Betting strategy to boost your success

A brief introduction to betting strategy will give you the groundwork for betting better.

Let’s get one thing clear: there is no magic guide to sports betting. Even the most experienced and respected bettors, with privileged access to insider knowledge and great track records, cannot be assured of a return on every wager. However, there are ways of betting intelligently and profitably. This simple guide will offer solid tips to help novice bettors advance their play, avoid chump bets and gamble more confidently on a variety of sports.

General advice

The following tips apply to all forms of sports betting and are relevant to every bettor, irrespective of your experience level.

Understanding value

When it comes to sports betting, it is critical to understand the concept of value. This is where a lot of newcomers fall down.

Consider a team that you know well – you’ve watched them play over the course of many years and they win 60% of the time. If a bookmaker is offering 2/1 odds on your team to win an upcoming match, this implies they have a 33% chance (converted to a percentage). If you take this bet, you receive 27% perceived value (60% - 33%).

This is simple enough in principle, but consistently spotting value is extremely tricky and (obviously) relies on your own probability assessment. Therefore, the accuracy of your evaluations will improve as you become more knowledgeable.

Which leads us nicely into ...

Do your research: know your game

We cannot stress this point enough. It is crucial that you, as a bettor, have an informed assessment of the odds in any given event.

Bookmaker odds are NOT representative of true probability. Rather, they reflect the bookies’ expectation of how the public will bet; they are designed to attract bets on either side of the odds, thus balancing liability and guaranteeing a healthy commission.

If you have a more informed opinion of which participant is a strong selection, then you will be able to identify competitive odds. This can be particularly fruitful in the case of major, international events.

Acquiring a good level of betting acumen requires graft. Tuning in to Sky Sports every night – while a decent start – is not enough. Patrick Veitch developed an edge at the races by pouring over hours over race videos and statistics, as well as forging useful contacts at the stables.

While you don’t necessarily have to go to these lengths, Veitch’s efforts demonstrate the level of commitment required to become a truly world-class punter.

Read and succeed!

There are some phenomenal books on the market that can help improve your betting immeasurably. We’d definitely advise doing your homework if you’re serious about taking your skills to the next level.

Here are our recommendations for a spot of bedtime reading:

sports betting book 1

Enemy Number One:

The secrets of the UK's most feared professional punter

by: Patrick Veitch

Buy Now!
sports betting book 2

Sports Arbitrage:

Riskless investment

by: George Lynham

Buy Now!
sports betting book 3

Mathematics in Games, Sports and Gambling:

The Games People Play

by: Ronald J. Gould

Buy Now!
sports betting book 4

Sports Investing:

Profiting from Point Spreads

by: Daniel Fabrizio & Joseph Hunter

Buy Now!
sports betting book 5

Scorecasting:

The hidden influences behind how sports are played and games are won

by: Tobias J. Moskowits & L, Jon Wertheim

Buy Now!

Forecasting with regression analysis

While there are almost as many betting systems as there are bettors, the only widely respected forecasting method with sound mathematical grounding is known as ‘regression analysis.’

This statistical technique attempts to estimate relationships between variables. Regression analysis is not perfect, due to the mathematically complex nature of sporting events, which contain many thousands of variables. However, it is widely considered the most reliable approach to betting optimisation in arbitrage.

Regression analysis is subdivided into three different approaches:

Multiple regression analysis

This is by far the most popular form of regression analysis. It operates on the assumption that ‘what’s past is prologue,’ meaning that a bettor should look to the past to predict future results.

Here’s an example of this system in action:

There is a football match occurring between two teams. The bettor has acquired the following data:

  • Team A beat Team B 3-1 during the first match of the year.
  • Team B defeated Team A by a wide margin in a more recent match.
  • A player for Team A (Player 1) has never played in a win against Team B.

As both teams have recorded a victory, the key variable is the presence of Player 1, suggesting that Team B is likely to win in a direct match-up if Player 1 is present. Obviously, if you were to factor in other variables such as home advantage, player injuries and suspensions you would have an even more refined statistical model.

The weakness of this approach is the potential fallacy of ‘correlation implying causation'. In short, just because Player 1 has never played in a winning match against Team B, it does not mean that he caused the defeat directly.

Logistic regression analysis

This forecasting technique aims to compare a ‘Margin of Victory’ (MV) between participants, i.e., the probable point difference between the winner and loser in a given event.

Bettors should begin by analysing participants’ play history to determine their individual, average MV across recent matches. These figures are then subtracted to produce the expected MV in a match-up: a low MV implies a close match, whereas a high MV suggests there will be a clear victor.

Multivariate linear regression analysis

By far the most complicated form of regression analysis. This involves assessing multiple variables across a wide pool of data to identify the most important features in the outcome of an event.

