What does "Chalk" Mean in Sports Betting?

by JP Sio

What does chalk mean in sports betting?

The sports betting industry is all about making quick decisions and not wasting any precious time.  You could spend time writing down the full terms of individual sports betting statistics or using the slang terms.  There are dozens of terms bettors use in their daily sports betting talk, but today we're zooming in on 'chalk' and will explain what chalk means.

You always have people who want to enjoy the adrenaline and excitement of wagering but don't feel like taking an inordinate amount of risk.  In any matchup, there's a favorite and an underdog.  In many cases, the games are quite competitive, and either team has a good shot to win the game.  However, sometimes there's a team which is considerably better than its opponent, and is a heavy favorite.  So, for example, a heavy NFL favorite may be favored by 10 points on the point spread, or be a -700 favorite on the money line.  Such heavy favorites are referred to as “chalk” (though the term chalk is also used to refer to any favorite, generally, regardless of size).

Bettors who prefer to wager on the favorites are called chalk bettors.  Let's first look at the history behind the term chalk.  Then, we'll dive into the actual strategy behind betting chalk to see if there are alternatives that might work better than merely betting a heavy favorite.

Why do we call it chalk?

You might wonder, from where does the term chalk come?  Your first inclination might be to think of the old chalkboards you had back in your early days at primary school.  And, even though we're talking about sports betting here, you wouldn’t be far off.  The term actually came from one of the oldest sports that people started betting on -- horse racing.  Decades ago, before tote boards with computerized screens to display the odds were developed, sportsbooks at the horse tracks (or bookmakers in back rooms) used chalkboards to display (and change) the odds.

As bettors took the favorites more often, these were the odds that got more frequent updates on the chalkboard.  At the end of the race, you'd see the horse's name that brought in most of the action covered in chalk dust.  And that early gambling term is still with us, today.  These days, however, you'll hear it in a slightly different context.  Some examples:

  • You're a coward for only betting chalk.
  • It was a very chalky NFL Sunday this past weekend.
  • In the first round of the NCAA tournament, the chalk cleaned up nicely.

As you can see, bettors have taken the term and have updated it to mean a range of things.  But, let’s take our discussion to anothe level, and ask whether betting on the chalk is worth it?  Does it bring in more cash than doing proper research and betting the underdog now and then?  Let's find out, shall we?

Is betting chalk a good sports betting strategy?

At first glance, betting the moneyline favorite might sound like a good strategy.  You log on to your favorite sportsbook, scan through the odds, and put in your preferred wagers.  And if you’re betting on heavy favorites, you might win anyway -- even if the odds were poor -- since it's such a heavy moneyline favorite you're betting on.  So, even if you win, because of the odds being so short, you won’t make that much money.  When you withdraw your funds from the sportsbook, you won’t have brought in the big bucks.

It makes sense since most heavy favorites carry odds that aren't that interesting for a random wager.  Imagine a moneyline bet between the Boston Celtics and the New Orleans Pelicans.  Boston is not only the superior club, but is playing at home.  The oddsmakers at BookMaker thus install Boston as an 11.5-point home favorite, and set the moneyline odds at -800.  That means you need to stake $800 to win $100 on the moneyline.  It's a very high risk you're taking for a minimal payoff.  What if Boston has an off day, or if there’s an unexpected injury to Jayson Tatum announced right at game time?  A lot can happen in sports.  You may think the bet is “in the bag” when you made it, but sometimes the bag has a hole in it.

In contrast, you could choose to bet on the point spread rather than the moneyline.  Or, if you still want to make a moneyline wager, you can choose a team at odds near even money.  Then, you won’t be risking a big stake, and you could walk away with a bigger payday.  Sometimes, it is worth it to take a bigger risk!  And, isn't that what sports betting is all about? Taking a little educated guess at picking a winner?  When you do your research to find the best bets, it makes more sense to take on more risk, and eventually brings you much bigger rewards.

How to spot the favorite
But, what if you prefer taking small risks to make small profits?  What if you're only wagering $10 on a -500 odds moneyline bet?  In that instance, you would only earn $2.  It's not much, but it could help you to build a bigger bankroll and eventually allow you to take more risks.  So where do you start?  And how do you select the right favorites?

