Sportsbooks look to identify actions and patterns to identify sharp bettors, which are defined as the skilled sports bettors that win money over the long term. In poker, a mannerism that allows your opponent to gain knowledge of your hand’s strength is called a Tell. These sharp sports bettors are also susceptible to having betting tells that can tip off a sportsbook as to their betting prowess based on their actions. In this article, we’ll explore five tells that tip off a sportsbook that you may be a sharp bettor. We will also explore ways you can eliminate them from your game without sacrificing expected value (EV).
Today’s sportsbooks rely on player profiling to pick off customers that they deem are not profitable enough for their business model. Often these traits are programmed into an algorithm that analyzes player betting history. The new wave of imported sportsbooks operate largely based on formula and algorithm. There is less and less actual bookmaking in today’s market. Most of these pop-up sportsbooks rely heavily on computer-generated reports for their player risk management. The good news is, if you can thwart the algorithm you can extend your runway at the book.
Tell #1 : Betting Early
Sharp bettors bet early, the public bets late. That is a maxim that bookmakers have held for years. In many respects, it is valid and true. Sharp bettors prefer to get at a line before it has been hammered into shape. They often race each other, much to their own detriment, to be the first to put a low-limit wager in on a virgin line. Essentially, they help shape a stronger line for books to present to the less-knowledgeable public betting crowd who will bet later. Sportsbook risk management software will look to identify bettors who tend to bet early.
Sharp bettors looking to curb this tell in their game should first ask themselves “How early is too early?” Sportsbooks continue to push the envelope with posting lines earlier and earlier. It used to be overnight lines were posted after the day’s games ended. Now they post before the preceding game has even been played. Prop bets used to be a day-of-game market. Now the lines for NFL player props appear on Monday or Tuesday at some books.
Sharp Bettors Prisoners Dilemma
Limits are typically much lower for overnight or early week lines. That’s how the sportsbook protects itself. The problem for sharp bettors is they can’t resist low-hanging fruit. Even when leaving that fruit on the tree to ripen would greatly benefit them. They suspect that some other sharp bettor will come along and pluck it for themselves.
They’re right, of course. It is the Prisoners Dilemma of being a sharp bettor. Your opponent is the sportsbook, but your nemesis is fellow bettors who might edge you out of your market profit if you are too slow.
Betting Early vs. Betting Optimally
As the betting markets in major sports continue their eternal march towards efficiency, it becomes less likely that the optimal time to bet lines is also the earliest time. Furthermore, if betting markets are getting more efficient earlier then that also increases the impact of outside factors, like news, on the betting market.
Instead of betting early, look to bet optimally. Understand your market and when it moves. For the NFL, injury (or Covid) news is a key impact. The NFL standardizes much of their injury news through the league injury report. Know when these come out, who tweets the most accurate information, and how to leverage them. Same holds true for other sports. As sports betting becomes more prevalent, leagues will look to standardize the dissemination of impactful information.
Tell #2 : Betting Unders And Underdogs
Here is another bookmakers’ maxim that has largely held true. Public bettors like to bet on something to happen so they can align their rooting interest and their betting interest. This typically leads to betting on overs or the expected favorite to win the game. As a result, sharp bettors often find value in betting unders or underdogs.
It makes perfect sense. Sit in any sportsbook and you’ll find that missed shots and offensive holding penaltys elicit very few cheers. In major sporting events, such as the Super Bowl, the public sentiment can continue to push the market in an Over/Favorite bias even when sharp money disagrees.
For sportsbooks, spotting a player heavily skewed to Unders and Underdogs is going to tip off a sportsbook that they’re likely dealing with a sharp bettor. Covering this tell isn’t as easy as it seems. Especially if that’s where the value truly is.
Telling Your Tale To The Computer
Fortunately, sharp bettors have two things going for them to help cover the Unders/Underdogs tell. The first is markets are getting more efficient and much of the inherent Unders/Underdogs value is dissipating. In major sports, the underdog is covering right around 50-51% of the time. As a result, finding value on Overs/Favorites is possible.
Secondly, and more importantly, this analysis of player profile is typically just an algorithm looking at a ratio. You control the narrative that is told to the computer. When keeping records, detail what types of bets you’ve made at each book. If you find your betting history is largely Unders/Underdogs or too heavy in one direction, try to switch it up. If I’m beating a book at a specific market and it’s not due to their own bias in their lines, I’ll often look to change my bet narrative there.
Changing your narrative can be as simple as not betting there for a few days. Perhaps betting something in an unrelated sport. Or, when necessary, bet something without getting the best number in the market.
Tell #3 : Betting Round Numbers
This seems like a silly tell. The first time a bookmaker told me they picked me off for this I thought they were joking. However, it’s true. Sharp bettors bet to win round numbers. Public bettors wager a round number without thinking about the payout.
Example: Given a -110 line, sharp bettors lay $110 to win $100. Public bettors tend to lay $100 to win $90.91.
As someone who has spent time running up and down the Las Vegas Strip getting bets down, I used to hate the idea of dealing with pocket change. Coins slow you down. So I never wanted to be in a position where the payout included coins. As a result, I would always say my bet to the clerk as “Game 309, the Over, $550 to win $500.” That carried over to online play for me.
Meanwhile, public bettors are likely betting whatever bills they have in their hand at the time. They’ll end up tossing the loose change into the tip cup. Betting to win round numbers definitely shows some knowledge and experience in what you’re doing. It contributes to that narrative that you’re a sharp bettor.
Taking A Cue From The Art of Card Counting
Blackjack card counters have long been picked off based on how neat and consistent their betting spreads are. They learn that speed is key so they keep organized chip stacks and always try to make bets that can be paid out quickly by the dealer. In actuality, they might buy themselves longevity by appearing to be less organized and methodical than they actually are. The casino might consider them a disorganized gambler if they kept mixed stacks and made rainbow colored bets.
