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Finding Your Best Play

By Corey Dragge

Your favorite team is playing in a big game and you and some buddies have made the trip to Vegas for the weekend. It time to party and have fun. Your plane takes off and all you can think about is how your favorite team is going to crush those poor fouls. You're so sure in fact that you have set aside some money to lay down on the game. You have followed your team all year and you could name every player at every position and what college they played at, as far as your concerned it a "lock". Your plane lands and your head is already humming with the sweet sounds of a casino gaming floor. You can already see all those big screens lined up on the wall as 8 games are played out at once. Final, its game time and you walk up to the sports desk and throw down you money and in your best "Casino" DeNiro voice announce your bet. You take your seat and order a frosty beverage from some scantly dressed waitress and prepare to enjoy your investment. Two hours later you have switched from the simple frosty beverages to the small strong ones that come in tiny glasses as you just witnessed your "lock" unlock right before your eyes. Sound familiar? If so, you're in the right place. Roll up your sleeves cause if you want to avoid situations like one mentioned above then we got some work to do. You ready?

First off, I want you to know that the situation I described above was one of the many that I personal experienced before I finally believed what was obvious to so many others. I liked to gamble and that wasn't going to change. Another thing that wasn't going to change was my losing more often then winning unless I changed how I gambled. It wasn't so much what I bet on but how I bet on it.

Using the example above what do you think the first mistake our gambler made? Any idea? The first mistake he made was letting his like or dislike of a team influence his betting. This is a big time no-no, one that Vegas is counting on. How many people do you think lose money at a casinos on any given weekend because they bet their favorite team instead of the best play? You cannot let your personal feelings about one team or another affect the way you place your bets. Never let your emotion cloud or distort logic. In the example I used there were 8 other games being televised right? What do you want to bet that at least 3 to 4 of those games were better bets then the one that our now drunk and disgruntled gambler placed. When it comes to gambling I only have one favorite. Benjermin Franklin. The cheddar. I could care less about some of the teams that I have bet on but you can bet I liked them a lot better when I won. Finding the best play is the biggest part of winning. It may not win every time but you will greatly reduce the chance of losing. That leads me to the first, and what I consider the most important, lesson: Finding the best play.

This was one of the hardest things for me to learn and it may take some time for you to pick it up but I cannot emphasize enough how important it is. It is hard not to go with your "gut" so to speak but if you do the research you will see that your gut feeling is only a reaction to what you know, or what you think you know for that matter. There has been many a night when I have researched a full sheet of games and have been unable to find a play I am comfortable betting on. My "gut feeling" has lost me enough money, I will stick to what I know and not what I feel. Now everyone has their own style and methods of research, and put various values on the aspect or stats that they use to handicap a game, but there are some basic things that people look at. These are only two of the many important things that I personally use to handicap a game, but they are more then enough to get you started on the right track.

The first thing that you have to know is that Professional and College sports have two totally different types of spreads. In the College game you will see games where one team is favored by 20 to 30 points whereas, the Professional games will have more tightly laced spreads. You may see a professional team favored by somewhere between 10 and 15 points from time to time, but more often then not these spreads range in the 0.5 to 9 area. That is because in the pros there are not only fewer teams, but quality of the players is more even. In the college game there are thousands of schools and they all vary in strength, style and degrees of success. Therefore when a team like Duke or Stanford, a powerhouse team, plays a team like Providence or Kent, a larger point spread will be applied. Knowing that, and assuming that you keep fairly up to date on the overall sports scene (Thank God for Sports Center @ 11pm!), you can look for any spreads that appear way too high or too low. This includes the totals. If the Grizzlies are playing the Wizards and I know that both these teams lack any type of defense and I see that the total is only 184 points I am going see research it further. This is the basic weeding out process. Look for the spreads that seem odd to you and for the teams that you know the most about first. This is where the second part of picking a good play comes in, because these games are the ones that we are going to research first.

The research part is where you find you find out which plays are safe and which ones are not. This is where you get your hands dirty. There are hundreds of things that you can look at when you are researching a game and I am going to tell you one of the methods that I use - one of the most basic and most important handicapping tools out there in my opinion. That is Trends. In any sport, at any level, teams develop trends. They get in slumps or they go on amazing winning streaks. They win 20 straight at home, they lose 20 straight road games, the over has hit in 8 of the last ten games. These types of things are important when trying to decide if you want to risk money on a game. Do you think that it would be important to know that in the last 5 times Arizona played Arizona State, Arizona won all five and did it by a average margin of 11 points? What about that in the last ten games Arizona State was 3-7? How important these things are will depend on the spread. If the spread is 20 points then these trends could be taken lightly. But if the spread is only 8 points then these things can be very important. Trends are not a definite sign of a good play but they can lead you in the right direction as to the current state of affairs for a team or how two teams play each other. Trends are only one of the many things that one should look at before picking a good play but it's a good place to start. And remember, you may research 15 games and still not find anything you feel comfortable with, but that is a lot better then throwing cash away on a game your gut tells you is a "lock".

By simply researching the games before you place your bet you will find that you will increase your winning percentage drastically. You have to view at it like any other kind of business venture so do your research. Sports' gambling is fun and exciting - I mean really why else would I get fired up about a Bengals' or Chargers' game? But if you're losing all the time, then it isn't much fun anymore, is it? But if you take your time and research the games that interest you, you will place smarter bets and get bigger and better payouts. Now that's what I call fun! Good luck and remember: Sometimes the best play is No Play!

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