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Sportsbetting 101

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07. Once you've decided whom or what to bet on, how can you bet it most advantageously?

This is an area where I want to continue to improve. Let's say I love Dallas against the New York Giants and the betting line around town is Dallas +3. Do I simply bet it at the book I use the most and be done with it? Only takes me 10 seconds or so to click in $110 to win $100 on Dallas +3. Or do I now begin my real work: shopping for the best price and the best sports betting line?

For instance, let's say there is a book that has no vig Fridays and I can play the game there at Dallas +3 $100 to win $100. Or I can shop for a book that offers money line wagers on Dallas. Now Dallas has to win for me to collect. Searching the net, I find five sports book betting books ranging from Dallas +125 to Dallas +135. If I take Dallas +135, I now can wager $100 to win $135.

Or say we are talking about a basketball game, such as Seattle versus the Los Angeles Lakers. I simply go through my list of books and find the best price. Some books offer lower vig, say betting $105 to win $100 on basketball for one hour each day. Besides looking at the vig, I'm also shopping the sports betting lines. I might find, for instance, that Seattle is at +8 at most books, and +8.5 at some. In the end, I take the best combination of vig and the line.

The key to being a successful sports betting handicapper is to maximize your wins and to do that, you need to find the best bang for your buck. It's a buyer's market--all you have to do is start shopping.

The Philosopher:
It's hard to overstate how important vig shopping and line shopping are to successful online sports betting.

Let's look at some numbers: If you're playing at standard vig, which is risking $11 for each $10 you stand to win, or "-110 betting odds, then in order to come out ahead, you have to pick at least 52.4% winners.

Instead of betting at -107, your break even point is to pick 51.7% winners. For -105, it's down to needing only 51.2%. -102 brings it down to 50.5%. And of course, if you can bet it at even money, you need to pick just 50% winners. In other words, if you can flip a coin, you can break even at online sports betting.

Every one of these levels of vig are available for offshore gambling, including gambling with no vig at all. You just need to know where and when to bet. (It also helps if you are betting online, since some of the low vig and no vig deals are limited to internet betting.) If you are betting at -110 when you could have bet the identical thing at a different time or at a different sports book for less vig, you're basically throwing money away.

Similarly, all else being equal, you will be much more successful at online sports betting if you shop lines. This means having accounts at multiple sports books betting, and monitoring their numbers so that you can place your bet most advantageously.

In the old days, before information transmission became basically instantaneous, it was common to find large discrepancies between what different books were offering. But even now, when sports betting lines are far more likely to coalesce around a narrow consensus, you will still routinely get a half point or a point better, or a few cents better on a money line, on most of your wagers if you shop several books than if you place all your wagers at one sports book.

When online sports gambling some don't bother with these small discrepancies unless they fall on a "key" number that is unusually likely to land, such as the '3' or '7' in football. But this is a mistake. Granted, getting -2.5 instead of settling for -3 is a much bigger deal than getting +16.5 instead of settling for +16, but the latter is still worth taking advantage of. (I'm assuming here that the vig is the same throughout.)

Let's stipulate that we're talking about such an obscure number that there is only a 1% chance the game in question will land exactly on that number. Let me ask you this: If you could wave a magic wand and turn 1% of the losing wagers you've had in life into pushes, and turn 1% of the pushes into wins, would you do it?

There are other factors you can use to reduce or eliminate the house betting edge, but the two you should add to your arsenal immediately if you haven't already are vig shopping and line shopping.

Definitely sports betting line shopping is the way to go. It starts with selecting books that offer lines that can differ from those of the crowd. Many books use Don Best to follow changes at other books, and keep their numbers in line to avoid getting too much action at an "old" number when those changes occur. Obviously, if all your books are in this category you won't get good numbers.

Once you've selected a number of books, you then have to find the one with the best betting line. You can purchase the Don Best Premium feed for $500 a month for instant access to the lines at the major offshore gambling books, but that is unrealistic for most gamblers, especially me. Don Best also has a free service, Island Express, with fewer books and a 15 minute delay. I also use another free line service, Tip-Ex. This service uses netbots to update its site continuously with the odds for many different sports. For example, for NFL there might be 25 books quoted there, including popular ones like Canbet, WSEX, Royal, and Pinnacle. These services are not perfect, but they work for me.

