4 Essential Sports Betting Skills

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Updated: 28 May 2020

Sports betting and financial trading follow many of the same principles, despite some significant differences in volatility and length of investment. In this series, I will be going through some of the key skills required to be a profitable sports bettor in the long term, as well as some specific examples of things I look for when placing a bet. By the end of this series, the hope is that the reader will feel confident that they have the necessary skills and tools to be able to try their hand at sports betting, confident that they will be able to turn a profit.

There is one skill that stands out above all others as a prerequisite to become a profitable punter – Discipline. I’ve worked in the gambling industry for several years, and part of this role has been to look into customer betting patterns and make judgements on whether they are likely to win or lose in the long term. What this experience has taught me is there is no shortage of punters who can identify value on a particular bet, or even a particular market or sport, in the long term. But many of these punters fall away in the most critical trait a profitable punter must have in spades – discipline.

Discipline within the world of punting comes in many forms. There’s bankroll management, emotional discipline (particularly not chasing losses), disciplined bet selection – including research and understanding in what sports and markets you have an edge – and transaction recording. In this article I’ll explain 4 essential skills that will make you a more disciplined, and therefore a more profitable, punter.

Essential Sports Betting Skills

Bankroll Management

It’s hard to say which part of the punting process is the most important, as they are all essential, but bankroll management would be right up there. This is effectively the same principle as risk management in the financial trading world. There are some different theories floating around as to how best to manage a bankroll, but the general rule I and many others follow is to limit your standard bet or ‘unit’ to 1-2% of your bankroll – your bankroll being the amount you are willing to lose. So, say you were going to invest $10,000 into financial markets. If you decided to instead try your hand at sports betting , your bankroll would be $10,000, and you should stick to an average bet size of $100 to $200. This doesn’t mean you can’t bet bigger amounts. If I was betting on a line, I would usually bet 1 unit, depending on confidence. If something was 10/1, I would be betting more like 0.2 units, or if something was 1/2 I’d be more likely to bet 2 units. This all depends on your confidence on that selection, which will then skew it in either direction, but that would be my baseline.

As your bankroll changes over time, these amounts should change with it. If you have lost $5,000 to have a balance of $5,000, your standard unit should now be $50 to $100. This all sounds basic enough. Where most people fall apart with bankroll management, apart from betting in bigger increments than 1-2% of their bankroll, is chasing losses.

Not Chasing Losses

Loss chasing occurs when you lose a bet or a series of bets and attempt to win it back. This is one of the most obvious signs of someone who is not a profitable punter. Loss chasing is never a good idea. The reason for this is simple. To attempt to chase losses you will most likely be betting above your unit size, potentially on bets that you would not otherwise have taken. If this is your motivation for placing a bet, your judgment will be clouded by emotion and your ability to objectively analyse the value of the bet will be impacted. Chasing losses is not a good mental space to be in when betting.

It often stems from disappointment and anger at the money you have lost, and when your brain is in a hyper-emotional state you will make poor betting decisions. If you ever find yourself feeling like chasing a loss, step away, take a few days off and come back. You won’t be doing yourself any favours by betting in that state of mind. If you are in that state of mind to begin with, it probably suggests that your stakes are above the level they should be. You should be comfortable losing any money you have staked on an event.

Bet Selection

No two people are the same. For some, emotional regulation and discipline are easily found, but intricate knowledge of a sport and the betting implications involved are hard to come by. For others, they may know a sport inside out and know a wrong price when they see one but lack the discipline to follow the principles required to consistently turn a profit.

It is vital to find your ‘niche’ in sports betting and stick to it. I’m based in Australia and for me, it’s AFL and Cricket. Within that, there are some specific markets that I look to bet on most of the time, which I will delve into in later articles. But the key takeout here is that, despite working in the betting industry, being surrounded by all the sports and racing under the sun and other experts betting into these other areas, I stick to the two sports I know inside out – and specific markets within those sports.

You need to find your niche. This needs to be an area that you know better than the bookies. A lot of the time, bookies won’t put in a lot of time to pricing a market – particularly if it is a traditionally low turnover market. This is where you can find an edge. It might be total corners in a football market, or runs in X session in a test match, but if you can find an edge on an imperfect market, you should look to exploit this as much as you can. Importantly, this success should be measured over a sustained period. One or two months of profit does not make a profitable punter.

Transaction Recording

To be able to determine whether you are profiting, you need to be recording every bet you place. There are some great free online resources out there which can be found using a quick online search. I can’t stress this enough – you need to record every single bet. I update mine a couple of times a week, including all deposits, withdrawals and bets, to make sure the account balance in the tracker matches that on my account so I know I haven’t missed anything. If you aren’t recording every bet you place, you will always overestimate your performance. I know a lot of profitable bettors, and while there are some differences in approach, discipline and style, there is one thing that every one of them has in common – they record every bet they place. This is a non-negotiable. It not only gives you insight into your overall performance but allows you to break down performance by individual sports, markets and time periods, which is an invaluable tool. My betting decisions are hugely impacted by my referencing of my tracker.

Conclusion

The above are the four most critical skills and behaviours needed to be a profitable punter. Realistically, this list is endless and you could add another thousand things that go into the mix, but if you nail the four things detailed above, you will have gone a long way to becoming profitable. In the next article I will touch on the difference between fixed-odds and spread betting, and different ways to approach these in a disciplined and profitable manner.