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Are Single Bets a Profitable Strategy?

Dave Friedman

by Dave Friedman

Updated Oct 27, 2022 · 9:44 AM PDT

Understanding single bet strategy is fundamental to sports betting success.

Regardless of your bankroll or risk tolerance, a single or straight bet is consistently the best way to wager on sporting events. Multi-team parlays, teasers, and props can be fun, but they are part of a lottery mentality, trying to bet small and win big.

For those serious about turning a profit, picking the right games and betting them individually is the time tested formula for winning.

In this guide you’ll learn:

  1. The definition of a single bet
  2. Why single bets are so popular
  3. Strategies for maximizing your bankroll using single bets

What Is a Single Bet?

As the name implies, a single bet is one individual wager graded on the results of a single game. Often called a straight bet, it is simple to understand. You take the moneyline, point spread, or total in one game, and that is the extent of the entire wager.

If you bet on the Cowboys -7 against Washington and Dallas wins 28-20 you cover the spread and win the bet. If the Cowboys win 28-24 they fail to cover the spread and you lose the individual bet. If the total is 50 and you bet the under the 28-20 final makes you a winner, while the 28-24 decision makes the single bet a loser.

Each of these picks taken on their own constitutes a single wager.

Aren’t Single Bets Kind of Boring?

Do you like Coca-Cola or grilled cheese? They haven’t changed in decades. They aren’t exotic, but they are straightforward and satisfying.

Math tells the story of why single bets are smart. You need to beat the juice to be profitable. If every bet you make is priced at -110, you need to win 52.4-percent of the time to be profitable.

Achieving such a record isn’t an easy task, but it’s far from impossible if you choose your spots and think through wagers.

The degree of difficulty in stringing together exotic parlays, on the other hand, is much higher. Take a simple two team parlay. If you have a 50-percent chance of winning each bet, that means you should cash 25-percent of the time (.5 x.5 = .25).

Parlays were made to ruin great days.

However, instead of getting 3/1 odds, which is your actual chance of winning, sportsbooks offer 13/5 (2.6/1). As parlays get more exotic the variance in actual percentage of winning and odds offered widens.

Standard Parlay Odds

Number of Teams in Parlay Sportsbook Odds True Odds
2 2.6/1 3/1
3 6/1 7/1
4 10/1 15/1
5 20/1 31/1
6 40/1 63/1
7 75/1 127/1
8 150/1 255/1
9 300/1 511/1
10 700/1 1023/1

Note that some sportsbooks offer better odds than the standard parlay data listed above, but the profit margin is always much larger on parlays than straight bets.

Sportsbooks try to entice you into betting parlays because they win more money on them more frequently. That should be all the evidence you need to concentrate your efforts on single bet strategy instead.

Sometimes adding in the extra ingredient in your cooking doesn’t make the final meal better. Coke makes billions off the the original, while New Coke is resting in peace.

Single Bet Strategy

Whatever your approach to handicapping, it’s likely best paired with single bets. Losing money on what would otherwise be a great day is the most frustrating thing in the world.

Parlays were made to ruin great days. Hit three out of four or seven out of eight and you end up worse than you started. Go 1-0 or 3-1 with straight bets and you are doing great.

Three things are important for sustained success with single bets:

  • A strong method or system to choosing your wagers
  • Consistency and commitment to your strategy
  • Dutiful bankroll management

Just like playing the stock market, parenting, or running a business, a steady hand is advisable.

What to Bet and When

Whether you rely most on sports betting analytics, observation, inside information, or following a trend, most winning bettors have a consistent approach or process they use to make their picks.

There are tested tools and strategies available.  Whether it be Ken Pom or Sagarin for college basketball, advanced college football ranking systems, or Football Outsiders’ DVOA for the NFL, having a system can help you gauge whether your instincts seem correct.

You can easily review film of games prior with today’s multitude of streaming services, and our strategy section is full of guides to help you make critical decisions.

Whatever system you rely on, be prepared to deal with variance whenever you bet on sports consistently.

Trust the Process

Finding an effective strategy starts with knowing who you are as a bettor.

If you are a numbers person, don’t suddenly make choices using your gut. If you hate underdogs on the road, don’t make an excuse for one that you kind of like. Reading articles or listening to podcasts is great, but consider how you feel on a given topic before diving into other opinions so that you don’t have your stance formed by somebody else.

Finally, don’t be a prisoner to sample size. One, two, or even five games do not tell the whole story. You are going to win bets and lose them. If you believe in your methodology and system, don’t make rash decisions. Tweaks and adjustments are appropriate, but don’t run the wishbone one week and the spread the next.

How Much Should You Bet?

Only you can gauge your comfort level and financial reality when it comes to how much cash should go on a game. Of course, your confidence individual wagers should be considered, but once again the steady hand is the best advice.

The best bettors mostly have a system that simplifies the process of deciding how much money to risk.

Let’s say your total bankroll is $500. On your first bet, you wager five percent of your total ($25). If you win, you now have $525 in the pot. On the second bet, you might opt to wager 5.25 percent of the new total (~$27.50). If you lose, you drop the percentage slightly.

Using a dynamic system allows your bankroll to grow if you are winning, but mitigates the damage of losses because your wagers are decreased if you hit a cold streak.

Another option is categorizing bets. For your top plays bet six percent of bankroll, while average plays get five percent, and borderline wagers get 3.5 or four percent. Using betting units will help you keep track of the amounts you’re risking and keep things consistent.

Whatever system you choose, think it through, believe in it, and let it play out.

Sports Betting Is More Fun When You Win

There is always an adrenaline rush that comes with sports wagering. That said, in the end it is more fun if you win.

Of course, we’d all like to earn huge piles of cash in one fell swoop, but exotic wagers are both enticing and incredibly hard to cash with any sort of consistency. If you have a good system, are pretty disciplined, or just chose your spots strategically, making straight bets gives you the best opportunity for long term success.

Ultimately, keeping things simple by focusing on single bets is a tried and true sports betting strategy that even the sharpest bettors adhere to.

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