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Betting Guide: The Heuristics of Gambling

A lot of gamblers trust gut instinct to bet without realising that relying on ready made rules of thumb – known in psychology as heuristics which you will learn more about in this Betting Guide – can lead to poor decision making. Find out what the most common heuristics are and how to avoid them?

There is a very good reason we rely on heuristics – evolution. Our distant ancestors when faced with complex life-threatening problems didn’t have time to weigh up the situation, so developed quick-fire methods. Those that worked were passed down through generations, and we are still relying on them, often when we shouldn’t.

Introducing The Common Heuristics


Anchoring affects people’s ability to estimate the most probable number of items of a particular kind or the most probable value along a sequence.

Example: A group is asked to guess the percentage of African countries in the United Nations. Before answering they witness a random process to produce a number (the anchor), and are asked whether the percentage of African Nations is above or below that anchor. They then make their actual estimate of African countries in the United Nations. The estimates given will track the anchor, even though the participants know it is random.

Without realising it, the individuals are anchoring their estimate to a totally arbitrary point. The reason for this is thought to be because the anchor is taken as a working hypothesis, a starting point from which the individual is reluctant to move too far away from.

This phenomenon is widely exploited in marketing and is very relevant to betting. Bettors should beware anchors in bet wording, and realise how
handicaps, and spread values will influence your judgements, without you even realising.

Availability Bias

Availability bias manifests in people’s tendency to attach greater significance to events that leave the strongest impression, or are easier to recall.

Examples of this include the way people over-estimate the risk associated with dramatic and traumatic events such as a terrorist attack or earthquakes. The sale of earthquake insurance goes up immediately after earthquakes though the risk is greatly diminished, while people are prepared to pay a higher premium to insure against death from an act of terrorism than insurance against death of any kind (which would obviously include terrorism).

From a betting perspective be wary of assigning excessive significance to more recent or memorable results

From a betting perspective be wary of assigning excessive significance to more recent or memorable results. Ask yourself whether you find it easier to recall a 0-0 draw or a high-scoring game.

It’s likely to be the latter, but it doesn’t mean it is more probable. In soccer bettors tend to over-estimate the frequency of events like red-cards and corners, because they are important and easily recalled. This impacts perceived probability and betting behaviour.

It is linked to a common phenomenon of bettors favouring the Over in Totals markets, or buying on a Spread, as availability bias leads them to wrongly conclude the event concerned is more likely than in reality.


This heuristic describes how people tend to demonstrate greater diversity when confronted with simultaneous rather than sequential choices.

Example: When asked to choose five chocolates from a selection box, with an equal number of varieties, individuals make more diverse selections than when they make five sequential choices.

With relation to betting, punters tend to invest more when the opportunity appears to be more diversified. A good example would be backing the drawand the away team based on the perception of a more diversified bet, as opposed to simply laying the home team. There isn’t, however a logical reason why you should bet more, unless the Expected Value is greater.

Escalation of Commitment or Sunk Cost

This heuristic describes how people feel compelled to justify a commitment by increasing the cumulative investment despite the potential cost going forward outweighing the potential benefit.

This is commonly described as ‘throwing good money after bad’. An example would be to sit through a film that you are not enjoying just because you have already invested time and money in watching it, and therefore determined to justify that investment.

From a betting perspective this can be seen when punters persist with a bet that has a high probability of incurring a large cost rather than taking a certain immediate, but smaller loss. People in these situations tend to display an irrational determination to justify their original decision, instead of ‘cutting their losses’.

Representativeness, or the Gamblers Fallacy

People tend to believe short sequences of random events are representative of longer ones, ignoring the fact that these events are statistically independent.

Example: The gambler’s fallacy is also known as the Monte Carlo Fallacy because in 1913 Black come up 26 times in a row on a roulette table at the Monte Carlo casino. After the fifteenth Black bettors were piling onto Red, assuming the chances of yet another Black number were becoming astronomical, thereby illustrating an irrational belief that one spin somehow influences the next.

The gambler’s fallacy is closely related to the Hot Hand Fallacy, which is the belief in streaks of good/bad luck. Where someone experience what seems like an atypical sequence of events, they infer some special significance i.e. I am on a hot streak, or my luck is out.

It has come to be known as the Hot Hand Fallacy after a study in the 1980’s suggested a basketball player who successfully makes a shot is no more likely to be successful the next time they throw just because of their initial success.

This is particularly relevant in betting for random games of chance such as roulette, lotteries and dice games.

Humans aren’t machines, we try to be rational, but our instincts often get in the way. This can be costly for gamblers, so as much as possible ignore what your gut is saying unless its time for lunch.

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Bet Chimps Punters Guide – Canterbury

Newcastle jockey Robert Thorton - by Citrus Zest via Wikimedia

By Citrus Zest [Creative Commons], via Wikimedia Commons

The return of the Punters Guide has been an overwhelming success at Geelong with the every race winner being suggested yesterday at Moruya. Today, at Canterbury, we hope to keep the good form up! We have some runners today, that just look too good on paper. Let’s do this.

