The Zig-Zag Theory

The Zig-Zag Theory

The Zig-Zag Theory Explained in Betting Psychology Terms

The Zig-Zag Theory is a popular strategy for betting on the NBA and, more recently, the NHL postseasons. The theory says that a team losing a Game 1 is the one to bet on in the next contest. 

NBA Series

This theory states that an NBA series with potential elimination is more likely to have a team give a bigger effort and rebound in an effort to stop their losses.

On the other hand, a team that wins the first game is more likely to play with less intensity in the subsequent game. This theory, therefore, states that momentum in a playoff series will shift based on the performance of the previous game.

NHL Playoffs

The NHL playoffs are very much like the NBA. Having the home advantage may not be as crucial, but, like in the NBA, it’s an important piece of the zig-zag theory.

When applying the zig-zag rule to the NHL postseason, consider factors such as betting on an underdog team after the game goes down 1 or 2. 

In the NHL, there are in-game implications for the home advantage. For example, the home team can get the final line change during play stops. As a result, it can strategically deploy players to improve matchups against the away team. 

Taking Advantage of the Zig-Zag Theory

If you know anything about professional athletes, it means that you understand that they are dedicated to their profession.

They may not be able to perform well, but they will still try. This theory can be used to leverage the previous paragraphs and “buy low” on a team. 

The sportsbooks will increase the cost of wagering on a team that is on a winning streak. This is an example where recent performance can shift the lines.

Zig-Zag Strategy

The Zig-Zag strategy can be very successful. It’s just not correct all the time, as with any other betting strategy.

It is important to consider the strengths of all involved teams. Remember that sports are unpredictable and you should not bet too much on them.

Profitability of the Zig-Zag Theory

There are two correct answers to whether following the zig-zag theory is profitable – yes and no. Following a loss, statistics show that teams cover the spread in their following game 50.2% of the time.

Teams who lost against the spread covered in their next game 48.8% of the time. On those occasions when teams lost the game and lost against the spread, these covered 49.4% of their next games.

Applying the Theory When It Comes to Wager

In addition, home favorites who took a loss and didn’t cover have made bettors profitable in their subsequent contests, covering 54.4% of the time. In other words, there’s more to it than just applying the theory when it comes time to wager.

Adding to the possible combinations, NBA teams who have won at least 60% of their games have covered 56.2% of the contests that followed a loss by at least three points. Those who won less than 60% covered just 49.1%. 

When It Makes Sense

The value of a road team losing Game 1 of a series is less enticing than a team that wins Game 2 a third of the time. Zig-Zag theory plays are when the higher-seeded teams lead 2-0 and must travel for Game 3.

It is a good idea to play the home team down 0-2, considering that no team has ever recovered from a series deficit of 0-3 in NBA history. 

A team trying desperately to win a game is something that can be appreciated. They are driven to win and come out of the game with an unmatched sense of urgency.

Recent Stats

Recent stats show that teams who are down 0-2 at home and play Game 3 at their own place win almost 66% of the time.

The road team can steal Game 1 in a best-of-7 series. They will usually be the underdog. If they do, the home favorite is very likely to rebound and defend home court in Game 2. After losing Game 1, the home team wins Game 2 approximately 75% of the time.

This theory has many pros and has been proven to be effective in the past. Because teams don’t want to be on the verge of elimination, certain games are best for them. Typically, this is true of Game 3, if they are down 0-2, and Game 5 if they are down 3-1. 

These numbers support the theory. The downside to betting blindly on this system could be a bankroll buster.

Although the percentages are a good rule, the zig-zag theory doesn’t take into consideration the intangibles and other factors that can affect a series.

For example, bad matchups, poor adjustments, and other characteristics can all play a significant role in whether a team is able to rebound from a loss.

Part of a Bigger Picture

The NBA postseason still has home-court advantage. Home teams win 64.5% of all games, while the percentage is 55.3% for the home teams in the NHL.

Particularly after winning their first game, the betting lines for the NBA can be very favorable to the home team. 

This theory and many other strategies for betting have a short life span before the bookmakers notice these trends and adjust accordingly.

Decline Numbers and Profits Over the Years

It is not surprising that this bet has seen a decline in numbers and profits over the years. People who blindly bet on a team in the hope that they will win are likely to pay more.

We all want to make money betting on the postseason. But, remember that each series and every game is unique.

Every game is different and both the tangible and intangible aspects are important. Instead of blindly following the zig-zag theory, look for stats that will support your wager. Motivation alone may not be enough to win the next game.

Approach With Caution

While the zig-zag theory may play a role in sports betting, there are also reasons to be cautious about applying it when considering how to bet on sports. In recent years, superior teams have been more aggressive about winning the early rounds. 

Good teams are more refreshed when the championship is at stake. The zig-zag gets a bath if an elite team wins a series. A few teams can do this, but it won’t make enough money to win the overall playoff.

Three-Point Shooting

In the NBA, three-point shooting can be described as erratic. This is a randomizer with a mind of its very own.

These dynamic’s highs and lows are not interested in following the zig-zag. A team of shooters can be hot or cold for multiple games at once.

The standard 11/10 vigorish can defeat any strategy in betting. This is a much more difficult hurdle than most gamblers realize.

If your zig-zag bets post a 50/50 record, you lose money. To break even, you must win 52.4% and most likely at least 54% to make it worthwhile.

Things To Consider

The zig-zag theory is largely based on historical statistics and probabilities. There are other factors that should be taken into consideration when considering whether to follow any trends.

The Matchup

Bettors who want to use this theory should be concerned about the matchup between each team. First, check the past records of both teams; this is often enough information to place profitable bets.


Even if your experience is limited, it is important to be aware of this aspect before placing any bets. You should read up on both teams before the game.

You can find information about injuries. You can save money by doing a quick Google search. Injuries can happen in sports, and this will definitely have an impact on your betting.

Split Statistics

Split stats are another way to make your bets more profitable. This information should be considered before you place your playoff bets. Split stats allow bettors to control the performance of specific players in specific situations.


This tip is particularly useful when placing bets on the NHL playoffs. Suspensions are more common in this league.

If the suspensions affect your team, it is worth checking who’s playing before betting on a game.

Team and Player Motivation

It is important to monitor the stats of both teams. You should also take into account their motivation. This doesn’t just refer to game-to-game motivation. This can also refer to the team’s motivation as it enters a series.

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Zig-Zag Theory FAQs

While it can be lucrative, you should be aware that it is not bulletproof. It usually works best when the lower-seeded teams are 2-0. You can still expect to win most of your bets, but it’s not guaranteed.

You will need to research the theory before you can start to use it. You can find tips, strategies, and expert predictions to help you make the best decisions about where to place your bets on the playoffs.

The NBA playoffs are best when you use the zig-zag strategy. This is especially true when the stronger team wins the first two home games by a margin of 2-0. The underdog wins at home in almost 60% of cases, so you can bet on them.

There has not been a lot of research into the zig-zag theory. However, based on the statistics, NBA and NHL wagers are the only ones that might benefit from its application.

When learning how to bet on sports, the zig-zag theory is a simple strategy that can be applied without having a lot of skill. However, despite its simplicity, it can’t be used alone. Instead, it should be part of a larger analysis of a contest.