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Burke: Overcoming the "Killer V's": Vig, variance and volatility

By Adam Burke  (VSiN.com) 

December 8, 2021 11:18 AM
USATSI_17289984

Baseball fans certainly remember The Killer B’s. The Astros had Biggio, Bagwell and a rotating cast of other guys, like Derek Bell, Sean Berry and even Lance Berkman. Older football fans remember the Killer B’s of the Miami Dolphins in 1982 with six players on defense whose last names ended in B.

Well, sports betting has what I’d consider the Killer V’s – Vig, Variance and Volatility. In order to be a successful bettor, you have to overcome all three of those things at a pretty high rate. Lately, the best bets at the end of the blurbs haven’t been doing well, though my overall handicapping has been up and down. My misfortune can be your gain because valuable lessons can come from losses and, believe me, you will have plenty of them, just like every successful sports bettor has had in his or her time.

Vig – Let’s start with vig, which effectively means “the house edge”. The industry standard is -110, which leads to a break-even percentage of 52.38%. What that means is that you need to win 52.38% of your bets at -110 simply to avoid losing money. The higher the vig, the higher the break-even rate. The lower the vig, the lower the break-even rate.

Right off the top, you basically need to win three bets more than you lose out of every 100 to show a profit. It doesn’t sound like much, but it certainly can be.

Variance – This is the biggest one of the Killer V’s to me. You can have the world’s most perfect handicap and still lose a game because something doesn’t work out. A team can blow a 20-point lead in 16 minutes. A team can go 3:23 of the final 3:24 without scoring. A team will win in yards per play, but end up -3 or -4 in turnover margin. A bad-weather game will have special teams turnovers or touchdowns. A guy you pick in a player prop gets injured.

There is an inherent element of luck to betting on sports. Sometimes it falls your way and sometimes it doesn’t. In some cases, maybe you could have handicapped differently, but in other cases, there was simply nothing you could do about it.

Volatility – The sports betting markets are living organisms. Things happen and things change. You may get a good number early in the week and then a QB or a star WR tests positive for COVID. A coach gets fired or takes a leave of absence. A player gets hurt in practice.

Or, quite simply, you didn’t read the market correctly and the line moved against you. You’ve got the worst of it and now have to hope that you’re on the right side of variance. Think of the sports betting market like the stock market. There are so many external factors that create a volatile atmosphere in terms of price changes and projections. It can make your head spin.

So, what do we do to counteract these things? Without going too long, I’ll share two suggestions. The first is to accept that there are a lot of things in this business that are out of your control and come to terms with that fact. Running bad can weigh on your mental health and your physical health. Invest as much of yourself and your money as you need to, but not so much that it has a negative impact on your day-to-day lifestyle.

The second is to do everything you can to minimize all three things. Strike when a line is -105 instead of -110. Shop around for -110 instead of -115. Look for a live betting position to get off of a bad number or protect yourself in case a game swings wildly. Pay close attention to the markets and try to have an idea of when big syndicates and influential groups are releasing plays to clients or getting their bets in.

Don’t get too down on yourself. Short-term variance is inevitable. Long-term sample sizes are what you want to focus on.

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