Football season is, for most bettors, what it is all about. We can bet all year, and many other sports get a lot of attention. Football is the big dog, though, and the one that gets the most betting handle. As we get ready for another fall of chasing glory, then, it's a good time to get a refresher on important concepts and themes in the world of sports betting. One of the most discussed and important concepts - and one of the most misunderstood - is sharp bettors. People don't understand what a sharp bettor is and why we should care.
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What is a sharp bettor?
It is tough to give a simple definition of what a sharp bettor is because there are so many different ways to be sharp. What we can look at, though, are things that sharp bettors tend to have in common.
They bet big: This isn't to say that you are a sharp bettor if you make big bets. Lots of really bad bettors bet big because they have the money to burn. Sharp bettors bet big not to show off or for the thrill but because they know that they have an edge in some circumstances and they want to exploit that edge as much as they can. Now, how big is big differs from bettor to bettor, and sharp bettors always bet an amount that they can very comfortably afford to lose - it's not about being reckless or really gambling.
They do their work: Casual bettors - also known as "squares" -- rely on their guts, or their biases, or trends, or other superficial ways of making their picks. Sharp bettors know that picking winners is much tougher than that. There are many different ways that sharp bettors find winners, but what they all have in common is that they are all heavily researched, carefully tested and continuously evaluated to see how the process can be improved. These days chances are very good that the methods heavily take advantage of technology and are statistically driven.
They know their lines: When casual bettors look at games the first thing they think about is who is going to win. Sharp bettors don't care about that. It doesn't matter. All that matters is where the line is, and what that means in terms of value. Unless you are betting the moneyline or the spread is a "pick'em", the winner is irrelevant. Because casual bettors have the view they have, they can make bets that aren't always advantageous. Sharp bettors know how significant even half a point can be in a line, and they only make bets if the line is right where they need it to be. They also understand what makes lines move, and they time their bets so that they are getting the best line they can get - whether that means betting right before kickoff or right when the line is first made available.
They win: This is probably the biggest factor of all. Most sharp bettors make money over the long term - or they don't keep betting. Most casual bettors lose money over the long term - whether they have fooled themselves into believing otherwise or not. It's important to remember, though, that they win over the long term, but that certainly doesn't mean that they win every bet they make. Not even close. If you see someone making the ridiculous claims that they win 80 percent of their bets or something you know that they are trying to scam you in some way. Think of sharp bettors as baseball teams. As I write this there is just one team in baseball that has won more than 60 percent of their games. Most playoff teams will have won between 55 and 58 percent of games. A sharp bettor who matched that kind of winning rate over the long term would be in great shape. That's not nearly as easy as it sounds, though.
Why should we care?
Learn from line movement: Sharp bettors do not make a habit of sharing their bets. They want to get the best lines they can. And they know that by talking about their bets they would make that hard for themselves. So, while firsthand knowledge of what the sharp bettors are doing is tough to gain, we can often figure it out by looking at how lines move - especially when they don't move as expected.
Sportsbooks don't tell us how much is bet on each team, but they do release what percentage of bets have been on each team. From that we can see how we would expect the line to move - books move the line to try to balance action. If the line moves much more in one direction than we might expect, or if it moves in the other direction entirely, then we know that the sharp bettors have been heavily involved. That knowledge can help guide us towards teams worth a close look and can scare us off of other bets. It can also really help us understand how lines might continue to move and when we should bet on them to get the best price possible.
Check our work: I wouldn't suggest for a second that we should always bet what the sharp bettors are betting - they are wrong only slightly less than they are right. Similarly, I would never suggest you should always bet against the public - even though they have a bad habit of making bad bets. When you make a selection, though, it's a good idea to take a look at what the sharp bettors are doing on a game. If you are on the opposite side of strong sharp action then it's worth taking another look to be sure that you have done enough work on the game and you are confident in your pick.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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