How Do Half Points Work in Sports Betting and Wagering?
It doesn't matter if you are a novice bettor just learning the ropes or a professional bettor that's seen everything in their 25 years in the business, at one time or another (more like several times in your life time) you will have to throw away a ticket in which a team failed to cover the point spread by a half point. It is one of the more frustrating losses in the industry, right next to the classic ninth-inning bullpen collapse in baseball. Some would say losing a bet by half a point (AKA ' the hook ') is the bettors' fault, not the actual players or coaches in the game, but I will get to that later in the article. What we want to help you understand is why half points are instituted in the betting industry and how they affect whether or not you win or lose your bet and the price you pay for such a line.
How Does a Half Point Work?
For starters, when looking at the point spread line for any lined game, 'the hook' is that extra half-point in the line. There is a very big difference between a three-point spread and a spread that is 3.5. That extra half point ensures that there will in fact be a winner and loser in regard to the point spread. This means that the sportsbook will in fact rake in the losing bets and pay out the winning bets with that money, which in turn allows them to turn a profit. If you hear someone say that they 'lost by the hook' or 'lost by a half point' they are referring to a situation where a team didn't cover by the slimmest of margins.
As an example, lets pretend you decide to bet on the New England Patriots, and they are three-point favorites in their game against Minnesota. If the Patriots win by a score of 20-17, the wager would be graded as a push and both sides of the bet would get their money back. That's not something the sportsbooks want.
Most sportsbook would list the spread at -3.5 meaning if you took the Patriots and they won 20-17, you would lose your bet by half a point. If you took the Vikings, you would win your bet by that same half point.
Can You Avoid the Half Point?
It's pretty hard to bet on the point spread and avoid the dreaded half point hook. Linemakers love adding 'the hook' to spreads that fall on the most common outcomes in games. For example, the most common winning margins in football is three, four and seven points. And adding a hook to each of those numbers would ensure both a winning and losing side, with the ultimate goal being balanced action.
When the hook is added, there isn't a significant reaction from the betting public either way. The majority will look at the spread and enjoy the fact that their ticket will either be a winner or a loser. The betting public also fails to shop around at different sportsbooks for the best line they can possibly find. Avoiding the hooks in a game is possible, but only if you are willing to spend a bit more on your bet and buy a half point when the situation calls for it. Buying points is a completely different concept all together, but it's possible to buy a half point and move the spread in your favor.
For example, you can buy a half point (for a premium) from -3 to -2.5 if you like the favorite, or from +3 to +3.5 if you like the underdog. This gives you a better chance to win your bet, but the extra juice you have to pay will burn you if you should lose.
Is Buying a Half Point Worth it?
Depending on who you ask, some bettors will tell you to always buy the hook (either up or down) to avoid tossing your ticket away, while some bettors swear that buying the hook is a waste of your bankroll. We live in a world where sportsbooks offer a plethora of options, and most of them give us the option to buy a half point on the favorite or underdog.
Remember our example from above? If you were to buy a half point on the underdog Vikings and make the spread +3.5 instead of +3, a 20-17 loss would now give you a winning ticket. You wouldn't have wasted three hours of your life to get your money back.
However, if you are prepared to buy the hook, you must be prepared to pay a premium price for the better line. Because of this, the cost of buying the hook can be higher than the long-term cost of betting with the hook on a normal line. You must pick your spots wisely and shop around before committing to this way of betting. I can almost assure you, if you want that 3.5 spread to go down to a three so you that you can bet the favorite, and you look hard enough, you will find it at another book for -110, instead of paying -125 to buy the hook and get it at -3 at your current book.
Understanding Half-Point Betting Math
Depending on who you ask, some bettors will tell you to always buy the hook (either up or down) to avoid tossing your ticket away, while some bettors swear that buying the hook is a waste of your bankroll.
Remember our example from above? If you were to buy a half point on the underdog Vikings and make the spread +3.5 instead of +3, a 20-17 loss would now give you a winning ticket. You wouldn’t have wasted three hours of your life to get your money back.
However, if you are prepared to buy the hook, you must be prepared to pay a premium price for the better line. Because of this, the cost of buying the hook can be higher than the long-term cost of betting with the hook on a normal line. You must pick your spots wisely and shop around before committing to this way of betting.
To help us understand the half-point betting math, we must first determine what the odds, implied probability, and the breakeven threshold is. As I’m sure you know, to breakeven betting on -110 lines (standard point spread lines is 52.38 percent. As the juice increases, so does the breakeven point – a -120 line increases the percentage to wins need to 54.55 percent. This means that turning a profit in a profession that is already hard enough, just got 2.17 percent harder.
The next thing we must understand is the true value of a half-point purchase and that requires two simple things – an NFL push chart that can be found online or created, and basic math skills.
The push chart we are going to use as a basis for this article will tell us the probability of any NFL game played in any season finishing with a difference of one of these numbers.
-1 (2.5%), -2 (2%), -3 (9.8%), -4 (3%), -5 (1.7%), -6 (3.4%), -7 (5.7%)
-8 (2.1%), -9 (0.9%), -10 (4.9%), -11 (2.2%), -12 (0.4%), -13 (1.3%), -14 (4.9%)
As you can see, the favorite wins by three points just 9.8 percent of the time. Now, if you consider the fact that we lose our +2.5 bet and we then push on a -3 outcome, we are going to take half the 9.8 percent probability and add it to the 52.38% implied probability of -110.
In this case, we go from +2.5 to +3 and half of 9.8 percent is 4.9%. We would then add it to the +2.5 -110 implied probability (52.38 percent) to get a new line of +3 with an implied probability of 57.28 percent. Based on a standard odds converter, a 57.28 implied probability would equate to a -134 American line. This tells us that moving from +2.5 (-110) to +3 is worth 24 cents and it has the same expected value. Now, with that said, let me prove to you that buying half points can, in fact, turn into a +EV play.
Let’s pretend we are looking at the line of +9.5 (-110). As we already know, -110 implies a 52.38 percent probability. And as per the push chart above, we know that -10/+10 pushes around 4.9 percent of the time. If we decided to buy two half-points, we would bring the line to +10.5 which would push our implied probability to 57.28 percent (52.38% + 4.9%). If we plug our new probability into an odds converter, we will see that the true line should be -134. However, most betting sites that sell half-points would charge -130 for such a line movement, which means this would be a +EV play. A few other +EV plays would be buying from +9.5 -110 to +10.5 -130 (and the same if you like the favorite) and +13.5 -110 to +14.5 -130.
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