Sports Betting Systems And Strategies
No one should begin sports betting with the expectation that they will turn a profit. Of course, we all want to win when we bet. And most people who bet on sports also know sports, so they feel as if they can win.
And the happy truth is that some of us will win. But there is a sad side of that truth, and that is that most of us will not.
The number everyone should know before betting on sports is 52.4%. That is your break-even number. That is the magical threshold that takes you from a losing sports bettor to a winning bettor.
When you win 52.4% of your bets, you pay for your losses, pay the bookmaker’s vig, and you start putting profit in your pocket.
That margin is small. It’s just a little over 2% above the flip of a coin. So how do you get there? How do you close that tiny gap?
There is no one single way to get there, nor is there a guarantee. But over the years, there have been many different betting systems that have been invented and tested with the sole goal of shifting the odds ever so slightly in favor of the bettor.
Many of them do seem to make a difference. Some are easy; some are more difficult. Others require complicated formulas, and others still require patience — something that can be exceedingly hard for bettors who are convinced they’ve got the perfect bet to win back all their previous losses.
But each one is worth knowing about and understanding so that when it comes to making your bets, you will be fully informed.
Sports betting systems vs. sports betting strategies
It’s important to know that there is a big difference between a sports betting system and a sports betting strategy.
In a betting system, there are specific rules that you must follow for it to work. It’s designed to turn a profit over the long term, and any deviation from those rules ruins that design.
A betting strategy, on the other hand, does not have strict rules. Hedging bets is an example of a strategy. There is no wrong or right time to place a hedged bet, other than when bettors feel as though they want an extra layer of financial security.
Betting systems are all about you and what you are doing with your wagers. Some sports betting strategies take into consideration the actions of other bettors, like fading the public, as an example.
That is where you try to figure out where the majority of the public money has been bet, and then you bet the opposite.
Betting systems by and large are wager-amount focused. In other words, they focus on knowing when to increase your bet and when to lower it. They don’t tell you which team to bet, just how much money you should bet on the team you’ve chosen.
So using a strategy — like fading the public or using zigzag theory (a playoff series betting strategy best used in the NBA or NHL) — to decide on which team to bet is perfectly acceptable. But when determining the amount of the bet, always stick to the system.
Different types of sports betting systems
There are a ton of sports betting systems, but most can be broken down into three basic categories.
Positive progression system: This is a system that alters the bet each time there is a positive result (i.e., you win the bet). The nice thing about a positive progression system is that your wager amount only increases after you win, so the original bet doesn’t need to be that large.
Negative progression system: As you can guess, a negative progression system is the opposite of a positive progression system in that it has you raising your bet following a loss. Instead of trying to capitalize on winning streaks, as with a positive system, a negative system chases losses with the goal of recouping everything in one big win. This requires a somewhat larger bankroll to be fully successful.
Insurance betting system: Both positive and negative progression systems focus on when to increase your bet. An insurance betting system tells you when to decrease your bet. It’s about weathering the storm of a losing streak and keeping those losses to a minimum. This is a more conservative approach to sports betting and helps keep losses in check, although profits are also much smaller.
The best betting systems
There is no one best betting system. There are several systems that have been tried and tested over the years, and in many cases, have raised bankrolls over the long term.
It’s really up to the individual bettor to decide which system best fits that bettor’s style and desired outcome. Or if any system does.
The Paroli System
The Paroli System is a positive progression system that is as simple as it gets. Each time you win, you double your bet. Simply choose a base bet (called a unit) and a target for consecutive wins. For the sake of this example, we’ll use $20 bets and a target of three winning bets in a row.
- $20 bet, win
- $40 bet, lose
- $20 bet, win
- $40 bet, win
- $80 bet, win
At this point, you would stop the progression and start over, looking for another three consecutive wins. The reason being that, if you keep going, you will eventually lose it all. But as it stands now, we are up $80.
You can, of course, pick a different base bet as well as change the target winning streak. But whatever you choose, you must stick to it.
First written about in 1965, Oscar’s Grind is a positive progression system named for its creator, a weekend craps shooter named Oscar. It was built around the idea that betting wins and losses come in groups.
So when things are going poorly, keep the bet low. When things are going well, make bigger bets.
As with the Paroli System, Oscar’s Grind focuses on units and sessions. But unlike trying to hit a winning streak, a session with Oscar’s Grind ends when one unit of profit is made. Again, we’ll use $20 as our base bet (or unit).
