Okay, a mild exaggeration. But, for some of you, it just might turn out to be true.
Suppose you were rooting for the Boston Celtics this past Wednesday night as a 4-point home favorite against the Atlanta Hawks. You liked the way the Celtics had been playing lately, and you new that Atlanta would be tired because they were in a back-to-back spot. Sure, you were hoping the line had been smaller. But, all things considered, the Celtics were worth a shot. If Atlanta played tired, the line wasn't going to matter.
At the end of the first quarter, you were up 28-10. Nothing better than seeing a football score that early when you have a cheap home favorite. It's too early to pencil in a victory. Still, the team you liked is playing as well as you had hoped. And, the team that was supposed to be tired came out flat as a pancake. Great sign.
At the end of the first half, the lead is still a whopping 15 points. That's plenty with a cheap favorite. No worries. All that's left is for the team that's playing well to hold on to a comfortable lead against the tired team that must be out of gas....and you have a big winner for the evening.
Atlanta storms back to win 82-76, and you're scratching your head about the sure winner that turned into a loser.
Is that an uncommon occurrence in the NBA? No, it happens all the time. In fact, it happened again later that very same night when rested Sacramento jumped out to a big early lead against tired Milwaukee but failed to cover the spread. In both cases the rested teams played very well early. In the first matchup, the opponent came all the way back to spring the upset. In the second, garbage time led to a big dog cover even though the visitor really had no chance to win the game. At the end of the day though, an approach that made sense had yielded two losers even though it looked like it would be yielding two winners.
Handicappers using an alternative approach with the same basic information that night turned that 0-2 record into 4-2. They liked taking the rested team at home against the tired visitor. They understood that oddsmakers inflate the line a bit in those situations, but they still expected their teams to play well through the course of the evening. Instead of making two full-game selections and going 0-2, they broke things up with the first quarter and first half options:
First Quarter: Boston (-1.5) beat Atlanta 28-10
First Half: Boston (-2.5) beat Atlanta 44-29
Full Game: Boston (-4) lost to Atlanta 76-82 (pointspread loser)
First Quarter: Sacramento (-3.5) beat Milwaukee 37-27
First Half: Sacramento (-5.5) beat Milwaukee 58-47
Final Score: Sacramento (-10) beat Milwaukee 114-106 (pointspread loser)
Same knowledge. Same principals. Different strategy. HUGE difference in the won-lost record!
Everyone understands that 4-2 is better than 0-2. But, a lot of people aren't comfortable increasing their "action" to that degree. A person used to playing a couple of games a night doesn't want to sweat six legal Las Vegas bets. A person used to playing five games a night doesn't want to worry about 15 plays. A person used to 15 plays could expose their whole bankroll in one evening with this approach.
Valid point. If exposure is an issue, make the partial plays one-third of your normal bet. A person who normally risks $150 on a game would risk $50 per installment. The overall game risk is still the same. You've just divided it up differently.
With that in mind, the 4-2 record above would fall to 1.3 and 0.7 at a third of a unit each. You've turned an 0-2 night into a 1.3 and 0.7 night by dividing things up into smaller hunks. Most importantly, you end the evening knowing that your handicapping was solid rather than weak. Your read on the games was correct in terms of back-to-back fatigue having an impact on the floor. You don't have to kick the dog through the window. Sure, it would have been nice if the Celtics hadn't collapsed, or if the Bucks hadn't hit a three-pointer in the final seconds. But you're not going to bed winless!
Now I'll grant you that I've cherry-picked two prime examples for this particular strategy (and, in the course of writing this article late Thursday and early Friday, a third example presented itself when the rested Clippers showed the same pattern against the tired Nets in a 102-101 victory that saw a huge first half for the rested host). There are certainly situations where things reverse and this strategy costs you money. Imagine the Celtics sleepwalking for three quarters, then closing strong to win and cover. Playing the full game went 1-0. Splitting things up went 1-2, or 0.3 and 0.7. You just should have stuck to your guns and not "gotten cute."
You have to analyze your own individual results to determine if this makes sense for you. If it's common for you to win "riding time" on your games (you're on the right side through most of the night), then this will strategy will surely increase your returns. If your edges show up mostly in the "end game" (taking teams who "know how to win" against teams who are poor closers), then you'll HATE this strategy. Don't even bother with it.
