Knowing the Numbers


My maths teacher was given the nickname or moniker, ‘Chewbacca’ in the late 1970s. He was a tall, slim, hairy, quick-witted gent with the arm span of a light aircraft.

His classes were simple, but technical affairs. We would stand at the front in height order as if part of a Two Ronnies’ sketch in an effort to find the mean, median and mode. His swashbuckling system extended to other demonstrative feats when it came to algebra, calculus and trigonometry.

He wore glasses, BHS shirts and had the inside leg measurement of an electricity pylon, yet his extraordinary skills and personality I had not seen before and would not see again.

It is true to say that without Peter Richardson, I would have had nowhere to go, no self-belief and certainly no faith in the large, authoritarian figures who marshalled the classrooms.

As it was, numbers were the early calling. I could seemingly make them dance, perform and adequately limber up thus shaking out x’s value from deep within a quadratic equation.

My arch enemy and nemesis was Wendy Coupe (possibly spelt incorrectly but it rhymed with ‘chicken coop’). On leaving school, I heard that she’d become a bookie. True to form, although thirteen years later, I became a stockbroker.

We were still, in essence, battling away. She was taking bets. I was – let’s not kid ourselves – doing much the same. We stared at our respective screens and slowly developed a keener sense of numbers than ever before. Chewbacca had given us a leg up into these strange industries.

When the online exchange, Betfair was founded (2000) it presented an opportunity for the diffident yet sophisticated gambler to really examine this curious world – look through the swathes of numbers and decide which represented value. Or to put it bluntly, which were alarmingly but beautifully wrong.

The decimal odds (fancier than fraction odds) enabled me to create a spreadsheet with various bet/lay profit and loss projections which instantly told me what I stood to make were I to close out the position ‘in-play’. This was useful for football particularly but led to punts on cricket and tennis.

In October 2005, I noticed that Australia and the ICC World XI were both bobbing around Evens (2.0) for the proposed 6-day test at the Syndey Cricket Ground. Such numbers seemed ludicrous. Australia were a force, they were at home and they were also, crucially, a team that had played together before. Against Smith, Sehwag, Dravid, Lara, Flintoff, Muralitharan and the like they were dominant – breezing home by 210 runs with two days to spare.

My bigger bet three years later (Wimbledon 2008) had Rafael Nadal pre-French Open at around 7/1 (8.0). For a young man slowly coming to terms with grass, the figures quite simply were wrong. (Easy to say after the relief of a 6-4,6-4,6-7,6-7,9-7 final win over Federer!)

Now, it is the table tennis world which has shook me. I have looked at the Division Two scorecard (8th-placed Ladybridge ‘B’ 9 vs 1st-placed Hilton ‘E’ 0) over and over again and it just does not stack up. I would not use the word ‘irregular’ as that would bring into question the professionalism of my fellow players, but peculiar, abnormal, unusual, astonishing – yes.

Coupe would have had such a result at 100/1.



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