Ways to win at sports betting

Ways to win at sports betting by king yao

King Yao is the author of Weighing the Odds in Hold‘em Poker, and Weighing the Odds in Sports Betting. He uses his experience from making millions in financial derivative markets and translates it into gambling. Since he left his trading position in 2000, he has been playing poker and betting on sports. He travels to Las Vegas frequently, especially during football season.

Let’s discuss basic principles of sports betting. All sports bettors should know the information below. All other types of casino advantage players, including blackjack players of all skill sets, which includes card counters, should have good working knowledge of Expected Value as well. You should not be betting online or anywhere else without this fundamental knowledge.

There are many ways you can win at sports betting. Some people are good at handicapping games. Others are good at spotting value in a bet based on information from other lines. And still others are good at finding and betting into stale lines (lines that have not changed at one sportsbook but have at most others). Here is an overview of different ways that people win in sports betting, split into three categories:

  • Handicappers
  • Relative-value players
  • Bettors

These categories are not mutually exclusive. Although some people concentrate on strategies in one category, many people use strategies in more than one category. Some strategies can be approached successfully from the perspectives of both handicapper and relative-value player. Both need to become bettors in order to turn picks into positive EV bets. The three categories are intertwined.

While these are methods people use in beating sportsbooks, not everyone who uses these methods will be a winner. The percentage of sports bettors who are winners is low, and losing players may often use one or more of these strategies. This overview is not an exhaustive list of all the ways people can win betting sports, but it captures many of the methods that winning players use.

In this article, we will take a look at Handicappers, saving the other types for future articles.


Break-even or bad handicappers can make money off their own picks only by selling them. Be wary when you listen to the radio or TV guy screaming about a “five-star lock” and how he is the greatest handicapper in the world; he likely only sells his picks and does not bet them. He is probably a mere “tout” -- a scamster. He is to be avoided.

On the other hand, good handicappers can make money by betting their own picks and/or selling them. Their sales methods are generally low-key compared to the self-aggrandizing touts. Here are some ways that good handicappers create their picks.


Fundamental handicappers look at the individual teams and players and formulate an opinion on the quality of each team. Statistics and forecasting are used to form these opinions. Some handicappers look only at the few statistics they think are important and ignore most others. Other handicappers look at every number they can get their hands on. Power ratings are often used to compare one team to another.

Angles and trends

Some handicappers look at angles and trends. Others look at angles and trends in conjunction with fundamental analysis. An angle is an isolated idea that is relevant to the game at hand. It may be as simple as: “Old baseball players do not play as well in a day game following a night game, due to old bodies needing more time to recover.” Or it could be more involved like: “Favorites on the road against a divisional rival are less likely to cover the point spread due to the fatigue of traveling.”

A trend is a sample of recent games that fit a pattern. The fact that the sample sizes used by trend followers are small is a big negative. For example, how much weight should be put on a trend that shows Nebraska has gone 7-1 against the spread in its last 8 games on the road as double-digit favorites when off a bye week?

When a data miner examines many possible trends, he is going to find a few that deviate greatly from random but won’t be predictive of the future. In any set of random data, outliers exist. I do believe that some people occasionally spot trends with predictive power, but I also believe that most trends are actually random fluctuations.

Situational and emotional

Some handicappers look at special situations and figure out how the teams may be positively or negatively affected. These situations may be due to motivation and the emotions of the players involved in the game. Examples are teams that are especially motivated while their opponents are not expected to bring the same intensity to the game.

Handicapping the emotions of teams is more valuable in “physical” sports such as football and basketball. Handicapping emotions is less important in baseball, where exerting greater strength may not necessarily favor the player. Hitters who are playing more intensely than normal do not necessarily perform better than normal. Pitchers who are throwing harder may have less than normal command of the strike zone.


To handicap by feel is to examine a team and get a feeling based on what the handicapper has seen in the past. For example, a bettor may say “Team A’s quarterback has never won a big game in the playoffs, and he never will. I’m going to bet against Team A because the guy will choke yet again.” This is probably how most people handicap games. Of course, most people are not winning sports bettors. I am not convinced that you can beat the current sports betting market by feel alone.


Betting futures is different because the bets take a long time to be decided. It also requires a big bankroll and patience in finding favorable lines. A good futures bettor needs to handicap the teams and do a good job of projecting lines into the future. He also needs to have a solid understanding of the basic math needed for sports betting.

This is part of an occasional series of articles.

Excerpted with permission from the e-book version of Weighing the Odds in Sports Betting by King Yao, edited for this format.


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