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How To Not Be A Fish At Sports Betting

Many poker players bet on sports as well. Some do this as a hobby, while others take the matter quite seriously and hope to grind out a profit over time.

While sports betting is theoretically a beatable game, it’s a much more difficult game to beat than poker. With sports betting, you can’t drop down levels and find ‘fish’ like you can do at poker. Of course, with poker, if you don’t practice proper game selection and overestimate your abilities, you can be that fish and has a hugely negative ROI/hourly rate, so it works both ways.

On the bright side with sports betting, it’s much easier to bet with confidence knowing that the edge on your bets is at most 2-3% in either direction. In other words, you can have fun flipping coins. So while you will not be able to find the huge edges with poker, it is much easier to avoid being on the bad side of a huge edge.

Sharp sports betting is not so much knowing the sport as much as knowing the market. Most people who lose a lot of money at sports betting think they know a lot about a team, but really just piss off money making dumb bets.

Here are the top 3 ways to make money at sports betting and avoid being a fish (or in sports betting lingo, a ‘square’)

1. Always know the vigorish charged and minimize it

This is pretty straightforward. Standard bookmaker commissions on matches between two teams is generally 4.5%. In bookie lingo, they make you lay 110 to win 100 (or in terms of decimal odds, a $1 bet results in a payback of $1.91 with a win).

Commissions on football (soccer) are often higher. The bookies can get away with this since they offer a bet on each team as well as a draw, and most bettors don’t take the time to calculate what the vigorish is.

To reduce the vigorish, you should have multiple accounts with a few bookmakers. This way, you can shop for the best line. If the total theoretical vigorish is 6% or more, you probably should just avoid the bet to begin with, since even if you found a good line, it is still probably still quite -EV.

Also, having an account with a betting exchange is a must. For example, at Betfair, you match other people’s bets and Betfair just charges the winner 5% on the net win. This results in a vigorish of 2.5%, which is considerably lower than a standard bookie.

2. Take the side against the popular bet

Often in sports, the most bet on games feature a popular team versus an unpopular team. In American basketball, this may be a game between the LA Lakers (popular team) versus the Washington Wizards (unpopular team). Whatever the point spread may be, it will likely be a point or two higher than it should be because the vast majority of people will bet on the LA Lakers. Since everyone is betting on the LA Lakers, the bookies will want the Wizards to win against the spread (since they are essentially betting on the Wizards). By shaving a point or two, they can increase their chances of holding the bettors money instead of paying out.

Also, by moving it a point or two, the bookies can attract more money on the Wizards and have more even action. This will allow the bookmakers to just collect the vigorish on the game and not have as much of their own money at risk. In reality though, even after moving the line a point or two, most of the money will still be on the Lakers, so the point or two line movement represents the bookies increasing their chances of a favorable betting outcome for them. So in this case, bet with the bookies by betting on Washington.

With basketball and American football, generally the better bets are taking the points with an unpopular underdog against a popular favorite and sometimes a bet on the under. In European football (soccer), the better bets are generally the draw and betting against the favorite. With a lot of bookmakers, you can only bet on the favorite, bet on the draw, or bet on the underdog. However, at betting exchanges, you can generally lay the favorite (so you are betting on the draw or the underdog) and this is the best bet when the favorite is a popular team and the underdog is an unpopular team. Most bettors will bet on the favorite to win, which will push the odds in to a more favorable direction for those betting against the favorite. So in a game between say Manchester United and Everton, the squares will be all over Manchester United and if you like money, you should probably lay Manchester to win (or bet on the draw).

3. Don’t think you are some sports guru

The biggest reason people lose a lot of money at sports is the same reason people lose a lot of money at poker; they think they know a lot more than they do. At sports betting, most people think they know the teams and can analyze the games. The truth is the bookies do a much better job. It’s a lot easier to analyze the betting markets and find opportunities for bets that are minorly +EV (or about neutral) than attempting to handicap the lines yourself and finding opportunities where you think the bookies set the line incorrectly.

Most people who think they know a lot about sports just end up doing what most of the betting public does: they bet on the favorite team. Most people get caught up in a superstar player thinking “he can never lose” or whatnot.
Sharp sports betting is just value hunting. Find places that have low vigorish and good lines and make bets against the popular teams. That’s all there really is to it.


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