What is a Sharp Bettor?
It’s no surprise that like anything else in life, some people are better at sports betting than others. Meet the sharp bettors.
And equally unsurprising, there may be many reasons why. But one guarantee is that the more time you put in to something, the more you get to sharpen your skills.
Sharp bettors are professional bettors – they focus, do their research, maybe they develop power rankings using models, they crunch the data and they are likely to use a betting strategy or two to manage their bankroll… while the rest of us treat sports betting as a recreational pastime at best, or maybe just a bit of fun on Big Game Day.
And that’s all sharp bettors are – folks who are better at it than the rest of us, because it’s what they do. But they do it 24/7.
It Ain’t Easy Being Right
Being profitable in the long term is not as simple as you might imagine. For the most part, casual bettors – non-sharps – turn out to get it right roughly 50% of time.
If you assume the standard -110 odds on Point Spreads and Totals – which accounts for the vig that a sportsbook charges you – to simply breakeven you must be right 52.38% of the time.
A sharp bettor might be able to raise that percentage to around 55%, or maybe 58% – but to hear of a sharp winning 60% of their bets is a rarity.
Any tipster who claims they can achieve that level of success, at least over any prolonged length of time, well… take it with a generous pinch of salt.
The trick lies in choosing the right kind of bets to win. That’s where the search for value comes into play.
What Sharps Mean for Markets
Having just explained how tough it is to return decent winnings, perhaps it’s no surprise to hear that sportsbooks genuinely do respect sharp bettors.
That’s not to say they ever like being taken to the cleaners, but there is a healthy respect for what sharp bettors can achieve (and anyway, even after big wins and huge payouts, we all know that over time, the house always wins).
Some might grant sharps early access to lines, providing them wider odds, albeit at lower limits. This allows the book to see where they sharp money goes, and allows them to adjust lines early, so that the book can release a sharper market to the “betting public” (a term used to describe the rest of us square, Average Joe, bettors).
Of course, it’s not always going to be the case that the sharp money gets an early look in, and for the most part sharp bettors most definitely have the power to move lines.
What do we mean by this? Line movement is how a sportsbook attempts to balance a market, to attract equal money to both sides of a market (i.e., the favorite and underdog). It does this by adjusting either the odds on the moneyline or the point spread and Over/Under.
Large amounts of sharp money can move a line when substantial positions are taken.
Squares vs Sharps
As professionals, sharps bet differently from squares. Casual bettors typically reflect all, or most of these characteristics:
- They bet small amounts (although they may seem big, in the greater scheme of things, they aren’t).
And are likely to be driven either by:
- Emotion (backing your team).
- Bias (taking an Over, because it’s more fun to root for a high-scoring game).
- Gut instinct (“I’ve got a feeling”), or maybe just
- Taking a long shot for the hell of it (what’s $20 if the odds are +1500?).
Research also shows a propensity to bet on televised games – after all, there’s no fun betting if you can’t ride the emotional rollercoaster of watching the game play out.
Sharps on the other hand:
- Bet big, especially when part of organized syndicates.
- Stone cold killers. No emotion. Their decision-making process is analytical and technical; data-driven, often based on their own power-ranking models.
- Counter bias. Because the betting public likes a favorite, sharps often find value in betting early on underdogs.
- They will only bet when they see discrepancies they can exploit – where they see value, or where they have a perceived edge over the book.
- They’ll always shop the line for the best odds available.
- And as any good gambler should, they’ll also have the discipline to walk away if they don’t see anything they like.
Reverse Line Movement
Line movement, as described above, does not however always move to the popular side. On occasion we may see a line move towards a team that is already garnering most of the action. This is reverse line movement.
For example, Green Bay have a -10 point spread against the Bengals and the majority of the action is coming in on their side. The spread then drops to -9, which is circumspect as the money suggests Tampa Bay can easily cover 10.
Reverse line movement like this is almost always attributable to large amounts of sharp money layed on the other side.
A “steam move” is a sudden, drastic and uniform line move across the whole sports betting marketplace, usually the result of multiple sportsbooks taking sharp action on the same bet at the same time.
Bets placed vs Money taken
Because sharps bet in size, looking at the bet percentage versus money placed can help a non-sharp bettor identify where the sharp money is landing.
For example, if one team accounts for only 25% of the bet slips, but has taken 55% of the money, that’s a good indication that that is where the sharp money is going.
Of course, this isn’t foolproof – after all, the sharps don’t always get it right (see those percentages mentioned earlier) and, to put it bluntly, you can never really rule out dumb people making big bets. Still, it’s a decent rule of thumb that might sway your decision.
Should I follow sharp action?
While finding a way to follow the sharp money sounds like the greatest formula for success, the problem is that once aline has moved, a causal bettor cant get the old odds back.
If sharp action means a point spread moves in from 12 points to 9.5 points, where are you going to find a book still offering 12?
Similarly, if steam, by definition moves a line across the whole sports-betting system, you’re not going to be able to find the original line on offer.
There are a number of sites out there that offer public betting charts (that will show the breakdown between bets and money described above). TheSpread.com, for example, does a great job collating a lot of this data across different sports.
Other sites offer services that say they track sharp money, but their utility is open to debate. We’d recommend finding one that offers a free-trial period and seeing if it gives you an edge.