While some gamblers (particularly the high-limit bettors known as "whales") seem all too content with losing their money in pursuit of gambling thrills, most punters are at least hopeful to turn a profit, however improbable that may be. While only a tiny fraction of sports bettors will ultimately be successful, even the most recreational of gamblers is trying to get a leg up on his bookie. Unfortunately, most have neither the know-how nor the persistence required to grind out a profit in the very difficult handicapping game.
While many betting "systems" have been in circulation for years, most are worthless. After all, if any of these publicly-known systems actually worked, bookies would have been out of business long ago. Due to the changing nature and constant evolution of the handicapping game, strategies that worked yesterday often will not be successful today. But there are a number of general concepts that act as a foundation upon which all successful bettors base their methods.
Success at sports wagering is driven by a combination of two sets of skills: "handicapping skills" and "betting skills". The former is self explanatory - handicapping involves determining the correct line for a given event. Betting skills are a bit more abstract and involve tactics such as line shopping, timing the market, exploiting line variation for scalps and middles, and spotting bookie mistakes. None of these involve handicapping per se, and most betting skills are universally applicable to all sports, whereas handicapping is very sport-specific.
The combination of these two unique skill sets are the key to truly successful betting. It is not enough to be able to make a decent line - many others, including the professional linemakers on the other side of the counter, are just as skilled in setting reasonable numbers, and the "vig" gives the linesmaker some leeway if he makes a minor miscalculation. Likewise, a competent scalper or middler can end up leaving plenty of money on the table if he can't take into account what the line "should be" by handicapping the teams on the field.
What follows are three general strategies used by successful sports bettors. All require a combination of betting skills and handicapping skills for optimum practice, though shortcuts exist.
1. Make a better number than the linesmaker. The easiest and most consistent way to make money through gambling is to make a better line than the bookie. This generally requires number-crunching and access to a database of past games or relevant player stats, but extensive knowledge of a sport may allow some to make numbers "by feel". Making a better line than the market is tough to do in the over-analyzed major sports, but much easier to handle with small, publicly-neglected sports (think mixed martial arts, WNBA, and arena football). Proposition bets and other unusual wagers are also much more beatable than typical sides and totals wagers. Therefore, "niche handicappers", those specializing in a particular sport or wager type, tend to be the most successful.
Focusing on one sport theoretically makes the gambler smarter than the bookie, as a typical linesmaker has to generate numbers on dozens of events daily, and has little time to calculate the intricacies of lines on minor sports. Minor conference college games on a busy Saturday attract little betting attention, and so it makes little sense for a linesmaker to spend any significant amount of time perfecting a line. And for wagers with low limits the cost of a "mistake" is minimal, so it is often more efficient for the linesmaker to put up a weak line and let the market do the work for him in correcting the line.
2. Exploit public bias. Let?s face it ? most opening numbers for sides and totals in the ?major? sports are pretty solid, especially late in the season when lots of data is at hand. Nonetheless, lopsided public action on fan-favorite teams can skew the opening number ? or cause it to move significantly in the wrong direction after opening. Big name touts ("pay-for-plays" handicappers) can have the same effect as they ?send out? selections to their clientele, inflating the lines as the tout's followers all pile on the same side. Anticipating these line moves can lead to significant betting opportunities, and even more so if the bettor knows what the line "should" be in the absence of the public bias. Divining the difference between public line moves and sharp "steam moves" is also essential to avoid getting caught on the opposite side of the wiseguys.
3. Take advantage of weak lines. A weak line is one that is not sync with the rest of the market. Before the days of the internet, and particularly live lines feeds, line movement was much more erratic and isolated, leaving many opportunities to exploit slow-moving or "off" lines. In today?s day and age there are few ?weak? lines. The major sportsbooks generally have a good handle on what the line should be and knows how to tailor it to their clientele, and the smaller books will keep all lines ?off the board? until the big boys first get their feet wet and absorb any initial mistakes. While ?clone books? (sportsbooks who merely copy other books? lines) have largely disappeared in recent years, the fact is that most linemakers are either not skilled enough or not ambitious enough to make all their own lines. They often copy from competitors, and those copied lines often get posted with errors, or don?t move in tandem with the original line.
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