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Gamblers Fallacy (Also known as Monte Carlo fallacy)

Cambridge dictionary defines a fallacy as ‘an idea that a lot of people think is true but is in fact false’ – One of the biggest mistakes both new and even experienced people make when gambling is giving intelligence to something that can’t possibly have intelligence.

To put this in a scenario, I say to you “I will give you £5 every time you correctly guess heads or tails when I flip a coin”, you say to yourself, “Tails never fails…..” and correctly predict 3 times in a row that tails will be flipped.

Now at this stage you could be starting to think – “It can’t be tails forever, heads must be due!” – If you do think this then I’m afraid the gamblers fallacy curse has struck again. The simple and indisputable fact is that the odds or the chance of getting tails is 50/50. The coin doesn’t know what has gone on before, nor does the past make any difference, the odds on the next flip are always going to be 50/50.

This rule applies to any game of pure chance, roulette, dice games like craps etc… But does this rule apply to sports?

One really interesting story is the “The 52-year curse of Bela Guttman”, in 1960 Guttman was made the manager of Benfica. He joined from rivals Porto and one of the first things he did was to turn to youth and released 20 senior pro players. With the youngsters (who included the legendary Eusebio) Guttman enjoyed huge success and won the European cup twice in a row beating Barcelona 3-2 at the Wankdorf Stadium in Bern and Real Madrid 5-3 in Amsterdam’s Olympisch Stadion.

Quite understandably, Guttman believed due to his success that he was deserving of a pay rise but this was denied and the Benfica boss left the club. Guttmann was furious and stormed out of the club. What exactly was said we will never know, but the popular myth suggests he uttered the words, “Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever be European champion.”

Now of course it is easy to dismiss the disgruntled words of an employee who has fallen out with his bosses, however, after eight defeats in European finals since 1962, it becomes harder to deny that the club’s Bela Guttman curse lives on.

Before the 8th defeat the great Eusebio visited the grave of Guttman and begged him to release his beloved team from the curse, when the next day Benfica lost another European final it looks like Eusebio received his answer.

Now many sports betting fans will quote statistics when team A play team B, “We have not won at Anfield for 15 years…. we must be due a win” – Is this gamblers fallacy? Thinking of the Benfica example with Guttman, how much did this ‘curse’ affect the players before the game. I remember a similar but more positive example in 1999.

In the year which would have seen Sir Matt Busby’s 90th birthday, Manchester United fans believed that they would win the Champions League. Remarkably the date of the final was May 26, the exact date that Sir Matt would have been 90. United fans were convinced that somehow the stars were aligning due to Matt Busby’s divine intervention.

Manchester United were playing a very strong Bayern Munich team. Both Teams were chasing a domestic treble with Bayern having already secured the Bundesliga title and earned a place in the final of the DFB-Pokal cup. United for their part had already won the Premier League and the FA Cup.

Trailing 1-0 due to a Mario Basler goal in the 6th minute and with only seconds of the match remaining, it looked very unlikely. The match officials were already placing Bayern’s colours on the trophy and some of the Bayern players were already celebrating.

United won a corner just as the 4th official indicated three minutes of injury time, and with so little time left for an equaliser Peter Schmeichel the Manchester United goalkeeper went forward to the Bayern penalty area. Ryan Giggs hit a weak shot that found Teddy Sheringham who swiped at the shot and the ball ended up in the bottom of the German’s net.

It looked like extra time was looming, with 30 seconds of time left, United won a corner. Beckham lofted the corner which found the head of Sheringham, this time Sheringham headed the ball across the penalty area. Solskjær reacted fastest, stuck out a foot and poked the ball into the roof of the Bayern goal for United to take the lead. The goal was timed at 92:17. United had done it.

Many will argue that everything can be studied in sports, form has a huge part in results, so does injuries, suspensions, morale, the manager, new signings, coaching sessions, hunger and hundreds of variables.. So when a fan states that their 3rd division team will beat Arsenal in the next round of the cup, is this fallacy or just good old optimism?