For instance, a multivariate analysis by the NFL concluded that passing efficiency was the most influential factor in the outcome of American football matches. Therefore, all things being equal, bettors should always gamble on teams with a better history of passing efficiency.

Unfortunately, this kind of statistical modelling is far too complex for most amateurs to attempt, requiring vast pools of data and advanced mathematics.

Matched betting

Matched betting is a form of advantage gambling that exploits promotional offers at online bookmakers in order to eke out small, consistent profits. This kind of advantage play is totally legal, although it is frowned upon by some bookmakers (so don’t try it too often with the same company!)

Bookies regularly advertise free bets to punters, e.g. ‘receive £50 free if you place a £50 bet!’ Your objective is to collect the full value of the free bet by cancelling out the risk of your £50 wager. This is achieved by ‘backing’ and ‘laying’ a selection at the same odds.

As we explained in lesson one, betting exchanges allow bettors to wager ‘against’ a given outcome, this is called ‘laying’ the selection.

Imagine there was a match between two football teams (Team A and Team B). Paddy Power is offering 3/1 odds on Team A to win. You take these odds and back Team A for £50.

You would then go to a betting exchange and lay the same outcome at the same odds (3/1). Therefore, no matter what the outcome of the match, your two bets will each other cancel out and you will receive the £50 free bet offered by Paddy Power (although, due to minute differences in the odds and given the exchange’s commission, you will cash out slightly less than the full amount).

Risks and limitations

While this would seem to be a fool-proof money-making method, bookies aren’t stupid and take measures to protect themselves against this kind of advantage play.

Firstly, be sure to check the terms and conditions. The bookmaker might – for instance – require you to bet on the first goalscorer in a match rather than simply backing the winner in order to qualify for the free bet. This prevents you from creating the binary you need to neutralise the odds.

In certain games (such as football), there is a higher risk that you will not end up with a simple win/lose outcome. What if the match ends in a draw, or if the game goes to penalties? For this reason, matched betting is better suited to racing (although, again, there is always the chance your selection could fall).

Bear these considerations in mind if you want to attempt matched betting.

Money management: Kelly Criterion

As with every form of gambling, your first step should be to set aside a bankroll that you can comfortably afford to lose. You can find for information about managing your bankroll on this page.

The most popular and sophisticated form of money management in sports betting is known as the ‘Kelly Criterion’, named for Edward L. Kelly, who developed the method with thoroughbred horse racing in mind (although it is applicable to all types of gambling).

The Kelly Criterion is based on a formula that offers the most sensible percentage of a bankroll to wager on an event. The basic principles of the Kelly Criterion are as follows:

  • Multiply the odds offered on a selection by the probability of winning.
  • Subtract the probability of losing from the resulting figure.
  • Divide this number by the odds.

The formula looks like this:

Kelly % = W – [(1 – W) / R]

Where:

W = Winning probability

R = Win/loss ratio

So let’s consider an example...

Assume that we are placing a bet on a football team to win. We have determined that the probability of this selection winning is around 48%. A bookmaker is offering odds of 3/1 (4.0), so we multiply these figures together:

0.48 x 4.0 = 1.92

A 48% chance of winning also means a 52% chance of losing, so we subtract this number...

1.92 – 0.52 = 1.4

Finally, we divide this number by the odds…

1.4 ÷ 4.0 = 0.35

This is rounded up to 40%, meaning the Kelly Criterion recommends betting 40% of our bankroll on this selection.

The beauty of the Kelly Criterion is that is can optimise your long term spend, even when the odds are against you (as in the example above). While you are never guaranteed a profit – after all, this method depends on accurate probability assessments – the Kelly Criterion provides a solid foundation for managing your money.

Betting on different sports

Much of the complexity of sports betting stems from the fact that every sport requires a different approach. We have listed some info and tips for betting on the most popular sporting events:

Football

  • Bets are based on the results at the end of 90 minutes scheduled play, including any added injury or stoppage time. Extra-time and penalties do not count in normal three-way bets (i.e. straight bets on a match ending in a win/loss/draw)...
  • ... however, if you bet on a selection ‘lifting the trophy’ at the end of a tournament, you will collect if your pick is the overall winner.
  • A bookmaker’s commission is multiplied across accumulators, which decreases their total value to the bettor substantially.

Racing

  • Seek out bookmakers offering ‘best odds guaranteed’ on win-only bets, where you receive the most favourable dividend irrespective of the starting price.
  • Avoid pool betting as it provides a high profit margin for the pool operator – except in the cases of placepot/jackpot bets, where you must make a winning selection of six races on a single card. At a major festival, these ‘jackpot’ pools can provide a nice pay-out to smart punters.
  • Beware of antepost betting as you can never guarantee that your selection will even turn up on the day of an event, let alone win.

