Sports Betting Variance and How to Control It

Sports, Baseball, Football, Soccer

Many believe that the key to success in sports betting is finding good wagers. This skill is undoubtedly part of the equation, but other factors must be considered.

One of them is the ability to handle failure. Even the best gamblers in the world encounter bad streaks because of what most people call bad luck. A more sophisticated look at this phenomenon shows that it’s not about random chance but variance.

I’m here to help if you’re unfamiliar with that mathematical term. This post is focused on variance in sports betting. I explain what that is and how to control it because you simply can’t win consistently if you ignore the mental and financial implications of variance.

Before I start, I’d like to make a quick disclaimer. Even if you learn to control variance, that won’t make you a winner. You still need to regularly spot good wagers. Don’t expect this post to change your results if you consistently place losing bets.

With that in mind, let’s talk about variance!

What Is Sports Betting Variance?

If you google the definition of variance, you will find a bunch of complicated explanations filled with formulas and math terms. They are great for people with solid knowledge in stats and probability theory, but most of us don’t possess that.

That’s why I prefer to offer a simpler explanation of what variance is in sports betting. It’s not 100% accurate, but you will understand how variance works, and that’s the only thing that matters.

Before we get there, we have to start from simple probabilities. Every single wager you place has a certain probability of success. Your goal as a gambler is to only bet on odds with an implied probability lower than the actual one. That’s called value betting.

For ExampleThis is a good value wager. You flip a balanced coin with your friend. The probabilities for both heads and tails are 50%. You bet $1 on heads, while your friend bets $1.20 on tails. The winner takes all.

That’s an excellent deal for you because you win $1.20 half the time and lose $1 the other half. In other words, you are expected to win $0.1 per flip in the long run. That’s good value for your wagers.

And yet, you’re not guaranteed to win this bet. If you only play once, you have a 50% chance of losing. If you play 100 times, though, you’re almost certainly going to come out ahead.

That’s because the variance is extremely high if you flip the coin once and very low if you flip it 100 times.

Simply put, variance in sports betting measures how likely you are to receive a different outcome than the probability suggests and how much that outcome will deviate from the expected results.

Low variance means that you will most likely get the expected result or an outcome very close to that. High variance means there’s a good chance that you are far off from what’s expected. Like when you lose a dollar instead of winning ten cents in the example above.

Some people equate variance to risk. While this is not exactly true, the correlation is obvious. The higher the variance, the higher the risk of losing.

Your goal as a sports gambler is to understand that variance exists and take the necessary measures. Even if you place the best wagers possible, you will experience fluctuations in your results because of variance. Sometimes you will win more than you should, and sometimes you will lose when you’re expected to win.

That leads to various problems that need to be addressed. Let’s take a look at them.

Why Is Sports Betting Variance a Problem?

Many problems come from sports betting variance. They are related to both mental and material consequences.

Here’s what at least some players experience in the long and the short run as a result of variance in sports betting.

  • Poor Streaks – Poor streaks are the most obvious and direct result of variance. When a few events don’t go your way, even if your bets were good, you’ll lose money.
  • Bankruptcy – When the bad runs continue for a long period of time, and you’re not prepared to meet them, you could lose your entire sports betting bankroll.
  • Tilt – Some gamblers lose their composure after a few unlucky results, and that affects their ability to place profitable wagers.
  • Happy Tilt – Variance could ruin your decision-making if you get lucky too. Some people tend to get careless when everything is going their way, so they quickly return all of their winnings and accumulate losses instead.

Ignoring variance and the issues it causes could prove fatal for your long-term results from sports betting. That’s why you should learn how to handle all of the challenges above. I have several tips that can help you achieve that.

Accept That You Can’t Avoid Variance and Think Long Term

The simplest and most efficient piece of advice I can give you is to accept that variance in sports betting exists and you can’t avoid it completely. No matter how good you are at finding profitable bets, you will lose some of them.

