Trap Lines: Caveat Emptor
by Christopher G. Shepard - 09/01/2007
Whether it is that three-point home 'dog to a nationally ranked team or an undefeated double digit road "chalk," the reality is that certain lines are established to seduce, entice, romance, entrap, and otherwise wreck havoc with your bankroll. One easy way to ensure the longevity of your bankroll is your ability to spot predatory "trap lines."
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Trap lines exist to separate the recreational sports bettor, who might not be as sophisticated as the sportsbooks with whom they deal, from their cash. Knowing this is great in theory but how do you spot a "trap line" so that you can maximize your sports investment position rather than fall victim like the other Saturday squares and Monday Night rubes?
While there are no hard and fast rules about what qualifies as a "trap line" I have included six common sense suggestions that I use when handicapping college and professional football. This way, hopefully, the recreational bettor can avoid falling prey to "trap lines."
1. Caveat emptor - While "Buyer beware" is common in retail, many sports investors seemed to forget it last year when the Patriots were installed as a three-point "chalk" at Miami. What initially looked like a "lock" unraveled as QB Brady and company had one of their worst games as a Patriot. Brady's bunch was shut out, 21-0. Repeat this mantra after me; "if a line looks too good to be true, it is."
2. Steam Burns - How many times have you seen an opening line steam from three points to 4.5 points or more and berated yourself for not getting on board before the line jumped? You figured everyone else liked the play so why not drop a buck on it? More often than not you'll find yourself burned if you back a steam play. Not all steam plays are traps but if you didn't like the line at three how could you like it at 4.5?
3. USC and other "public teams" might win but they don't always cover - Nothing is easy when it comes to betting sports -- even though it might look like it when USC plays anyone. Public teams are teams the public likes to bet on, or have a tendency to back with their hard earned ducats. A case in point is last year's USC/OSU tilt at Reser Stadium. USC was installed as a double-digit road Chalk and ended up losing outright, 33-31, in a Pac-10 instant classic shoot-out. The Beavers jumped out, 23-10, and ended up winning and covering a thrilling 33-31 contest while the line trapped "squares."
4. Know your teams - A great way of avoiding trap lines is to know the teams you are betting on inside and out. This way you'll be poised to take advantage of trap lines and turn them into your profit rather than your loss. A good rule of thumb is to know your team rivalries, big wins, let down games, etc. Oddsmakers factor in these conditions and so should you.
5. Locks are for doors - A game that the books are so off on that you are prepared to take out a second mortgage and combine it with the college fund to back the team and finally pay off some of that credit card debt should set off alarms louder than that dude who bangs on the bass drum at Jets games. Chances are good that this game falls into the category as a trap. If you think you smell a trap a good strategy is to re-evaluate the game and perhaps consider laying-off the game entirely.
6. Lay off/television - There is nothing more masochistic than sitting in a bar on a Monday night watched the team you pounded get pounded. The second biggest mistake recreational bettors make is betting big on national TV games. This holds true with any major professional or college sport. Just because a game is on TV doesn't mean you have to take a position.
As we enter a bonanza of betting opportunity weekends through fall and into winter you can make your sports investment positions profitable by understanding that as a recreational bettor you aren't going to end up on the right side all the time. Nor will you avoid every trap line. However, you will greatly increase your profits by knowing when to stay away from games that look too good.
Now about that Virginia Tech game; the Hokies are home and set at -24.5 after 4/16/07? Does this game qualify as a having a "trap line?" Caveat Emptor.