23 Jul

How to Bet Totals for Easy Gains

How to Bet Totals for Easy Gains – Learn how to approach winning totals bets with strategy

Totals, a.k.a. over/unders, are one of the first bets early punters turn to when they realize straight wins are – you know – kind of boring. With totals, you don’t have to pick the winner. Instead, you’re picking whether the combined score will be higher or lower than a given total. Winning totals bets isn’t just easier, it’s more fun.

How to Approach Winning Totals Bets with Strategy

There’s a great deal of strategy you can put into picking overs and unders. It’s not about whether the two teams are good enough to score high, or bad enough to score low. There’s a formula to it. Different sports require a different approach. Continue reading to learn how to bet totals for easy gains at online sportsbooks.

  • Totals Betting Basics: First things first, you need to be very familiar with how to place totals bets. If you are, skip to the next section.
  • The Totals Formula: There’s a specific formula that applies to pricing all low-scoring sporting events.
  • Key Numbers & Half Points: In high scoring sports, like football, key numbers mean everything.
  • Bookies & Biases: Sportsbooks and recreational bettors tend to be biased. Learn to use it to your advantage.
  • Odd & Even Totals: Whether a total is odd or even has a huge impact in low scoring sports.
  • Explore Handicaps: Look for opportunities to handicap totals, especially in low scoring sports.
  • Scour the Market: Do not limit yourself to one sportsbook. Diversity is the key to identifying the best wagers.
  • Bet with Bonuses: The Online sportsbook market is so competitive, they constantly hand out free bonuses to boost your betting bankroll.
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The Basics – How to Bet Over/Under Totals

I’m going to go over this very briefly, 1) because it’s super simple, and 2) because I’ve already devoted a section to totals in our comprehensive guide detailing How to Bet on Sports.

The bookmaker will predict the total score of a game. It will either be a whole number, such as 5, or a half point, such as 5.5. Your job is to pick whether the actual total score – the combined score of both teams – will be higher (over) or lower (under) the predicted total.

When the bookie predicts a whole number, you can expect the odds to be set evenly at 1.90 Over, 1.90 Under. When it’s a half-point differential, the Over will usually pay a little worse – maybe 1.85 Over, 1.95 Under.

That’s really all there is to it. If you still have any question, take a moment to visit this page, then come back.

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Pricing Formulas for Totals Bets

This totals betting formula won’t guarantee you any wins, but it will give you a rough prediction of what the total score should be, based on past performance probabilities. It’s especially helpful in handicapping low-scoring sports like hockey, which we’ll talk more about in the upcoming Handicapping section.

Formula for Low-Scoring Sports (i.e. Hockey, Soccer)

This formula works best for low-scoring sports where with participating athletes don’t change much; primarily sports like hockey and soccer. It will be less effective in sports like baseball, where a multitude of other factors come into play, such as starting pitchers, bullpen, field wall height, etc.

(Average Goals Scored + Average Goals Allowed) / 2 = Estimated Total Score

Note that the average goals scored and allowed must include the averages for both teams.


Team A averages 2.5 goals per game, and let’s up 1.5 goals per game.

Team B average 3 goals per game, letting up 2 goals per game.

Combined Average Goals Scored: 2.5 + 3 = 5.5

Combined Average Goals Allowed: 1.5 + 2 = 3.5

(5.5 + 3.5) / 2 = 4.5

The expected total score is 4.5. If the bookmaker sets the line at 4, bet the Over. When it’s set at 5, bet the Under. If it’s set at 4.5, consider looking for a different sportsbook that deals in whole numbers (see Join More Sportsbooks below).

Formula for High-Scoring, Long Season Sports (i.e. Basketball)

The formula for high-scoring games with a long season – especially basketball – is different. This time, you’ll need to factor in home and away team advantage to come up with an estimate score.

First, the Factors…

  • A = Home Team’s Average Points Scored at Home
  • B = Away Team’s Average Points Scored on Road
  • C = Home Team’s Average Points Allowed at Home
  • D = Away Team’s Average Points Allowed on Road

Next, the Formula…

(A + B + C + D) / 2 = Estimate Score


The Home team averages 95 points (A = 95) at home The Away team averages 88 points (B = 88) on the road. The home team allows an average of 87 points (C = 87) at home. The away team let’s up 87 points (D = 91) on average. Let’s inject those into the formula…

(95 + 88 + 87 + 91) / 2 = ?

361 / 2 = 180.5

If the total is set at 180 or below, pick the under. If it’s 181 or above, pick the over.

Formula for Football Totals

Football is a whole different beast due to having such a short season. There are only 17 games per team in the regular season. This makes it hard to trust the team-score averages. In this case, you’ll want to factor in the league averages for home and away teams, as well.

Here are the Factors…

  • A = (Home Team Avg Score + League Avg Score) / 2
  • B = (Away Team Avg Score + League Avg Score) / 2
  • C = (Home Team Avg Points Allowed + League Avg Score) / 2
  • D = (Away Team Avg Points Allowed + League Avg Score) / 2

And the Formula…

(A + B + C + D) / 2 = Estimate Score

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Recognizing Key Numbers & Half Points

This section applies more to football than any other sport. In standard betting, the key numbers are 3 and 7, as these are the amount of points received on most scoring plays. When we’re talking about totals bets, the key numbers are the final total scores that occur most frequently. The most common total scores in football are, in order of frequency:

  • 41
  • 43
  • 37
  • 44
  • 51
  • 33
  • 47

The median here is 42.3, but you’ll notice 42 doesn’t appear on this list, and 43 is slightly less common than 41. However, 43 is more common than anything lower than 41. What does all this mean? It means that, statistically speaking, you’d be better off taking Over 41 on a formula that predicts a score of 40.5 – 40.9.

