When you first begin to learn about sports betting, you will hear plenty of betting lingo you are unfamiliar with, along with the names of different types of bets. No other is more important than the “point spread” and is comparative anyone understand what is point spread and a few derivatives of this extremely popular bet.
What does one image when they hear sports betting? Most people instantly think about guys betting on which football team will win the game. But they couldn’t be more wrong. As a matter of fact, the most popular bet at the sportsbooks is not which team will win the game, but whether a team will cover the spread, the “spread” here simply being the shortened version of “point spread”. So lesson one – when you hear “spread”, it always refers to the point spread. But what is point spread and how do you bet it? Well, below you will find the point spread explained, but we will not limit ourselves to just explaining what is point spread, we will also take a look at a few other terms you are likely to encounter when talking about sports betting, especially football betting. We will look into what it means to cover the spread, what ATS stands for (against the spread) and explain that, even learn some new jargon like “chalk”, all of those things (and more) you would hear when someone is talking about point spread and placing bets.
What is point spread
The easiest way to look at the point spread is as a form of handicap. In such way, that the point spread is a number of points given or taken from the final score of a team in a particular game, then the bet is settled by which team wins the game, once those points are either taken or given. It’s not really complicated and I guarantee you, you will understand it best with an example. Since spread betting is most popular with football bets, we will use imaginary NFL games to give examples. Let’s say Detroit is playing at Chicago and the sportsbook has posted the following under the point spread column:
Detroit Lions +7
Chicago Bears -7
The numbers after the football teams indicate the point spread. Or as we already noted, the handicap or the points given to (or taken from) a team. As you’ve already guessed, the plus sign in front of the point spread number indicates that the points will be added to the final score of the team and the minus sign – that the points will be taken away from the final score of the football team. Therefore, using this example, whatever points the Lions score in the game, an additional 7 points will be added to their score or (notice, it’s OR, not AND) seven points will be taken away from the Bears’ final score.
So how do you bet the point spread? You already know what the plus and minus stand for in spread betting, but what is the actual bet all about? Well, again, using the Lions-Bears example, you will still bet on one of two options: either the Lions will win, after 7 points are added to their final score, or the Bears will win, after 7 points are taken away from their final score. In other words, you are still betting on which team will win the game, only with the twist of manipulating the score one way or another. We will once again underline, that depending on which option you will choose, either points will be taken away or points will be added, not both! So the spread bettors must ask themselves the following two questions:
1. Would the Lions win the game if, at the end of the game, an extra
seven points are added to their score?
2. Would the Bears win, if 7 points are taken off from their final score?
And depending on the answer, you either bet on the Lions to “cover the spread”, or win the game after 7 points are added to their final tally (answering “yes” to the first question) or bet the Bears, if you answered “yes” to the second question.
At this point some may be asking “Well, you either take or give equal amount of points to the teams, isn’t it the same whether you will bet the Lions +7 or the Bears – 7?” Not always. Let’s look at a scenario to drive the point further.
Let’s say that the final score of the Detroit @ Chicago game is: Lions 17 – 21 Bears.
In this case, if you bet the spread on the Lions, you would add 7 points to their final score, which would then be Lions 24 – 21 Bears (17+7=24) and you win your point spread bet. Alternatively, if you had the Bears to cover the spread, you would take away 7 points from their points tally, making the final score Lions 21 – 14 Bears (21-7=14) and you would lose the bet. As you can see, it does matter which side of the point spread bet you would pick.
But what if the final score of the game was Lions 14 – 21 Bears and you had the Bears to cover the -7 spread? That would make the final score Lions 14 – 14 Bears, i.e. a draw, what then? Most sportsbooks will consider this bet a “push” and will simply refund you the money you wagered on the bet. Also, as you’ve probably guessed already, in this scenario it doesn’t matter whether you bet the Lions +7 or the Bears -7, either way the bet will result in a push.
The sportsbooks understandably don’t like no-action bets like that and they have a tool in their arsenal to mitigate the chances of a point spread bet resulting in a push. So far our example was using whole numbers, but keep in mind that the point spread goes up and down not by one point, but by half point. So it’s not uncommon to see point spread posted by the sportsbooks as “-3.5” or “+11.5”. If in our previous example of the game finishing Lions 14 – 21 Bears, the point spread was -7.5 on the Bears and +7.5 on the Lions – it would’ve been impossible for the game to end in a draw. If you bet the Bears to cover the -7.5 spread you would’ve lost, since the final score then would be Lions 14 – 13.5 Bears (21-7.5=13.5), for example.
So what’s the point of the point spread? Couldn’t one just bet on the money line, instead of going through all this trouble of adding and subtracting numbers? Sure, but the main reason of the point spread is to generate action for the sportsbook in games that would otherwise be too easy to bet on, thus offering little to no value to the bettor. The bigger favorite the team is, the smaller the payout if you bet on it. But when using the spread, the sportsbook gives points to the underdog or takes away from the favorite, making the bet much more interesting (and profitable for the winners).
So far we managed to cover a few of the terms used when spread betting. We already know that to “cover the spread” means that the team wins the bet after the points are subtracted from (or added to) its final score. We know that “spread” is short for “point spread”. Let’s look at a few other words you may hear when taking about the point spread.
ATS – an acronym tripping most people new to spread betting, what does ATS mean? ATS simply stands for Against The Spread. If we say the Patriots are seven points against the spread (ATS), it means that the point spread on the Patriots is -7. Simple as that.
chalk – chalk is another term that would creep up when talking about sports betting. Usually chalk means someone who bets the favorite, but when applied to point spread, it means the same as ATS. If the Patriots are seven points chalk the spread, it means the point spread on the Pats is -7.
Having hard time with other point spread related terms? Shoot us an
email and we’d gladly explain them.
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