What Are the Best Sports Betting Strategies?
Even though luck does play a significant role in sports betting, there’s a ton of skill and strategy involved in becoming a long-term winner. In this guide we’re going to break down the best strategies for betting on sports to help you turn a consistent profit with your bets.
A lot of people love putting money on their favorite team or player, or taking bets with long odds in search of a really big payday. Betting like that is okay if you’re just looking for entertainment but it’s usually going to result in losing more money than you win.
We don’t know you personally but we’re going to assume that you’re like us and prefer winning.
This article is going to show you exactly how to do that by providing easy to follow, step by step instructions on how to use the most popular and powerful sports betting strategies and systems.
We’ll explain popular concepts like hedging, betting the middle, betting against the public and the zig zag theory and we’ll also give you our best betting tips and strategies for popular sports like NFL football, NBA basketball, NHL hockey and MLB baseball.
Consider this a broad overview of the best ways to bet on sports. You can continue your studies in more detail with our comprehensive guides to each betting strategy.
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Sports Betting Strategy Quick Tips
Here’s a rundown of the quickest and easiest tips our experts could put together. If you want to start betting immediately, make sure to put these tricks into action:
- Learn basic odds – Whether you’re betting online or live, you have to learn the basics. Check out our crash course in betting odds to get up to speed.
- Have a betting bankroll – We’ll go into more detail later but we can’t stress enough how important it is to maintain a separate bankroll for betting.
- Diversify your action – It’s always better to spread your money out over more bets to help overcome bad luck and reduce variance.
- Avoid longshots and parlays – When you get a bigger bankroll it’s okay to make a few longshot bets but when you’re starting out they’ll be a big drain.
- Bet the underdog – One of the most common edges you can find is when a popular team is overhyped. Bet the underdog for better value and a bigger payout.
Key Beginner Concepts
As a beginner, it’s important to focus on the basics. Once you learn good fundamentals you can take on more complicated bets.
To get you started, here are some quick and easy basic strategies to hardwire into the sports betting circuits of your brain.
Focus on One Team
This is a simple idea but it’s more powerful than you might think. It is much more valuable to be an expert on one team than have an average amount of knowledge on many teams. The more you know about a specific team the better you’ll be able to understand good value when you check the newest betting odds.
As an expert on your team you will be in-the-know in terms of any important news and if you are able to spot something before bookmakers can change lines you can gain value. This is especially true in smaller non-marquee leagues.
If one team is too restricting, at least limit yourself to betting on just one league.
Study Teams’ Records Against the Spread
A common stat you’ll see a lot is called “ATS” which stands for “against the spread”.
It is extremely valuable to know how teams perform not just in the win/loss column but also against the point spread created by casinos and sportsbooks. Think of the point spread like a secondary competition for teams when it comes to gambling.
Teams are looking to get as many straight-up wins as possible but for gambling purposes it’s also really important to understand how they performed compared to the oddsmakers’ expectations, not just their opponents. This is referred to as a team’s ATS stat.
If a team is beating the spread more than half the time on average, it’s a great opportunity for you to bet on.
Respect Bankroll Management
This concept will pay off in any activity where you’re making decisions about how to invest your money. In short, it’s not just about the teams you bet on but the amount and frequency of your bets too.
Good bankroll management is all about protecting yourself from the inevitable cold streaks that come with any kind of gambling from time to time. The first step is creating a betting bankroll that’s separate from your regular day to day money.
If your sports betting bankroll is over $200, your average single bet size should be about 2% of your total roll. Any roll that is below $200 should stick to a maximum $5 bet size. It’s always better to make more bets with a smaller percentage of your roll riding on each bet.
These might sound like small numbers but if you want to grow your roll over time and avoid going broke, this is the way to do it.
If you’re not yet listening to the Wise Kracks podcast, you should definitely do so! Bill Krackomberger is a strong advocate for good bankroll management. Subscribe to listen to his weekly sports betting tips.
Shop Around for the Best Lines and Odds
This strategy is an obvious one but it’s also something a lot of people fail to do because it takes legwork. To put it in non-gambling terms, if one store is charging you more for bread than the one down the street, you’d be a fool not to go with the cheaper option. The catch is that you have to shop around to find the best deals.
The same holds true for sports bets. If you are diligent about shopping lines you can find better value on your bets.
Also, by virtue of the fact that you will need to create different accounts at different books you will have the opportunity to take advantage of the different promotional offers upon sign-up and first deposit. Besides that, discover the best sports betting mobile apps to get started.
Ride Winning Streaks
Team and player performance in sports can be really streaky. Sometimes players are in the zone and can’t miss a shot while other times they’re as cold as ice. You can take advantage of hot and cold streaks in your betting and if you can identify them faster than the oddsmakers, it presents a big opportunity.