This is the type of stat you’ll need to get used to when betting on football totals. The more you use it, the easier it gets.

Aim Low on Half-Points

When a bookmaker is advertising half-point totals, such as 43.5 instead of 43, think twice before betting the Over. If you’re using your formulas, you have nothing to worry about. But there are some sportsbooks out there that intentionally set the lines a half-point higher than the predicted total because they know more people will bet the Over.

Which brings us to our next conversation piece…

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Exploiting Bookie and Fan Biases

There are two types of sportsbooks out there. You have the serious ones, known as “Sharp Books”, which set their lines and shift them often, attracting serious and pro-grade punters. Then you have what we call “Square Books”, which set their lines to exploit fan-biased bettors; the recreational types that will bet the Over far more often.

The problem is that a recreational bettor with a fan bias is in it for fun more than anything else. They aren’t using formulas and watching for line shifts. They know that watching any sports game is more fun when it’s a high scoring event. So for a recreational gambler, the Over always looks a bit more attractive.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with being a recreational sports bettor, harvesting maximum entertainment value out of the deal. But if you’re more than a recreational bettor, focusing on formulas and handicaps, you aren’t just hoping for a good, high-scoring game to watch.

By recognizing the difference between Square and Sharp bookmakers, you can exploit their half-points by taking the Under when the math points to a favorably lower total.

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Advantage of Odds & Evens in Low Scoring Sports

I’m going to use NHL hockey to explain this strategy, because it applies more than any other sport (except maybe soccer). Think about the most common point totals in a hockey game. These are very low-scoring match ups. The total could be 1, 2, 3, 4 or, in a really good game, 5 points, but it rarely goes any higher. Now think about how many ways a score could end in an even or odd total.

Let’s say the Over/Under is set at 4. How many ways can the score end as 4?

First point worth making – hockey games don’t end in ties. After regulation, a tie leads to overtime, and if that doesn’t settle it, a shootout occurs. So for the total score to end as 4, the final score has to be one of the following: 0-4, 4-0, 3-1, 1-3

How about a total of 2? The only way to end at 2 is for a shutout to occur; one team beats the other 2-0.

A total of 6 is pretty high, and therefore very uncommon, so I won’t include that in this equation.

Even Totals

There are only 6 ways for a hockey game to end in an even score:

0-2, 2-0, 1-3, 3-1, 0-4, 4-0

Odd Totals

Ending in an odd total of 1, 3 or 5 is much more common. There are 10 ways for this can happen:

0-1, 1-0, 2-1, 1-2, 1-4, 4-1, 2-3, 3-2, 0-5, 5-0

Long story short, you’re better off taking betting on an Even total than an Odd one in a hockey game. If the total is set at 2.5, it’s more likely to end as 3 than 2.

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Totals are a Handicappers Heaven

If your sportsbook offers handicapping on totals bets, there’s a great opportunity to be had. (If not, maybe you should be exploring additional online sportsbooks?)  Hockey is the easiest sport to handicap, due to its pricing formula being so direct, and the whole odds/evens strategy we just discussed.

If you’re not familiar with it, handicapping is the process of exchanging a line shift for points. You can either give up a point for a higher payout, or take an additional point for a lower one. Since hockey games (and soccer) are such low scoring affairs on average, a single point can go a very long way. Even if you have to sacrifice half the profit, if the math and probabilities are pointing strongly towards a specific outcome, it can be worth it.

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Multiplicity Matters – Join More Sportsbooks

Any serious sports bettor should have a portfolio of online sportsbooks to choose from. The more, the merrier (for the most part). If you only do business with one bookie, you’re accepting that they are giving you the best odds on your favorite sports and bet types, with price comparisons. Unless you’ve found the ultimate operator of omnipotent-odds, you need more.

One site might offer the football odds you’re looking for, while another has more favorable basketball odds, or tennis lines. Even worse, you could miss out on a fantastic opportunity for a little arbitrage betting, where the profits are guaranteed.

As discussed previously, sportsbooks are not created equal. If you’re working those formulas, sometimes you want whole points, and other times you want half points. Having multiple bookies to bet with is a win-win all around.

A Word of Caution: Don’t go joining every online sportsbook under the sun. For more information, please see the “Safety First!” section of our Arbitrage Betting Guide.

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Pad Your Bankroll with Bonuses and Promos

Endless promotions – that’s the one thing that really sets online sports betting sites apart from the land-based variety. A good strategy isn’t just about winning totals bets, but increasing the overall return on your investment (ROI).

Receiving a deposit bonus from a sportsbook each time you reload your account is the same as a small win, so long as you make smart use of it. Don’t waste free bets on frivolous, unlikely wagers. Learn how to bet totals for easy gains, and those bonus promotions will become yet another weapon in your arsenal of sports betting strategies. 

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