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Sports Betting 101: Sharp bettors bet with data, not on teams they like

March 26, 2020 12:01 AM

To be a successful sports bettor, you must first change your mindset and forget everything you've come to know about sports. 

Think of the neuralyzer device in the movie Men in Black-- the pen-like instrument that flashes before your eyes and then erases your memory. You have to break down your long-held beliefs and rebuild your thought process from ground zero, learning to see things through a different lens.

The main idea is to abandon conventional wisdom and rid yourself of subjectivity and bias. This means approaching bets with a completely objective and analytical perspective. Never go into a bet with a preconceived notion of who will win, who should win or who you want to win. This will only hold you back and force you to make uninformed decisions. Take emotion out of it. Enter every bet with a clear and open mind.

In the movie the Matrix, the main character Neo is offered the Blue Pill or the Red Pill by Morpheus. Neo must decide whether to take the the Blue Pill, which allows him to remain in blissful ignorance in his carefully constructed, false dream world. Or take the Red Pill, which allows him to leave the comfortable dream state and enter the real world, finally seeing for himself the reality of life he never knew existed.

Through no fault of their own, the betting public, also known as Average Joes, casual bettors, recreational bettors, or simply "the public" for short, chooses the Blue Pill. They bet for fun and bet based on gut instinct, bias, favoritism and emotional attachment.

Professional bettors, known as pros, sharps, wiseguys or whales, have long ago chosen the Red Pill. They see betting not for what it should be or what they want it to be, but for what it is. They bet based on analytics and hard data. They bet numbers, not teams.

Every new bettor starts in the same position: as a casual, public bettor. And no one becomes a wiseguy overnight. It takes time. The goal is to put yourself on the path toward enlightenment and get .01% sharper each day. The first step is lifting the veil and choosing the Red Pill, just like Neo. 

First and foremost, bettors must let go of their long held allegiances and never bet like a fan. It's natural to want to bet on your favorite teams, but it's just not smart. If your only reason for betting on the Lakers is because you're from Los Angeles and you grew up rooting for them, you're already jeopardizing your bet by injecting personal bias into the equation.

Just because you were raised in New York and watched every Yankees game growing up alongside your father, that doesn't mean you should bet the Bronx Bombers every time they take the field-- or bet against the Boston Red Sox simply because they're your rival and you want to see them lose. 

Or maybe you attended Duke University. Sure they're your beloved alma mater, but that isn't reason enough on its own to bet on the Blue Devils as 10-point favorites against North Carolina.

In fact, it might be the case that betting against your favorite teams was the smart play, but because of your favoritism and bias your judgment was clouded and you talked yourself into making an uniformed bet simply out of emotional attachment.

Here's the problem with betting on your favorite teams: if the only reason you're betting on them is because you like them, you're assuming unnecessary and unwarranted risk and forfeiting possible value. 

Maybe you're a diehard Green Bay Packers fan. Rooting for the Packers is in your blood. Your father was a Packers fan, your grandfather was a Packers fan and your first photo on the wall back home is a picture of you as a toddler in a Packers onesie. Let's say the Packers are hosting the rival Bears at Lambeau Field and you scored tickets to the game.

You want to make attending the game more fun so you bet on the Packers as 7-point home favorites. Unfortunately, because you love the Packers, you are blinded by bias and ignore the fact that the Bears were actually the smart pick. Maybe you failed to realize the Packers are being completely overvalued. They opened as 6-point favorite and moved to -7, which means you are betting the worst of the number. 

Or maybe Green Bay opened at -8 and fell to -7 because sharp action from pro bettors is siding with the Bears. Maybe Green Bay is down several players due to injury. Maybe the total is low, which historically favors an underdog. Maybe you overlooked the fact that underdogs inside the division play better than underdogs outside the division, especially when they're unpopular and on the road. If you really did your homework and approached the bet with clear eyes, all signs were pointing to the Bears + 7 being the smart play. But because you love the Packers and wanted to root for them, you bet Green Bay -7. 

These are just a few of the many reasons why betting on your favorite team for no other reason than you love them is a dangerous idea. You ignore meaningful data and often bet bad numbers without even knowing it. Remember: sports betting is all about value and getting the best number.

Now let's imagine that the Packers win, but only by 6 points. All of your fellow Packers fans are celebrating and going wild, but you're upset and mad that the Packers failed to cover the -7 and you lost your bet. You should be happy that your favorite team won, but instead you are angry that they didn't win by enough.

Betting against your favorite team is referred to as a "fan tax." It means that, no matter the outcome, there is a silver lining. Either your bet wins or your team wins.

The moral of the story is simple: Always bet with your head, not your heart.

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