Patience When Waiting for Lines Pays Off
by Trevor Whenham - 09/28/2006
What do Michigan, Texas and Notre Dame have in common? Besides being Top 15 teams, I mean. A bet on any of these three teams didn't pay off last weekend. Texas didn't cover, and Michigan and Notre Dame were pushes. How about the Bears, Jacksonville and Panthers? Besides having good defenses, all three of those teams didn't cash a ticket, either, because none of them covered. Of the six, only Jacksonville was an underdog, and they were the only team to lose. The outcome of each of their games was fairly clear straight up. The games should have been winnable, in other words.
Here's the kicker - you could have avoided a loss in all six games if you had played them soon enough. The lines on all six games swung a fair bit from their opening price to where they ended up, and they moved from the winning side to a push or a loss.
Take Jacksonville, for example. The Jaguars got a lot of betting attention against the Colts thanks to their strong start and impressive defense. They ended up losing the game by seven. The line on Saturday and Sunday, when most casual bettors are making their plays, was at +6.5. Indy covered by half a point, in other words. The line opened at Jacksonville +9.5, and was at +9 until early Tuesday morning. At that point it fell to +7, and it stayed there until Saturday night at most places. So, if you had bet on the game by Tuesday morning, you won. If you bet between then and Saturday night you got your money back, but if you waited until game time to put your action down then you lost your money.
You obviously aren't going to be able to avoid this situation in every case. In some cases it will be your friend - Indy backers will be happy they waited until Sunday last weekend. Still, there are lots of situations where you can get yourself an extra point or more in a game that you are confident about. Some experts say that each extra half point you get in a spread adds about 2 percent to your chances of winning. Whether that is accurate or not, it certainly can't hurt, especially if you can move the spread off of 3, 7, 14 or another potentially annoying number without having to buy a point. Here are four things to consider when trying to find extra value from your bets:
Do your first work early - Lines for next week's games are up almost as soon as games are done this week. It pays to spend some time as soon as they come out considering if there are values there. By looking at the games on the schedule and establishing a line of your own you can easily spot if an early line from the bookmakers represents a bargain for you.
Take the Carolina game for example. When I looked at the upcoming schedules during the games the Sunday before, I figured that Carolina -7 would be about right against the Bucs. Carolina had potential and was underachieving in my mind, while Tampa Bay was just a disaster and was going to stay that way as long as Chris Simms was taking snaps (not that the backups are any better).
When the line opened up at Carolina -1 I jumped all over it. I was willing to give up the ability to see what happened with the teams over the week (injuries, roster moves, etc.), because the number was so far below what I was comfortable with, and it was below that important field goal difference. By early Monday morning the line was at -3. Carolina won by two, so I won on a game I really liked by betting early, but most people lost by making the same bet later on.
Decide which way the line is likely to move - By determining which team you favor in games you feel strongly about early on, you have the luxury of deciding which way the spread is likely to move, and you can decide whether you are better off betting now or waiting. In the Texas game, the Longhorns opened as 20-point favorites. With the loyalty to Texas, and the lack of appeal of Iowa State, you could be fairly confident that that spread was going to get bigger. If you like Texas, then, it makes sense to get in early, while Iowa State backers would want to wait until the last minute. As it turned out that game swung from a Texas cover to an Iowa State cover sometime on Monday.
Set a threshold - By setting your own line, or at least analyzing the game, you can have an idea of what spread you would be willing to accept. Then you can wait to see if the spread moves to where you need it to be in order to make a wager.
There were two examples of this for me last weekend. As a huge Michigan fan I look to play them every week if I can, but I am careful because they aren't great at covering the spread. I was certain they would beat Wisconsin, but the Badgers were good enough and the Michigan offense is hot and cold, so I wasn't willing to give Wisconsin two touchdowns or more. It opened at Michigan -14, but by Thursday it was down to -13, then -13.5 on Friday before bouncing back up to -14. When it fell below my personal 14-point threshold I jumped and avoided a push.
In the Notre Dame game, I thought the Irish would bounce back from their thrashing, but I thought it would be close, and I only liked the game if I could win my bet if the Irish won by a field goal. The line dropped to Notre Dame -2.5 on Thursday and Friday. The important thing here, though, is have the discipline to stay off the game if it doesn't move where you want it to.
Shop around - Don't just get stuck looking at one book's odds. It's not a perfect market, so different books move their lines at different times. Shopping around when you have made your decision can often yield you the extra half point or more than can sometimes make the difference between winning and losing.