Some sports bettors follow structured strategies in a bid to gain an edge over the sportsbooks
and generate a profit. They seek to remove the element of chance from the wagering process
and apply mathematical rigour to proceedings. These are some of the top betting strategies:
Back and Lay Betting
Several sites provide you with the opportunity to essentially become the bookmaker by laying
bets. They are known as betting exchanges. Betfair is the most famous, but there are lots of
alternative options, such as Smarkets, Matchbook and Betdaq. If you lay a team, it means you
are predicting that they will not win.
You can therefore back a team to win at a traditional sportsbook, and then lay that team at an
exchange. For example, you might be able to bet on Everton to beat Liverpool at boosted odds
of 5.00 at a sports betting site, and then lay Everton at odds of 4.50 at an exchange. If you
manage that, you will be guaranteed a profit, regardless of the result.
If you bet €100 on Everton at boosted odds of 5.00, you get a €500 return if successful. If you
then lay €223.20 on Everton at 4.50, your liability is €390.60. If Everton win, you earn a profit
of €109.40. If they fail to win, you earn €123.20.
This is the art of exploiting the variation in odds between two rival bookmakers. For example,
let’s say Manchester United and West Ham reach the FA Cup final. You might find one
sportsbook offering 1.53 on Man Utd to lift the trophy, and another sportsbook offering 3.10
on West Ham to lift it.
The rival sportsbooks might see the game differently, or one may have been slow to move its
odds in line with the wider market.
In this example, you could bet $66.95 on Man Utd at 1.53 and earn $102.43 if they prevailed,
and wager $33.05 on West Ham, earning $102.46 if the Hammers pulled off an upset. You
stand to earn a 2.5% profit regardless of the outcome.
If you play with large enough stakes, you can make a substantial profit by scalping, but some
sites do not take kindly to it and they restrict your account, so you have to be careful.
The Kelly Criterion helps you calculate the optimal amount of money you should bet when
there is a discrepancy between the true odds and the given odds. It is named after its creator, a
Texas-based mathematician called John Kelly Jr. It is often used by blackjack players and card
counters, but it can also be used by sports bettors.
The formula is f* = (bp – q) / b. The f is the fraction of your bankroll that you should wager, b
is the decimal odds, p is the probability of winning and q is the probability of losing. You can
use the Kelly Criterion to decide how much of your bankroll to wager on a particular game
once you gain an idea of the implied probability of success.
The Martingale System
The Martingale system is a popular negative distribution strategy that tells you the amount to
wager on each bet you place. It works on bet types where the odds are close to even, such as
betting NFL sides at a reduced juice sportsbook.
You start off by setting aside a bankroll and assigning a portion of it as your base unit. For
example, you might have $1,000 to play with, and decide to make your base unit 2% of your
bankroll, which is $20. Your first bet when using the Martingale system would therefore be for
If your first bet wins, you bet $20 again, and keep going until you lose. When you lose, you
have to double your bet amount. You would double your stake to $40. If it wins, you would
recoup your previous $20 loss. Every time you win, you go back to the beginning again and bet
If you keep losing, you bet $20, then $40, then £80, then $160, then $320, and so on. The idea
is that you will eventually win, wiping out all previous losses in one fell swoop. Using the
Martingale system requires a large bankroll, a sportsbook with high limits, and nerves of steel.