Ever made a bet that you wished you could walk back on before game time? Sometimes it does make sense to go against your original wager. But when, and how should you go about hedging your bets? Read on to brush up your sports betting strategy.

Hedging BetsHedging our bets is part of the human condition. We are constantly engaged in a trade-off between growth and security. Should you ask your boss for a raise? Should you ask your co-worker out on a date, or your partner for a threesome? We all want the benefit, but we often tiptoe around the situation in fear of the cost.

As in life, so it is in sports betting. You want your bankroll to be secure, but if you never assume any risk, you’ll never make any money. What to do?

The Three Hedges

In sports handicapping, we tend to think of hedging in simple terms of betting on multiple outcomes for a single event. But let’s broaden our horizons for a moment. Generally speaking, there are three ways to hedge:

1. Conserve

2. Diversify

3. Randomize

The first two methods are fundamental to building a smart bankroll. With a conservative approach, you pick your spots carefully, only making a wager when you are suitably confident in the outcome. And diversity is key to any investment portfolio; instead of dropping your entire stack on one football game, you make multiple small bets to spread around the risk.

Item No. 3 is more subtle. RH Kaplan and WS Cooper were two of the first to study the concept of “adaptive coin-flipping” as an evolutionary strategy. In short, your judgment is imperfect, and every once in a while, you should shake things up and do the opposite of what you would normally choose. Think of it as a variation of the Costanza Method. 

Now let’s get back to the single-event scenario. When you hedge a sports bet, you are accomplishing all three of the above aims to some degree. Let’s say you’ve already put money on the Houston Texans at 4-1 on the Super Bowl futures market, and they make it to the big game. 

Sweet. However, QB Matt Schaub is injured and the Texans are 5-point underdogs to the Atlanta Falcons. If your confidence is now with Atlanta, an ATS bet on the Falcons would be conservative, would diversify your portfolio, and would be the opposite of what you picked earlier.

Fair to Middling 

Most sharps will tell you that hedging (in the single-event sense) is for squares. And it is, in most cases – like buying that extended warranty program for your computer. But sometimes, you make a bet, and then the situation on the ground changes so much that you are compelled to play the other side.

The best opportunity to do this is when you get a chance to “middle.” There have already been several middle opportunities in the NFL this year. Let’s go back to Week 5's matchup between the Miami Dolphins and the Cincinnati Bengals. The Dolphins were 5.5-point underdogs when the NFL odds opened, but they had moved all the way to +3 by kickoff. 

Say you had Miami +5.5 at the open. Now game time is approaching, and you have the opportunity to hedge your bet and go with Cincinnati –3. Good idea. You’re almost certain (perhaps 90 percent of the time) to lose $10 in juice when the bets cancel each other out, but if the Bengals win by four or five points, you double up for $200 in profit. If they prevail by a field goal, you get a win and a push for $100. Play the middle in this situation often enough and your earnings should exceed your losses.

As with any sports betting strategy, pick and choose your battles. But do hedge when it’s appropriate, and actively look for those opportunities