Chase Betting: a Different Way to Bet Baseball
by Robert Ferringo
I think I have a threshold for psychological pain beyond that of a member of the general populace. I can stomach five straight hours of "Grey's Anatomy" on DVD with the wife. Screaming kids on the subway don't' rattle me. Watching midgets molest a Shetland pony at a frat party doesn't get my pulse up. But one thing that I simply don't have the stomach for is chase betting.
I mean, I consider myself a pretty levelheaded gambler, one that can keep it together right before the point of impact. But you have to have balls the size of Condoleezza Rice's to get involved with chase betting. For those of you that don't know what that is, "chase betting" is a specific style and theory of wagering that can be successful and profitable if performed with discipline and diligence. However, there is a chance that things can go horribly wrong - like Year Two of Terrell Owens in Philly wrong - and even when things go right it's tough to maintain your composure.
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The best way to explain chase betting is to give an example. Let's say that we decided to "chase" a three-game series between the Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals. Generally, we would be "chasing" the Nationals because we know that they're going to be underdogs for all three games. It is possible to "chase" the favorite in a series, but the math is more complicated.
The goal here is one win out of the Nationals in the three games that these teams are going to play. That's it. That's all we need: one win. It's called a "chase" because you're chasing one victory. And because Washington will be getting plus-money as a dog in each contest we're guaranteed a profit as long as we price our bets properly.
We would bet, say, $100 on the Nationals at +135 in Game 1. If Washington wins we collect our $135; the "chase" is over and we wait for the next series. If the Nationals lose we then bet $100 on them again in Game 2 at +145 (I'm just making up odds). Again, if the Nationals win then we collect $145, the "chase" is over, and we turned a $45 profit for the series ($145 won in Game 2 minus the $100 we lost in Game 1).
But here's where the chase gets interesting: if you lose the first two games of the chase your next bet should be double what you've lost on those wagers in Game 3. So if the Nationals are +130 in Game 3 you would bet $200 - equal to what you've lost on the first two games combined - on Washington. If they win and avoid the sweep then you collect $240. After deducting your losses from the first two games that would leave you with a profit of $40 for the series and you move on to the next one.
In theory, this is a solid betting strategy that requires the cool of Sinatra and the discipline of the Ayatollah. Baseball is tailor made for this type of betting because of the length of series and frequency of games each week. Even the worst teams in the league win 60 games (a .370 winning percentage) and that ratio is even better than the one-out-of-three that we need for this program to work. If you can add some filters and anticipate series where the inferior team can manage to avoid getting swept then you stand to make a healthy profit.
However, there aren't too many bettors I know that aim to win just 40 percent of their wagers. The constant losing would crack most amateur gamblers and the prospect of doubling down on Matt Chico against Carlos Zambrano could be enough to force a commoner to weep and/or wet himself.
Obviously, the Sweep is the mortal enemy of the series chase. At the All-Star break roughly 10 percent of all series ended with one team failing to win a single game. With our system, at that rate, if you can average just $50 per winning series you can turn a profit. It's not much, but over the course of a season it all adds up.
If a Sweep is the archrival of chase betting than Game 1 wins are its soul mate. A win in the opener of a series where one team will be a dog for all three games is worth over +100 and keeps you worry-free as you move onto the next set. Game 3 wins are the next best thing from a mathematical standpoint if not a psychological one. Since you're betting $200 as opposed to $100 you double up on the plus-money that you earn. For example, a $100 bet at +135 in one of the first two games nets a $35 profit but that same bet in Game 3 picks up $270 and thus a $70 profit.
I know, I know: the math here is dizzying and boring. But the bottom line is that if you find a series where one team will be an underdog for all three games and they are playing a shaky team that's bound to have one weak performance then it's a solid strategy. Teams like the Yankees and Cubs, for example, are frequently overvalued yet don't produce sweeps at a rate beyond the norm for Major League teams. Clubs like the Indians and Brewers aren't great fielding squads or have leaky bullpens, which makes them susceptible to getting upset once or twice.
Conversely, don't feel like you only have to chase bottom feeders like Washington and Kansas City because they're the only clubs guaranteed to be dogs for three straight in a majority of their series. A perfect example of a prime spot to chase was the Florida-Los Angeles Dodgers series right before the break. The Marlins were going to be posted as dogs in all three games because of the pitching match-ups, yet they actually won twice in Chavez Ravine. Several factors - pitching match-ups, recent performance and injuries - can lead to a situation where two average or above average teams meet up and one of them is a dog for all three games. These are the prime spots for a chase system to be victorious.
While I can be considered a proponent of chase betting - in a limited capacity and only with baseball - there isn't a consensus about its validity (or lack thereof) within the handicapping community. To some it's a way for things to go real bad, real quick. For other's it's simply a mathematical formula that can be used to turn a profit.
"Chasing in any sport is dangerous," said a member of Vegas Sports Informer. "But I think chasing in MLB is probably the worst because you can easily be in the negative in a couple of days."
"I think chase betting can work," said a member of Strike Point Sports. "However, I think this is a particular system that will only function well in the middle or latter part of the season. I say this because it's good to figure out where teams sit and learn how to play them. But certainly we see series every week with teams, such as the Yankees, that don't deserve to be heavy favorites or favored at all. So it does take precise skill to pick out which situations warrant this type of play."
No system should be bet blindly, and chase betting is no different. There are filters that can be used to select the most potentially profitable series and to avoid ones with an above average chance for a sweep. But in the end, series chases can be successful if you obey strict discipline, are calculating in picking your spots, and give yourself a long enough time span for this to earn.
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