Sunday can be fun day with head-to-head matchups

February 9, 2019 01:32 PM

Sundays are very special for certain niches of sports fans. Golf devotees watch the final round of each week’s tournament (today it’s the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro AM, finishing on CBS at 3 p.m. ET). Soon, NASCAR fans will be watching their favorite drivers zoom around the track (the Daytona 500 is next Sunday). 

These two particular sports are bet very similarly. Sports books offer futures prices that ask you to pick the winner. In hopes of driving more traffic to the counter, many also offer head-to-head matchups where you can pick one golfer to beat another, or one driver to out-race another, at money line prices similar to daily baseball. 

Public reaction to futures has been relatively muted. It’s just not that much fun to wait around all day to see if your guy wins. And it quickly became clear to early bettors that payouts didn’t justify the effort. As we’ve discussed often on these pages, futures prices carry such a large house advantage that they don’t offer true odds. Even if you win, you likely made a bad mathematical bet. 

It’s also common for new bettors in either of these sports to make the mistake of thinking they’ve “gamed the system” by placing bets on multiple possibilities. They think, “sure, picking the winner is tough…but, what about spreading things out by betting on one relative favorite…one threat within striking distance…and a couple of logical longshots that might get lucky?” 

That sounds more fun because you’re rooting for multiple possibilities. Here’s the problem. You’re now risking four betting units instead of just one. And, the best you can hope for is to lose three of them! If you bet options priced in ranges like 4/1, 9/1, 20/1, and 40/1…that 4/1 doesn’t pay much after you account for the other three losers. Hitting a winner at 20/1 and 40/1 feels great, but those would really earn only 17 (20 on the winner, minus 3 losers) or 37 (40 on the winner, minus 3 losers). 

Most of the time, novices using this approach will miss all of their guesses. 

This is why sharps typically ignore the futures board and focus on individual matchups. Those are more fairly priced. They can be handicapped with statistical research and the eye test. If you get an early-season read on improvement from a golfer or a race team, you can ride that to profit over a few weeks rather than just using a “trophy or nothing” approach. Legitimate “up-and-comers” are more likely to express improvement with head-to-head matchup victories rather than outright event victories. 

And if you’re able to build a profit early on…maybe THEN you can toss in a unit here or there on longshots disrespected by the market in future events.

Ultimately…and this is true in all sports…you should be betting for value, NOT because you want to make TV viewing more entertaining. You know what’s entertaining? Winning smart bets.

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