Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder in Sport-Bild with “I bet that…”
(… a small anecdote concerning bets and probabilities and how to deal with them)

A small, anecdotal example of the nonsense that is constantly being spouted in the media with regard to bets and which is intended to illustrate the “naïve” handling of bets and probabilities, at least in Germany for a long time:

In the 1990/1991 season, the president of VfB Stuttgart offered a bet via Sport-Bild when his VfB was in 15th place after 14 match days with a record of 3–4–7. The betting proposal was: “I bet you 2,000 D-Mark that we will still make it into the UEFA Cup. As a reader, you could write to Sport-Bild, apply to be a betting partner and then be lucky enough to be drawn. If you were drawn, you would have to claim the opposite, so to speak, and would thus have acquired the chance to win 2,000 D-Mark at the end of the season — if VfB Stuttgart did NOT achieve the targeted goal. There was no need to worry about the loss. The 2,000 D-marks would then be paid by Sport-Bild, it is assumed.

Of course, this suggestion itself is already rather naïve, but the idea behind it is quite interesting and perhaps even a little regrettable that something like this or something comparable does not exist more often…!
From the reader’s point of view, in any case, the reaction, in terms of probability and persuasion, was much more likely to be just as simple as “naïve”, namely “trivial”. One had to write, no matter what one’s own view would have been in relation to this betting proposal. The two antipodes “I bet” or “I bet against” had the identical status. For, from a purely logical point of view, one put the letter postage against the sum of 2,000 D-marks, which would have corresponded to a payout ratio of at least 2,000 to 1 (provided the postage was 1 DM). And for that, one can put one’s hand in the fire, this bet was worthwhile under all circumstances.

The author, on the other hand, sensed a business idea and set the simulation of his newly commissioned programme in motion. He then wrote a letter to Sport-Bild. In it he pointed out that he would bet on ANYTHING, just like the president of VfB Stuttgart, of course also on VfB reaching the UEFA Cup. But firstly, there would have to be a clearly formulated payout regulation and secondly, this would also be a question of odds, just like betting on any future example (at that time, English bookmakers were also making the rounds as to whether Boris Becker would one day marry Steffi Graf). Simply saying ‘ I bet that this or that will happen’ is insubstantial. At the same time, he offered the President a bet. Namely, that of paying odds on this event.

Since the outcome of the event could not be determined by a position in the table alone, he offered odds on reaching fifth place in the table or better (and of course for other positions, if the president wanted to go higher and believed in it; the computer simply calculates, by simulation, odds for EVERY possible place in the table at the end of the season; enthusiasts and opponents of VfB could just as well have received odds for 16th, 17th or 18th place and backed them up with a view with capital investment) which would GUARANTEE entry into the UEFA Cup.

Of course, he received NO reply to his letter. Presumably this envelope, like every other envelope received, ended up in a huge pile and one of them was drawn at random, carelessly but absolutely fairly. The “winner” had thus become a betting partner without taking any further risk.

The odds offered were only on reaching sixth place in the table – or better — known. Presumably because that was the bet made in private. It would NOT guarantee participation in the UEFA Cup. In any case, the odds on “VfB finishing AT LEAST in sixth place in the final table of the 1990/1991 season” were 3.5.

In fact, there were even interested parties in the private sector who placed a bet on these odds, since this had apparently become a topic of conversation – thanks to Sport-Bild and Mayer-Vorfelder.

Now the outcome of the story should be interesting?! Yes, Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder was indeed right insofar as VfB — before the season, of course, traded much higher – gradually freed itself from the crisis and crawled up the table ranks.

Here is the situation after the 14th matchday:

The situation after Matchday 21:

The situation after the 28th matchday:

And the final table:

So you can see that the author already had his mouth quite full back then – and shone with nothing but absolute cluelessness. Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder had assessed his club correctly and well, while the author had nothing but arrogance to counter with.

However, he only had to pay out the privately placed bets, which were on reaching sixth place in the table. The question now was: had Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder achieved his goal or was the “winner” drawn the lucky one?