Race 1 – TAB.COM.AU Handicap 1550m

Aramayo is hard to look past herre, despite being the short priced favourite. Good form lines, with the in-form Tye Angland in the saddle. The Godolphin runner was extremely close at Kembla Grange finishing second last start, in a race that looked more competitive than this one today. Good turn of foot and will be hard to beat. Horn is the next best option here, and the only one that has a true chance at beating the favourite. McEvoy has a lot of work to do as Horn has been difficult to keep in line so far in his career, but, if McEvoy can keep Horn at or neat the lead throughout, it will be right there at the end.

Top Pick – Aramayo
Next Best – Horn
No third bet – No Third Dividend.


Race 2 – ATC Hong Kong Tour Plate 1250m

The Ocean Park debutant is the one that catches the eye here. Bred well, has one of the best jockeys in the saddle, and, despite a rough trial, wasn’t really asked to do much and still ran on strong. Expected to go well.

Top Pick – Matowi
No other picks – Only five runners

Top Pick

Race 3 – TAB Rewards Handicap 1250m

James McDonald and Fearless Girl map as the ones to beat here, impressive last start win at Wyong against a more competitive field at long odds. The slower the race, the better it is for Fearless Girl, and this one won’t be having a lead horse to push the tempo, most will fight to slow it down, which only increases the chances of Fearless Girl here. Symi is a Fastnet Rock debutant, and, over this trip, you can never really not rate a Fastnet Rock sired runner. Distance suits, and, the slow tempo will allow the horse to run how it suits. A win wouldn’t surprise.

Top Pick – Fearless Girl
Next Best – Symi
No third selection – No third dividend


Race 4 – #Theraces Handicap 1250m

A race-to-race double could be on the cards for James McDonald here as Metamorphic looks hard to beat in this one. Another Fastnet Rock sired horse here, showed good form when running second to the in form Smartedge last up, and will be better for it here. This race reads a bit more of a quicker race, with Metamorphic looking to run midfield and push through late, has the ability. Gretzky is the next best here. Tommy Berry has the ride in here and Gretzky showed strong improvement last start when finishing second first up. Second up today and strips fitter for this one. One to keep an eye on. Smart Ain’t He is the best of the rest here, strong form lines with multiple minors and a win, in just a handful of races. Stepping up in grade slightly but, will be competitive.

Top Pick – Metamorphic
Next Best – Gretzky
Longshot – Smart Ain’t He


Race 5 – Rinchester Standing at Darley 1550m

This is going to be one of Josh Parr’s best chances today – and he will bring the best out of Mollyfield. In equal class, the Star Witness runner ticks all the boxes, narrowly missing the win last stat, and, lose the extra metres here that cost the win last start. One to beat. Stepping up slightly in class today, the Charge Forward sired, Dawn Raid maps well here. Question marks over jockey selection, but, the horse has the natural ability here. Good sectional times, and last two starts showed the competitive nature of the gelding. Expect a bold showing. Best value runner here is in the Jezz Penza ride, Realise Potential. Dropping in grade and, showed fight when finishing third last start. The field isn’t overly impressive, and, this horse has every chance to get the upset.

Top Pick – Mollyfield
Next Best – Dawn Raid
Longshot – Realise Potential


Race 6 – Hyland Race Colours Handicap 1100m

Widdup has two really good chances in this one, and Za Zi Ba maps as the one with the stronger chance of winning. First up today, and finished last campaign third. Really pushing for the win, and, getting the fresh start, which it has won on previously, points the arrow in the right direction. Will be right there at the post. Junglized is another ride for Tommy Berry today that has every chance to win. Dropping in class significantly and running at peak distance, could be hard to beat. The value runner here is in Argent D’or, who has a good strike rate at distance and track, surprisingly, also done well in this grade. Has the ability here, and should be able to finish strong.

Top Pick – Za Zi Ba
Next Best – Junglized
Longshot – Argent D’Or


Race 7 – Australian Turf Club Handicap 1900m

Corinth has drawn a tricky gate, but, is one of those horses that is always there at the end and will be searching to go one better than last two starts which resulted in seconds. Has the late speed and is a strong performer at this distance – yet to do well at the track however. Expect it to improve its Canterbury strike rate today. Bochy has drawn perfectly here and has won at this trip before. Bowman adds that extra oomph needed to get Bochy over the line here, placed at the track previously and will be looking for better here. A win wouldn’t surprise. Geometrist can’t be overlooked here, dropping in class, impeccable strike rate at this distance, and winner at this class level before. Drawn a good barrier and should take some beating.

Top Pick – Corinth
Next Best – Bochy
Longshot – Geometrist


Jockey Challenge winner – James McDonald @ $2.00

Best Bet – Aramayo Race 1 @ $2.10
Next Best – Metamorphic @ $2.70
Best Value – Geometrist @ $26.00

Race 4 – 8/9/10
Race 5 – 1/2/9
Race 6 – 4/6/8
Race 7 – 4/5/10
$50 gets 61.25% on Crownbet

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Gambling is for 18+ only. If you think you have a gambling addiction, please, contact the gambling hotline on 1800 858 858

***all listed odds are subject to change, as races are commenced after the writing of this article.