I am approaching one year since I first launched my website and after re-reading my initial post on this topic when I launched the site, I thought some things in the original post were unclear or misleading. The goal was to hit some topics that aren’t so easy to find out there on the internet, but in doing so I thought left out some key info that I will cover here.
I’d like to thank all of those that have frequented my website and showed support over this first year. Hopefully you can utilize some of the tools and info below and I look forward to sharing some of the info and data I have been working on and testing over the last month, with a planned launch for (NBA) daily fantasy, player prop projections, and a better (and actually useful) calculations page around the start of the new year.
It is very hard to get feedback, if you have any suggestions or anything that needs to be cleared up please let me know by submitting feedback at the bottom of this article.
1. Handicapping vs. Sports Betting
A lot of bettors confuse handicapping and sports betting. I heard a quote somewhere that sums it up perfectly “handicapping is a science, sports betting is an art.” Some great handicappers make terrible sports bettors while some professional sports bettors don’t handicap anything.
Handicapping is using stats, data analytics, models, or even just your eyeballs and opinions to generate what you think the line is or should be. The projections I post on here everyday are just that, they are a way of handicapping games using various stats and models to project what the line should be and where the theoretical value is. I have tried to convey the message repeatedly over this past year that the projections are a tool and should in no way be the lone thing you utilize to be a winning sports bettor.
In any statistical based handicapping process, like what I post, there are always limitations and factors that are hard to quantify and vary based on the person/handicapper. These factors may skew some purely statistical based projections. I may look at a player being out due to injury/COVID and say that player being out moves the line 2 points in the other teams favor, where somebody else may look at the same scenario and say the player is only worth 1 point. Who is right? There isn’t really an easy way to determine that, especially if the scenario occurs for the first time all season or maybe even in a couple years. That is why it’s important to understand any handicapping data you look at and account for all additional factors yourself. I post purely statistical projections and any adjustments that need to be made, should be made by YOU, the reader of these projections.
Sports betting on the other hand is all of the things that cant be found in the data or in a model. As the infamous saying goes, sports bettors bet numbers, not teams. To be a good sports bettor you have to understand the market, maximize the value of every bet, understand when & what to bet, and more than anything you have to stay disciplined as a sports bettor.
Understanding the market and knowing when and what to bet is a very hard thing to do and can only happen if you put in the work, study, and follow the markets day in and day out. Understanding the market is identifying where the number will likely move towards, identifying bad numbers, and getting the best of every number. Knowing when a number is too high/low regardless of how good or bad a team is or what the trends have been. I will cover this in better detail in the next section.
2. Achieving Long Term Success (Maximizing Value)
Note: when I use the term “cents” it is in terms of line value, not dollar value.
The key to long term success is maximizing the value of every bet you place. You absolutely have to get the best numbers in order to maximize value. Winning long term requires a lot of work and if you are serious about winning you have to put in the hours.
In my original post I talked about the implied probabilities and how they translate to betting odds. An Implied Probability is what the odds say the probability of an event happening is. For the standard -110 odds the implied probability is 52.38%. The 52.38% implied probability is the winning percent you need to have with all of your bets in order to break even. As the odds change, the Implied probability changes, below is a short table of implied probabilities as well as a formula for converting the American odds into implied probability.
Note: The difference in implied probabilities is not linear (i.e. difference between implied probabilities of -100 vs -110 is much greater than the difference in implied probabilities of -180 vs -190 even though both lines have a 10 cent difference)
So why do we need implied probabilities? Simple, they help us understand the odds and understand value.
What I call a statistical (or theoretical) edge is what you see posted everyday when I post my various projection posts. In short, the statistical edge is defined by the formula below;
Statistical Edge = True probability – Implied Probability
For the edge figures you see in my daily projections its the probability the model predicts of a team winning/covering minus the implied probabilities from the listed odds.
The true probability of an event happening is hard to quantify. Something like a coin flip is simple, every time the coin is flipped the true probability of heads or tails is 50%, regardless of previous results. But quantifying the true probability of a sports outcome is extremely difficult. A player gets hurt at the beginning of the game, a player/team has a bad (out of of the ordinary) performance, A player/team has an incredible (out of the ordinary) performance, and even luck can play a factor. But stats, data, and models can help give an estimate on what the true probability is, and with additional data, like variance, account for other factors like a teams inconsistencies.
So why does statistical edge matter? Assuming the models are good at estimating the true odds of an event, the the statistical edge is a good way to find bets that have a higher probability of an outcome than the implied probability of the odds. In theory, the higher the statistical edge, the better theoretical value there is to bet that side. Over the course of a season or multiple seasons if a model is good at predicting true odds and predicts a team winning 55% of the time and every odd you play on that team has an implied probability of 52.38%, you may win or lose today, but over the course of that season or multiple season, you will be profitable.
Knowing what a half a point is worth
Knowing what a 0.5 point is worth is a major part of being a winning sports bettor but it can also be hard to quantify. A half point correlates strongly to value betting and achieving success in the long term.