I've found this approach is best suited to handicapping "intangibles" that are likely to effect a team's play that given night. You can apply it to both pro and college basketball. Of course, college hoops doesn't have quarters. So, you'd be limited to first half and full game play (cutting down to half a unit per play if you're concerned about exposure). Some examples:
*Fatigue...tired teams often start off slow before deciding whether or not they're going to try and make a run that night. We've seen a lot of this in recent weeks where back-to-back teams don't seem to be awake at the outset. Sometimes they get their bearings in the second half. Sometimes they don't. There's a misperception that fatigue is something that shows up late in a game. That's true in football. In basketball, the travel sequences often lead to flat starts rather than flat finishes.
*Revenge...this motivation is something that hits right out of the locker room. If a team is mad about a recent loss to that night's opponent, they come out breathing fire. They don't wait until halftime, then breathe fire. This is a bigger factor in college basketball than in the pros. There was an example this past Thursday Night. Detroit had revenge against Wisconsin Milwaukee, and had a much better first half than second half (up seven at the break in a game that ultimately went overtime) Have you considered using revenge teams in this kind of "hot start" situation?
*Bounce Backs...good teams often come back strong after a loss. Certain coaches demand strong starts the next time out. Again, this hits right out of the gate. An embarrassed team doesn't goof around for a half then get serious. They hit the ground running. The NBA has a few teams like this. College hoops has a few per conference, in a couple dozen conferences!
These are real factors that do influence ball games. What's become more clear over time though is that they might only be influencing 50% to 75% of each individual game rather than the full 100%. College players can't breathe fire for the full 40 minutes because of revenge. NBA players aren't tired in a back-to-back for the full 48 minutes. Splitting things up allows you to maximize the potential of the handicapping factor while protecting your backside if the edge isn't enough to seal the deal for the full game.
This approach also makes sense if you handicap Over/Unders based on tempo. Many fast-paced games will slow down in the fourth quarter. If the game is close, teams will treasure their possessions more in an attempt to win the game. If the game is one-sided, the leading team will take the air out of the ball on offense to get the game over with. This can be bad news if you have Over 220 or 230.
Tuesday Night's Phoenix/Washington game (two racehorses) jumps to mind:
First Quarter: Over 59 wins with 61 total points
First Half: Over 117 wins with 127 total points
Full Game: Over 233 loses with 232 total points
Over 233 goes 0-1...splitting things up into thirds goes 2-1.
On the other hand, slow tempo games will sometimes see a rush of free throws in the final minutes, or...heaven forbid...overtime! Wednesday night's Philadelphia/Cleveland game was low scoring most of the night but skied Over in overtime. Houston/San Antonio looked like it had no chance to get to the total most of the evening. A second half scoring surge had wagerers sweating what turned out to be a winner. Bettors on those two Unders went 1-1, and almost took a double hit. Those who split things up went 5-1 on their reduced sized bets.
It's difficult for many wagerers to get comfortable with this approach because they're used to thinking only about the final scores. Who's going to win and cover? Will it be a high scoring or low scoring game? If you find yourself in position to win most of your plays, then watching helplessly as the final moments drift the other direction, you may find that this approach yields much more success and much more profit.
*In the NBA, some of your 0-1 games will change to 2-1 or 1-2. That reduces the suffering. Even if you endure a clean sweep at 0-3, it's still the same thing financially if you've reduced your units by a third. You're not any worse off going 0-3 than 0-1 if you're playing a third of a unit per game in the action-heavy example.
*In the colleges, some of your 0-1 games will change to 1-1, softening the blow of your errors.
How often will this approach mess up a good thing? Less often than you might think. In the examples of intangibles sited above, it's much less common for a "revenge" team to play badly for 80% of the game then rally late. It's much less common for a "rested" team to sleepwalk for 80% of the game then surge at the end. Quality teams in "bounce back" spots don't wait for the halftime speech to get their games in gear. Over a large sampling of picks, I think you'll see a difference.
For some of you, this method just won't fit. If you're having success anyway, you don't need any help from a stathead! If you're not having success in the baskets, I hope you'll consider looking for these kinds of revenge, fatigue, and bounce back spots and try out this staggered approach. If it turns 45% into 50%, you'll have a happier season. If it turns 50% into something better, it's well worth the effort. If you're hitting 55% or better with the feeling that you keep suffering bad beats at the end, you may end up liking this approach A LOT!