Buying Basketball Half Points

When to purchase half points in basketball is a question asked frequently on sports betting forums; though, rarely serious discussion about half point buying actually occurs. When asked, the usual response is: “if buying points was +EV the bookmaker wouldn’t offer the option”. While a sound and logical theory, this statement would make a lot more sense, if it wasn’t for the fact it is flat-out false. Off the top of my head, one place where half points are offered at better than fair pricing frequent enough is I’ll give away that tip in this article and also cover half-point buys in great detail.

Purchasing Half Points in Basketball

To keep things simple let’s stick to NBA basketball. Most, but not all, online sportsbooks allow bettors to purchase a half point for 10 cents. What this means is if the line is Boston Celtics -7 -110, a bettor can move the lines to Celtics -6.5 -120 if they choose. Generally speaking paying 10 cents for a half point in basketball is a losing proposition. However what most sports bettors fail to realize is that not all points in basketball have equal value. When you realize this and do the simple-math, you’ll discover sometimes purchasing a half point(s) does in fact make sense.

In games decided by double digits the final margins of victory are distributed pretty much at random. In closely contested games, factors such as buzzer beaters, fouling at the end, killing clock, intentionally missed free throws and other end game strategy change things. In fact, having run many years of data and studied this in depth, I found the distribution between margins of victory in closely contested games favor certain numbers. If you want to know how I came up with these figures read my article on teaser betting for an idea, for now I’ll just tell you as long as you’re buying no more than four half-points (2 full-points) here are my push probabilities for each margin of victory between one and eight points.

1 point 2.3%, 2 points 4.0%, 3 points 3.8%, 4 points 3.5%, 5 points 4.4%, 6 points 4.2%, 7 points 4.1%, and 8 points 4.2%.

Let’s say we’re shopping lines and spot the Chicago Bulls -7 at most betting sites, with the prices perhaps being -104 at Pinnacle, -105 at 5Dimes, -108 at IAS, and everywhere else has them -110. We then see has the Chicago Bulls at -6.5 -110. Well that’s a full half-point better than the market consensus. Now even if we’re blind on this game and had no intention of betting the Bulls we already know that 7-points is a common margin of victory so this free half-point better than the consensus price has significant enough value that it probably warrants a bet. Look what happens though when we add half point buys to the equation… I’ll cover that below.

Bookmaker allows bettors to purchase up to four half-points at ten cents each. This means it is possible to we could take -6.5 -110 to any of -6 -120, -5.5 -130, -5.0 -140, -4.5 -150. Let’s take a look at the -4.5 -150 option.

Go to our odds converter and run break evens at -110 and -150. You’ll find:

  • -110 requires a 52.4% win rate to break even.
  • -150 requires a 60.0% win rate to break even.

As you can see we need to win (60-52.4) 7.6% more often for the -4.5 -150 bet to have the same value as the 6.5 -110 bet. Earlier I shared the push probability for 5-points is 4.4% and the push probability for 6-points is 4.2%, add these together and we’re increasing our win rate by 8.6%. We needed to increase our win rate by only 7.6% for -4.5 -150 to have had equal value. Considering we’re increasing it by a full percentage point more than that, we’re getting far better odds at -4.5 -150 than we’re getting at -6.5 -110. Just like that we’ve debunked the myth that purchasing half points is for suckers.

Understanding Half-Points on Pushes

Let’s go back to the earlier example and look at purchasing only a single half-point. So here I’m going from -6.5 -110 to -6.0 -120. When I use our odds converter I see the break evens are: 52.4% on -110 and 54.5% on -120. The difference is 2.1%. Going back to the figures I shared earlier, the push probability on 6 was 4.2%. Considering we only push on six (not win) we can only take half credit, because the other half of the 4.2% win probability is given to the bookie we’re betting against; he has +6 and we have -6, the 4.2% push on six goes half to each of us. Therefore moving from -6.5 to -6 is worth 2.1%. No considering the difference between -110 and -120 is 2.1% as well, we have a neutral value scenario and should be indifferent when selecting between -6.5 -110 and -6.5 -120 because both have the same expectation.

Half Points Strung-Together Change the Values

Let’s take a look at an example we’re we started at -8 and are now at -6.5 -140. In deciding whether to purchase another half-point, you might assume: we covered that in the previous example; the change from -6.5 to -6.0 requires 2.1% improved win probability and that’s the actual value we pick up so again we have neutral change we’re indifferent about. This however isn’t correct, the more half points you purchase the value of each half point becomes worth progressively more. Let’s illustrate that.

  • -140 requires a 58.3% break even
  • -150 requires a 60.0% break even.

Notice the difference is now 1.7%. We already calculated in our previous example that going from -6.5 to -6.0 increases our bets win probability by 2.1%. Obvious here buying the next half-point is a no brainer.

IMPORTANT: If you’re skimming this article and are new to using simple math to beat sports betting, be sure to read the previous two sections. I just showed how going from -6.5 -110 to -6.0 -120 requires the bet picks up 2.1% more win probability, where going from -6.5 -140 to -6.0 -150 only requires it to pick up 1.7%. This is a paradigm many new sports bettors struggle to understand.

Many Half Point Buys are –EV

Once you get into the double digits the push probabilities on each point range from 3.0% to 3.5%. Remember when going from -110 to -120 the needed increased win rate is 2.1%. Considering all half point buys move on or off a push, that 3.0% to 3.5% represents a value of 1.5% to 1.75% per half point. As you can see with these at 10 cents per half point you’ll be increasing the bookmaker’s advantage each time you purchase a half-point on a double digit point spread.

To learn more about purchasing half points you can read my article on NBA teasers where a similar concept is applied. To really grasp this concept, read my guide to teaser betting strategy which mostly covers football, but has a ton of value that can easily be applied basketball betting.

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