Bringing your brain to the bracket. Is there a smart way to bet on March madness? It’s one of the biggest, most famous and most exciting sporting events in the US. After all, it’s called March Madness for a good reason. The NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball tournament, also known as March Madness, has been played annually since 1939. It’s a high stakes, winner takes all extravaganza.

It’s a single elimination tournament played in seven rounds mostly in March (clue’s in its name!) of 68 college basketball teams from Division 1 level of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to fight it out for the prestigious national championship. In the 80 years since the tournament started, 35 different teams have won a championship. The stand out is UCLA which has 11 wins, ten of which occurred in the 12-year period from 1964 to 1975.

How does it work?

On March 17, Selection Sunday took place. Here teams were ranked one through 68 by the Selection team. The best team in college basketball, based on performance, is given the number 1 slot. Four of the 68 teams are eliminated during the opening round, leaving 64 teams for the first round, starting Thursday 28 March, with Florida State vs. Gonzaga opening.

The 64 teams are split into four regions of 16 teams, with each side given a ranking one through 16. That ranking is the team’s seed. In the first round matchups, the top team in the region is put against the bottom team, so one vs. 16, two vs. 15 and so on. In theory, this means the one seeds have a smoother ride at the start.

How do I bet?

This is where it gets exciting. There are tons of March Madness brackets (or betting pools) out there. The NCAA runs what’s called a Bracket Challenge Game so that you can predict the outcome of each match. It’s the official bracket game of the NCAA and opened on Selection Sunday. The NCAA says, no one has ever gotten a perfect bracket, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying.” Filling out a bracket with all the winners of each game is a really tough ask. Literally, no one has ever filled out a perfect bracket. Even if games were a 50/50 proposition, the chances of a bracket being perfect are 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 (9.2 quintillion).

Some March Madness contests are free to enter; others require a fee. However, not all of them are safe or legitimate. When using betting sites, look at reviews left by previous customers and check to see if there are any slow payout issues or if it’s hard to contact them. You can also try doing a Google search with the name of the website followed by the word ‘scam’ to see if anything surfaces.  A reputable gambling site will offer more than just bets for the winner. There are sites where you can bet on half time scores, prop bets and totals for example. The more options you have to make a bet the better.

It’s up to you how you go about it, but there’s some NCAA advice out there to guide you, including seven common bracket-picking mistakes to avoid, to how to pick your bracket based on each team’s mascot. There’s also a handy guide to filling out your bracket with BracketIQ.

Final thoughts

All competing teams will have to stay really cool and focussed under intense pressure to win that coveted title. We think it’s safe to say that the same is true of anyone wanting to make their dollars deliver!