Why Sports Bettors Should Never Get Too Cocky

It's hard to make it rain without looking just a little bit grandiose. (via NewsBiscuit)

It’s hard to make it rain without looking just a little bit grandiose. (via NewsBiscuit)

We like to give you advice on sports betting whenever possible. In case this is your first time on the site and you have yet to learn more about us, then suffice to say that this sort of advice is kind of our whole job. Whether we’re providing you with a multi-step guide to increasing your profit margin or even just a few tips on how to play like a professional sports bettor, it’s our goal to be as helpful as possible. If we didn’t feel like we could promise you a fair number of helpful suggestions each week, we wouldn’t bother staying in business.

But we try not to just tell you what to do. We also like to provide advice about what not to do. There are certain pitfalls that some sports bettors are prone to falling into every once in a while, whether because they put too much faith in what they believe to be surefire strategies or because they simply underestimate how cunning Vegas oddsmakers can really be. After all, as we discussed in our article about the juice and what it means for your bets, the sportsbooks are trying to get your money. If you lose as a sports bettor, it works to their advantage.

Of course, losing too much can do some pretty big harm to your bank account. And when you start to run out of money, you wind up suffering the same problems that often lead many to place a stigma on sports betting. That’s why you have to maintain a healthy mindset. You can’t get too cocky about your wins, but you also can’t get so worried about your losses that you start to lose your cool and make bad decisions. That’s why you’re going to want to remember some of the following things, whether you’re a complete and total beginner at the art of sports betting, or even if you’ve been doing it for a while.

Always Remember the Necessary Win Rate

We’ve talked before in some of the articles linked above about the fact that many sportsbooks tend to adjust their odds a bit in order to coerce sports bettors such as yourself into betting on either side of the line and ensuring that they profit from the juice regardless of a game’s outcome. And most of the articles linked above also made mention of a fact that we’re going to explore in a little more detail now.

What fact are we talking about? Simple—the fact that you need to be winning at least between 52% and 55% of your plays in order to make any sort of truly sizable profit from sports betting. In our article about “juice,” which is linked in the intro to this post, we went into a bit of detail about where precisely this number comes from. And as we explained there, this number only applies to the odds of -110 that most sportsbooks apply to their spreads. When you are playing odds that are any greater than that, then the win rate necessary for you to make a profit can go up quite a bit.

This is why sports betting can be a scary venture for some people. Even if you are utilizing our services, you will still not win every single play. This is one of the primary reasons that our six-step guide to profiting as a sports bettor dedicated not one, but two whole steps to bankroll management. If you aren’t dividing your bankroll with a level of consistency, then even an implausibly high win rate of 70% or more could lead to major losses. And if that last sentence doesn’t sit right with you, then you might be prone to experiencing another problem that leads some sports bettors to become cocky.

See, we could say a million times that you need to win at least 52% of your plays, and there are some novice sports bettors who will read the words but will not fully absorb the message. And if you didn’t understand why we just referred to a 70% win rate as implausible, then you might be one of them. But that isn’t necessarily your fault. After twelve years of American schooling, and possibly four or more additional years in college, most people are hardwired to think of anything between 60% and 70% as just barely passable in terms of success.

But unless you had some of the most sadistic teachers known to man, the information on which you were graded was not as subject to change as betting lines often are. You have to come to grips with the fact that what might seem to most people like a relatively low percentage can still be amazing to the average sports bettor. And to do that, you have to accept that fact that even the most profitable sports bettors lose. A lot.

This lesson is important. Without true acceptance of the fact that you may have to risk losing over 40% of the time in order to profit, you will not be able to come to grips with the fact that you are still making more money than you would have if you had not taken the risk at all. And this understanding is key to making a profit, if for no other reason than because….

Sports Betting Requires a Solid Mindset

Even without a major brain injury, keeping your head straight can be harder than you’d think. (Nick Veasay/GQ)

Even without a major brain injury, keeping your head straight can be harder than you’d think. (Nick Veasay/GQ)

If you read any of the articles we linked in the intro, then you might have seen that we have written at least three articles in which we made mention of the fact that teasers and parlays can be quite a big risk. And this is one of the reasons that you need to come to terms with the fact that profitability in sports betting often hinges on what some would consider to be a low win rate. You have to accept that losses are a part of the game, and in doing so you will come to see why single bets are often favored by those who wish to make the most of their winnings.

But even those who make single bets are sometimes prone to overreact. This is due to the concept of variance. If you have never heard the term before, then allow us to sum it up bluntly: sometimes you’re going to run into a stretch of bad luck. And it won’t necessarily be because you weren’t poring over the stats for each game. It won’t always be because you didn’t pay attention to how the lines were moving, or because you overlooked anything else that would normally be integral to making wise and strategic bets. It just happens. It’s great for the sportsbooks, and for the teams you wagered against. It just isn’t so great for you.

