Basic Strategy for Betting Totals

Basic Strategy for Betting Totals

Are you getting bored of simply betting on who will win the game each time? Change it up and bet on the total instead. Total betting is essentially a 50/50 proposition on whether the total points scored by both teams will go over or under the bookmaker's posted total.

Also known as over/under betting, this type of wager is available on almost any sport you can think of: football, basketball, baseball, hockey and soccer to name a few. Hockey, as we explain in this article, is perhaps the best sport for profitable totals betting, as it's the easiest one for handicapping totals. That doesn't mean there isn't money to be made by betting the total for the other sports mentioned though.

In this article we cover how to price betting totals, and provide a number of other strategies for using this type of wager effectively.

Recommended Reading

If you're not yet familiar with how this type of wager works, please see our beginner's guide to totals betting.

Pricing Betting Totals

Again, we'll point out that it's much easier to handicap totals betting in hockey than with any other sport. This simple formula should be enough to help you make a rough prediction for how many goals will be scored in a hockey game.

(Average Goals Scored + Average Goals Allowed For Both Teams) / 2

For baseball, all sorts of other factors come into play. The starting pitcher, how batters have performed against pitchers with similar stats, today's lineup and the bullpen all have to be considered. Technically, when it comes to baseball there's a lot more useful data to work with, which means making more precise predictions is a strong possibility. However, interpreting all of that data correctly in order to make valid judgments is easier said than done.

A challenge we face for football betting is that there are simply not enough games in the season to get an accurate figure using points scored and points allowed alone. For this, the first adjustment required is to use medians not averages. Looking to this set of numbers: 3, 7, 15, the median is 7 and the average is 8.33.

How do you apply this to betting football totals? When calculating points scored and points allowed, place each into a list in ascending order. The number in the middle is your median, and you can use that number in conjunction with the league average to find your estimated points scored in a game.

Here are the calculations required to do this.

(A+B+C+D) / 2 = Estimated Points Scored in Game

The problem here is that this model is far too simplistic to yield long-term profits. No matter how simple the sport, you'll need to make other adjustments.

Of course, if handicapping totals were easy then the market would dry up and there would be no profit left. So, if you're ambitious, the fact that they are hard can be an advantage for you.

Alternative to Pricing Totals
Book

Rather than learning how to price totals, a good strategy for the ambitious beginner is learning predictive modeling. There's a good article on this in the book shown here, Conquering Risk: Attacking Vegas and Wall Street by Elihu D. Feustel. This book can be purchased on Amazon. It's the perfect read for those interested in advanced fundamentals.

Now for those who don't want to wait for the book, we continue with more helpful advice on total betting.

Understanding Key Numbers

When projecting betting totals, it's important to understand key numbers. For example, in NFL football, the most common total points scored, in order, are as follows.

  • 41
  • 43
  • 37
  • 44
  • 51
  • 33
  • 47

Knowing this we'd be far more likely to bet over 41 when our model predicted 41.3 than we would be willing to bet under 41 when our model predicted 40.7. While 40 is still a rather common outcome, 39 and 38 are very low probability totals. Over 41 gives us a push on the most common outcome and a win on the second and fourth most common outcomes.

Off Market Prices & Bonuses

With the information just given, there's a relatively straightforward way to profit from betting NFL totals. The goal is to take advantage of sports betting bonuses and off market prices simultaneously.

What you need to understand is, as mentioned in our article on how to handicap the market, there's two distinct types of sports betting sites. Sharp books, which are betting sites friendly to professionals, and square books, which are betting sites that target recreational bettors.

It's also important to understand fan bias. NFL fans typically prefer to bet in favor of something happening rather than against something happening. In other words, betting the over is a lot more fun than betting the under. This leads to recreational betting sites often padding the total an extra 0.5 points, thus making the line worse for bettors wagering on the over.

On the other hand, this means that those who are betting on the under have an advantage. The line for the under will be better.

Recreational sites often have total disregard, or might even be unaware of, the implication of key numbers. Remember the most common total points scored in NFL games we mentioned earlier? If you were to shop a recreational site against a square book looking for spots, here's what you'd probably find: the sharp book offering a 47.0 betting total and the recreational site offering a 47.5 betting total. You'd quickly see that the under bet at 47.5 is close to neutral expected value.

When you're lucky enough to find a near neutral EV bet while also having a bonus, chances are high that you'll be able to make considerable profits by betting totals.

Further Information

Please see our article on sports betting bonuses and rewards for more information on the extra value you can get at online betting sites.

Making Correlated Wagers

One way to gain maximum value when total betting is to consider if there's a correlation between the total bet you're making and a game's point spread. For instance, let's say you're betting the under based on the fact that Ben Roethlisberger is playing with less than 100% health, and you believe the Steelers will run the ball and eat the clock.

Now, if the Steelers are -7.5 favorites in the game, then maybe your opinion that the game will go under also means their opponent is more likely to cover the +7.5 point spread. When this is the case, we suggest betting the point spread and the total together in a parlay bet.

Odds or Evens

To state what to many is probably obvious, in certain sports, even and odd number totals make a huge difference. This relates to low scoring sports such as baseball, hockey, and in certain cases soccer. Keep in mind that in baseball and hockey, if a game ends in a tie, it keeps going until the tie is broken. Since ties always represent an even amount of points, it's clear to see why an odd total outcome is more likely to occur than an even total outcome.

How does this relate to soccer? In some circumstance, like elimination tournaments for example, soccer games aren't allowed to end in a tie. In such matches, a total betting line of 2.5 has only four ways for the under to win. These are 0-1, 1-0, 0-2, and 2-0.

Notice that the only way for the under bet to win is for a shutout to happen. We've actually found occasional arbitrage bets (bets where you can bet multiple sides of a game to guarantee a win) just from taking this into consideration.

Please Note

Totals wagers placed on soccer matches where a tie must be broken often only take the first 90 minutes of normal time into account. In that case, there would actually be six possible scorelines for the under to win. 0-0 and 1-1 would also be possibilities.

Avoiding Suckers Bets

We can't stress enough the importance of avoiding sucker bets. For example, making teaser bets on totals is a long-term losing proposition that is better off avoided. What else do suckers do? They forget to shop around for the best lines.

Remember, as mentioned earlier, recreational betting sites will often shade lines or adjust odds to make things worse for those wagering on the more popular selections. This is to trap "fish" – the bettors that tend to lose frequently because they DO make sucker bets.

Top Tip

If you don't want to be a fish, please check out our article on sucker bets and how to avoid them.

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