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Sports Betting: Game Rules & Strategy

Betting on sports at a sportsbook is a popular pastime, and one way to add a little more excitement to a sporting event.

Straight Bets

A straight bet involves an individual wager on some event. The most popular straight bets are:

  • The Money Line: A bet that a team will win a game. The more lopsided the match up, the lower the return on wagers placed on the favorite, and the higher the return on wagers placed on the underdog. For example, you might see something for an NBA game like Boston Celtics (+125) at Cleveland Cavaliers (-155). In this example:
    • Boston is the underdog and will win $125 for every $100 wagered, or 25% (125 divided by 100) more than your wager. You need not make a $100 wager, of course, but that is how the Money Line is published. On winning bets, the initial wager is returned plus the amount won, so a $10 winning bet on Boston would return $22.50 ($10 initial wager + $12.50 in winnings).
    • Cleveland is the favorite and will win $100 for every $155 wagered, or 64.5% (100 divided by 155) less than your wager. A $10 winning bet on Cleveland would return $16.45 ($10 initial wager + $6.45 in winnings).

    In some sports where a tie is possible (like soccer or a boxing match) a bet can also be made that the contest will end in a tie.

  • The Line / a.k.a. Spread: A bet that a team will win by a certain amount (the "point spread", "spread", or "line"), or that a team will not lose by more than a certain amount. For example, you might see something for an NFL game like Cincinnati Bengals (-7.5) at Miami Dolphins (+7.5). In this example:
    • Cincinnati is favored by 7.5 points. A wager on Cincinnati (-7.5) means that they would need to win the game by 8 points or more.
    • Miami is is the underdog by 7.5 points. A wager on Miami (+7.5) means that they would need to win outright, OR tie, OR lose by no more than 7 points.

    This bet generally pays off at -110, regardless of which side you take. If not, the betting line will read something like Cincinnati Bengals -7.5 (-115) at Miami Dolphins +7.5 (Even).

    If you do not like the published spread for basketball and football games, you can buy points. When you buy points, you are moving the spread in your favor, by either increasing the number of points that you are getting when betting on the underdog, or decreasing the number of points that you are laying when betting on the favorite. Buying points comes at a price, however, with each half-point costing somewhere around 10%; so, buying a whole point on a -110 line changes the pay off to -130.

  • Over/Under / a.k.a. Total Points: A bet made that the total points/runs/goals/rounds fought in a contest will be over or under a certain amount. For example, you might see something for an NHL game like Anaheim Ducks at New York Islanders (O/U 5), or for a UFC match like Kongo vs. Herring (O/U 1.5).

    This bet generally pays off at -110, regardless of which side you take. If not, the betting line will read something like Anaheim Ducks at New York Islanders, Over 5 (+105) Under 5 (-125).

At an online sportsbook, straight bets will appear something like this:

Image of a line at a sportsbook.

You will find straight bets at all sportsbooks, including Bovada.

Parlays

A parlay is a single bet whose outcome is dependent upon the winning of all of the individual wagers that make up the parlay. For example, let's say that you are looking at:

  • Boston Celtics (+125) at Cleveland Cavaliers (-155)
  • Anaheim Ducks at New York Islanders (O/U 5)
  • Washington Wizards (-130) at Philadelphia 76ers (+110)

A parlay bet on Boston, the over 5, and Washington would need all three of those to win. If any one of them does not win, then the parlay bet is lost.

The pay off for a parlay depends on the sports involved.

  • For baseball and hockey, multiply the odds of each individual wager in the parlay. Then, multiply that pay off by the parlay premium offered by the establishment that is taking the bet; the parlay premium increases with the number of individual wagers in the parlay.
  • For basketball and football, a standard payout schedule is used:
    Teams / Events Pay off
    2 13/5
    3 6/1
    4 12/1
    5 25/1
    6 40/1
    7 75/1
    8 100/1
    9 150/1
    10 300/1
    11 450/1
    12 600/1
    13 750 1
    14 900/1
    15 1500/1

If a tie or cancellation occurs for one of the events in the parlay, then the parlay is reduced by one. So, if in a 5-team baseball parlay (for example), one of the games is rained out, then your 5-team parlay becomes a 4-team parlay, accompanied by a reduction in the pay off should all of the other bets in the parlay win.

As with straight bets, parlays are offered at all sportsbooks, including Bovada.

