Over/under bets are sometimes called “game totals.” No matter what you call it, it’s the same thing – a simplified way to wager on the outcome of a sporting event. Game totals betting is popular because it doesn’t require any thoughts on handicapping or point spreads. It’s also a popular way to wager when a bettor has less of an idea about the contest but wants to put some money on the game.
Sportsbooks list over/under betting opportunities right alongside point spread details, a testament to how common these wagers are. Even though this method of wagering is simplified, compared to other bets like point spreads and money lines, it helps to understand it before you belly up to the sportsbook to wager.
What Are Over/Under Bets?
The “over/under” number represents a score – a total number of points set by the sportsbook. Bettors wager that a game will produce either “over” or “under” that number.
How do oddsmakers set this number? Their entire job is to balance both sides of a contest to ensure a profit – they spend all week researching both teams, their recent performance history, trends among various athletes on both sides, the outcome of prior meetings, and any number of other obscure stats. They release an over/under number – a guess at the combined score of the game – that’s designed in order to attract attention on both sides.
It’s true – all you have to do is pick a side, over or under, and if you’re right, you win.
A great feature of game totals bets is that it can be (and is) used for all sorts of different sports. Football, hockey, baseball, basketball, soccer – it doesn’t matter, game totals can be set. This simple form of betting is also highly adaptable, so you’ll often see props based on game totals as well. Props using these totals can involve individual player stats, head-to-head performance, or even the offense and defense totals of one entire team.
How to Read Over/Under Bets
Let’s look at an example of an over/under line from Game Six of the 2015 NBA Finals:
Cleveland Cavaliers Over 194.5
Golden State Warriors Under 194.5
Ignore the team names – they’re just there to indicate who is playing and who the home team is. The important numbers are next to the team names, and they tell us that the over/under line for this game is 194.5. In this case, both sides of the bet receive an equal payout, but that’s not always the case. You’ll sometimes see reduced juice for one side of the wager, especially when public opinion is heavily on the other side. This works as an incentive to balance the books for the bookmaker.
Basic Over/Under Strategy
Game totals betting is not as commonly-used as point spreads for any professional sport, but it is probably the second most-popular wager you can make. Handicapping game totals wagers is a lot easier than handicapping a point spread wager. You have less to worry about when there’s no point spread to beat.
Totals are by far the easiest way to wager on the NFL, MLB, or NBA, since all you’re concerned with is the sum total of points in a game. Here are some basic strategy tips to get you started with over/under wagering on sports.
• The Public Loves the Over
This is the most important rule of thumb for game totals bettors. Most people wager on the over because they enjoy (and anticipate) high-scoring games. This has a massive effect on line movement, and can be used over and over to make a smart “under” pick, especially in games with a lot of attention from the public. In some cases, you’ll find a solid “under” pick that’s even cheaper due to reduced juice. The result – lots of “under” betting by sharps, and “over” bets by guys who have no idea what they’re doing. You’ll see tons of action during the week leading up to a game, which increases the total and forces books to adjust the line or otherwise incentivize “under” wagers. My advice- pick “overs” very early in the week before the number shoots up. You should hold off on all “under” bets until right before kickoff, when the game total set by the book will be at its highest.
• Keep Your Eye on the Line
You can’t be a successful totals bettor over the long-run if you don’t watch the lines throughout the day. Sometimes sharp bettors will make one move and mess up the line. Don’t get caught waiting for a hot line when a sharp with a huge bankroll jumps the gun and blows your bet. Sharp money isn’t the only thing that can mess up the line – player injury reports, changes to lineups, and even emotions leading into the game can make the line move.
• Increase Your Sport IQ
Because game totals are simple wagers, people who understand the basics really well tend to be good totals bettors. Learn everything you can about game weather conditions, offensive and defensive rankings, historic and recent home/away and grass/turf point splits, and any other statistical data you think will be helpful before you place a bet. If you can learn to identify reasons why teams are trending over or under, you can make a ton of money during a sport’s regular season, before public opinion gets too loud and confuses the line.
Like any form of sports betting, winning at totals should be thought of as entering a marathon race and not a sprint. The same pitfalls that apply to any forms of wagering apply here – concerns for bankroll management and the ability to be patient are necessary tools for survival over the course of a long sports season. Now that you understand the basics of this wagering style, get out there and place an over/under bet with confidence.