For most sports bettors this is the time of year when things are at their slowest. Football is a distant memory, and won’t be back again for a long while. Basketball and hockey are winding down. Baseball is chugging along, but the relentless pace of that sport is more than some bettors want to deal with. Summer is a great time for bettors to relax, sit in the sun and drink some beer, and get ready for a long, hard fall and winter. It’s also a good time to get ready for next season by working to become a sports bettor. There are a lot of really terrible books about sports betting out there, but there are a few that are really great. When you’re sitting on the beach soaking up some rays this summer, pick up one of these classics is you haven’t read them already. You’re certain to learn something – I do every time I read through them again.
Sharp Sports Betting by Stanford Wong – This book focuses most on the NFL, but many of the lessons from it apply equally to other sports. Wong is very committed to statistics, and he does an excellent job of discussing them and giving his readers way to understand and employ them in their handicapping. The book is best known for making popular the concept of a Wong teaser – a teaser in which you are able to move the line through both the key numbers three and seven. Though that’s a very interesting concept the popularity of it has made it less useful. Where this book really shines in my eyes is in the discussion of probabilities. Wong is a blackjack player, so he is very sharp in his understanding of how likely something is to happen, and what that likelihood means for bet selection. Too many sports bettors are far too concerned with deciding who they think is going to win the game. By doing that they often ignore how likely the possible outcomes are in a game, how the probabilities of those outcomes relates to the dds, and where the value is as a result. Until you understand that the team that is most likely to win isn’t always the best bet you will never be a successful sports bettor, and Wong spends a lot of time helping you understand that concept. This book is an excellent introduction to serious sports betting for people new to the game, and has more than enough in it to teach even the most experienced bettors something new. Wong includes some charts in the book that would take a long time to compile yourself. They are worth the price of the book alone.
Weighing the Odds in Sports Betting by King Yao – This book is an excellent companion to Wong’s work. I actually like this one better. The first 100 pages or so of this book are a look at the fundamentals of sound sports betting with a definite mathematical basis. It’s a very good introduction for new bettors, and a very good overview and refresher for people who already know these things – or those who think that they do. After that the book spends time applying the concepts learning to specific examples. Some of the work he does is useful in and of itself, but to me it is more valuable as an insight into the mindset and thought process that Yao has. The author started exploring sports betting after writing extensively about poker, so he approaches it more as someone interested in the math than the sports themselves. For those of us who came to sports betting as hardcore sports fans it’s a valuable perspective.
Basketball on Paper: Rules and Tools for Performance Analysis by Dean Oliver – If you like basketball and want to be better at betting on it then this is the book you absolutely have to read. You can think of Oliver as the Bill James of basketball – a statistically obsessed man who has pioneered advanced statistical analysis of his sport. This isn’t a book about sports betting, but rather about using statistics to understand what is actually happening on the field. Properly used, the concepts in the book are very valuable for identifying situations where the public perception of a situation differs from what the numbers say is actually happening, or is likely to happen. A few hours of reading this book will give you an understanding of basketball – the understanding of the importance of individual players and the challenges of certain situations – unlike you have ever had. Oliver is the real deal – he turned the work in this book and the rest that he was doing into front office jobs with the Sonics and Nuggets as the first full-time statistical analyst in the league. You might actually regret reading this book because by the time you are done with it you’ll be left with so many new concepts to explore and ideas to test out.