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Learning From Your Bets After the Fact

Tell me if this sounds familiar – you make a sports bet, watch the game or check the score, celebrate a bit if you win or curse if you lose, then just forget about the bet. For most people that’s how it goes – you can’t spend much time looking at the bets you have made and won or lost because you are too busy focusing on the next bet. In some ways that’s the right thing to do – you don’t want to get too depressed by a loss, or believe that you are too smart because you won. I’m a firm believer, though, that you can gain a lot more than that from looking carefully at every bet that you make to see what you can learn from them.

After every game I bet on ends I take a few minutes to take a close look at the bet I made, how it turned out, where the game differed from how I thought it would turn out, and if there was anything I could learn from the game. If you don’t look back at all of your games then you can fall into a trap of thinking that you have made a good bet when you win, and that you didn’t bet as well when you lost. The truth, though, is that you can easily and often win a bet you probably shouldn’t have made, and you can similarly lose a game that you handicapped very well. No matter how good you are, sports betting involves a lot of luck – both good and bad. By studying the bets you have made to see what happened you can see that luck in action and, with time, eliminate more of the games that only won because of bad luck. Careful analysis of each bet you make is also a great way to make sure you are still handicapping well and making good decisions if you are in the heat of a winning streak, or stuck in a bad losing streak.

The process I use to review and evaluate the bets I have made – to give them an autopsy – is simple and straightforward, and barely takes any time at all. It is one of the best investments of time that I make in my sports betting. Here’s what I do:

Record the result – This is the first big step. I am a huge believer in the importance of good record keeping. There are all sorts of ways to do this effectively, and it doesn’t have to be fancy. I just use a simple spreadsheet and record just enough information to make it easy to go back and analyze the information later on – the date, the teams involved, my bet, the odds, the outcome, how much I bet, and my profit or loss. When you record your results well you can go back to look at what you do to see if you need to change something. For example, during the 2009-10 hockey season I was able to look back at my results and realize that my puckline bets with home favorites were dramatically more profitable than my moneyline bets on road favorites. That knowledge allowed me to adjust my NHL betting accordingly, and profits increased as a result.

If I won the bet:

Why did I make the bet? – The first step for every review is to remember why I made the sports bet. There are, of course, lots of reasons for making any bet, but typically there are one or two big reasons that forced you to side with the team in question. That’s what I remember.

Was my reasoning sound? – What I want to know here is if I won the game because of the reason I made the bet, or because of another reason. For example, baseball my wagers are affected by starting pitchers more than anything else. If I have bet on a game it is typically because I expect one starter to have a good day, and the other to struggle. What I like to check is whether things turned out partly or totally like I thought they would. If they did then this was a good bet that turned out well, and I am done reviewing it.

If it wasn’t, did the bet still make sense? – If things didn’t turn out like I expected them to then the remaining question is did I only win because of dumb luck, or did something understandable happen to affect the game. When betting baseball, for example, I would start to be concerned if I was regularly winning games despite doing a poor job of predicting how starters would perform because opposing bullpens were blowing up. Those would be lucky wins, and if they kept happening then I would want to look at why I was reading those pitching matchups wrong. The thing to remember when too much luck is involved in an outcome is that you may have won the bet, but your handicapping didn’t win for you.

If I lost the bet:

Why did I make the bet?- This is exactly the same as above – what the were the two or three things that drew me to the bet I made?

Why did I lose? – Here I want to look at what happened in the game. Using the baseball example again, if the starting pitchers performed about like I expected but the outcome was a result of uncharacteristically poor bullpen performance, or some errors, or anything else unexpected like that then I am confident I made a good bet and I move on. If I was totally and completely wrong, though – everything I thought would happened was actually the opposite of what would happen – then I want to look closer at what happened and why I made that bet. Obviously you’re going to be really, really wrong from time to time. What I am looking for, though, is situations in which I am consistently making the same type of mistakes. Making a mistake once in a while is part of the sports betting game. Making the same mistake again and again is costly to bettors, and that’s what you are looking to avoid.

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