Knowledge Of Math Adds Up In Sports Betting

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There's a school of thought that prescribes to the notion that it's the proficient bettors, more than the astute handicappers, who wind up with the cash at the end of a sports betting transaction. While it surely helps to have expertise in both areas, some also believe that success at the windows is even more dependent on having a working knowledge of mathematics. Is that in fact the case?

What Are The True Odds?

You won't get any arguments from Mike Orkin, a professor of statistics at California State University at Hayward and the author of two books on the role probability and chance play in gambling, “Can You Win?” and “What Are the Odds?”

“You really can't win at gambling unless you understand math,” contends Orkin, who once taught an accredited course at Hayward on sports betting, horse racing and casino gambling. “You don't have to have a Ph.D. but you do have to have a mathematical mind.”

Orkin explained that the marriage of mathematics and gambling goes back decades.

“Winning blackjack systems that became so popular in the early 1960s were developed by mathematicians using computer simulations to find winning strategies,” he pointed out. “There's no way to develop a strategy for a complex game such as blackjack and learn whether the player has an edge without knowing some mathematics.

“On the flip side, you have to know math to prove that, unless there's some flaw in the machinery, you can't win at games like craps or roulette.

“Another example is poker,” said Orkin. “Whether it's video or, more interestingly, regular poker, the really good players can rattle off odds. They have to know math in order to help them decide what to do in certain situations.

“In sports betting, the people who are doing well with a systematic method process statistical information in a sensible way, which means knowing some mathematics,” said Orkin. “You have to understand odds to be able to compute your chances of winning and compare them with the actual payoff odds. You really have to be able to do that if you hope to have any expectation of winning.”

On top of that, you have to understand how to read odds too.

Understanding True Odds

Just understanding the true odds of a parlay might affect how you bet. For example, the true odds of a two-team parlay are 3/1. That's computed by multiplying the chances of winning the first game, one-in-two (1/2) times the chances of winning the second game, one-in-two (1/2). So 1/2 X 1/2 = 1/4, or one-in-four, which is 3/1: