Raise your hand if you recognize this sequence of events: You've got $50 on a three-team NFL parlay. Your first two teams play early games and cover handily. Your third team plays Sunday night, and you have all day to think about how you're going to spend your money. Several nervous hours later, your team comes out and gets trounced.
At this point, wouldn't you feel better if you could just get your money back and lick your wounds?
There is a way, called the Round Robin Parlay. Of course, nothing comes free, but as you'll see the price for the peace of mind is well worth paying.
The way it works is pretty simple. Instead of putting all your money on one three-team parlay, you split it three ways with three two-team parlays. Each of your three teams gets paired with the other two, much like an exacta box in horse racing. For example, if you like Arizona, Buffalo and Chicago to cover, your three parlays are Arizona with Buffalo, Arizona with Chicago, and Buffalo with Chicago.
So let's see how this works in practice, with a two-team parlay paying the standard 2.6/1 payout. If you put $20 on each leg of a round robin and two teams hit, you win one of your three parlays, for a return of $72 - turning a small profit considering the $60 investment. If all three teams hit, you win all three parlays for a return of $216.
Of course, you could put all $60 on a three-team parlay, and the return if they all hit is $420 - almost double the $216 return of a Round Robin. That's the price you pay for hedging. But over time, the Round Robin actually is the smarter mathematical bet.
Here's why: Each side you pick should be a 50-50 proposition, and you should be able to hit three such propositions in a row once out of every eight times you bet it (1/2 * 1/2 * 1/2 = 1/8). However, you should also get two of the three correct another three times out of those eight. If you bet a three-team parlay for $60 each, you can expect a return of $420 once out of every eight plays, on an outlay of $480. By spending that $60 on eight Round Robins, you'll have the same $480 outlay with a return of $432 - a one-time return of $216 and three other returns of $72.
Of course, if you can pick winners more than 50 percent of the time, you can raise those numbers to the break-even point. In fact, the return on investment for a standard three-team parlays passes the return on a Round Robin at a win rate of only slightly higher than 50 percent. But if you can pick winners, there's lots of ways to make money gambling. If you're picking less than 50 percent like most people and you still love the thrill of the parlay, the proper way to hedge it is with a Round Robin.