What is important to remember is making sure the odds are offering the right value and you’re evaluating all the factors accurately. If a team beats a series of lower quality teams while playing at home it may not be the right time to jump on the bandwagon when their next game is on the road against a top opponent, for example.
Keep track of the schedule and factors that can help keep a streak alive. Also, if you are looking to take them on a spread rather than moneyline, check to see how they’ve been faring against the spread in recent games.
Sports Betting Strategies That Work
Now that we’ve covered some of the basic building blocks of what is required for a strong sports betting strategy, let’s look at some specific examples of wagering techniques that have been proven to work when properly applied.
Hedging Your Bets
There are opportunities in sports betting where a punter can make a bet that is opposite to his original bet. It might seem weird to bet against your original bet but as you’ll see, when it’s done right it can guarantee you a profit.
- Hedging usually applies to futures bets where the odds on your bet change significantly in your favor as the season progresses, or in big parlays when you’ve won a large number of your bets but still have one or more wagers left to play.
- In both these examples you can bet against your original wager and lock in a profit, regardless of the final outcome.
- Hedging lets you sacrifice a larger potential payout in exchange for reduced risk and a guaranteed profit. By making your hedge bet larger or smaller you can play with how much risk and reward you want to take.
Let’s take a closer look at how hedge betting works and use a famous example from the 2011 MLB season.
At a Las Vegas sportsbook, a St. Louis fan made $250 wager on the Cardinals to win the World Series. At the time the Cardinals were five games out of a playoff spot with 15 games to play. A big hill to climb to even just make the playoffs.
He put $250 on the Cardinals to win the world series.
- The bet paid 1000:1 for a potential $250,000 profit.
As luck would have it, his prognostications came true and the Cardinals not only made the playoffs but won the National League Championship Series (NLCS) and a trip to the World Series to play the Texas Rangers.
The gambler was now looking at a potentially massive payday. But what if the Cardinals lost the World Series. He would get exactly zero. This is the perfect opportunity to hedge. By betting opposite to the original wager, he can lock in a profit. Let’s see how.
Let’s assume for this example that a bet on the Texas Rangers to win the World Series paid 1:1. If the gambler was able to raise $125,000 and bet it on the Rangers he would guarantee himself a $125,000 profit regardless of who ends up winning.
- A Cardinals World Series win gives him $250,000 on his first ticket, minus the $125,000 he bet on the Rangers.
- If the Cardinals lose he wins $125,000 from his bet on the Rangers.
Hedging also works the same way when you’ve made a multiple bet parlay and you’ve won most of your bets. With parlays one loss is all it takes to lose the entire parlay. If there’s just one game to go, consider hedging by betting against your original parlay bet to lock in a profit.
Betting the Middle
This process, also known as middling, is when a punter makes an early point spread bet only to see the line move later. Sometimes you’ll also find middling opportunities when you’re line shopping and discover a significantly different point spread for the same game.
By exploiting the line change you can place an opposite bet to your first wager and sometimes win them both. If that sounds confusing, don’t worry. Keep reading for an example to make it really clear.
In this example, you make a point spread bet on a team that’s listed with a spread of -7 in an NFL game in the middle of the week.
- After you’ve made your bet, you see the point spread move to -10 on game day. This can happen for a few different reasons including too much action being placed on the underdog by the betting public or by things like injuries or other player factors.
- To bet the middle in this example, you can now place a bet on the +10 underdog.
- If the favorite wins by 8 or 9 points exactly, you win both your bets. Essentially you are hoping to hit the “middle” of the two wagers.
- You also have insurance because if the final winning margin doesn’t fall in the “middle” of your bets, one bet will win and the other will lose, effectively canceling each other out.
- The downside is that you will take a small loss when this happens due to the commission (vig) charged by the sportsbook.
Read our full guide to betting the middle for more information.
Betting Against the Public
This strategy is also called ‘fading the public’ and it simply means betting opposite to the majority of the betting public. You might also hear this called “betting against the public underdog” because the majority of the public usually bets on the favorite.
- The main concept to absorb here is that oddsmakers don’t set odds and lines based solely on what they think the game’s outcome will be. Sportsbooks also want to attract roughly equal action on both sides of a bet to protect themselves from a potentially massive loss.
- Often the majority of the public bets on the favorite, or the team that’s getting hyped up the most by the media. Since everyone’s betting on the favorite, the sportsbook has to move the line in favor of the underdogs to make them more appealing so more people will bet on them.
- Being able to identify cases when the public is pushing a line gives smart bettors an edge because the line is moving relative to the money coming in rather than the likely final score of the game. As such, you can bet in the opposite direction and reap the benefit of extra points in your favor on the point spread or extra pennies on the dollar with the moneyline.
