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Handicapping the Situation

Sports Betting Strategy: Handicapping the Situation

By Loot, Sports Handicapper,

Many of us betting men make mistakes when handicapping a game. At root, we tend to spend too much time hashing through details that are already accounted for. When we are allowing things like who is at home or the fact that a team has a tip-top player to guide our wagers, we are probably missing the boat. Our best chance to out-maneuver the bookie is by looking at games situationally.

The oddsmaker has already made allowances for various details within a game. When we go back and start trying to redo the bookie’s work for him, we can run into trouble. Some of us either don’t know better or we think we can do a better job of handicapping the game than the bookie. That’s probably a mistake. They are the best at what they do and we shouldn’t be butting heads with the bookie along these lines too much. Sure, we might make an extra allowance for a game-detail that we feel the bookie overlooked a bit, but we shouldn’t be splitting hairs over details in a potential wager that the bookie already negotiated.

In a way, look at it like the oddsmakers already did your work for you. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to handicap the game, but we want to use our energy to focus on things that the bookie doesn’t really deal with. Where we tend to run into problems is when we rely on the overly-obvious.

Examples include when you pick a fighter to win a boxing match because he has a lot of knockouts on his record. Or you pick an NBA team because they have a few stars in the starting lineup. Or you pick a college football team because they beat an opponent who previously beat the team they are going to play. Or you pick a baseball team because they have their ace on the mound and have won 7 straight.


When you do that, you’re doing a few things wrong. First, let’s go ahead and admit that some of those bets will win. At the same time, you know deep-down you’re not likely to thrive in the fickle world of sports-betting by relying on Sportscenter-type information. The bookie has already made accommodations for those tidbits of information. And don’t forget, the general betting public will have also noticed those things and when you side with the public most of the time, you’re not getting great value on your bets.

So why would we want to butt heads with the oddsmakers over game details? We shouldn’t. Instead, we should be looking to exploit things they perhaps have not accounted for. And those things lie in situational handicapping--gauging the urgency, mindset, motivation, and overall agenda of a team. Sports-betting is not mathematics, where you plug in different variables and arrive at an answer. There are human elements at play. Understanding those is what enables a bettor to separate himself from the pack.

So instead of pouring over stats, past performances, and the team rosters, we should be looking at more human elements. Sure, we want to look at a team’s recent past, their current form, and the specific match-ups, but most of us could stand to infuse a more human element into our handicapping. Let’s say we’re thinking of betting on a college football game. The home team is facing a heated rival and it’s Homecoming Week. The road rival is favored by a few points.

While we might want to do some “hard-handicapping,” we don’t want to miss the boat with the other factors at play. The home team has a lot to play for. It’s Homecoming Week, meaning it’s time to reward fans for their support. The effort will be there. Add into the mix the fact that they hate this team from events in the past and are actually getting points, we can begin to see a story beginning to develop.

Maybe a college basketball team lost a game on the road to a conference rival. They didn’t have their best player who was out with a sprained ankle. The home team was up by 10 late and rather than trying to eat clock, they were putting up shots. The visiting team conceded the final possession, but the team that was ahead still ran down and dunked it with a second left. Now the team that lost is at home, with its best player back and healthy. You know they’re going to remember that. Now, you’re thinking situationally. And in this business--that’s what it’s gonna take to get ahead.

If you enjoyed this piece, you may also be interested in reading common handicapping miscues.

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