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Fight Smart, Or Die Trying - The Neverending Battle For Pointspread Advantage...By Nelson Lardner

Yes, things are tough all over. Thanks to the exhaust fumes which linger following ex-Senator Bill Frist's final days in Washington, it's harder than ever to move money around offshore. Throw in the increasingly-evident difficulty of getting a real play down at the right number in Southern Nevada, in one gulp . . . and there's no wonder that the street bookies/illegals are anticipating their greatest year since the offshore movement began to gain serious traction a decade ago.

We'll leave the street boys to their champagne, caviar, streamers and noisemakers, because another season of gridiron-game manipulation is afoot, and there's not a second of serious preparation time to waste. Given the forces at work, it will never be more difficult for even the smarter of the casual players/weekend warriors to emerge ahead of the football mob when the final gun sounds at the Super Bowl's conclusion.

Unlike baseball, during which mysterious gobs of substantial, misguided "clown" money is tossed into the hopper by those with no sustained rational conception of how to play the diamond game to advantage, there are more than a few seriously-sharp football people whose mere gesture towards a preferred side can send great waves of dollar-endowed followers charging to the windows.

The internet has exacerbated this trend, as 'most anyone in cyberspace who's displayed anything resembling a hot hand over any reasonable length of time is regarded as an august seer by hosts of desperate followers . . . many of them pathetically-eager to tail anyone who appears they have a clue -- and at least a few of the answers.

At this point in time, a particular early-week move powered by a couple of guys (both of whom I happen to respect, by the way) illustrates my point neatly. There's an NCAA game on this week's board, the favorite in which opened just north of the four-point neighborhood (though some higher numbers were available at a handful of exotic outposts). Among the public handicappers our web denizen is known to respect, one of 'em made the underdog in our spotlight game his top play. An excellent evaluator of information, our man posted this side on a site he's known to frequent, accompanied by a strong recommendation.

As I type this, the game's an across-the-board 3, though it wouldn't surprise me if it even went a tad lower on gameday. There were slow hands who had posted this game as high as 6, early in the week, and those operations got punished severely until they fell back into line.

As y'all know, this kind of thing goes on all the time. Big swingers who can smell an injury, a suspension, or who have superior technical-handicapping information on a game, love to get top value for big bucks, hoping to start a move which (should it extend sufficiently) carries far enough to offer a measure of reasonable buyback value, close to kickoff. This is the game-within-the-game which diminishes the books' theoretical hold at traditional -110-on-both-sides quote levels. But there's not much books can do about it, other than offering wildly-distended money lines while standing firm on a specific spread number . . . a practice viewed with wide distaste by most of those operating on the playing side of the counter.

Unless you're an absolute lights-out 'capper, and have recorded a documented multi-decade history of being able to chase bad lines across a key number or two -- and have somehow survived to this day . . . chasing steam moves that have run on for a while is distinctly-bad business.

How do you get in front of these moves? Develop years of savvy in the school of hard knocks, fall in with some wiseguy "movers", maintain an acute awareness of the sharper of the public handicappers (and precisely what times they release their individual gems) . . . in other words, learn to know the difference between a value-laden number and an apparently-rich spread that's actually no more than a snare designed to lure rank suckers onto a specific "nerd" side.

There's no easy way, kids, unless you know people who have sufficient experience, have done all the necessary work, and are willing to let you in on the rewards. Alas, there aren't many Santa Clauses around these days, given how viciously competitive this marketplace has become.

But if you DO the work, the right way . . . spending all Saturday night and Sunday morning shaping up the angles, technicals and emotional possibilities before the following week's college openers become available . . . life can be sweet . . . copping the best numbers, setting up legitimate middle shots on a consistent basis which can be massaged into solid plus-value setups . . . the senses reel. Guessers are losers. You need to KNOW.

So, given current market conditions, weekend warriors who don't have the time to do the work required may be best advised to wait for gameday, examine the lines which have reacted most dramatically off consensus opening numbers, and determine whether or not sufficient value has been created by a possibly-wayward marketplace to justify fading such radical moves.

Doing the work is better.

Nelson Lardner

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