This aspect of the process, that I call "betting," as opposed to "handicapping," is a very important one that many newbies and even veterans overlook. It sometimes surprises me that astute handicappers, in golf for instance, would say getting -125 isn't that much better than getting -135 is, that it is not worth shopping for. I try to point out that that is either $10 less risked, for a $100 bettor, or over $7 more won for the same risk amount. Give me that difference bet after bet and it piles up.

Along with using line services, like Don Best, it is also important that you have the ability to play where the numbers are most advantageous. By this I mean that you must have funds in your account where the best sports betting lines can be had at the time you need to be betting. Properly allocating your bankroll so that the more useful outs (best vig and/or opinionated lines) have the bigger portion of it is very important to keep your flexibility. Having some cushion in a service such as Neteller can also precipitate this flexibility.

Transfer fees and bonus rules can sometimes get in the way, or cut into your "line shopping savings/profits" when balancing funds among multiple books. You must keep this factor in mind when deciding how many accounts to use and how heavily to fund them. There are times that the slight benefit you'd gain by getting the very best line is more than offset by the cost, and it is better to let it go.

I often talk about how "useful" an out is. What I mean is how often it will be the most advantageous place for me to make my plays each week. The more useful an out is, the higher a priority it is to keep my account there well funded.

One part of line shopping that I have become more tuned in to, particularly in some sports like golf and college basketball, is betting into early, opening, virgin, lines. In golf betting, for example, I end up making 90%+ of my wagers on Monday or early Tuesday. The reason is that I have become painfully aware that the lines move against my wagers the vast majority of the time (I'd guess well over 80% of the moves are against me), whether I'm betting underdogs or favorites. So waiting until Wednesday, the more traditional day for golf betting, most bettors who play their match-ups, has usually cost me dearly.

I think the difference is magnified in minor sports, but some money lines move 20, 30, even 50 cents between when I play them and when others do on Wednesday. Some say they wait for weather or tee times, but I factor those into dailies, not 72 hole matches very much.

I know that "steam chasers" wait for moves in major sports to play, but I am a handicapper, so I'd rather go with my line/ratings right away than hold back and get "wise guy righted" numbers all of the time. Besides, I can often "scalp out" of a match-up later, if weather or tee times get me to change my opinion. I very rarely do this, but it happens every once in a while.

The same scenario can be applied to the NFL. Some handicappers, and pros, like to hit the opening numbers on Sunday. When online sports betting, some bettors will take advantage of -102 vig deals on Tuesday. Some may play during "restricted hours" to get -105 or larger parlay payoffs. Others wait for late news on injuries, line movements/steam, or because they don't have their handicapping done until Sunday morning and don't worry much about juice or early moves. Different timing is appropriate for different sports handicapping styles.

I would think that handicappers who trust their lines/number would be more inclined to betting into early lines as they may be softer than lines that have been beat on all week. There is nothing "squarer" than to play a juiced up favorite on Sunday just before kickoff. I play the vast majority of my football plays before Saturday, but many advocate playing favorites and overs at the early nfl gambling lines and underdogs and unders late, as the general rule of thumb is that Joe Public plays favorites and overs the majority of the time, and through the week and weekend the sport lines move accordingly. I'd say this is correct, in general, but I am mediocre to poor at football handicapping so I concentrate on juice more. I have not seen my particular underdog or under plays predominantly get better as kickoff approaches, on those rare occasions I watch line movement on the weekend, so I don't sweat it for the NFL. I think the better you are at football handicapping, the more those things make sense.

This brings up a related topic, taking leads or anticipating line moves. Middlers and scalpers, as well as sophisticated pro handicappers, seem to be very good at this skill. This is one area that I haven't looked at much, as I spend time line shopping when I am ready for internet sports betting to bet, not a lot of time screen or line watching all week or day. I know that they move against my golf and college hoops plays the majority of the time, so I'd rather play those early. I do have some feel for which games might move in those sports, but I don't try to "time" moves much, mostly because I am a recreational player and can't watch the screen and make plays all day, due to my job. So overnights in college basketball, and early lines in other sports, are my preference. But I have no idea how to determine how a baseball betting line will move, or which football betting line will go up or down. I am so bad at handicapping those sports, I'd likely guess wrong anyway.

