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The Zig-Zag Theory Explained: An Archaic Angle

How much of an emphasis needs to be placed on fearing elimination?

The Zig-Zag Theory has been a very popular betting strategy within the NBA and most recently NHL postseasons. This theory states that if a team loses game 1, they are the team to bet in the next game. The mentality behind it is in a series involving a potential elimination, a team is more likely to bounce back with a big effort in order to end their losing ways. Conversely, a team that wins game one is less likely to come out with the same intensity. This theory assumes that in a playoff series momentum will shift between the two teams based on how they performed in the prior game.

This theory was invented by sports handicapper Tony Salinas decades ago for the NBA playoffs with the idea that oddsmakers did not properly account for the way a game is affected by the one that precedes it. Salinas determined oddsmakers are placing too much of an emphasis on home court advantage, and not enough of an emphasis on motivation and the fear of elimination.

How effective is blindly following this theory?

Home court advantage is still a relevant edge in the NBA postseason with home teams winning 64.5 percent of the time outright, compared to 55.3 percent in the NHL. The betting lines with the NBA in particular can often dramatically favor the home team, especially after winning the first game. There are stats dating back over 10 years breaking down the numerics in the NBA looking at point spread results based on how strong the theory is from game to game. Teams coming off an outright loss have covered the next game’s spread 50.2 percent of the time. Looking at outright wins and losses over the most recent three years, betting every NBA Playoff team off a loss in game 2 has these teams at 64 -84, and betting every team off a home loss yields a 20-28 record.

This theory, along with many other betting strategies, have very short lifespans before bookmakers realize these trends and adjust accordingly. There is no surprise that over the years the numbers and profitability of this bet has decreased. If people are blindly going to bet a team hoping motivation is enough to even the series, then oddsmakers are going to make you pay extra for it.

While we are all looking for ways to make money betting the post season, keep in mind that every series and game are different. Both tangible and intangible aspects of playoff series’ factor into every game, and so does luck! Try finding stats to support your bet, rather than assuming motivation is enough to get the team that lost game one a win the next time out.

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