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What to Play?

   by Scott Spreitzer - 09/20/2010

This is one of the biggest questions sports wagerers have to ask. It’s arguably the single biggest contributor to the high losses suffered by the general public in general.



They play too many games. In fact, many keep betting until they make sure they lose!



How is that possible? It’s kind of like the “Peter Principle” in business. You’ve probably heard about that. People get promoted up to the spot where they’re in over their heads. Nobody wants to stand pat in a job they’ve mastered. Employers want to try to get their best people in the most important jobs. Ironically, that leads to a phenomenon where many workers are moved one spot too high. They were qualified to succeed one step below, but they “found” the level where they were in over their heads.



Sports gamblers do that all the time. If they’re winning with their favorite 3-5 picks every day, they start to play a few extras because things are going well. If they manage a winning record with their best 5-7 picks every day, they press on further. They also press up the amounts because success is giving them more confidence. But, at 10-12 plays per day, disaster! They start losing games they didn’t used to even bet. And, they’re losing at bigger amounts because of the prior confidence.



Suddenly, a winning bettor is down for the year. They found the level where they were in over their heads.

What’s worse, sports gamblers refuse to “demote” themselves back to what was working! Instead of saying, “Well, I’ve been playing too many games, I need to cut back down.” They say, “I’m a winner! My earlier record proves it. I can make this work!”



Sports books succeed largely because of human nature. And the knack winners have for turning themselves into losers.



What a bettor needs to do is to think very carefully about the best action level for their own particular style. I’ve found during my years in Vegas that it’s really different for everybody. There are guys who would be best served by just betting their top 1-2 opinions every day. If they are really big on something, it’s got a good chance to to win. The stuff they just “like” isn’t worth the energy. But with others, particularly professional “advantage” players, more action is better because it grinds out a large profit over time. They can hit 54-55% over 100 plays, or 1,000 plays, or 10 years. That’s better than the break-even point with the 11/10 vigorish. If you can hit a winning percentage over a large number of plays, you’re costing yourself money by not betting.



Start logging your opinions each game day in college and pro football (and in basketball when it starts next month if you like handicapping the hoops). Either rank your games from 1-20, or put them in categories such as "five,” “three,” “one,” and “leave alone.” Make this a habit so you’re doing it all the time every betting day. Don’t get discouraged if you find out you’re not as smart as you thought. That’s actually a lesson most gamblers need to learn! Be excited about the chance to truly find where your strengths lie.



If you’re like most people:



*You’ll find out the games you “love” (fives) aren’t really that much better than the others in terms of week-to-week performance. You’ve been betting too much on these, making them have way too big an impact on your bankroll. A few of you will have a great percentage on these. Most won’t.



*You’ll find that you “like” (threes) too many games. There’s a tricky difference between “like,” and “lean.” Most gamblers need to get a firmer grip on that.



*You’ll find that you “like” or “love” a lot more games after a good day than you do after a bad day. This tells you that you’re not really thinking about the matchups and angles that are in play coming up. You’re being overly influenced by what just happened. This is a very bad sign for handicappers. The influences that will determine who wins and covers Sunday’s Ravens/Vikings game are completely unrelated to whether or not you won Saturday’s Southern Cal/Notre Dame game. The Ravens and Vikings couldn’t care less about you! Base you’re opinions on the upcoming games themselves, not on your mood swings.



This exercise will help you develop a keen sense for how to properly rate your games, and where your cutoff point needs to be. That by itself will put you on the winning side of the equation. Then you’ll be taking the sports books money when the games are over instead of pouting because they’ve got yours.



Maybe you’ll find out you need to be conservative, and just focus on your very strongest opinions. Or, you just might get confirmation that you have what it takes to be a true advantage player.

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