- $20 bet, loss
- $20 bet, loss
- $20 bet, win
- $40 bet, win
And that ends the session. We lost $40 initially, but after that, we won $60. That’s $20, or one unit of profit. We kept the bet the same following our initial losses and only increased the bet after we won.
Oscar’s Grind differs from some other positive progression systems in that after a loss we do not drop our bet back down to its original amount. So if we’d lost that $40 bet, our next bet would still have been $40.
One other quirk of the system — we’re only trying to win one unit of profit, or $20 in this case. So let’s say we lost the first $40 bet but won the next $40.
We would not double that $40 bet to $80 because we are only down $40 at this point, and the goal is to profit $20. So that next bet in the progression would only be for $60.
The Martingale System
One of the most famous betting systems there is, the Martingale System has been around since the 18th century and has its origins in France. It’s often used on the roulette wheel. This is a negative progression system that dictates a doubling of a bet each time a player loses.
It essentially works like this:
- $20 bet, loss
- $40 bet, loss
- $80 bet, loss
So you’re $140 down at this point, and the next bet calls for a $160 bet. Great if you hit it in that all of your losses will be covered, and you’ll be up $20 total.
But not so great if you don’t, in that you’ll now be down $300 in just four bets, and that’s with a base wager of only $20.
Let’s say you hit that fourth bet, and all is well. Now you go back to placing a $20 wager and begin the series again.
People love this system in that it is very easy to follow, and eventually, you will win your bet. Obviously, in a real sports betting situation, you’re paying the sportsbook juice on each winning bet, so you don’t quite rack up a full betting unit in profit. But close enough.
Of course, the downside is that if you have a smaller bankroll, you might be out of money before the system turns in your favor. If that’s the case, your day can be over very quickly.
Also sometimes referred to as the 1-2-3-4 system, the Labouchere System — named for 18th-century craps player Henry Labouchere — is another negative progression system, but with far more complexity than the Martingale System.
Once again, we’re dealing in units of profit and how much we want to win in each session. Let’s call it $10 for the ease of this example. Now we need to come up with a sequence of numbers that equals 10. Again for ease, let’s go with 1-2-3-4. Now write that down.
Our first wager amount is the sum of the first number in the sequence and the last number in the sequence. So we begin with 1 and 4, making it a $5 bet.
If we win that bet, then we cross off both the 1 and the 4 on our sequence, leaving us with 2-3. And we again add the first and last numbers (2 and 3 in this case) and bet $5. We win, and we’re done. All of the numbers have been crossed off.
If we were to lose that very first $5 bet, instead of crossing numbers off our list, we would instead add a 5 to the very end, making our sequence 1-2-3-4-5. If it had been the second $5 bet that was a loser, our sequence would read 2-3-5.
Either way, our bet following the loss follows the same rules — we take the sum of the first number and the last number, and that becomes our wager.
The only time you’d bet a single number is if only one remains. So if we win the $7 bet with 2-3-5 as our sequence, all that remains is 3. That becomes our bet.
You can choose any amount of desired profit and any sequence of numbers, as long as they add up to the profit number.
The Kelly Criterion
While the other systems we’ve looked at are simple, the Kelly Criterion is not.
Developed by mathematician John Kelly Jr. when he worked at Bell Labs in the 1950s, the Kelly Criterion is a formula that attempts to find where on a sports betting board you will have the greatest value. Then it assigns a wager amount to that bet.
The formula reads as follows: (BP – Q) / B
- B: Decimal Odds – 1
- P: Win Probability
- Q: Loss Probability
For the sake of simplicity, let’s use the flip of a coin as our example to better understand what this formula actually means in real money.
We’re using decimal odds. A 50% chance of winning (as with a coin flip) is +100 in American odds and 2.00 in decimal odds. So B (the decimal odds – 1) has a value of 1.
P and Q are also easy to figure out since, again, we’re talking 50/50 on a coin flip. So both of those values are 0.50. Plug in the numbers (1 x 0.50 – 0.50) / 1, and it equals zero. So you wouldn’t make this bet. At just even odds, the Kelly Criterion says no amount of risk is worth it.
But let’s pretend this coin flip has a win probability of 55%. Then the formula becomes (1 x 0.55 – 0.45) / 1. That equals 0.10, which, according to the Kelly Criterion, means that with those odds, you should wager 10% of your total bankroll.