- To fade the public you need to pay close attention to line movements. When you see a line move in favor of the underdog it’s a good sign that the majority of the public is taking the favorite. There are also free resources online that can tell you the distribution of action on specific bets.
Zig Zag Theory
The higher seeded team plays at home for the first two games, as well as the 5th and 7th, if necessary.
The zig zag theory works on two main concepts. First, home teams have a real advantage. Second, when a team is coming off a loss they generally play harder and have a statistically better chance of winning. The zig zag theory works best when a team is at home AND coming off a loss.
Let’s look at the best examples of when to use the zig zag theory:
- The theory holds that if the road team loses the first two games, they are generally a strong bet to win game 3, especially in the NBA where no team has ever come back from a 0-3 game deficit and so the urgency to win game 3 at home will be enough to carry them to victory
- In NBA playoffs, when the home team loses game 1 they have historically taken game two 75% of the time.
- In the NHL the historical percentages are different and even when the home team takes game 1, the lower seed comes back to win game 2 on the road one-third of the time. In these moments, with the public betting heavily on the home team to replicate their game 1 success, look to find great value on the road squad. If the value is greater than 33% you’re looking at a solid wagering opportunity.
- Elimination games are also pivotal as they provide opportunities to take advantage of the desperation of a team that’s up against the wall. If the leading team has won by close margins the public may still overvalue them by emphasizing the series lead rather than a rational analysis of how the games actually played out.
Sports Betting Strategies That Don’t Work
There are several betting systems out there that proclaim to have a secret recipe for foolproof winning. Of course, if they really worked then everyone would be rich and casinos and sportsbooks would be bankrupt. Let’s look at few classic betting systems that aren’t really as awesome as they say they are.
- Martingale System – In this system the bettor simply doubles the bet amount after any losing bet in an effort to recoup their money plus a small profit. An obvious problem with this is that any bad losing streak will require a huge amount of money just to get back to even.
As well, there aren’t many sportsbooks that would take bets sizes necessary to overcome such a betting system. Another problem is that this system relies on an actual even-money bet which is extremely rare since sportsbook’s charge a 5-10% commission on all bets.
- The Negative Progression System (a.k.a The d’Alambert System) – Similar to the Martingale system, with this one you are incrementally raising your bets by equal units after each loss and going back down to the base betting unit after each win.
It’s a more moderate version of the Martingale because instead of doubling your bet after a loss, you’re only increasing it by one unit.
Compared to the Martingale system which only requires your last bet to win, this system needs your overall winning percentage to out-number your losses.
- The Labouchere system – (a.k.a. The Cancellation System) – This system is also called the split Martingale system. First come up with a base betting unit. Then write down a common Labouchere sequence like 1-1-2-2-1-1. To choose your bet amount, take the first and last numbers from the sequence. In this example, you’d bet two units (1+1).
If you lose a bet, add the number of units you bet to the end of the sequence. When you win, cross out the first and last numbers in the sequence. Continue until all numbers in the sequence have been crossed out.
The truth is, none of these systems can guarantee a win, even if they promise to do just that. The biggest problems are that sportsbooks don’t offer true even-money bets, you don’t have an infinite bankroll to keep doubling your bet size and the sportsbook has maximum bet amounts to stop you from doubling forever even if your bankroll was unlimited.
As we explain in other parts of this guide, the best sports betting strategies are about solid research and analysis, not so-called “guaranteed winning” systems.
Using Sports Databases and Stats Sites to Discover Trends
One of the most important things both savvy punters and oddsmakers utilize is data and trend analysis software. These days there are several online options that offer these services for free or for a low fee. It takes a bit of work to learn to use them at first but once you learn how to use these tools they can be an absolute game-changer for your results.
Not only can you figure out how the most common trends are calculated and used, but you can also explore your own trend ideas and potentially find edges that have eluded the sportsbooks and other bettors.
You never know what you might find. Perhaps NHL road underdogs, after long homestands, who start their back up goalie in the first game of a back-to-back are much more likely to cover the puckline. It may seem random, but with data analysis tools you can find real trends that can help guide your bets.
Advanced Sports Betting Strategies
Now that we’ve covered some of the basics for sports betting strategy and looked at some of the dos and don’ts, let’s take a deeper look into more advanced betting strategies for specific sports.
NFL Betting Strategies
When you look at historical betting stats it’s pretty incredible how good the oddsmakers are.
For example, over the past 13 seasons the underdog has covered the spread 50.3% of the time. This stats is called ATS and stands for “against the spread”. It measures how teams perform against the point spread, not just against their opponents.
That is an incredible stat to ponder. It makes it seem that no matter what strategy you employ, your point spread bet is a coin toss. However, when combining the data with point totals, the number of underdog covers goes up to 53% when the over/under is 34 points or less. That extra three percent represents a massive difference for your bottom line so look for those opportunities.
