The practice of ‘middling’ in sports betting is an intriguing one. It requires an element of skill, and certainly a bit of luck, but if you learn how to master it, you could earn a substantial amount of money.
Middling is similar to the statistical arbitrage trading strategy used in the financial markets. It involves taking the opportunity to bet both sides of a market when it arises and having a chance of winning both bets.
It happens more often than you think, but it requires a betting line to move. The best part of all is that there isn’t a whole lot of downside. A successful middle gives you a chance to win a big payout when the final score lands just right, but it doesn’t cost too much when you miss because you have money on both sides.
If that doesn’t make sense, don’t worry. The following hypothetical examples will show how it all works in plain terms. Middling sounds more complicated than it really is. Just give these examples a read and you’ll have the basic idea down in no time.
What Are the Best Sports for Middling?
Successful middling plays best with high-scoring sports.
NFL betting is a popular choice with special preference given to margin of victory spread wagers.
NBA betting is even better because there are plenty of games with well over 200 points scored. It is entirely possible to benefit from a substantial middle bet in basketball on totals wagers if the odds move just right.
Savvy bettors will be able to find opportunities in other sports as well, as you’ll see below.
Middling & NFL: Margins of Victory
Experienced NFL bettors know that 3, 7, and 10 points, are the most common margins of victory. Back in 2013, Sports Insights published details of the margins of victory in the NFL from 2003 to 2013. The site found that over 18% of games were won by precisely 3 points, over 11% were won by exactly 7 points, and over 7.5% were won by exactly 10 points.
Teams like to go for two-point conversions more these days so it could skew the data a little in the modern era, but it makes sense to focus on these victory margins and look for suitable middling opportunities.
I checked the opening round of the upcoming 2019/2020 NFL season to find potential middling bets. The Pittsburgh Steelers are at the Super Bowl champion team, New England Patriots, and at the time of writing, the spread on the Steelers is +6.0 at -110, and the Pats are -6.0 at -110. This means a -6.0 bet on the Pats is a ‘Push’ if they win by 6 points, wins if they win by 7+, and loses if they win by 5 or less.
Now imagine if the hyped Patriots became even stronger favorites. If you believe this is likely, you could back the Patriots now on the -6.0 spread. By game time, they might be -9.0 favorites with the Steelers available at +9.0. Now, you have a ‘middle’ bet.
If the Pats win by 7 or 8 points, you will win both bets, and earn a ‘Push’ on one bet if the margin of victory for the Pats is 6 or 9 points. Since more than 11% of NFL games end up with an exact 7-point winning margin, you are in a decent spot.
By the way, Danny Donahue of the Action Network conducted research which suggests that you shouldn’t bother ‘buying’ the extra half point that turns a possible Push into a win (-5.5 instead of -6.0 for example.) It costs you more than what you earn back in the long-term.
Middling in Practice Using Volleyball
I’ve chosen volleyball at random because it is a surprisingly good option if you have a clue about the sport. I saw a World Championships U20 women’s game where the Over line was 186.5 points at odds of -120, and the Under line was 186.5 points at odds of -1.20. You would only need a relatively small change in the market to benefit from a possible ‘middle’ bet.
This could happen in the hours before a game if and when team news came available for example. Once you know what to look for in any given sport, it is a question of ‘shopping around’ for bets. It is unlikely that one bookmaker will change the odds much; and even if it does, you could easily find yourself restricted for betting on both sides of the market.
Let’s say the Over line in the game above remained at 186.5 points, but you found a bookie offering odds of -120 on an Under line at 189.5 points, you have discovered a ‘middle’ bet. Here is what could happen once you place both bets:
- Both bets win if there are 187 or 188 points in the game.
- You win the Under bet but lose the Over bet if there is 186 points or less.
- You win the Over bet but lose the Under bet if there is 190 points or more.
What About Middling in Baseball?
In theory, you could try to middle while betting on baseball, but it is extremely unlikely that the right market would open up. For instance, I recently looked at the ‘Total Run Line’ of a game between the Atlanta Braves and the San Diego Padres. The ‘Over’ line was 9.0 runs at odds of -120 (1.83 if you prefer decimal), and the ‘Under’ line was 9.0 runs at odds of +100 (2.00).
Clearly, you can’t find a middle in that market as it stands. You would need to find a bookmaker that offers odds of, say, -120 on the ‘Under’ run line at 11.0 runs to get a ‘middle.’ In this scenario, you could win both bets if there were exactly 10 runs in the game.
If there were 9 runs, you win the under line and get a ‘Push’ on the Over line. 11 runs mean the ‘Over’ line bet is a winner and the ‘Under’ line bet is a Push. Of course, the chances of the above scenario are extremely slim.
If you’re willing to look beyond American sports; Rugby Union, Volleyball, Handball, and Tennis are all sports that give you a chance of getting a ‘middle’ bet.
Is Middling Worth It?
That is the million-dollar question! The honest answer is that it depends on several factors. The most pertinent is the likelihood of winning against the potential return on your investment. This depends on the odds you take for the opposing bets.
Using the -110 price example from our NFL scenario, you risk $10 each time with a possible $200 profit. If you hit the middle just once, you can afford 20 consecutive losses and still break even.
Therefore, you must determine if the middle is likely to happen at least 5% of the time so you can earn a sliver of profit; it would need to occur 4.76% of the time for you to break even (once every 21 bets).
The better the odds you can get for your middling opportunities, the fewer bets you need to win to breakeven (obviously). Let’s say you get both bets at odds of -105. This is 1.952 in decimal form. If you bet $100 on each bet and the middle comes in, you earn a total profit of $190.40.
Furthermore, the most you can lose is $4.80 as one bet is guaranteed to win. In this scenario, you are effectively betting $4.80 for a potential profit of $190.40, the equivalent of winning a bet at odds of +3966 (40.66 in decimal). Therefore, you only need to win 2.46% of the time to break even!
In summation, middling is not a tactic used by the casual bettor. It requires detailed knowledge of how the betting markets work because you only get the middling opportunity when the ‘line’ moves. If you place a random spread bet, it is pure chance whether the line moves one way or the other.
If and when it does, you must also be aware of the likelihood of the bet ending up in the middle. Otherwise, you are still not getting value even though you believe you have ‘beaten the system.’ Middling is an advanced wagering method and is an excellent strategy for taking advantage of likely market moves, or perhaps more likely, pricing differentials between bookmakers. It is the equivalent of backing a long shot, so your skill and judgment are required to see if you are getting ‘value.’
Wes Burns has more than a decade’s worth of experience as a writer, researcher, and analyst in the legal online betting industry and is co-founder of OnlineBettingSites.com. Wes approaches his work from the viewpoint of players.