I often like to compare gambling to boxing or MMA. Even the best athletes in fighting sports get punched in the head and in the gut occasionally. It’s the same with variance in sports gambling – you will lose, and you will lose often. Accept it as an essential part of the whole thing and learn how to handle it.

Tip:Probably the easiest way to stay at peace with yourself would be to think long term. Stop caring about individual wagers or even your results for a day/week/month. Variance can cause damage in certain moments, but consistently making good decisions will pay off eventually.

Think of the example with the coin. You could easily lose one flip. You could even be behind after 100 flips, but you will be way ahead after 1,000 or 100,000 flips. Your goal is to get there, so the bumps along the road don’t really matter.

Use Bankroll Management

One of the best ways to reduce the impact of sports betting variance is to manage your bankroll properly. You need to always assume that a bad run is possible, so only risk a small chunk of your bankroll.

There are many different staking plans and bankroll management techniques out there. Most of them are based on two simple principles – what’s your expected value and how likely are you to win.

The former can be hard to calculate. Everyone expects to win when they’re placing their wagers, but most people are actually betting on losing odds. The best thing you can do is to improve your knowledge, so you can place better bets.

That’s easier said than done, so I recommend focusing on the second part of the equation when it comes to bankroll management. Think of how likely is of your bet to win. The odds are an excellent indicator of that. A price of +100 (2.00 in decimal odds) equals an implied probability of 50%.

Futher Info:Even if your wager is good and the real probability is higher, it’s likely going to be close to what the odds suggest. Use that when deciding how much to bet. The lower the probability is, the lower your stakes should be. That’s because the variance is higher, and the risk is higher.

If you need more help with deciding what’s optimal for your bankroll, check out the following page.

Apply Tilt Control

Even if you accept there’s variance and follow an excellent staking plan, it’s still tough to lose money. It plays with your head, especially in insanely unlucky moments.

It could be a freak injury to a top player, a stupid referee mistake that completely changes the outcome or any other dramatic situation. It’s one of the worst feelings in the world to get a bet right and then lose money because of something that’s out of your control.

Note:If you feel frustrated from your recent results, you can easily go on tilt. Many people try to make up for the losses by betting more and more almost immediately. You don’t need me to tell you what happens with most of them.

To protect your bankroll from the effects of variance on yourself, you should learn how to control your tilt. There are various steps depending on individual factors and the level of frustration. Here are some of them.

  • Take a Short Break – If you feel like you’re losing control over your emotions, just take a short break. Go for a walk, watch a movie, or do something else completely unrelated. Just clear your head before you come back to betting.
  • Take a Long Break – If variance has been pummeling you for a while, you should probably take a longer break. A week or a month without any betting can help.
  • Talk to Other Sports Bettors – Talking about your negative moments as a sports bettor can be helpful, but only if the other person can truly understand your frustration. Try to find sports gambling buddies, so you can vent when things go wrong.
  • Don’t Doubt Yourself Too Much – One of the problems with tilt is that many people start doubting themselves. This is a healthy approach to bad results, but only if you’re reasonable. Don’t change your strategy when you’re emotional because you might make it worse.

The tips above are mainly designed for moments of frustration, but “happy” tilts could be a problem too. When sports betting variance works in your favor, many people tend to think they simply can’t lose a bet.

That’s probably the worst attitude when you’re on a good run. Try to stay grounded, or you will lose everything in a heartbeat.

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Picking one of the online bookmakers above will open the door to all sorts of cool markets, juicy promotions, and competitive lines for both mainstream and obscure events.

Jim Beviglia
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About Jim Beviglia
Jim Beviglia has been a gambling writer at since 2018. During that time, he’s written just about every type of article related to gambling, including reviews of betting sites, guides to popular casino games, betting tips on both casino and sports betting, sports and casino blog posts, and game picks. In addition to online gambling, one of Jim’s other major interests is music. He has been doing freelance work for various music sites and magazines for two decades. Among his outlets past and present are American Songwriter, VinylMePlease, Treble, and The Bluegrass Situation. Jim has also written five books on music that were published by Rowman & Littlefield.