One advanced strategy punters use at the start of a new NFL season is the Pythagorean wins strategy, which is a name you might remember from math class in school. Instead of calculating the largest side of a right-angle triangle, though, this method calculates a team’s performance from the previous year.
It’s clever because it doesn’t just look at the total wins. It takes into account the amount of points scored by a team and compares it to the number of points scored against them. Amazingly, from 1988 to 2004 the Super Bowl was won 11 out of 16 times by the team that had the highest Pythagorean wins stat, not just the most outright victories.
Instead of doing the math yourself, you can find the stats for all teams posted at the beginning of the season. You can also find free calculators online that will do the math for you.
This is just one example of a more advanced strategy used to wager on the NFL. For tons more, check out our comprehensive guide on how to bet on the NFL and don’t miss our compilation of the best NFL betting bonuses. If you’re not sure where you can bet on NFL then check if your state has legal betting on NFL.
NBA Betting Strategy
In basketball, one advanced strategy we really like is going against the grain and betting against the public.
This works especially well with point totals and teams that put up big numbers at home. The common bettor will remember how a team performs at home, how quick their pace of play is, how many points they give up to the opposition, and then simply bet the same way the next time that team plays at home.
Unfortunately for them, they aren’t realizing that the oddsmakers are pushing the line even higher since they know the majority of the betting public is taking the favorite. This means you can often get a great price betting the underdog or the under on totals in these spots.
This works especially well when both teams have had busy workloads or are on the tail end of a back-to-back.
MLB Betting Strategy
Baseball is a stat-crazy sport which means there’s a lot of data to dig into for advanced bettors.
Pay close attention to the relationship between the over/under line and how much the underdog pays. Statistics have shown that when a total is higher (8.5 or more) and the game is likely to have a lot of scoring, it favors the underdog in terms of value and the likelihood of an upset. However, this is generally for underdogs of +150 or less who stand a fighting chance of pulling off the minor upset.
This is also a viable option when the underdog has lost their previous game and the public is swayed by a small sample size and the odds have increased.
NHL Betting Strategy
There are lots of reasons hockey is a great sport for more advanced betting strategies. It’s relatively low scoring, there are lots of games and lots of teams to choose from. There are also lots of edges for gamblers willing to put in the work.
One common example is that the betting public for hockey tends to put too much weight on home ice advantage. As such, even though since 2005 home teams have won nearly 55% of games, because of the odds the ROI over that same period was better for betting on the road teams.
The road team’s value gets even bigger when the majority of the public bets on the home team and pushes the moneyline odds even higher on the home side. This creates excellent value for those willing to bet on the road underdog. Statistically speaking the ideal road underdog to look for are ones paying +185 or less as they have historically had the most success winning on the road while having the highest return on investment.
For more hockey betting tips and strategies, read our full guide on how to bet on the NHL.
What is the Kelly Criterion?
The Kelly Criterion is a formula used to calculate how much to bet when the odds are in your favor. The math behind the Kelly Criterion is pretty complicated so we don’t blame you for using a free online calculator to work it out:
- (BP – Q)/B
- B = The decimal odds – 1
- P = The probability of success
- Q = The probability of failure – which equates to (1 – p)
Obviously, in sports betting, it is going to be difficult to know the precise probability of success or failure of an event. However, with research and solid deduction we can make some reasonable guesses and then apply the Kelly Criterion to see how much of our bankroll to bet.
Say, for example, that you think the chances of Rafael Nadal beating Roger Federer on Clay are 65:35, and the decimal odds available at your sportsbook are 1.70 for Nadal.
Plug those numbers into the formula to determine what percentage of your bankroll to wager.
- Original formula: (BP-Q)/B
- Our example: (0.7 * 0.65 – 0.35) / 0.7 = 0.15
Therefore the formula suggests a 15% stake on Rafael Nadal.
The Best Strategy? Make a Plan and Stick to it
There’s a litany of information out there on different types of sports betting strategies. Some are great quality while others might steer you far wide of your target. The bottom line is, the more you learn about ways to improve your understanding of the sport, teams, players and different kinds of wagers, the more tools you’ll add to your toolbox.
The information you gather along the way is really what matters most. As we stated above, it is best to be a master of one field than an average Joe across the board. Find your niche and then develop or employ strategies that work best for that sport and for the teams or players you know best. There’s no need to stretch yourself thin across lots of sports or even lots of teams within the same league.
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If your state hasn’t legalized sports betting yet, don’t worry. Chances are it’s coming soon. In the meantime, you can spend your time studying and learning more about your favorite sports and teams so you’re ready when legal betting options arrive.
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