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On Handicapping

How To Win an Office Pool

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Alternative title: Football-Neutral Pools Hedge Strategy

A buddy and I came up with this strategy about 10 years ago and it has generated a significant net profit since and a profit in probably 7 or 8 of the years. You'll notice the title is not "How to Win YOUR Office Pool" and you'll probably realize that it's too late to do much for this year, but it's a strategy worth knowing and implementing next year.

Basically, all you need to do is to enter two pools and to make sure that each uses different sources for their lines. This will lead to many situations where, say, the Texans are favoured by 10.5 over the Browns in one pool (CBS Sportsline based-pools, for example, this week) and 11.5 in another pool (simplysportsware pools, for example). Simply take the Browns +11.5 in one pool and the Texans -10.5 in the other. Do this for every game with split odds and make sure to take the opposite picks in the two pools for all games with the same lines.

Over the course of the season, you will get a few middles where you get the games right in both pools. Add to that the fact that you are unlikely to get an exactly 50/50 split on the other games and you are quite likely to have one team finish in the top 3 in the season-long standings of one of your pools.

You want pools with similar entry fees and pot sizes and you want the split of the season and weekly payouts to be as close as possible. Once you find your two pools, I'd be shocked if you didn't show a profit after five years. Most years, you'll win a week or two in the regular season and get one of your teams in the top 3 of one of the pools. You'll likely look like an idiot in the other pool, but who cares?

This year, for the two pools I am involved in, we have yet to win a week (though we've lost two Monday night playoffs) and we are in first place outright (out of 67), with a 69-47 record in Pool #1 and 4th from last (out of 92) with a 50-66 record in the other. As you can see, we have a few middles (probably less than normal). After about the 3rd or 4th week, I switch from an arbitrary strategy (pool A gets home teams in same-line games ...) to attempting to bring the team that is ahead across the finish line in first place by slanting those splits so that the "good" picks end up on the pool that has the lead. This year, I'm about +6 in improving the arbitrary rule, which has allowed us to take an outright lead with one team.

Our team has recovered from a horrible start to the Hilton SuperContest to get back to the .500 level, having gone 3-2 in five of our last six weeks. We need to continue, and accelerate, our hot streak to get into the money, which would be as much an accomplishment of honour as it would be of money.

I was just about to write another paragraph about the futility of trying to predict future football results using even sophisticated past statistics, citing the Rams victory over the Saints as an example, when I noticed that Brian Burke's advancednflstats.com had assigned the Rams a 41% victory probability, much higher than the layman and not so silly in retrospect. Job well done. Less praise to our Footballpros.com boys, who whiffed 9-0 on this game, 8-1 on the Pats, 7-2 on the Panthers, 6-3 on the Chargers and gave no indication of the trouble the Ravens and Giants were in for with their 9-0 calls in what turned out to be desperation victories.

Am I slamming the group? Not at all. The nature of these compilations is that the herd will come thundering down on the side of the favorite. Nobody really wants to put the Rams as their outright prediction, not even the picker who correctly perceives the risks to the Saints call. Perhaps next year the Footballpros.com crew can post a cumulative confidence pool ranking from their selections. We might be able to glean more from their knowledge under that format. Just a stream-of-consciousness thought.

That's enough for this post. Go Bills this weekend - HUGE game against the Jets.

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Comments

  1. wxwax's Avatar
    Interesting website, advancednflstats.com.

    They have a surprising line for one game:

    0.45 Atlanta at Indianapolis 0.55

    Indy favored? Meanwhile the darling upset pick on this website this week is Miami. They don't agree.

    0.36 Miami at Kansas City 0.64
  2. Swami's Avatar
    I do like to spot situations where these guys, or footballoutsiders.com, think the Vegas underdog is the higher probability victor. I wouldn't say I'm 100% sold on their methodologies yet (and both change them on the fly over time), but I do generally act on these tidbits if they are in line with my gut as well.
  3. wxwax's Avatar
    ps The collective wisdom of our game pickers here is currently 86-30, 74.14%

    I wonder how that would play out in the real world with an identical bet on each game, against the money line?
  4. wxwax's Avatar
    And there's the danger of relying on a computer model to make your picks.

    0.36 Miami at Kansas City 0.64 ?

    Final score: Miami 31 Kansas City 3
  5. wxwax's Avatar
    Oh, and the other interesting odds, 0.45 Atlanta at Indianapolis 0.55?

    Atlanta 31 - Indianapolis 7
  6. Swami's Avatar
    I have tremendous respect for the objectivity of the stats work. But the longer I try to predict winners, the more I think you have to be able to predict the emotional state of the locker room in this physical game. Who's reading their press clippings this week (Bills, Saints last week), who's a solid team desperate for a win (Jets, Dolphins {at the level of their opponent this week, anyway}).

    Tough, tough gig to predict. As our footballpros.com experts demonstrated this week ...
  7. wxwax's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Swami
    But the longer I try to predict winners, the more I think you have to be able to predict the emotional state of the locker room in this physical game.
    .
    I agree completely. The difference in talent in the NFL isn't huge. A team's collective state of mind is critical.
  8. brainthompson's Avatar
    these are great strategies .I will try them and this will surely help me to win.

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  9. mikesteelnation1's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by wxwax
    ps The collective wisdom of our game pickers here is currently 86-30, 74.14%

    I wonder how that would play out in the real world with an identical bet on each game, against the money line?
    Very impressive number. Is this straight up, or against the spread?