This can lead some people to lose their cool. And this is where people who would normally listen to all of the advice we’ve given in previous articles might start to let their guard down. The worst result of this is that some people might resort to what is known as chasing their losses. We’ve talked about it before, and it can be hellish. If you don’t know what it means to chase your losses, think of any movie you’ve ever seen where someone loses all of their money at a casino. It always happens the same way. Maybe they’re winning for a while at the beginning, but eventually they lose a bit. And they can’t handle that, so they double down and try to win everything back. Before they know it, they’re practically penniless because they couldn’t keep their bearings straight after a loss.

The best advice that we can give you to help you prevent this from happening is simply to remember that losses are not the end of the world. When we told you that variance means you’ll run into bad luck occasionally, that was only one side of the coin. You’ll also run into good luck. You just have to be patient and keep doing things the way you were doing them when you were winning. And if you haven’t started winning yet, then remember that many of our own handicappers started off as losing players as well. We aren’t giving you advice that didn’t work for us in the long run.

And when we say “long run,” we mean it. Patience is a virtue. If you started off as a winning player and then got cocky, then you will find it hard to deal with the fact that you suddenly aren’t making money every single day. But that’s normal. Success at sports betting isn’t judged by what happens in a single day. You might lose for two weeks in a row, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still manage a win rate of over 52% for the entire season.

But as we said earlier, that win rate won’t mean as much if you aren’t managing your bankroll properly. And that’s the biggest thing that people forget to do when they start chasing their losses. Whether you’re chasing out of desperation or out of sheer cockiness fueled by the belief that you can turn things around overnight, you are almost bound to lose big if you aren’t of sound mind when placing your wagers. In the end, it’s better to just not risk it. But again, we’ve only really covered one side of the coin. It’s now time to address the fact that….

Winning Streaks Are Also Temporary

This concept applied to the Kentucky Wildcats’ Division I Tournament earlier this year. Also applies pretty well to Spider-Man movies. (Andy Lyons/SB Nation)

This concept applied to the Kentucky Wildcats’ Division I Tournament earlier this year. Also applies pretty well to Spider-Man movies. (Andy Lyons/SB Nation)

This one probably hurts a bit to hear, but if you’re going to keep your bearings when you hit a losing streak, then you need to get this through your head. The key to understanding variance is to accept that both winning streaks and losing streaks are simply runs of luck that ultimately mean nothing to your overall success. You should be grateful for your winning streaks whenever they come your way, but you should never assume that they’ll last forever.

Now, if you’ve read our most recent article, then you are already aware that we would advocate pressing your bets when you are in the middle of a hot streak. But let’s talk for a bit about what that means in terms of responsible bankroll management. Remember how we said that losing bettors have a tendency to chase their bets and double down on a loss? Well, doubling down on a win can be just as risky. The worst that will happen is that you’ll break even, which doesn’t sound too bad but can still be a hugely disappointing way to end your run of good luck.

So maybe you should consider pressing your bets until the streak is over, but do not get so cocky that you think you can double your bankroll with every subsequent bet. Instead, consider only betting about 50% more than usual when you are pressing your luck. And even that might be too rich for your blood if you’re being truly responsible with your finances. No matter what number you decide upon, make sure that it gives you enough leeway to ensure that you will still be profitable when your streak ends.

Also, do not start to slack off. Just as those who read too much into their losing streaks are prone to losing their cool and doing less research on the stats of each team, those who have been going strong for a couple of weeks straight might think that it’s okay to start getting lazy. But never forget that your winning streak was only partly based on luck. Whether you have been using our services or simply doing a stand-up job of assessing stats and making the right calls, you need to keep doing exactly what you were doing when your streak began.

Are you beginning to see the overall theme here? Whether you are winning or losing, the key to becoming profitable in your endeavors is to stay the course. Do not get cocky, do not get lazy, and above all, do not become the kind of person who can’t see the forest for the trees. Your streak, whether good or bad, might last weeks or even months. But if you have a win rate over 52% (and if you stick with us, you should have something even better), then you can call yourself successful at the end of the day. But if you start to spin out of control or, worse, become complacent—well then, you’re in for some turbulence.

Variance can make it harder to maintain the appropriate mindset than you might think. You might usually do fine with a couple of wins or losses in a row, but the longer streaks can really be a test of your willpower. Getting scared and chasing losses is bad, but getting cocky and pressing your bets harder than you should can be even worse. You can lose just as much, and possibly in an even faster amount of time. Never let arrogance guide your attempts at sports betting. Grandiosity can be a huge kink in your ability to turn a profit.