Do You Flat Bet? Are You Sure?

There is nothing that causes more confusion than flat betting. Lots of people say that they flat bet on baseball, yet there are all sorts of different ways that people bet while calling it flat betting. This was reinforced to me yet again the other day when someone sent me a link to a long forum discussion about different kinds of flat betting. Everyone had a different way that they flat bet, and as often happens in forums everyone was sure that they were right. It got me thinking because, well, I flat bet and I think I do it the best way. Or rather, there isn’t a best way – I just use the one that I think works best. I’ll let you decide for yourself, though – here’s a breakdown of four of the ways people flat bet:

1) Bet the same amount in every game – This is the one that should probably be called flat betting, but it isn’t necessarily the best one. In this case you would bet the same amount – your unit – on every game regardless of what the odds are. The big advantage of this approach is the simplicity – you are never going to make a mistake or bet the wrong amount. The problem is that the amount you win is higher the less likely the win is. That’s always true when you are betting on the moneyline, but a good money management system would do something to limit that reality.

Let’s look at an example. We’ll use a $100 unit and three bets – a heavy favorite (-180), a mild favorite (-120), and a mild underdog (+120). The results of all of the different combination of wins and losses would be:

LLL – ($300)
WLL – ($144.44)
LWL – ($116.66)
LLW – ($80)
WWL – $38.89
WLW – $75.56
LWW – $103.33
WWW – $258.89
ROI when all three games are won – 86.3%

2) Bet to win the same amount in every game – This is when you would bet a different amount on each game with the goal of winning the same amount. That obviously means that you would be betting much more on a heavy favorite than on a heavy underdog. Success with this approach depends on one big thing – that you can pick favorites at a much higher rate than underdogs. Using this approach if you are picking a lot of heavy favorites but not winning them at a high rate will cost you money. Of course, no system will save you if you can’t win enough.

Using the same example as above the results would be:

LLL – ($383.33)
WLL – ($103.33)
LWL – ($163.33)
LLW – ($200)
WWL – $116.67
WLW – $80
LWW – $20
WWW – $300
ROI when all three games are won – 78.3%

Compared to the first route, this approach works better when the heavy favorite wins, but is less effective when the heavy favorite loses.

3) Bet to win a unit on favorites, bet a unit on underdogs – This is a common variation of the last example, and I would guess that it is the most common way that people flat bet.

Again with the same example:

LLL – ($400)
WLL – ($120)
LWL – ($160)
LLW – ($180)
WWL – $100
WLW – $100
WWL – $100
WWW – $320
ROI when all three games are won – 80%

You can see why people who are confident in their abilities would favor this approach, though it is a bit more expensive on the really bad days.

4) Bet to equalize risk on all bets – This is perhaps the most confusing, but once you get it it is quite straight forward. This is my preferred approach. The problem I have with the above approaches is that you end up having a preference over which games win. In each of the above cases I would choose to win the game with the underdog if I were to win just one – that would be the most profitable (or the least costly). I don’t like to think that way. I handicap games so that they have an acceptable edge regardless of the odds, so I don’t think that the odds should matter once I have determined it to be a good bet.

To do this, I bet so that the amount I bet plus the amount I will win if I am correct adds up to twice the size of the unit I am using. With a spreadsheet the calculations are simple.

Here’s how the example plays out:

LLL – ($328.57)
WLL – ($128.57)
LWL – ($128.57)
LLW – ($128.57)
WWL – $71.43
WLW – $71.43
LWW – $71.43
WWW – $271.43
ROI when all three games are won – 82.6%

The advantages of this approach to me are that you know going into the games what your outcomes will be depending on the number of games you win. You don’t need to worry about which games win or lose because all games are treated equally and given equal importance. The other thing I appreciate about this approach is that it keeps bet sizes under control.

Conclusion – This is a very simple exploration based on just one example, but you can already get a sense of the strengths and weaknesses of each approach. The important thing is to look at them and determine which approach to flat betting best fits your handicapping approach, tolerance of risk, ratio of favorites to underdogs, and general needs. There really is no right answer as long as you have actively considered the approach you are using.

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  1. Nice blog!! Some good and interesting info. Will have to try out some of these tips soon 🙂

  2. Good topic, almost anyone that bets that isnt a long term winner, doesn’t know if they are a long term winner, or is not following an expert that is a long term winner should be flat betting.

    Very few handicappers/bettors are able to estimate their edge accuratley, but the ones that can should and do vary bet size. Getting down more money on something that has a higher probability of winning is an absolute must for a pro.

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