Take the Emotion out of Handicapping
by Gary Patrick Garry - 08/08/2007
Everybody says that they know that you should bet with your head, not your heart. But we have to stay ever vigilant to stick to this mantra. And even if we have the discipline to consistently play with our heads, there are those among us who do let their emotions get involved with their bankroll, and this is something that we as handicappers can use to our advantage.
I grew up in central New Jersey where I became a diehard supporter of the Philadelphia Phillies, the worst team ever. My Phils recently became the first team in professional sports history to lose 10,000 games. They've won just one championship since they were founded in 1883. As a Phillies fan, I'm an authority on why you shouldn't bet with your heart.
A very good handicapper may be able to pick winners at a 65 percent clip against a point spread. When you factor in the vigorish (commission for sports book), your margins are very tight. We all like to bet, but if you've ever suffered through an extended losing streak, you know as well I do that there's not too much fun in losing. In the long run, winning is what's fun, not betting.
Even an occasional lapse of judgment based on your heart is going to cut into your very thin profit margin. You may spend hours doing your research and forming sound opinions based on a detached and even-handed analysis of the facts. And you may indeed hit over 60 percent of these informed plays, but if you consistently let an emotional decision slip in here and there you will lose that edge that you worked for, and probably more. It's not about who you want to win. Discipline, consistency, and emotional detachment are the keys to profitable handicapping.
Can you support a team that you don't like? Can you make a bet that requires a player that you can't stand to outplay one that you love in order for you to come out a winner? If you can't, you shouldn't bet on sports, unless you don't mind losing.
There's an angle at play here besides checking your own emotions. A good handicapper looks for flaws in the line that are the product of other people's emotions. After all, you aren't betting against the book; they constantly balance their action by moving their numbers in response to the opinions of the other players. So our task as handicappers is to outwit the other players who are in effect setting the line. Understanding the ebb and flow of the "square" money is an important element to consider.
A good example is the New York Yankees. They are 12 games over .500, but -1441 units for the season. Only San Francisco, Houston, Cincinnati and Tampa Bay (who are a combined 73 games under .500) have cost their backers more.
When you're looking at a line, stop and consider who would be the public's emotional choice. I'm not saying that you should blindly bet the other way every time. What I am saying is that you are probably getting an underlay with the more popular team. And finding little flaws in the line is what we as handicappers try to do.
Sports betting is like any other investment. You buy low and sell high. So you need to recognize the emotional favorites and consider the value that may be lost in backing them and adjust your own opinions accordingly.
I never bet against the Phillies, and I very rarely bet on them (after all, they have lost 10,000 games). But the nice thing is, I have good action every time they play because I have that emotional connection.
I recommend that you take the money that you win by avoiding emotional plays and use it to buy yourself a jersey or a hat. Support your team, by all means, but protect your bankroll while you're doing it.