But I'd say that whenever you decide is most advantageous to play--early, late, Friday, or whenever--then you should line and vig shop at that time. It may be worth looking at your plays to see if they consistently move for or against you during the day or the week. It might show you some betting angles that help your results, but the time investment is a consideration. Favorites and overs early may work for many, but if that doesn't match your handicapping skills, or your picks, then you may actually cost yourself in money and time.

The Philosopher:
Just to follow up on some of the points that have been made about line shopping, notice that to do it right requires having many sports book accounts, which in turn requires a much more substantial capital investment than you might expect.

Let's say that you intend sport betting online $50-$100 per game, and that you're confident you'll never have more than ten bets active simultaneously, and in fact probably rarely more than four or five. As a beginner, you might think you need only send $500-$1,000 to your favorite sports book to be able to do this, or maybe $1,200 or so if you want to be absolutely sure, and to be able to ride out at least a small losing streak without having to go to the hassle of sending more money.

But to shop betting lines, you need multiple accounts. And obviously you can't simply divide the same amount of money by the number of accounts you intend to fund. (If you have five accounts, and you intend on betting five bets, it's extraordinarily unlikely that you'll find the best sport betting opportunity for precisely one bet at each sports book.)

Ideally, you'd want to send enough to each sports book to cover you in the event that one of them turns out to have the best sport betting line and vig for every one of your bets. That can be unnecessarily extreme however. A better idea might be to send $750-$1,000 each to the two you suspect you'll have reason to use the most often, $500-$750 each to the two you think you'll use a fair amount, and $250-$500 to the one you think you'll only occasionally find the best number at.

In any case, you'll be investing a lot more money than you may have originally envisioned.

It is imperative that you have at least five accounts if you want to truly increase your chances of being profitable at sports handicapping. Why take Miami at -9 when you can get them at elsewhere at -8? The sports betting odds of the line falling on 8 or 9 is minimal, I grant you, but when it does occur, I'm sure you would prefer the lower number.

A personal example: I loved the Toronto Raptors at home after a long road trip against a very tired Charlotte team that was playing its last road game of a grueling five games in seven day trip. Toronto was -7.5. I was going to shop around later that day and find -7, but I was going out for the day and, what the heck, they were going to blow them out, right? Well, I found out later from a couple of friends that a few books had the game at -6.5 an hour before tip off.

When the Raptors couldn't hit their free throws and Charlotte began draining three's, suddenly an 18 point cushion hovered around 9 with a few seconds to go. Still no worries, though, right? Toronto players were laughing it up, celebrating another victory as everyone just stood around when, all of a sudden, Baron Davis steals the ball. Why guard him, Raptors players must have thought, there's only a tick or two left? Davis heads for the basket but, sensing the clock, launches a 30 footer that...hits nothing but net. Toronto 110 Charlotte 103. I lose and my friends who found that book at -6.5 won. A valuable lesson.

The Philosopher:
One more quick point on betting strategies, since we've alluded to it in passing once or twice already. Many serious bettors swear by the method of "betting steam." What this means is that they do not necessarily do any handicapping, but instead concentrate on timing their plays so as to piggyback onto the handicapping of others.

When a major betting syndicate puts in a big bet, it will typically move the betting lines, sometimes substantially. So the strategy of the steam chaser is to ascertain which way the pros are sports gambling by monitoring line movements, and then to jump on that same side as quickly as possible, preferably at a book where the line hasn't moved much yet.

And really how close you get to that pre-move number is crucial to this strategy. What I've gathered from reading the Major Wager forums and listening to people who've been in the business and such is that the pro line betting at the "original" number wins more than they lose, the chasers who bet the line fairly close to where it started are probably break even or a little better, and the chasers who are slow and betting only after the line has moved more significantly probably are net losers in the long run, due to the infrequent occasions when the game lands right in that narrow area the line moved through before they caught it

One indication that betting the moves might be a successful strategy is precisely the fact that many books openly resent such players and take counter-measures against them. If steam chasers generally lost in the long run, you wouldn't expect the vitriol that books rain down upon them. You typically don't try to drive away your meal tickets.

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