Winning the Football Pools Versus Fixed Odds
How does Football Pools betting differ from other types of Sports
Consider conventional betting on a horse race or the outcome of a single football
match. A punter (someone placing a bet) is quoted odds by a
bookmaker (‘bookie’, turf accountant and so on) either face to face, over the telephone or online. Now, the odds
that are quoted when the price is first set are based on the bookie’s initial perception of the odds of a given
As the event gets nearer, the odds quoted by the bookie ‘drift
out’ – that is, get longer (say from 4/1 to 10/1) or shorten (say from 4/1 to 7/2). Obviously we’re using the UK
fractional odds system here, not US or European – this does not alter the principle though.
Now, this change of odds is purely a result of the bets that the bookie is
receiving and the money the bookie has at risk. It is not at all related to the ‘real odds’ (whatever they are) of
the outcome of the event. The bookie is merely shortening the odds to protect himself (because he is taking too
many bets at long odds which would be painful for him to lose), or lengthening the odds on other horses to balance
off the shorter priced horses by moving the betting away from the favourite, again to protect himself or
If the bookmaker’s book is getting out of balance, perhaps by having taken several
large bets, then they will insure themselves by ‘laying-off’ – placing bets of their own with other bookies to
offset their risk. The principles are the same in hedge funds and stock trading.
Of course, on a ‘quiet day’, bookies may also offer generous odds as a way of
drumming up business.
What this boils down to is that if you bet when odds are first available for the
event, then you will probably get a close to realistic odds for the real outcome of the event (in the view of the
When the bet is placed, the punter knows in advance what the payout will be for a
given result (irrespective of when the bet is placed). The principle is the same for a fixed odds bet on a football
match. However, there are only four possible outcomes of a football match for the team you select (win, lose, score
draw, no score draw), ignoring voids. So on a random basis for a single football match the odds are 1 in 4 of a
correct single result forecast. For a horse race with 8 horses, random odds are 1 in 8 for single result forecast
(win, lose) - a ‘place’ is really 3 bets.
How does that differ from the football pools?
In UK football pools, the punter is betting that a certain set of matches will
return a certain result (for example 8 draws or 11 home wins in 49 matches). Odds are not fixed at the time of the
bet. There is no advance knowledge of the number of draws there will be on a given coupon. In the 2008/2009 English
season, there were 355 score draws on 42 coupons – an average of 8.4 score draws per coupon. Including no-score
draws, the figure is 544 draws, an average of 12.8 draws per coupon. 28 coupons had 12 or more draw games on them.
You can get this data and a whole lot more from Soccerlotto.
The chances of forecasting a single correct line of 8 score draws when there are
only 8 score draw results, are 450 million to 1. It is a big number, but with a low cost for each ‘line’, or bet,
and some careful form analysis, it is possible to get the odds down to as low as 3/1 at a reasonable level of stake
The downside is that the payout depends on the total amount staked by all the
punters, and the number of draws on the coupon, but this is a relatively minor issue if you can get your selections
right to start with.
If you watch the football forums, you will see that of the few people who declare
their bank in public, the most winnings have been on the football pools. We don’t know about those who keep their
Of course, that is not to say that fixed odds betting is no fun, particularly if
you are fanatical about a particular team!
© 2010 Phil Marks. All rights reserved.