Let’s say you value a half point at a flat 15 cents (-120 vs -105), getting a better number can make a huge difference. For example, a team is listed with odds of +6 at -110, then you find the same game with a number of +6.5. Since you said a half point was worth 15 cents, the odds should be +6.5, -125. but you see the +6.5 is set at -120 odds, that means you have 5 cents of value at the +6.5, -120 number. Sure, 5 cents on a line doesn’t seem like a lot, but if you bet $100 a game, that’s $3.33 per game in added value (for those prices). Over the course of a year you may make 1000 bets, that’s $3,330 in added value by getting the better number.
Note: Getting 5 cents of value at lower numbers (-110) means a lot more than the 5 cents at higher number (-170). If betting something like MLB, getting -170 vs. -175 only correlates too $1.68 in value for a $100 bet. It still adds up if you are making 1000 bets a year to $1,680, but its not as much value as getting those 5 cents at lower odds.
The value of a half point shouldn’t be set for every single half point across all sports. In my opinion, a half point in the NFL can be valued anywhere from 11 to 18 cents (number dependent), but a half point on a key number, like 3, can be valued anywhere from 20-26 cents.
Another way to think about the half point value is to use implied probabilities. Odds of -120 have an implied probability of 54.55%, whereas -125 has an implied probability of 55.56%. Considering you said a half point was worth 15 cents and should be -125 (using previous example), you will have a difference in implied probabilities of 1.01% (55.56% – 54.55%). That is 1.01% less of a winning percentage you need over the course of all your bets (assuming the same odds) to break even.
If you can find a reliable source for half point values or choose to develop your own values, it helps to have that in your back pocket to know what number is the better number to maximize value (i.e. +6 at -105 vs +6.5 at -115).
Closing Line Value (CLV)
Closing line value (CLV) is the value you get when you bet a game at a given number vs the closing line number for that game. You can look at CLV in terms of cents (line value), implied probabilities, or expected value.
Many people think a good bet is any bet that wins, but that couldn’t be more wrong! A good way to measure whether or not you made a good bet or not is if you have positive CLV or not. Positive CLV is more important to winning in the long term than just winning a bet.
If you bet a team at +5 early in the morning and at the start of the game the line closes at +4, you have positive CLV of +1 point. If you bet it at +5 and the line closes at +6, you have negative CLV of -1 point. If you are using moneyline values, then getting a number of -120 and it closes at -140, gives you 20 cents of value.
Every line has a Vig (or juice) associated with it. No-Vig implied probability is the implied probability if you remove the vig. To put it simply, the odds of heads or tails for the super bowl coin toss is -110 on both sides which equates to a 52.38% implied probability. But the no-Vig implied probability of a coin toss is 50%. That extra 2.38% on either side is how the bookmaker makes their money. If you can get a bet down on Heads at -100 and the line moves to -110, you have a CLV of 2.38% which is equal to the Vig and that bet has no value. So whenever looking at your CLV, you have to get enough CLV to overcome the Vig in order to make a profit. That CLV needed to overcome the Vig can be calculated using no-Vig implied probabilities.
Its easy to understand that a no-Vig probability on a coin toss, with equal odds of -110 on both sides, to be 50%… But what about sports games with different odds? To calculate the no-Vig implied probabilities for lines, you have to convert the odds of a side/total to implied probabilities, then divide by the sum of both odds implied probabilities. Sounds confusing but here is a simple example using the coin flip with some odds changed:
Closing Line Odds of Heads: -110, Implied Probability = 52.38%
Closing Line Odds of Tails: -113, Implied Probability = 53.05%
Total Odds Probability = 52.38% + 53.05% = 105.43%
No-Vig Implied Probability of Heads = 52.38%/105.43% = 49.68%
No-Vig Implied Probability of Tails = 52.38%/105.43% = 50.32%
If you bet Heads at -115 (53.49%): CLV = -5 Cents OR 49.68% – 53.49% = -3.81%
If you bet Tails at -110 (52.38%): CLV = +3 Cents OR 53.05% – 52.38% = +0.67%
So for the example above, you got negative CLV if you bet heads at -115 and positive CLV if you bet tails at -110. Maximizing that CLV is crucial to long term success.
It’s a little harder using point spreads but I’ll try to explain it clearly using a basic example. Using the half point number of 15 cents of value I discussed in the last section, If you get a number at +7 early in the morning and it closes at +5, that is +2 in CLV. You are getting 60 cents of line value on that one play. It is a bit harder to calculate that closing value of “60 cents” in terms of dollar figures and implied probabilities because as the odds get higher, the corresponding dollar figures and implied probabilities change (see the note in section on half point value). Look for a calculator on this to pop up on my website to help with this soon.
How does this equate to winning long term? In short, if you maximize CLV, the expected value of your bets goes up and the winning percentage you need in order to just break even (or make a profit) goes down.
