Betting Parlays 101
A parlay is defined by the dictionary as “a cumulative series of bets in which winnings accruing from each transaction are used as a stake for a further bet.” Each leg of the parlay, or bet, has to be won for the next one to take place. Only one bet of the parlay needs to be lost for the entire parlay to lose, while every bet has to win for the parlay to hit.
Parlays are used as a tool to add upside to bets, although it also adds risk to the bets. For example, if you make two separate bets at -110, you’ll spend 2.2 units to win 4.2 units, profiting 2 units. If you lose only one of those bets, you win 2.1 units, losing only 0.1 units on the two bets. If you parlay these bets together, you’ll spend 1 unit to win 3.65 units, profiting 2.65 units. While you get more upside for your bets, you lose 1 unit if one or both bets lose.
Parlays are a boom or bust proposition for your bankroll. They should still be used in a smart manner, though. Parlays should mostly consist of small favorites with a limited number of bets. Ideally, parlays are 3-5 bets that feature odds between -110 and -135. This leaves plenty of room for upside, as three bets at -110 odds results in a +596 parlay. It also limits risk, as sports feature plenty of variance, and keeping the lower number of games lowers potential for outliers to occur.
Parlays should also be used along with single bets. If you bet a four leg parlay with all of the bets being -110, the odds would be +1228. Add a 1.1 unit single bet to each of these plays to limit risk. While the parlay isn’t overly likely to hit at those odds, you can make a small profit if three of those four bets hit. In that case, You would bet 5.4 units (including the parlay), winning 6.3, while profiting 0.9 units. Additionally, you win roughly 21.7 units, profiting 16.3 units.
Parlays can be avoided when you’re looking to limit risk on your bankroll. As mentioned above, they come with far too much risk due to variance to be used as a safety net. They are often used as a way to get even odds on a play. For example, parlaying two -250 favorites together would result in near even odds. This would be similar to betting on a -110 favorite. While bettors can find success using this technique, they limit variance by betting on a spread, total, or short favorite rather than multiple larger favorites.
Parlays with too many bets should also be avoided. While it’s fun to bet on 10+ teams, it’s a losing proposition overall. Occasionally someone will boast that they hit these, even larger parlays, making it look obtainable. That isn’t generally the case, though. There’s simply too much variance to consistently hit these types of parlays.
Parlays are a high upside way to increase your bankroll. They are difficult to win at a high rate, though, and extremely risky. There are ways to bet parlays in a smart manner, as listed above, although there is no way to completely negate the risk. This is a strategy that is generally reserved for the “get rich quick” type of mindset, which is also the quickest way to empty your bankroll.
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