Identifying Steam Moves
by Jeremy Martin
Following line moves is one of the keys to success in regards to betting on sports. The importance of monitoring these fluctuations of the point spread has become evident in recent years as most of the major sports betting portals have installed some kind of live odds screen for their site visitors.
There are two types of players who move the lines. First there are the public or recreational bettors. These players tend to bet on favorites and 'overs,' especially in football. Then you have the professional bettors - often labeled 'wise guys' - and the syndicate players. This second group proves to be most important when examining line moves. When the pros move a number, it's often a good idea to jump on board - as long as it's not too late.
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A "steam move" is the phrase used to describe the line change when a large amount of money goes down on one side of a game in a short period of time. This is usually due to the wise guys making a move on a particular side. After these players choose their side, the bookmakers usually act accordingly by moving their number in an attempt to make the other side look more attractive to other bettors.
"You are going to make as big of a move as you can possibly make because that game is probably not going back to that original number," said Doc from Rio, the head oddsmaker for Skybook, of the line move that comes as a result of a limit bet from a professional player. "Certain guys just know where the line is going. Not that they win or lose every time; but they are right more often than they are wrong."
Steam moves can happen at any time during the week in football. If an opening number is considered a weak one by the pros, they will attack it immediately and the line will shift early in the week. In some cases the wise guys wait for the public to bet the number to a certain point before making their move. Public money takes some time to move the line. The pros get it moving in a hurry.
"Usually professional money moves (the line) around town pretty quickly," said Jay Kornegay, executive director of race and sports for the Las Vegas Hilton. "All the sudden - boom, boom, boom, boom - all the sixes are gone. The public money takes a little longer. It accumulates. Maybe because it is just so spread out. Maybe it's (because) we don't respect their opinion as much. It is very rare that the public will bet an underdog. They are always going to bet the better team. So you can always kind of tell by what teams are involved."
Due to the advent of the Don Best Odds Service, which is used by most sports books in the industry; bookies can keep a "real time" tab on the action at competing shops. If they see a game move 1/2 point in the same direction at a couple of books in a matter of minutes, they will often chose to move their number before they risk a limit bet by a professional or syndicate player on the same game. As Doc from Rio mentioned, the pros are usually on the right side.
Public money tends to come in the day before a game or on the day of the game. Professionals take the line when it suits them best. Line moves that take place early in the week are almost exclusively a result of "smart action." In addition, line moves of more than 1/2 a point (if no injuries or weather situations are involved) are usually a result of the wise guys.
"The best way to know (if a line move is a steam move) is to check the opening line against the game day line," commented Erick Vill, head linesmaker for Millennium Sports. "If a line moved only 1/2 point, that was due to the (public) action of the book. But if the line moved one or more points, then you know the big syndicate player played it. The big moves in the NFL usually take place before Sunday."
Monitoring line moves is not an exact science. Once the line has moved, all of the value could already be gone from that particular number - especially if everyone in the industry already made the change.
Betting syndicates also manipulate the Don Best service in order to trick the books into moving to numbers that best suit them.
Many books have lower limits early in the week since that is the timeframe when the professionals tend to do most of their damage. Some pro players might make limit bets (at the lower limits) on the favorite at a couple of shops that are on the Don Best screen early in the week. This will sometimes cause a panic in the industry where everyone will move their numbers thinking that is the side the wise guys are on for the week.
Later in the week when the books raise their limits, these same bettors will wager heavy action on the opposite side until it is moved back to the original number. They will then take a couple small bets on the underdog at the initial point spread that will cancel out their original bets. Therefore, they just manipulated the books into giving them the number they always wanted without taking any monetary risk (at the original line). This is called a "fake move" and can be very dangerous for the books.
"It's just something you have to follow and use your instincts," said Kornegay. "Watching these line movements over time, you can pretty much tell where the line is going and who is betting it."
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