Standard sports wagers fall into one of four categories: straight bets, accumulators/parlays, proposition bets and future bets. Straight bets can be further broken down into money line wagers, over/under wagers and point spread wagers. This page will focus on over/under wagers.
There are times when the money line or point spread on a game just looks out of whack. If a game seems difficult to handicap in that regard, should an astute sports gambler simply pass the game and move on to the next game? The answer would generally be yes unless the game also has a posted over/under total. That would create another way for handicappers to approach a game.
Over/under wagers are very popular on sports like the NFL, NBA, NHL, NCAA basketball and football, MLB and Aussie Rules Football. The bookmaker will post an over/under on a game based on a lot of computer data that analyzes the potential flow of the game. From the bookmaker’s perspective, the over/under total represents the expected combined total of the two teams involved in a game. If a game is played between two teams with good offenses and poor defenses, the over/under total will likely be high. It will likely be low is the defenses are good. The bettor’s task is to determine whether they believe the game will go over or under the posted total. Let’s look at an example.
Let’s say the Boston Celtics are playing the Los Angeles Lakers in a scheduled NBA game. The bookmaker posts a total of 209.5, representing that the two teams combined are expected to score around 209.5 points for the game. If the bettor believes the game will be fast-paced, they might want to bet on the over at the standard money line of -110. That’s bet $110 to win $100. If the final score of the game is Boston 111-103, that’s 214 points and the over bettors get the win. In order to avoid possible ties, most bookmakers post over/under lines with a half-point increment. Should they elect not to do so and the game lands right on the total, the game is a push or tie, and everyone gets their money back on straight bets while accumulators will be decrease one level.
The two best times for a handicapper to consider the over/under would be if the game is too close to call or if the point spread is so big that another alternative, the over/under, might make sense. Sometimes, it’s easier to visualize how the game will be played as opposed to predicting a winner.