If Bets

An If Bet is a single wager that is made on two or more events, and your wager is made on subsequent events that you name in the If Bet if and only if the previous result in the If Bet series is a win. For example, let's say that you are looking at:

  • Boston Celtics (+125) at Cleveland Cavaliers (-155)
  • Washington Wizards (-130) at Philadelphia 76ers (+110)

A $10 If Bet on the Celtics and the Wizards would proceed as follows:

  • If the Celtics lose, you lose your $10 wager and have no action (bet) on the Wizards.
  • If the Celtics win, then you win $12.50, and your $10 wager is now on the Wizards.
    • If the Wizards win, you win an additional $7.70. Your net win of $20.20 (you won $12.50 on the Celtics and $7.70 on the Wizards).
    • If the Wizards lose, then you lose the $10 wager on the Wizards. Your net win is $2.50 (you won $12.50 on the Celtics but lost $10 on the Wizards).

The key here is that you are putting at risk only your initial wager, and that initial wager is placed on the subsequent events that you place in the If Bet if and only if you win the previous bet is the series.

Related to an If Bet is an If Action Bet. An If Action Bet proceeds in the same way as an If Bet with the exception that, in the event of a push (neither a win nor a loss on a bet), the If Action Bet proceeds to the next bet specified in the In Action Bet. For example, let's say that you are looking at:

  • Boston Celtics (+125) at Cleveland Cavaliers (-155)
  • Anaheim Ducks at New York Islanders (O/U 5)
  • Washington Wizards (-130) at Philadelphia 76ers (+110)

A $10 If Action Bet on the Celtics, the Ducks at Islanders Over 5, and the Wizards would proceed as follows:

  • If the Celtics lose, you lose your $10 wager and have no additional action.
  • If the Celtics win, then you win $12.50, and your $10 wager is now on the Ducks at Islanders Over 5.
    • If total goals is over 5, you win an additional $9.09. Your net win stands at $21.59, and your $10 wager is now on the Wizards.
    • If total goals is under 5, you lose the $10 wager on the over. Your net win is $2.50, and have no additional action.
    • If total goals is exactly 5, you push (neither win nor lose) the $10 wager on the over. Your net win stands at $12.50, and your $10 wager is now on the Wizards. 

(If you had made this same bet as an If Bet instead of as an If Action Bet, then after the push on the over, your net win would be $12.50 but you would have no action on the Wizards.)

Here is my simple, easy-to-use list of online sportsbooks. If you prefer, you can search the list instead. In either case, the sportsbook's initial deposit bonus offers will be displayed, along with other helpful information about the sportsbook. 

Round Robin

A round robin consists of all possible parlay combinations of a chosen number within a group of selected teams. For example, suppose that there are 5 MLB games that you want to wager on. With 5 teams, there are 10 2-team parlays, 10 3-team parlays, and 5 4-team parlays. Round robins get expensive quickly; picking a $10 3-of-5 round robin costs $100 ($10 x 10 parlays).

Here is a table that describes round robin combinations.

Events Events Per Parlay Number of Bets
8 2 28
8 3 56
8 4 70
8 5 56
8 6 28
8 7 8
7 2 21
7 3 35
7 4 35
7 5 21
7 6 7
6 2 15
6 3 20
6 4 15
6 5 6
5 2 10
5 3 10
5 4 5
4 2 6
4 3 4
3 2 3

Action Reverse

An action reverse bet promises a lot of action and excitement. An action reverse bet takes every possible 2-team combination from your selected set of two or more teams and makes an If Bet for that combination in both directions. So, in an 3-team action reverse, there are six If Bets: AB, AC, BC, BA, CA, and CB. Like round robins, action reverse bets get expensive quickly, so make sure you have the bankroll!

Proposition ("Prop") Bets

Proposition bets, or props, is a bet offered at the sportsbook which can be virtually anything -- the toss of the coin to start a football game, the number of catches that a player might make in a game, the number of turnovers... the list is endless. Very often, there are 100s of prop bets that are offered each year for the Super Bowl.

Where to Bet

If you haven't checked it out already, here is my simple, easy-to-use list of online sportsbooks. If you prefer, you can search the list instead. In either case, the sportsbook's initial deposit bonus offers will be displayed, along with other helpful information about the sportsbook.

Featured Sites
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Top Bet Sportsbook


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BetOnline Sportsbook


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Bovada Sportsbook


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OddsMaker Sportsbook


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Intertops Sportsbook


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