Are you keen to beat your friends or colleagues and win the European Championship football pool? Statistician Marjolein Fokkema has some tips that might increase your chances.

Marjolein Fokkema is no football expert, but she is a psychologist who works on statistical models (machine learning and AI). And she does know about probability. Specially for this article she delved into probability calculations about the European Football Championship that starts in Germany on 14 June. Is she going to fill out a pool herself?  ‘If I do, it’ll be mainly for the excitement of doing a pool with colleagues. Apart from that, I sound like one of the warnings you get with adverts: Betting costs money.’

Fokkema’s three tips:

## Tip 1: Bet on the most common outcome

Bet on the most common football outcome: 1-1. Although the most frequent result in European Championships apears to be 1-0, so that seems to be a better bet. But then you have to choose which team will score that one goal.  To predict that, you need more information. See tip 2.

## Tip 2: Use information on the quality of teams and players

Even if you know nothing about football, Fokkema says there is a simple way of getting that information. For the most likely outcome, you only need to look online at the odds given by bookmakers. There are several websites that give an overview of the odds of all the big bookmakers, where you can find all the possible outcomes of major sporting competitions.  These companies employ experts who predict the most likely outcome of a competition using a mass of data. They use data on teams’ previous results, a team’s form and the players and injuries. ‘Bookmakers include so many variables in their predictions that you really couldn’t do better yourself.’

This is how odds work: the greater the chance of a particular outcome according to the bookmakers, the less you will earn from it. If you look at table 1, you will see that you can earn least by voting on a win for the Netherlands. For every six euros that you bet, you will get four euros back on top of what you bet. That is also the most likely  outcome according to the bookmakers. And if you then look at table 2, you’ll see that, according to the experts, 1-0 is the most likely result. Fokkema does note that there are very many possible final scores in the competition. 'Even if you choose the most likely, the chances of being wrong are still considerable’

## Tip 3: Switch your emotions off

Of course, you want the Netherlands (or another country of your choice) to make it to the final, but don’t be influenced by your emotions. Fokkema: ‘Your preference will have no effect whatsoever on the outcome.’

Good luck!

Text: Dagmar Aarts