Sports Betting Strategies: Inside the Basics

When the ban on sports betting was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2018, it opened up a new era of fandom for sports lovers. In the past, sports fans could only wager on leagues and teams from brick-and-mortar locations on the Vegas Strip, along with a few other special locations.

That meant that sports betting was reserved for Vegas trips and often treated as a boutique experience. In other words, few sports fans were developing and testing strategies. Betting the spread and wagering on other bets was a rare occurrence.

But that has changed. The modern betting market lets a huge number of US residents wager on their favorite sports straight from a mobile device—and for bettors looking to keep a hold on their bankroll, finding and applying a strategic system is incredibly important.

Though the industry might seem highly nuanced, learning the ropes is easier than most think. Let’s cover a few basic sports betting strategies below, along with other relevant tactics and considerations to keep in mind.

Matched Betting

One of the first things about sports betting a newcomer will notice is the availability of free bets from sportsbooks looking to onboard first-time bettors. These bets come with a series of terms and conditions, such as time restraints and applicable bets. They can also be used to leverage each wager so that a loss is impossible.

This is called matched betting. And while it seems too good to be true, it’s entirely legal. While the strategy requires attention to detail, it allows bettors to use a betting exchange to apply a free bet to every side of a wager. With all sides of the bet covered, a bettor can’t lose.

A betting exchange is a platform that lets users post and bet on their own odds, essentially functioning like their own bookmaker. Using a betting exchange, a bettor can wager on all outcomes using free bets, essentially leveraging a free offer into a payout. So, what’s the catch? The margins are often thin, meaning bettors won’t be raking in a huge payout.

The Fibonacci System

Matched betting is a foolproof way to earn on each bet—even if it takes a lot of work and profit margins are thin. The Fibonacci system carries quite a bit more risk. As such, it’s not favored by all bettors.

The system takes its name from medieval mathematician Fibonacci, who described a numerical system in which each number is the sum of the two preceding numbers. The Fibonacci system in sports betting requires bettors to design a key for their bankroll that dictates how they’ll increase their stakes after a loss.

In theory, this should help someone win back what they’ve lost earlier. In other words, it’s a way of covering losses by continuing to raise their stake by a predetermined sequence. Today, most bettors use some sort of stakes system, even if they’re not working specifically from Fibonacci sequence numbers.

The Kelly Criterion

Matched betting makes losing a bet (theoretically) impossible, while the Fibonacci system looks to recoup losses. The Kelly criterion (a formula), on the other hand, is a multi-use mathematical formula tool that can be used by sports bettors to determine the correct stakes on each bet.

A bettor will designate the probability of a certain outcome in a bet, then search for fair odds from a sportsbook. Then a bettor will input their assigned probability and the sportsbook’s wager in the formula: (probability * odds) -1.

The solution to the formula is the bankroll calculation that they should use. In other words, the solution to the equation dictates what percentage of their bankroll they should apply to the bet. The only catch is that bettors will determine the probability of the bet, and it also works best for higher odds.

The 1-3-2-6 System

Similar to Paroli, the 1-3-2-6 system is designed to help bettors leverage their wins into a longer sequence of success. The idea is to increase stakes after a winning period, but limit this increased betting to a certain period of time. Compared to other systems, it’s easier to get the hang of and is widely used for table games like baccarat and roulette.

Bettors will first need to decide on a betting unit, then decide what their bankroll limit is for a certain period of time. Generally, a betting unit is between two to five percent of the total bankroll.

Once these amounts are set, a bettor simply adjusts their stake proportionately in a 1-3-2-6 fashion—but only if they’re winning. As soon as a bettor loses, their stake resets at one and restarts the system. However, like the Fibonacci and Kelly formula, the 1-3-2-6 system doesn’t guarantee a payout.

General Tip: Bank Roll Proportions

All sports betting activities start and end with bankroll management. Without an ability to manage finances, there’s no way to become successful in sports betting—especially considering the margins tend to be thin. It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on one ‘unit’.

As mentioned above, a unit is typically a small proportion of a bankroll. For many, this might be as small as one percent of their total bankroll. It’s a helpful way to think about bets and understand, proportionately, how much money is being won and lost.

Even within bankroll management, the sports betting industry has several strategies, from the flat betting model to the percentage model to the confidence model. Choose wisely.

Common Bet: Following the Home Team

Not all sports bettors adopt fully fledged strategies like the ones outlined above. Instead, some stick to a few smaller pieces of advice. This includes following the home team and using the home-field advantage to leverage a favorite playing at home.

The idea is to identify value bets that focus on outsiders that are facing a solid at-home favorite, then double the bet. If odds are valuable, it’s a popular bet for its possible profit yields—but keep in mind that it won’t work against away teams that are at the top of their league. It will only work for certain scenarios.