Back in the days, you could walk up to the counter of your Nevada sportsbook and ask the ticket writer to help you choose the best favorite available.  These days, most sportsbooks are online, and you can usually peruse the odds yourself.  Additionally, you might refer to other gambling websites to review the game match-ups to spot the best situations.  There are a lot of ways for gamblers to access meaningful data.  Here’s some advice if you’re looking to bet on the chalk:

  1. Check your favorite sports league to see the current standings.  If there's a team on top of its division, but is not so far ahead that it becomes disinterested, keep a close eye.  No matter whether it's the NFL, NBA, MLB, or NHL, if you spot a team that's outperforming virtually all of its opponents, but has yet to wrap up a playoff position, it might be worth a moneyline wager as big chalk.
  2. Check the schedule for any upcoming matches for this heavy favorite.  When it plays against an underperforming team, you might have a situation where you're almost assured a win.  
Besides these, there are some other factors that could take your moneyline bet from good to great.  What if the team you’re betting on comes into its game off a rare loss, and wants to atone for that defeat?  And what if its underperforming opponent is off a rare win, and is ripe for a letdown?  Sometimes, the stars align, and you can bet on a big chalk which is highly motivated to win.

What is an alternative to betting chalk?

The beauty of sports betting in the 21st century is that you have unlimited digital access to sportsbooks and a wealth of information.  Certainly, there are innumerable strategies that you can use.  But we're not here to pick your strategy for you.  All we can do is give you some tips that will help you to develop your strategy.

Dive into the statistics
The first thing you need to do when betting on sports is to become familiar with the statistics.  There's not a single sports bettor who can attain success without ever looking at the statistics.  Imagine betting on the NBA and not knowing the Gregg Popovich-coached San Antonio Spurs are terrific at home when playing with revenge.  That's where you miss out on great wagering opportunities.  You can never keep track of too much -- losing streaks, home advantages, injuries, letdown situations, anything.  It can all contribute to making a wise decision, so take some time to get familiar with the statistics.

Don't be afraid to call for help
There's always a favorite, even in a sport like Golf, with matchups like Abraham Ancer against Webb Simpson at the TPC River Highlands.  But how do you find an edge?  It's not always possible to do the required research.  So, what do you do if you still want to make a bet -- perhaps just for entertainment?  What if you could consult with an expert to find the best bets?

Professional handicappers do just that.  They work full-time to research sports and earn money by selling their picks to other sports bettors.  They usually track multiple leagues, and are able to find edges in competitions.  Most handicappers will also give you a free trial to check whether their services match your strategy.  So, especially if you don't have the requisite amount of time on your hands, it can be an intelligent decision to hire a professional.

Pick the right sportsbook
Another crucial factor to winning at sports betting is picking the right sportsbook -- and especially if you want to bet on heavy chalk, or if you want to aggregate your chalk bets into parlay bets.  When you look into selecting the right sportsbook, there are a lot of things to consider:  whether it has a modern website, its odds, its banking methods, its sign-up bonuses, its wagering limits, etc.

It goes without saying that not every sportsbook is tops at everything.  For example, if you like to play parlays and teasers, then BetAnySports would be your best option.  Likewise, if you want to only bet on straight bets (whether point spreads or moneylines), then BetAnySports (our current #1-rated sportsbook) should be your place to wager since it offers reduced juice (-105 odds rather than -110 odds).  However, if you want to bet $50,000 on an NFL side, then join BookMaker!   Of course, professional gamblers won’t just have one online sportsbook account; they’ll have three to five sportsbooks, at a minimum, so they can shop the lines to get the best numbers.  And another nice benefit of joining multiple sportsbooks is that they’ll give you great sign-up (and reload) bonuses.  For example, BetNow has the biggest sign-up and reload bonuses, and is our #2-rated sportsbook, overall.

After reading this article, you now understand what chalk betting is all about.  The term chalk has a rich history and has brought many bettors a lot of money.  If you approach chalk betting the right way, you can flourish as a gambler!  But whatever you do, make sure you have some fun and never wager more than you're able to lose!

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

© 2021 Al McMordie's BigAl.com. All Rights Reserved.