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A Mid-Season Reading List for Aspiring Football Handicappers...By Jay Graziani

Taking the first steps from "recreational bettor" to sharp handicapper is a huge hurdle for most gamblers. Unlike many other endeavors, the keys to success in betting sports are generally closely guarded.

Clearly the sports gambling forums, like MajorWager, were instrumental in disseminating handicapping wisdom in the early days of offshore betting. Unfortunately, much of that has dried up, as pro and semi-pro bettors realized that revealing their techniques only served to ultimately chip away at their bottom line. While there is certainly still worthwhile information and angles to be found on the forums, separating the diamonds from the fool's gold has become increasingly difficult and requires a sharp eye and a lot of critical evaluation. And with the proliferation of forums and blogs, the internet noise is rapidly drowning out the few reliable sources of information.

Numerous texts have been written on the art of handicapping sports. Most have little substance, being tailored to the losers and action junkies of the gambling world, those looking for quick fixes and easy riches. They are heavy on generalized, non-specific "advice", while leaving out anything practical or even particularly useful, making them good for little more than putting a few quick bucks in the authors' pockets. There are, however, a few rare gems to be found on the shelves of your favorite bookstore.

One author who has filled a void in the sports betting literature is Scott Kellen, known on the internet forums as "Sixth Sense". He compiled an impressive record of posted plays during his stint on the forums, using a mix of fundamental handicapping combined with a heavy dose of situational analysis. He is well-known for his skill in database analysis and his book, The Unemotional Football Bettor, doesn't disappoint in that regard, acting as an exceptional primer in situational handicapping.

He sells the book on "27 Time Tested Strategies Averaging 62.3% Winners Over the Last 20 Seasons", and those looking for a get-rich-quick approach will find those simple but solid situations to be a quick way to sharpen their NFL handicapping. Unfortunately, like anything that appears in print, their value is sure to diminish over time as those situations are gradually compensated for in the lines by linesmakers and bettors alike.

The real value in the book, however, is in Kellen's explanation of basic handicapping principals. Chapter 3, "The Z-Factor" is a short-but-sweet explanation of determining the significance of win-loss records, approachable even to those whose head starts to spin when statistics are mentioned. The chapter on Money Management is one of the best explanations of this topic to appear in print, with clear explanations of the pros and cons of flat versus percentage betting, as well as a concise overview of risk of ruin. Those who have trouble digesting the intricacies of the Kelly Criterion will find this chapter a simple path to bankroll management and bet sizing.

The Unemotional Football Bettor contains two chapters on statistical handicapping, one for college football and one for the NFL. While his approach requires the use of statistics that aren't necessarily easily obtained by casual fans, these chapters are an excellent introduction to translating past performance into pointspreads for upcoming games. The bulk of the book explains the "betting systems" alluded to on the cover, covering everything from momentum situations to turnovers, revenge, rivalries, and letdowns. While these terms are often thrown around loosely by sports bettors, this is one of the most exhaustive analyses of these concepts to appear in print. Overall, this book is an excellent start for those looking for a handicapping approach driven by the use of historical data.

King Yao is another gambling author who has made a name for himself on the internet forums. His first effort Weighing the Odds in Hold'em Poker was well received in the poker community, and he followed that success up with Weighing the Odds in Sports Betting, released this past July. Yao clearly borrows some influence from Stanford Wong's Sharp Sports Betting in both approach and writing style. This writing style lends inteself to a dry, almost textbook-like approach which may be a deterrent to some readers.

While Wong's book is generally recognized as a good, but elementary, introduction to handicapping, much of the material is dated. Weighing the Odds acts, in a sense, as a modern companion to Sharp Sports Betting. Yao is a true "sharp", demonstrating an ability to think outside the box and find hidden value through creative approaches, and his gift in breaking down his thought process is invaluable to those wishing to learn how to spot profitable betting opportunities.

This book is more a collection of random topics than a comprehensive text. While Wong focused on teasers, the value of buying points, and prop betting using the Poisson distribution, Yao tackles such diverse topics as NFL season wins, NFL first half push percentages and line conversions, futures, and a good explanation of beating propositions using historical data. There is also plenty of material here for non-NFL bettors, with chapters on the NBA playoffs, and baseball first halves and totals, and even some advice on winning your office March Madness pool and playing the Triple Crown.

One disappointment is that much of the material in the book is recycled, having appeared in various outlets over the past year. For instance, the two chapters on hedging, while a great overview of this topic, will be familiar to those who have followed his online writings. But at a list price of $19.95, it is hard to say you aren't getting your money's worth even when discounting the older material. Yao covers a diverse array of topics, and even if the material itself becomes dated, understanding his methodology and thought process in breaking down these bets will be valuable for anyone to apply to their own handicapping.

In a field where reliable advice is tough to come by, both of these books make for excellent additions to your handicapping library. While neither will be a substitute for your own hard work, they should give you plenty of new ideas to explore in the search for profitable wagers.

Jay Graziani

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