Well, once again, a few minor details have to be told. The cup final was 1.FC Köln – Werder Bremen. It was played in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium on 22.6.1991. Werder Bremen had already qualified for Europe either way. UEFA-Cup or Cup-winners-cup did not make a big difference. From the author’s point of view, 1.FC Köln had actually “voluntarily” lost the last game of the season against 1.FC Kaiserslautern with 2-6. FC Bayern did not even manage to win against Uerdingen – perhaps because of that? – could not even win. A win would have given them 46 points (according to the two-point rule in force at the time). 1.FC Köln would have needed a win for Europe. If they had achieved this, at home, against a strong but certainly not overpowering 1.FCK from Kaiserslautern and Bayern relegated Uerdingen – as was certainly expected on all sides and rock solid – Bayern would have become champions once again. Neither Cologne nor Werder Bremen nor anyone else wanted that. They didn’t begrudge the Palatinate side (incidentally, Werder of all teams had lost 1-2 at home to Kaiserslautern on Matchday 32 and also helped them to the top step of the winners’ podium, as one could already speculate a little “voluntarily”, since nothing stood in the way of Europe from their point of view anyway).
So the cup final should also have been a set-up? Both lose to FCK, the latter becomes champion and not the unloved FC Bayern, and both are safe in Europe – all that remains is for Cologne to win the final.

What was curious about this final was that the author was, of course, sitting in the stadium in a certain tension and anticipation, as he does every year. However, the final did not take the “clear” course he had expected. Well, no problem. Werder, for example, had by no means pulled away. Dieter Eilts scored the 1:0 after 48 minutes (Werder “hurried” away), but Maurice “Mucki” Banach, who unfortunately died much too early because of a fatal accident, equalised after 62 minutes. For the extra time, the dear football god (if there is such a thing) had made a special providence: he sent a violent thunderstorm over the city and the stadium. The thunderstorm was so violent that the spectators left their seats in droves. It is not without reason, however, that “thunderstorms” are attributed the attribute “cleansing” here and there? Similar to the Flood, which was supposed to free the world from sins in anno nnoa(h), did this one also free the football world from sins? In any case, the author waited in the upper ring, soaked from curl to sock – and saw, to his absolute amazement and astonishment, that Werder Bremen had the upper hand in the penalty shoot-out!

As a result of this unbelievable event, VfB Stuttgart suddenly had the ticket for the UEFA Cup in their pocket – and Sport-Bild had to write out the small cheque to the beaming Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder, while the “lucky winner” was suddenly not so overjoyed. Drawn in the raffle, but dumped without a prize – that’s a lot of bad luck.

Nevertheless, this small example should show that every bet is a question of probability and, in turn, an offered odds for the occurrence of the event. The probability of occurrence and the odds must be in a favourable or at least reasonable relationship. You can bet on anything – as long as the odds are right. The odds represent the probability, namely the reciprocal value. The smaller the probability, the larger the odds. The greater the probability, the smaller the odds.

For both sides, who meet when placing a bet, the same question arises: is the probability of occurrence in a favourable relationship to the odds? You can calculate this like this: determine the probability of occurrence as best you can. Compare the reciprocal value of this number x calculated by you with the number offered to you by the bookmaker, the betting market, the betting provider, the betting exchange, any other betting partner – and get in if these odds are higher than this number x – and leave it alone if it is the other way round.

The entry idea for the whole betting business would of course be that the betting provider, with the help of his experience and knowledge gained over the years and his oddsmakers in the background, knows so well that he can determine the probabilities well and that his odds should always advise you: Keep your hands off. The man knows his business. The odds are in your favour – otherwise he wouldn’t offer them. You might get presents for Christmas or your birthday – but not from your betting provider.

That this is by no means the case and that the bookmakers, betting providers, the entire betting market, are collectively mistaken here and there and that one can very well find bets here and there that fulfil the criterion “the odds offered are in a FAVOURABLE ratio for you to the probability of occurrence”, has been proven by the author here for several decades (roughly from the betting proposal of Mr Mayer-Vorfelder; the 14th match day ended on 17. 11.1990) by finding profitable bets, placing them and ending up with more money than before.