Zig-Zag Theory in Sports Betting

Zig-zag theory in sports betting is a simple idea that advises a bettor to wager on a team that has lost its previous game. There are some varying ideas on whether this is a viable theory. Sharp bettors often benefit from the odds on teams that just lost. Public bettors tend to be influenced by recency bias. This is often baked into sportsbooks odds in the next game. We examine this theory and how it can be used.

Key Points

– The Zig-Zag theory is best used in sports with longer playoff series.

– Like any sports betting strategy, use them wisely.

What is Zig-Zag Betting?

It’s a pretty straightforward betting method that has been used for almost 40 years. In essence, the desperation that results from the fear of losing the next game (or series) frequently gives the team that just lost a crucial boost. It is a theory that is primarily used in sports that have longer playoff series.

During a seven-game series, for example, momentum frequently shifts. This idea of zig-zag betting attempts to take advantage of these momentum shifts. 

The theory is very simple. A team loses a game. You bet on them in the next game to win or cover. We’re going to examine some moneyline and ATS statistics related to zig-zag theory. Then, we’ll dive into how to use it to your advantage. 


Origin of Zig-Zag Theory

The zig-zag theory, which was developed by renowned sports handicapper Tony Salinas, contends that every game of a seven-game NBA or NHL series is influenced by the game that came before it. When setting their odds for games in a series, oddsmakers, in Salinas’ opinion, failed to properly take this into account and overemphasize factors like home court advantage. 

Salinas created the zig-zag theory with the NBA playoffs in mind. It’s just one of the many ways to find value in NBA playoffs series bets. Soon after using the theory, other “sharps” realized that the NHL could benefit from the same strategy.  

Does It Work?

Any series with a 2-2-1-1-1 (meaning the first two games are at the home of the higher-seeded team, the second two are at the home of the lower-seeded team and then they rotate back and forth) format can benefit from the zig-zag theory’s principles. The NBA Finals were previously played in a 2-3-1-1 configuration. 

However, many felt that by hosting the fifth game at home, the lower-seeded team was given an unfair advantage. Since 2013, the NBA Finals have returned to their original 2-2-1-1-1 format. 

Some handicappers apply different versions of the zig-zag theory to the NFL and MLB. Due to the 2-2-1-1-1 structure, the zig-zag theory is much less applicable to these sports than it is to the NBA and NHL. If you remove it from that setting, it just isn’t as effective. 

The NBA Playoffs and the Zig-Zag Theory 

Let’s look at some statistical applications now that you are familiar with the zig-zag theory’s fundamental idea. 

In the NBA, home court advantage is very important. NBA home teams win 64.5% of the time, versus 55.3% of the time for NHL teams. Due to this advantage, betting odds frequently favor the home team dramatically, especially if they win Game 1. In the NBA’s history, road teams that drop the first game win the second one just over 34 percent of the time. 

Even though the home team has a higher chance of winning Game 2, there is still value for bettors. Winning 34 percent of the time is by no means a small percentage. There is a huge opportunity for betting on an event that happens more than one-third of the time because the home team will receive the majority of bets. 

The implied probability of the underdog winning Game 2 will be much lower than 34%, according to the odds. A single game loss has a strong tendency to cause bettors to overreact. 

Even if the visiting team suffers a distasteful and embarrassing loss, it doesn’t necessarily mean that their chances in Game 2 are over. 

The Stats Behind the Theory 

Let’s look at some compiled data on teams that won after losing in the NBA playoffs. The home team will win Game 2 76 percent of the time if the road team pulls the upset in Game 1. 

The team that lost the first game ends up covering the spread in 56 percent of the time in the next game. 

A lower-seeded underdog typically excels when they return to their home court when the home favorite is 2-0 and plays Game 3 on the road. The lower seed has a winning percentage of 65 percent on the moneyline and 68 percent against the spread. Bettors should recognize that these occur roughly two out of every three times.

According to past NBA trends, favored teams who suffer a loss by four points or more tend to cover the spread in their subsequent game. Teams in this situation have a 98-69 record (58.7 percent winning percentage) in the last 167 such games.  

Although these statistics are a great place to start, the zig-zag theory should always be taken into account in its wider context. In the NBA playoffs, it is always up to you to decide whether you believe there is value on a particular line. 

NHL Betting and Zig-Zag Theory 

The best time to use the zig-zag theory in the NHL playoffs is when you bet on a team to avoid a sweep. 

Game 4 will typically be won by the team attempting to avoid being swept. Being swept in the NHL is less frequent than you might think. After falling behind 3-0, a win by the trailing team is more likely than a sweep. Teams in a 0-3 hole have a 26-19 record (57.8 percent winning percentage) since the first NHL lockout in 2005. 

While teams in the same situation on the road have gone 10-7 (58.8%), teams down 0-3 and playing Game 4 at home have gone 16-12 (57.1%). 

At hockey betting websites, the team poised to sweep will likely be heavily favored. Even though bookmakers may have all the necessary data, oddsmakers move the lines to equalize the amount of bets placed on each side. Bettors are likely to wager on the favorite.

NHL handicapping using key stats is crucial. Don’t forget it even when using this theory.

Only a Piece of the Puzzle 

We caution against putting too much stock in the zig-zag theory on its own. Make your own deductions and judgments about a team’s chances using your sports knowledge. Keep up with the most recent injury reports, coaching changes, and sports statistics. 

Every series, as well as each game within a series, is unique. Every single game in a particular playoff series will be influenced by both the objective and subjective factors. Luck will also play a part. 

The zig-zag theory should only be one of your betting strategies. There isn’t a foolproof system for becoming a profitable bettor, and success in sports betting always requires diligence, knowledge, experience, and research.