Tuley's Takes on zigzag theory


The NBA and NHL playoffs are in full swing, as is the ongoing MLB season, and we’ve been getting into the swing of things at the Tuley’s Takes home office by taking some breaks during the day to hit the batting cages and driving ranges.

We’ve been inspired to hit some golf balls by seeing 50-year-old Phil Mickelson win the PGA Championship last weekend. I’ve been kicking myself for not betting Lefty at 250-1 to 265-1, which was available here in Las Vegas. Mickelson was 300-1 at VSiN’s new owner, DraftKings, which is not licensed in Nevada, and I’m not permitted to bet at DK anyway. But I do like to bet previous champions who are being overlooked by the bookmakers and betting public.

But our main focus remains on the major team sports, especially the NBA, which already looks like it’s going to be good for underdog bettors like yours truly.

Favorites and underdogs went 2-2 SU and ATS in Game 1s on both Saturday and Sunday, but dogs went 6-2 ATS as the Mavericks, Trail Blazers, Hawks and Grizzlies pulled upsets in their series openers while the Heat (+5 at Bucks) and Wizards (+8 at 76ers) covered as dogs despite losing straight up. Unders went 5-3 in Game 1s.

Now that we’re in the middle of Game 2s of the opening series, this is the time each year when I get asked about the zigzag theory. This is also known as the “loser-of-the-last theory,” which says to bet on the SU loser against the spread in its next game. This was popularized by the Gold Sheet in the 1980s and ’90s, and it was gold: The zigzag theory went a very profitable 311-249-10 ATS (55.5%) from the 1991 NBA playoffs through 2000.

The logic behind it is that teams make adjustments after they lose or play with added incentive, while teams aren’t as likely to make adjustments after a victory. Another school of thought contends that longer series mean higher TV ratings and advertising revenue for the networks and more money for the NBA, and that played into the zigzag’s success.

The trend became known better with the advent of the internet, and, as is often the case with any kind of trend like this, it dried up as oddsmakers adjusted. It has been about 50% over the last two decades — and as I hope we all know, you have to hit 52.3% when laying -110 to break even.

In fact, the zigzag was a woeful 15-25-2 ATS last year when I stopped keeping track during the second round. Of course, the 2020 playoffs were different from all others as they were played in the bubble in Orlando, Fla., due to COVID-19.

So while I certainly don’t advocate betting the zigzag blindly, I believe it’s still relevant to consider when handicapping games, especially since it still impacts the way oddsmakers set lines since plenty of people still bet the zigzag.

The zigzag started this postseason at 1-1 ATS on Monday with the Heat, the SU loser of Game 1 despite covering ATS, getting blown out by the Bucks as 5-point road underdogs but then the Nuggets, outright losers of Game 1, routing the Blazers as 2-point home favorites. Since faves were 2-0 ATS on Monday, that cut the dogs’ early lead to 6-4 ATS. Also, Overs went 2-0, and Over/Unders were back to .500 at 5-5 through Monday.

Tuesday’s Game 2s were being played as Point Spread Weekly was being assembled, but you can see what I meant about the zigzag impacting point spreads. The Lakers were 2-point underdogs at the Suns in Sunday’s Game 1, but after losing they were 2-point road favorites in Game 2 as oddsmakers and bettors looked for them to bounce back. Another example is the Mavericks being 6-point road underdogs when they upset the Clippers in Game 1 on Saturday, yet the line actually going up to Clippers -7 in Game 2 because the oddsmakers and bettors expected the Clippers to bounce back.

We can see the same zigzag impact Wednesday as the Hawks upset the Knicks as 1-point road underdogs in Game 1, yet the Knicks are -2 in Game 2. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies upset the Jazz as 8-point road underdogs in Game 1 on Sunday, but the line is up to Jazz -8.5 in Game 2.

As for best bets I posted last week in Point Spread Weekly, we started 2-0 ATS on Saturday with the Heat and Mavericks. I didn’t have any posted plays in Sunday’s games, though if you read between the lines on the play-in tournament, I wrote I was looking to back the Wizards and Lakers if they advanced, and they went 1-1 ATS with the Wizards covering in an SU loss to the 76ers while the Lakers lost to the Suns. Then I lost with the Heat on Monday. So I’m 2-1 ATS with posted plays and 3-2 ATS if counting the Wizards and Lakers.


On Tuesday, I actually laid the Lakers -1.5 at the Suns despite laying the added points from the zigzag and the Mavericks +7. On Wednesday, I’m taking the Wizards again at +8 at the 76ers.

I passed on the first two games of the Hawks-Knicks series but am planning to take the Knicks plus the points in Games 3 and 4 on Friday and Sunday when the series moves to Atlanta.

Other potential plays this week are the Heat as 1-point home underdogs in Game 3 vs. the Bucks on Thursday and if they’re dogs in Game 4 on Saturday, plus the Mavericks if they’re home dogs vs. the Clippers on Friday or Sunday and the Wizards if they’re home dogs vs. the 76ers on Saturday or Monday.


Takes on NHL playoffs


I’ve written many times that one reason I post all those betting results and trends on Twitter @ViewFromVegas is to show how almost all tend to even out in the long run — like the zigzag theory!

In the NHL playoffs, that happened sooner rather than later as home and road teams were right at .500 at 15-15 through Sunday’s games, and Over/Unders were also at 15-15. Road teams and Unders went 3-2 on Monday to take 18-17 leads, so we’ll see how these go moving forward.

Favorites, who are expected to have a winning record SU since you’re laying juice instead of points, were 18-14 through Monday with three games closing pick-’em. Faves are ahead straight up, but dogs have been more profitable overall, especially those who were on the Winnipeg Jets, who swept the Edmonton Oilers as dogs in four straight.


Takes on MLB


Speaking of betting trends evening out, in the May 5 issue I wrote that MLB Unders were off to a good start but Overs could rebound as the weather started to warm up. That’s certainly been the case as Overs took the season-long lead last weekend and were at 343-336-21 (50.5%) through Monday.

One trend I’ve written and tweeted about that hasn’t slowed or reversed yet: Chicago White Sox vs. left-handed starting pitchers. In last week’s PSW, I wrote that they were “24-2 SU in their last 26 games vs. lefties and 22-4 on the run line, many at plus prices.” They’ve faced only two southpaws since then. The White Sox lost 2-1 on Friday at the Yankees, who started Jordan Montgomery, but they were dogs so they actually covered the run line of +1.5. Then the White Sox beat the Cardinals and Kwang Hyun Kim 5-1 on Monday, so they’re 25-3 SU in their last 28 games vs. lefties and 24-4 on the run line.

For those looking to wager on these, try to bet overnight lines if you can as a lot of people obviously are jumping on the bandwagon. I was able to get -1.5 %plussign0 Monday, and the line closed nearer to even money by game time. The White Sox aren’t slated to face any more left-handed starters in their current series with the Cardinals, and the Orioles haven’t announced their probable pitchers for the next one.

Keep an eye on the probables and be prepared to bet the openers to stay ahead of the steam.


back to news

Live On Air

Streaming Now: The Handle

play Watch Live radio Listen Live


Matt Youmans: Heat (+8.5) at Nuggets. View more picks.


The Lombardi Line: Both the Nuggets and Heat shot poorly in Game 1 of the NBA Finals - and the total is down five points in Game 2 (219.5 to 214.5). Consider betting the OVER if you expect any positive regression. View more tips.