzendra Chahal and Ajinkya Rahane.

Yep, you've got to win over a hundred thousand to get on that wall! They were a variety of top batsman and top bowler bets for their respective teams in the 2016 IPL. There were two that didn't come through. I'd have made 500,000 GBP if they had. That wall is still empty for now though.

How tense do things get in this office - do you operate a strict closed-door policy when you're in-play?

No, I always keep it open - for the children. I don't want to be that dad who has the door shut and is closed off from the family. I've got two kids and they come in at any time. If it does get serious at the end of a game, I'll usher them away."

You've been trading for a while - has having kids changed the way you bet?

I'm probably a bit more focussed. Actually, I've probably done better since having kids! Family wise, I try and plan around work when it comes to things like family holidays and time away.

Lastly, where's your money for this year's IPL?

This year, the layers' favourites are Sunrisers Hyderabad. They've got the best bowling attack and one of the best all rounders in Rashid Khan. People are waking up to the fact if you have the best bowling attack you're most likely to win. Before it would be about who's got the biggest stars. Teams and commentators are beginning to catch up too.

Personally, I think Chennai will win it again. Shane Watson is in good form. Suresh Raina had a poor IPL last year and they still won it and they have Kedar Jadhav back this year. They all know their roles really well. Stephen Fleming and MS Dhoni are geniuses when it comes to role clarity - almost the complete opposite of the Delhi Daredevils franchise.

You can follow Trevor and his IPL musings over at @whatatrevor.

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