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The Seven Deadly Sins of Sports Betting
If Somebody Asked Me I’d Say...
by Mort Olshan

1. Not knowing what it takes to be a winner.
Being driven by unreality and false hopes. It takes 52.38% winners to break even. Seasoned pros understand that at least 50% of all pointspread decisions are decided by serendipity…a random stroke of good or bad fortune. Respect, even fear, the Luck Factor. Be satisfied with anything around 60% winners and be grateful for anything above it.

2. Being undisciplined in managing your money.
Letting losses depress or immobilize you; impulsively forcing the action in an irrational way. You’re not going to be a winner with foolish money management. There’s no such thing as the law of averages in sports betting. Never bet more than twice your normal play no matter how promising a game may look. Trying to get even (e.g., on a Monday night) can be a curse. View the handicapping exercise as you would a 12-round fight. You’re not going to win every round; it’s the overall final decision that counts. Establish a steady pattern of play. Remember, if you play too fast, you can’t last. And if you play too slow, you gotta’ go. Moderation is the key. Just like in life itself.

3. Lacking patience.
Failing to look for every edge, both in the pointspread dissection and the current up-to-date assessment of the teams. Shop for the best prices on each game. A half-point here and a point there is often the difference between a winning or losing season. Don’t play bad numbers. If you’re dealing with only one source, you’re going to be at a disadvantage. Don’t overreact to injury reports, especially those involving high-profile players. The pointspread will usually reflect the news by the time you hear it. And besides, good teams often compensate while the opposition may become overconfident.

4. Failing to set priorities.
Refusing to properly and intelligently identify the most important handicapping factors; the tendency to be distracted by insignificant items or unverified reports. Compare the fundamental strengths and weaknesses of both teams. Analyze the match-ups with respect to what each team must do to defeat the other. Reflect upon whatever psychological elements might exist to give one team a decisive motivational advantage. Don’t try to “Einstein” the game or imitate Freud. Avoid being obsessed with playing favorites. Remember, you can usually find five times as many reasons to go with the favorite; it’s human nature. The sports handicapping exercise isn’t that complex. It often comes down to which team is superior and which is more highly motivated to win on that particular day.

5. Blindly following some groundless technical trend or falling for back-fitted numerical regressions.
A technical trend is meaningful only when it captures the essence of a team’s personality, character or chemistry. Or when it considers the nature of the sport itself. For instance, records based on particular conditions that remain constant are to be respected. But discard the casual coincidences. As English historian Arnold Toynbee said of the world’s vicissitudes, “Life is a series of trendless fluctuations.”

6. Betting with your heart, not your head.
Bonding emotionally with your favorite teams. Don’t overreact to the most recent games or an impressive TV showing; they have little to do with a balanced, intelligent inquiry. Such performances are usually isolated efforts and may distort a more sensible appraisal. Few teams are really as good as they look in winning, or as bad as they look when losing. Don’t focus too much attention on the flamboyant qualities of a team. A tenacious, determined defense usually perseveres against a flashier, offense-minded opponent. Remember, offense sells tickets; defense wins games. Don’t be “romanced” by getting extra points with bad teams. They’ll tease you at times, but seldom make you a winner. In fact, it’s not a bad strategy to be a contrarian and go against the “conventional wisdom.” Another rule: when in doubt, take the points.

7. Falling for tips, wired games and other nonsense.
Tips are a dime a dozen, and you probably won’t find a single so-called wired game in your lifetime. During the course of a season there are all kinds of rumors circulating, often generated by those wanting to manipulate the pointspread for their own interests. If you are never influenced by these whispers and stick with proven disciplined handicapping basics, you’ll be money ahead. Anything really worthwhile is generally not going to be available to the public. And, even if it were, it would not make that much of a difference in the long term. There are more sins to avoid, but these should suffice for the time being.

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