What Are the Odds of Winning the Football Pools?

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Winning the football pools on a regular basis seems like a dream (or pure fancy) to many people. It can be done though, if you have a system. How can you work the odds? It’s a question that a lot of people ask!

Let’s look at the basic odds. With a coupon of 49 matches (games), we are looking to identify a winning line of 8 score draws on the British treble chance pools if we are to win a 1st Dividend (a score draw or SD is a result in which both teams end up with the same number of goals, not zero). If we stake on 1 line only (nobody does, but leave that aside for now), then the odds of selecting the correct 8 matches from 49 are approximately 450 million to 1. With the UK lottery the odds are 14 million to 1 for a six number combination, by comparison.

If we stake 45,000 lines in an entry, then that reduces the odds (on a purely random basis), to about 10,000 to 1. That’s getting a whole lot better. Now, there are complications. There will not always be 8 SD results on a given coupon, and sometimes there may be as many as 15 or even more. During the latter part of 2009, the number of drawn matches (both SD and no-score draw) varied between 12% (1 no score and 5 score draws) and 38% (5 no-score and 13 SDs) of the coupon. The maximum number of score draws during that 12 week period was 14. See the accompanying chart.

Let’s take a week on which there are 13 score draws as an example. With 13 such draws, there are 1,287 possible combinations of the 8 needed for a 1st Dividend. This helps our odds considerably – 10,000 to 1 becomes 7.77 to 1 (ok, 8 to 1 to keep it simple). That’s with a random selection of our 45,000 lines.

Now, just suppose that football teams play to form (not always or consistently true), but let’s say that we can predict draw games with 60% accuracy within our selections. This means that we are 20% better on the odds (10% edge above 50% random). So, odds of 8 to 1 now become 6.4 to 1 (or 13/2 if we were betting on horses). There are other ways of sharpening the odds in our favour, and a lot more to working a system, but I hope that this article has given you a flavour!

(c) Phil Marks 2009

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