In the universe of parlays, teasers have their adherents, regular parlays are king, and the less said about single-game parlays the better. But we’re not here to talk about those plays. No, we’re here to talk about a wager that can sometimes be daunting to novices, but fills its own niche: the round robin bet.
The humble round robin is a play that may not reach the dizzying exponential returns of a parlay, but it’s a solid workhorse than can help bettors reduce their variance while still keeping them alive in the hunt for a more significant payday.
What Is a Round Robin Bet?
If a traditional parlay is a snarling, 900-horsepower stock car, the round robin is the restrictor plate.
Instead of playing a series of bets as one parlay, you’re creating permutations of those same bets and betting them all as smaller parlays, in one fell swoop. We don’t know why swoops are always fell, but them’s the rules.
For example, consider this play on the April 20 MLB card:
- Minnesota Twins moneyline (+102)
- New York Yankees moneyline (-158)
- Dodgers-Cubs Over 11 (-110)
- Rockies-Philles first 5 Over 5.5 (+106)
- Luke Weaver (CIN) Over 3.5 strikeouts (-126)
Together as a five-leg parlay, these bets would pay +2226. Bet $10 to win $222.67.
But if you bet it instead as a round robin, you’re betting permutations of the five plays. You can bet by the twos, threes or fours, meaning you’ll get paid for each two-leg combination that hits (10 total combinations), three-leg combos (another 10) or four-leg combos (five total).
When you play “by threes,” you’re effectively placing these 10, $10 wagers:
- Twins-Yankees-Cubs Over, which pays $52.97
- Twins-Yankees-Rockies Over, $57.95
- Twins-Yankees-Weaver, $49.16
- Twins-Cubs Over-Rockies Over, $69.44
- Twins-Cubs Over-Weaver, $59.17
- Twins-Rockies Over-Weaver, $64.64
- Yankees-Cubs Over-Rockies Over, $54.22
- Yankees-Cubs Over-Weaver, $45.91
- Yankees-Rockies Over-Weaver, $50.33
- Cubs Over-Rockies Over-Weaver, $60.54
If every leg comes in the max payout is $564.34. Hit four legs but not Weaver and that would pay $234.58. If Weaver and the Rockies miss, you’d only get back $52.97 for the one combination that connected.
You likely already spotted one drawback to round robins. When you make the straight parlay, you’re only risking $10. When you bet the same play as a $10 round robin, you’re putting $100 in play.
If you want to keep to your original stake, you have to divide it by the number of combinations you’re betting.
Why Do I Want to Make Round Robin Bets?
“The enemy of the parlay bettor is variance. Round Robins allow you to reduce the variance of the parlay,” Captain Jack Andrews said.
This should be intuitive. Parlays are hard to hit. In a five-leg parlay, there are 31 ways to lose and only one way to win. You might lose all five legs. Or win the first leg but lose the next four. Hit two, then miss the next three. Etc. If every leg were even money, you’d win 3.13 percent of the time.
But three-leg parlays are a little easier. They’ll hit 12.5 percent of the time. In exchange for the all-or-nothing payout, you’re increasing your chance to cash. You’re repeating the trial 10 times, and the more often you repeat a bet, the more likely it is your equity runs out true.
Which can be its own win-win for both books and bettor.
“Why are Round Robins good for sportsbooks?” Andrews said. “Because the sportsbook, yes, has the edge overall in a parlay, but that doesn’t mean that they like variance any more than you do. You betting round robins just reduces the variance while maintaining the edge for them. On the flip side, they’re good for the player because they reduce variance.”
Finding Your Approach
Some bettors just plain want the variance. They’re looking to pack up a solid score without risking too much of their bankroll. If that’s you, round robins aren’t the product you’re after.
But if you want to maximize plus-EV spots in a way that decreases fluctuations in your bankroll, choosing round robins with fewer combinations can be a viable path.
“A two leg permutation, you have a better chance of actually winning then you do a three- or four- or a five-leg one,” Andrews said. “All of those, you still have a pretty strong house edge against you. My opinion is if you’re in a situation as a sharp bettor where you’re going to be making parlay bets, I tend to go for the lowest number of legs in the parlay. It’s just easier to find two instances of positive-EV bets rather than find three. When I’m looking to manifest my edge, I’m looking to not have high variance.”
Muddy the Waters or Give off a Tell?
Whether the round robin bet is a tool to help disguise sharp action or is itself a sharp tell may depend on which book you’re betting at.
“I would often use round robins, especially if I had one sportsbook where I found all my edges for that day,” Andrews said. “I’m going to do some round robining because that makes it look a little bit more like I’m just kind of screwing around.”
Parlays can be seen as sucker plays, and if a book views round robins as just another kind of parlay, sharp bettors can benefit from that. But there’s another way to look at round robins, and that could work against someone who wants to disguise their action.
“I’ve heard from sportsbook operators that their eyebrow goes up when they see somebody making their bets and they’re all round robins on their parlays because the (recreational) bettor’s mind is that variance is good,” Andrews said. “The lottery mentality. Risk a little to win a lot.
“So when they see a new bettor and they’re immediately flocking to these round robins, that’s a little bit of a like, oh, what do you know? Why do you want to reduce your variance on these lottery plays? It can cut against the player too, in the art of sports betting sense.”