Once you figure out how to calculate win and loss probability, this system becomes much simpler to manage. Zero or negative numbers, don’t bet. Any positive number that comes from the formula, that becomes the percentage you should wager.
The downside of the Kelly Criterion is that it is based on very long-term projections. It’s not a system to try for an afternoon. As John Kelly himself said, you can only win with this system if you’re willing to invest the time.
Using betting systems for sports wagers
All of the above systems were born from casino gambling. Some come from craps, such as the Labouchere System. Most of the others come from roulette. The reason why we’ve chosen to highlight these is because they are all based on even-odds outcomes, as with the spin of a roulette wheel (minus the green numbers), and as with betting on team sports (minus the juice).
In other words, these betting systems most closely deal with the same kind of odds a bettor faces when placing a sports wager. They do not work for sporting events that have more than two possible outcomes, like a golf tournament.
Another important note about using these systems for sports betting is that with the exception of the Kelly Criterion, they can’t be used successfully on moneyline bets. The idea behind positive and negative progression systems is that there is a reasonable expectation that you’ll win 50% of your bets, as with point spreads and totals.
Moneyline bets operate differently in that the compensation for betting a game with less than 50/50 odds is a higher payout. None of the above systems consider that, with the Kelly Criterion being the lone exception.
And finally, when betting with any of these systems on sports, make sure you understand and appreciate the need for bankroll management.
One very popular and successful strategy involving bankroll management is flat betting. This means that every bet should be based on a fixed percentage of your bankroll.
If you have $1,000 in your bankroll, no base bet (or “unit” as the systems often call it) should be more than 5% of your bankroll. That’s a $50 maximum base bet. And ideally speaking, it should be around 3% of your bankroll, or $30.
As you can see with all of the above systems, there is an expectation of loss built into them. You have to be able to manage your bankroll through those losses and remain disciplined in your adherence to the system. If you start to short your bets because your bankroll is shrinking, whatever system you are using will fail in the long run.
Manage your sports betting bankroll as you would any other financial investment, be it property, the stock market or a weekend of NFL bets.
Betting systems that are not worth your time
There are some systems that fall into the trap of what is known as the gambler’s fallacy. This is the belief that the longer it goes without something happening, the more likely it is to finally happen. Again, let’s use a coin toss as an example.
If someone flips a coin and it comes up heads nine times in a row, there is the mistaken belief that the odds on the 10th toss favor tails. This stems from the long odds of having the coin land on heads 10 straight times. But in reality, the odds were 50/50 on the first toss, the second toss, the ninth toss, and that is what they will remain for the 10th toss, too.
Each individual toss must be evaluated on its own odds, just as each individual sporting event must too. Of course, we’re dealing with human beings in sports betting, so will a team that has lost three straight games be more likely to win the fourth? Perhaps. But it isn’t because the odds have changed based on that losing streak.
One popular system that falls for this fallacy is the D’Alembert System. It’s named for French mathematician Jean-Baptiste le Rond d’Alembert, who had some shortcomings in his chosen profession.
He believed that the longer a coin landed on heads, the more likely the next toss would be tails, and he applied this belief to the roulette table.
The D’Alembert System, which has you increasing your wager and repeating the bet each time you lose, can win in the short term because any sequence of events is possible. But the math simply doesn’t support it in the long term.
Think of NFL bets and home underdogs. Let’s say in any given week that home underdogs cover 55% of the time. The first three home underdogs of the weekend failed to cover.
The fourth home dog to play is not now more likely to win, as d’Alembert would have you believe. The likelihood remains at 55%, just as it did for game one.
Should you use a betting system?
The decision to use an established betting system or implement a strategy entirely of your own making is yours alone. But there are some real benefits to finding a system that’s tested, and then using it.
First and foremost, it removes emotion from your betting. Wagering with your heart is one of the biggest hurdles a sports bettor needs to overcome. We all have our biases and teams that we support, and betting those games with nothing but our brains is hard. Using a system makes it so much easier.
A system forces research. No longer will you bet on the Seattle Seahawks because you just have a good feeling about them. You will have the evidence that backs it up as a good bet.
A system also forces you to make a plan. When people walk into a sportsbook with no plan on what they want to play, the sportsbook is already a winner. It’s like going to a car dealership without having done any research. You will get fleeced.
Using a betting system creates structure around your sports betting and keeps you focused on the plan. The best sports bettors in the business always have a plan, and they always stick to it.