Handicapping Basics

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People wager for many different reasons. Sports fans may simply enjoy backing their favorite teams and sharing directly in their successes and failures. Others find that a little “skin in the game” (i.e., money at risk) makes watching sports more exciting. Such casual bettors rarely track earnings and losses, and bookmakers love them for that. These are the “cash cows” of the wagering world.

At the other end of the spectrum is a very different breed of betting animal—the professionals, whose sole purpose in wagering is to feed off the bookmakers and make money. They are completely focused on finding opportunities to profit. What sets them apart from the amateurs is their skill at “sports handicapping,” gaining advantage and picking winners through the application of knowledge about teams, players, odds, conditions of play, history and more.

In this regard, those who are interested in betting professionally and who want to be successful, wager after wager through the course of a season of sports betting activities, must master five aspects of handicapping—establishing a bankroll, conducting research, keeping records, managing money, and shopping around for the best betting opportunities.

The Bankroll: Betting requires money. An entire season of betting requires a “bankroll,” which is defined as the total amount of cash available that can be put at risk for wagering. During the course of a season of wagers, the bankroll will increase or decrease as the handicapper wins or loses A professional will always know the value of the bankroll and what percentage of it can safely be put into play on a single day, event or bet.

Basic Research: This is the heart and soul of handicapping—becoming informed about statistics, history, weather conditions, injuries, coaching changes and basically anything that can impact the outcome of a bet. Handicappers are always on the lookout for trends. They ask questions and dig for answers. Every bit of information they can glean helps them better understand the worthiness of certain wagers. They rarely bet on hunches or tips unless they have vetted them first and confirmed that the risk is no greater than the potential reward. They treat betting as a business, and they know the sole purpose of that business is to earn profits.

Record Keeping: Whether paper notebooks are used or a simple spreadsheet on a computer, it is absolutely necessary to keep track of every bet that is made. The information included can be extremely detailed but, at the very least, the following seven elements should be recorded for each and every wager: name of team or individual backed, name of opponent, date of event, amount bet, type of bet, posted odds, and final result.

Money Management: First and foremost, the bankroll must be protected. Bets are made based upon sound reasoning, never putting too much at risk at any given time. Then, the bankroll must be grown through wisely wagering and adding winning to the total, not spending them on a spree of celebrations. Sharp handicappers never “go for broke,” backing a “sure thing” or trying to recoup losses with a single big bet. Instead, they spread small bets around to decrease risk and improve the possibility of winning. Some losses are to be expected. The key to success is picking enough winners to keep the bankroll growing.

Comparison Shopping: Bookmakers don’t all carry the same odds. In fact, they are forced to move lines up and down to balance the action they take in, so comparing odds frequently can often turn up some great opportunities. With experience comes a keen sense of value. If the odds for an event don’t seem right, avoid betting on it and shop for more favorable odds. There is no need to place all bets at a single location, and the best deals can only be found by looking for them.

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