It may seem like a trivial thing, but tossing in some weird bet amounts make you look like you have less of a system. One of my favorite moves is to just bet everything in my account if that is anywhere within 50% in either direction of my intended bet size. It is the equivalent of shoving all-in when your desperate to win. To the sportsbook, it looks irrational.
Tell #4 : Straight Bets Only
Perhaps the biggest dividing line that separates sharp bettors from public bettors is the parlay wager. Public bettors love to bet a little to win a lot, and this can be seen with the rising popularity of Same Game Parlays. Parlays are the siren song that draws their betting into dangerous areas of high vig and rocky results.
Do sharps bet parlays? Generally, a sharp bettor sails along with a steady pace of disciplined straight bets, often for the same amount each time rather than bet parlays. Parlays increase variance and compound the house edge in -EV wagers. Sharp bettors know that and generally avoid them.
If your betting history shows a disciplined approach of straight bets, made at relatively the same time each day, and primarily on unders and underdogs, your days of wide-open limits may be numbered regardless of your results. You look like a sharp bettor.
A Winning Parlay Strategy
Often tossing in some parlay action can throw a book off your scent. Furthermore, in the same way that a parlay compounds the house edge in negative EV situations; it also compounds the player advantage when used with positive EV bets.
Obviously, someone who is grabbing value as lines move in the market won’t be able to easily throw their action into parlays. However, if you are originating your own handicapping, and you are confident in your skills, using parlays can make it tough for the book to discern whether you are a sharp bettor or just a lucky loser.
Round Robin Betting
The downside of parlay betting is the variance involved. There’s nothing more frustrating than winning 3 out of 4 bets but losing overall because you were relying on a 4-team parlay. Fortunately for those who are averse to big swings there is Round Robin betting.
Round Robins allow you to automatically wager on all the permutations of your teams. If you have four teams, you can place four 3-team parlay wagers and six 2-team parlay wagers in addition to your single 4-team parlay wager.
To a sportsbook, you look like their best friend. Keep in mind this doesn’t completely eliminate variance. In fact, it’s still quite a bit more variance than just straight betting the four games. However, it is decidedly less variance than just putting all your bets into a single parlay.
If you’re opening up a new account at a book with a reputation of having a quick trigger on limiting bettors, you may want to employ this round robin parlay betting from the beginning to help disguise your action.
Tell #5 : Closing Line Value
I saved the biggest indicator of a player’s skill level for last. The infamous CLV: Closing Line Value. The benefits and validity of CLV have been debated ad nauseum in many places. Whether you believe in CLV or not, it is clear that sportsbooks and their player assessment algorithms clearly do. Nothing is a stronger indicator of threat for operators than a player who gets consistent CLV.
Sharp bettors, with their propensity to bet early and be quick to line moves tend to generate far more CLV than public bettors who bet late. For many sharp bettors, generating CLV is a badge of courage whether they win or lose. They hang their hat on that CLV%.
It would be disingenuous of me to try to help you be stronger bettors and tell you to somehow minimize your CLV. However, I happen to have a couple suggestions on how you can reduce some of the Artificial CLV in your betting.
What Is Artificial Closing Line Value?
Artificial Closing Line Value comes when your bet is caught up in market overreaction. The best example of this would be if you are tailing a popular tout in a very influencible market like College Basketball Totals.
The tout releases a play and you’re nimble enough to catch that line at a book. The crush of people tailing that action move the line a full 5 points (which isn’t unusual in CBB Totals). It’s actually a market overreaction. However, to the sportsbook you’ve got some massive double-digit CLV%.
I’m not suggesting you don’t tail someone just because they rack up too much CLV, but you may want to consider the cost that CLV is doing to the longevity of your account. Following a tout has many potential disadvantages.
Efficient Markets Produce More CLV
It is useful to remember that using CLV as a barometer applies mainly to more efficient betting markets. In other words, if the closing line is less indicative of the true odds of the match, the CLV is also less indicative. The golden goose for any originator is to generate EV without generating CLV. That means they have a market that is not adjusting to the value they are squeezing out of it.
If you’re looking to disguise your play at a sportsbook as an originator be wary of when they move the line based on your action. You may think it’s cool that they respect you, but you’re now racking up CLV and the clock may start to tick.
In-game Betting To Avoid CLV
The other option to avoid having CLV betray your skill level is to bet in-game. The odds in-game move fast and frequently. It is much harder for a sportsbook to track you CLV when you bet in-game. Whether halftime betting or betting during timeouts and commercial breaks, you can use in-game betting to build positions that complement or hedge any pregame opinions you had.
In-game betting is still a largely unexplored domain for both bettors and operators. The technology behind in-game betting is still improving. So far it is not seen as a betting type dominated by sharps or public bettors. There is probably plenty of leeway to be found in exploiting in-game betting markets. You can check out how to use Unabated’s in-game betting tool to help you find value when you start live sports betting.
Sharp betting tells definitely exist. However, with some effort a sharp bettor can cover their sharp betting traits and hopefully gain some longevity to take advantage of a weak sportsbook.
- If you bet early, consider transitioning to betting at the optimal time, not the earliest time.
- Be cognizant of the narrative told by your betting history. Don’t be too heavy on unders and underdogs if you can help it.
- Don’t be afraid to bet an odd amount sometimes to look more spontaneous and less organized.
- Be aware if you’re playing it too straight. Parlays aren’t bad if you’ve got the edge in each leg of the wager.
- CLV is difficult to avoid, but consider minimizing your Artificial CLV. Bet in-game to hide your action from the CLV measuring stick.