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key betting events to avoid

I'm all for the notion of every sporting event or betting market offered becomes an opportunity for profit. Do your homework better than anyone else and you can be rewarded well. And the satisfaction for doing that is often worth more than the money. But there are certain events and signals which should tell you to steer well clear of getting involved.

1. Betting on your own team - bookies love punters who will fanatically back their own team or country. When betting with the heart rather than the head, any concept of value or proper analysis of the betting goes out the window. UK bookmakers make millions every year because England teams across most sports are incredibly over-rated. When was the last time England won anything of note in football? 1966. The cricket team won the Ashes in a tight contest in 2005, and since then have been flogged regularly. The overnight result against NZ was embarrassing. England rugby fares better, but they only bother to turn up at the World Cup apparently. With a comfortable lead last week over Wales, they simply capitulated.

2. Betting on events where all contestants aren't trying. Let's get one thing straight - arranged results do happen in sport but the majority of them aren't because of betting. Italian football matches from March onwards start looking a little suspicious as teams with nothing to play for start letting other clubs who are desperate for points to stave off relegation get convenient results. Draws in football should never be shorter than 3, but it is common to see some Serie A & B games have the draw odds-on. It's usually the bookies though who know first, so there's no dramatic price plunge. But, they're not always right - sometimes people put two and two together and get five. In the African Cup of Nations just last week, two teams would have both reached the next round if they played out a draw, knocking out Nigeria in the process. The draw on Betfair was matched ridiculously short, well below evens... and the game ended up 3-0.

Any tournament which has group or round-robin stages is prone to players or teams not caring about results, particularly once they know they have already qualified, or can no longer qualify. Snooker this week has been in the headlines for the Malta Cup, a round-robin event with no ranking points. Bookies bet on it, but there's not a great deal up for grabs for the players except prizemoney and a week away from cold Britain. Consequently some of them have been known to turn up and get on the piss all week. Allegations are rife that Stephen Maguire was out every night, drinking heavily and in no state to play the tournament. So a few people noticed, told a few others and suddenly Maguire's opponents were being backed as if they couldn't lose. Joe Swail's last match saw heavy betting on his opponent as Swail had lost all his other games, couldn't qualify and obviously didn't care a great deal. The money for Lee for heavy and consistent. Was it a fix? I doubt it, but it was evident that Swail wasn't too bothered about winning.

The ATP tried round-robin events briefly in 2007 but we were slated by all and sundry about how it would only encourage dead rubbers, contrived results and players not caring. And wisely, they scrapped the idea just a few months later. A key time in tennis and golf especially not to get too confident is the week before a major tournament - players will be more concerned about being fully fit and in form for the big money and ranking points available next week, not the small fry for winning the minor event. So don't expect them to be busting a gut.

It's only human that professional athletes will become complacent at times. The Australian cricket team has been embarrassed by rare losses to Bangladesh and Zimbabwe when they let their guard down. The big names have their minds on bigger challenges, yet the opponents have their day in the spotlight and absolutely nothing to lose. The modern mindset of tabloid media and losing punters is that it always must be a 'fix' - but genuine upsets have always occurred - 100/1 shots do win horse races every week, win golf tournaments every few weeks, and even two or three runner contests occasionally too.

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