Tennis

  • Bookmakers usually offer each-way bets on tennis tournaments, paying a return if your favourite places. Remember, pairings are determined by a draw, making it possible for good players to struggle and weaker players to enjoy an easy ride. Wait for the draws to be announced before making your bets.
  • As an individual sport, the condition and form of your favourite is paramount in tennis. Consider your player’s health, age, recent performance and track record against their selected opponents. Also, as there are no ‘draw’ results in tennis, odds on favourites are very low.
  • Don’t forget, you can bet on games AND sets in tennis, which could provide a few excellent opportunities with late starters or early-bloomers.

American football

  • The most popular form of betting on American football is spread betting. However, the adjusted odds offered by most bookmakers mean you would have to win around 52% of your total spread bets to break even.
  • Know your key numbers: these are the most common winning margins of NFL games (in order of occurrence: 3 points, 7 points and 10 points). This is very important information in spread betting. Given that nearly a third of games finish on these margins, you should factor them in when placing spread bets.
  • The home field advantage in the NFL is 3 points, meaning that if a team is playing at home with a spread of -3 it means the bookmaker considers the competing teams to be evenly matched.

Baseball

  • ‘Head to head’ is the most popular betting format in baseball, i.e. a win only bet on one team. However, even the worst teams in major leagues tend to win around 40% of games in a season, while the best can win only 60% and still come out on top. This can make game to game betting unpredictable, leading smart bettors to avoid gambling at short odds.
  • Consider the pitcher: this is one of the most critical positions in determining a team’s chance of victory. Analyse the pitchers’ recent form and make this a major factor in picking your selection.
  • Season bets can be an excellent gateway to inexperienced bettors, while more confident gamblers can bet on run lines – a form of spread betting in which one team receives a -1.5 handicap and the other a +1.5 handicap. The upshot is that your favourite must win by at least 2 runs and the underdog must lose by 1 run for you to see a return.

Ice Hockey

  • Betting on the puck line is analogous to betting on run lines in baseball. As ever, it’s a risky form of betting that should only be attempted by knowledgeable punters. Newcomers should stick to win-only wagers.
  • Keep track of which teams tend to perform well during power plays (during which a penalised team must play with one less man for a set time period). Power plays are a big part of NHL games, so do not overlook this statistic.
  • Don’t be beholden to goal averages – instead, look out for goal occurrences. Has a team scored consistently or have their goals been clustered around a handful of matches?

Basketball

  • There is a clear bias towards underdogs in both the NBA and college basketball. Over the past 10 NBA seasons, underdogs playing away have beaten their handicap in 53% of games. Even if they don’t win outright, the spread is often in their favour.
  • By the same token, popular teams have a comparatively low probability of covering their spread. Therefore, if you’re betting on a favourite, stick to head to head bets.
  • Betting on total points scored can be a profitable option in basketball but only if you have a very thorough understanding of a team’s performance. Don’t look at short term averages in isolation - combine them with occurrences, i.e., in how many games has your team scored above and below their short-term average?

Boxing

  • Boxing matches must begin within seven days of their scheduled time for a wager to be considered valid. Annoyingly, you can lose money if matches are delayed or rescheduled.
  • Additionally, all bets are off if the number of scheduled rounds in a match is changed at any point after the bell rings.
  • On the positive side, KO wagers pay if your chosen fighter wins by knock-out, technical knock-out or disqualification.

Rugby

  • Rugby betting markets are often polarised. There tend to be either short odds on a favourite or a tightly-packed group at the head of the market, depending on the competitiveness of the tournament. As a result, win-only bets in rugby often present a relatively low value.
  • Pitch sizes significantly impact teams’ performance. Smaller pitches cause congestion and limit creativity, meaning less chances to score tries overall. Bear this in mind if you’re betting on total match points.
  • As domestic rugby matches occur weekly, they give a better indication of form compared to international matches. Thus, you should aim for shorter odds on international matches.

Cricket

  • Weather and pitch conditions are especially important variables in cricket, as even subtle changes can exert a massive influence (matches won’t even occur in bad light or rain). In terms of betting, be aware that the ball will deviate less on a dry, sunny day – favouring batsmen, whereas damp conditions will assist the movement of the ball, hindering the batting side.
  • Consider the average first innings score at each ground and factor this figure into bet selection.
  • Cricket is a relatively niche betting market, but the wide availability of statistical data means that even novices can participate in effective sports betting.

The right sports books to test out your sports betting know-how!

Put your newfound wisdom to the test with our recommended bookmakers.

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