3. Take Notes
I cannot stress this enough. Taking notes helped me grow a ton as a bettor. Just this year (2021), I had a losing NCAAF season for the first time in 3 years (-2u on the season). It was very easy for me to go back and review my notes and see that I really wasn’t getting a ton of CLV on my NCAAF bets compared to previous seasons that had positive CLV. Unlike previous years, I wasn’t getting the bet down early enough to maximize CLV and in a large number of my bets, I was on the wrong side of the number (negative CLV). Without taking notes, I would have simply marked it up as a bad season and moved on without learning anything for next season.
Taking notes and tracking things such as good bets vs bad bets (based on CLV), rather than just winning percentage can really help you grow as a better and make smarter bets in the future. Writing things down like “I think this is a let down spot for this team, I adjusted the number 2 points against them” or “really bad weather for this game, I adjusted the total by -2 points” can help you identify trends you may be off on in your handicapping/adjustments. Maybe that let down spot should only be worth 1 point. Or maybe the bad weather doesn’t really impact an NFL total.
Like I said earlier in this post, winning at sports betting is a lot of work and writing things down can be extremely time consuming, but will help you develop your skills and get better as a sports bettor.
Lack of discipline is what sports bettors struggle with most. Its awesome to see those giant parlays come in on twitter and want to join in, it’s easy to get lazy and not take the time to do the research needed, and don’t want to wake up early so you wait until right before the start of a game and get as little CLV as possible on a line. I know, I fall into it sometimes too, even after a decade of betting on sports. And I always write it down on how stupid it was of me to make those mistakes.
Discipline is the key to good bankroll management. How many times have you made a giant 8+ team parlay just as a YOLO go for it all type of play? that’s poor bankroll management. Being disciplined, sticking to your standard wager size, sticking to your process, and putting in the work is what you need to do to effectively manage your bankroll. its very hard to stay disciplined with your bankroll when on a hot or cold streak. When you are on a hot streak you may get cocky and wager more. When you are on a cold streak you may try to make it all up in 1 play. That is poor bankroll management at its finest.
If you are like me and rely on models as a starting point, don’t get lazy and just play whatever the model says blindly. Just because a team is much better than their opponent doesn’t mean they will necessarily blow them out. Take the time to make what you feel is an accurate assessment of the game, make the line, read the market, and make quality bets.
5. Other Tips
A Hedge is when you place a bet on the other side of an already existing bet you have. Seems strange I know, but it is crucial to sports betting.
Let’s say you are a parlay player and have hit 4 out of your 5 plays with the last game starting in a couple of hours. You bet $100 on the Parlay to win $500. Now if you decide to hedge, you will come back and bet $200 at -110 against the team you have in the last leg of your parlay. You will get the $500 for your parlay if that team wins or you will get $181 if your hedge bet comes in. Adjusting for wager amounts on both sides, you will either net $300 profit for the parlay (your $200 hedge bet loses) or you will win $81 if your hedge bet wins (your $100 parlay loses). Regardless of outcome you will make a profit. You cant go broke if you always make a profit.
Middling is when you take a number and then come back later on the other side at a better number. Middling is another valuable tool for sports betting.
Let’s say you bet a team at +10 on the opening line. Then right before the start of the game, the line is all the way down to +5. If you bet the favorite (which opened -10) right before the start at -5, you have a great middle spot. If the game lands with the Favorite winning by between 6-9 points, you will win both bets. and if the favorite wins by 5 or 10, you will win 1 bet and push the other.
You can also get a middle and a hedge. Earlier this year I had Seattle Seahawks on a teaser at +10.5. Going into Monday night when Seattle played the Saints, every leg of the teaser had come in on Sunday, with Seattle +10.5 being the only leg left on the teaser. The closing line was sitting somewhere around Saints -6. I hedged off the teaser and bet Saints ML at around -230. Either way, thanks to the Hedge I was guaranteed a profit. But if Saints could win and Seattle cover the +10.5 I would middle it and win both bets. Saints won by 3 and I ended up having the perfect middle.
Block out the noise
If you do enough research or watch enough TV shows or podcasts, you will find hundreds of people on both sides of a bet telling you why a particular side or total is the “best bet.” Sure some of them might go on a hot streak and grab your attention, but as I stated earlier, long term success is all about the value and less about picking the right side or total.
Don’t get me wrong, I have my shows I enjoy watching or listening too, but at the end of the day I like to think for myself, put in the work, and make what I think are quality decisions in all of my plays.
Sharp Line Movement
I covered this in the last one and for those that don’t have a good feel for betting markets, you can start by following Sharp line movement. Average joes like you or I don’t move lines, Sharp, well respected money does. If you bet $50,000 on a game, the bookmaker will say ok and move on to the next customer. If somebody the bookmaker respects or knows to be a Sharp (or professional) comes in and bets that same $50,000 on the same game, the bookmaker will likely respect that person’s opinion and move the number.
If a line opens at +5 and immediately starts going down to +4.5 and +4, that is an indication the Sharps are taking the +5 and +4.5 and the bookmaker is adjusting the line to prevent every sharp bettor from coming in and pounding that side. The bookmaker’s job is to make money and they can’t do that if all of the smart people are on one side and nobody is betting the other side.