A hedge is a method to reduce risk and secure winnings for a specified bet. In sports, it means betting the opposite side of your original wager in order to either try to middle the game, or to reduce the downside exposure of the original wager.
The most popular instance of hedging is for a futures bet. For example, you bet the San Francisco 49ers at +2500 to win the Super Bowl ahead of the season and they eventually make it. Instead of riding out the +2500 and hoping the 49ers win, you could hedge that bet and take the opposing team, the Kansas City Chiefs, to win on the moneyline.
While you'll get more money if you ride out the original bet, there's also more of a chance you'll come out with nothing. If you hedge and bet the Chiefs, you'll win something no matter the result of the game.
Below is a breakdown of payouts in a possible hedge:
Original wager: $100 on 49ers at +2500 for a $2,600 payout ($2,500 profit)
Hedge: $1,000 on Chiefs ML -150 for a $1,667 payout ($667 profit)
49ers win: $2,600 payout - $1,000 bet - $100 bet = $1,500 profit
Chiefs win: $1,667 payout - $1,000 bet - $100 bet = $567 profit
49ers win: $2,500 profit
Chiefs win without hedge: down $100
As seen with a hedge, the bettor comes out in the positive no matter how the game goes. Without the hedge, the bettor wins a bit more after a 49ers win but also comes out negative if the Chiefs win as a favorite.
Hedging a wager comes down to personal preference. Some people are fine with a positive payout and prefer not to risk everything, which is when a hedge makes sense. As for those who are keen on their original wager and are fine with losing money if the other side wins, there's no reason to hedge.
Hedging can be done with almost any kind of bet. Futures bets may be the most popular instance to hedge, but as sports betting grows, in-play wagering is also at an all-time high. If a bet isn't looking good halfway through a game, hedging with an in-play bet could be done. In this case, it's important to note all possibilities in a game because if you make the wrong hedge, you may be out two bets if something crazy happens.
For example, you bet the Titans -7 to beat the Colts and they open the second quarter down 14-0. Since it's looking like the Colts will win, you decide to hedge the Colts moneyline at -150. Unfortunately, the Colts let up in the second half and the Titans eventually win on a late field goal, meaning both of your bets lose. If you want to hedge in-game, it's usually best to know what you're doing instead of blindly betting the opposite side.
Another possible hedge method is in a parlay. Luckily, these are a little more straightforward than an in-game hedge. The easiest example is if your first two bets win in a three-team parlay. If you want to guarantee winnings, you simply hedge by betting the opposite side in the third bet of the parlay. You'll guarantee winnings, though the payout will be smaller.