Monday, December 16, 2013

Fooled By Randomness

I was watching a harness race at Woodbine a few weeks ago and noticed something we see happen very often - a jockeying for position early off the wings. Most times this jockeying for early positon is somewhat random, other times not, but in general a driver is at the mercy of what others are doing.

In this instance, the outside driver (Jody Jamieson) really, really wanted to be in the gaping four hole, but for some reason the horse was no cooperating. Chris Jr, was trying to give it to him, but no dice. Since the horse in the three hole was 5-2, one might think Jody wanted to be second over, who knows.

Then the random happened. Chris, in a better position pulled, but the guy in the three hole sat. Chris was first over, Jody was second over and Jody caught Chris by a head because he got a better trip.

I saw twitter saying "what a great drive to get second over by Jody".

We often, according to Fooled By Randomness author Nassim Taleb, apply causality when none really exists. Things just shake out as they shake out and that's that.

A lot of times, randomness creates a "narrative fallacy" and that sticks with a horse, an athlete, whomever, and it's based what happened in the random, not what truly exists.

We saw this on twitter when the Cowpokes lost the Packers game, in part, due to a couple Tony Romo INT's last evening. One interception, called back, was off a sure handed receivers hands, the other due to a wrong route. One was a matter of inches away from a touchdown, stymied by a good defensive play. This happens time after time as a circumstance play (it's a statistical certainty as pass attempts rise), but since it happened late, it's a choke. The narrative is what it is and it can be changed based on an inch or two i.e. if that play to Miles Austin goes for a TD, Romo is a clutch football God in Dallas, not a goat). (for an excellent anaylsis of last night's game read this)

Eli Manning has two super bowl rings. One from a truly random circus catch and one from a missed open receiver by Tom Brady, which is a freak occurrence for the most part (along with a completely random turnover grazing off a leg in the NFC Championship game). Those are random plays, that with any player, or any sets of players could go the other way, just like a coin flip. If they do, Eli is 0-2 in Super Bowls and a "choker like his brother", which is a whole other cray cray narrative in the first place.

In racing, I always remember Calvin Borel on Street Sense. He hugged the rail and was lauded as a brilliant tactition - almost like all the other jockey's in the race were substandard in his presence. If you watch that race on the turn, he is one random stopping horse, or fraction of a second, being hopelessly boxed in, and he probably never wins the Derby. When he won he was given too much credit, if he was stopped in the gap with a live horse in such an important race, there is a chance the connections would be so upset he might've been replaced, which would've been over the top in the opposite direction.

I don't use the above to say Tony Romo is the best quarterback ever who never makes a mistake, or Eli Manning is not good enough to win playoff games without luck, or that Calvin Borel is not a good rider. It's just to illustrate that the final outcome rarely tells the whole story.

We as handicappers, or humans, place way too much emphasis on the random. We make decisions based on it-  "false narratives" - that are, or can be, completely off base. We need to see the whole story if we want to make money.

Trying to look for causes based on what would've been likely to happen, rather than overanalyzing what did happen to fit into a neat box, is a trait I concentrate on while handicapping.  Each race is a random event, and I need to handicap with that in mind while searching for value.

I like to fade horses who get a perfect trip. I have for years. The randomness of the way the race went, was in his or her favor and this time perhaps it will or it won't. But I am pretty sure the sparkling, visually impressive chartline is going to cause an overbet.

I like to bet against driver changes for the most part (if they are somewhat lateral). The horse was second over with Dan Dube and lost. Why would I bet him with John Campbell at a lower price? How much of a better trip will John get him, especially when trips themselves have a ton of variability?

I especially like to bet against bigger driver changes, if the horse comes off a speed try. If he lost off nice fractions, off a speed try, what's the other guy going to do, yell at the horse louder?

I love to fade horses who find themselves off a chartline that was the result of a good bias. What are the chances he or she will find themselves in the right spot, in the right field, with the right pace scenario to get that benefit again to run that big number? Not good.

Races, football games, whatever, are a collection of events. Some of those events are totally random and there is no need to explain them, or try to explain them. Understanding what's random and what's not helps me handicap and be a much better bettor than I used to be.


Sal Carcia said...

I have repeated this story many times. Pat Day was a guest on the old Harvey Pack weekly show. They were going over one of Day's recent wins. Pack thought the ride was brilliant. Day said he was behind the leaders and made a split decision to move his horse inside in the lane. He said the hole opened and he was brilliant. He knew if it didn't, he would be a bum or worse. Day said he had no idea the hole would be there. It was just an guess.

Pack said it was obvious on TV that the hole was there. Day said the TV viewers have a better vantage point than the jocks in the race.

Anonymous said...

I saw it at a simulcast outlet. Castellano was riding the favorite in the 7th, saved ground and a hole opened. This dude was ecstatic - calling him the greatest jock ever. One race later the same thing happened, but he was shut off........ he was no longer the greatest jock ever.

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