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Handicapping Tips: The Best and Worst Times to Make a Bet


We’ve all heard the saying, “timing is everything.” But with regards to sports betting, it should read, “timing is money.” What you bet — side, total, etc. — is obviously important but when a bet is made can, over time, have a huge impact on a bettor’s bottom line. We’ve previously discussed the importance of line shipping, how to read an odds screen, and the art of betting into a game that has already moved. Today, we’ll add our pre-bet tutorial by analyzing the optimal and sub-optimal times to make a bet.

A vast majority of bettors who win long term are betting “openers” or a number not too far off. The betting markets are largely a first come, first serve environment. Winning bettors generally know what they want to bet before sportsbooks even post their lines. Once the game is offered, if the bettor and number are in agreement, a bet is immediately placed. For the average or recreational bettor, consistently betting in that manner is probably unrealistic but there are things that you can do in order to be more “optimal” with the timing of your bets.

The first thing is to know when your sportsbook(s) post openers. Not every bettor has access to CRIS or Circa — two of the best when it comes to originating lines — but it helps to have a least one or two “outs” that aren’t too far behind. A market on a major sport doesn’t take long to develop. Again, betting as soon as you can is by and large “optimal” but there’s also a point — and it’s a fine line — where is becomes “sub-optimal.” Let’s say CRIS opens an NFL side at -2.5 and it immediately gets bet to -3.5 and the sportsbook you play at opens with that -3.5, and to make matters worst it’s a side you really, really like. But rather than bet into a sub-optimal line, you wait and enter the world of a mature market. Betting into a mature market can be tough to navigate but it’s hardly a death sentence. And while a majority of winning bettor are peppering those early lines, because of limits and logistics, there are plenty that are betting into mature lines as well. The difference is again, timing.

The advanced bettor understands just how big of a move -2.5 to -3.5 is on an NFL side. They also understand the odds are in their favor that -3 will become available at some point due to the near obligatory resistance of those willing to take +3.5. This is where patience and understanding of how each betting market works really pays off. A college basketball or football total that gets steamed isn’t going to receive nearly as much buy-back as the aforementioned NFL side. Each sport has tendencies when it comes to market movement. A good example is that of college football. Over the last few years, after the initial flood of action on the opening sides and totals, the market will all but come to a standstill. Sixty games and by Wednesday, there aren’t but a few shops adjusting their juice or moving on or off the “hook.” But as the weekend nears, things start to pick up. Injuries are announced, weather reports come into play, and with limits now raised, syndicates will begin their show their cards. Bettors can’t control other bettors but by tracking line history — something now readily available to the betting public — and staying observant, you’ll start to notice patterns.

Based on the experience of BettorIQ’s professional bettors, below are recommendations for the more optimal and sub-optimal times to bet major North American sports. Understand, these are generic guidelines. The betting markets are chaotic and in constant motion but this should serve as a good baseline for bettors looking to make higher percentage wagers.

Optimal: Oddsmakers rarely misprice an NFL point spread. There will be small variations in opinion when it comes to the key number of “3”; i.e. Las Vegas opens -3, offshore opens -2.5 with juice. The market does have a tendency to overreact to what they saw Sunday afternoon as lines for the following week generally go up later that evening. But by an large, there’s no need to rush to bet sides. Totals meanwhile are a little more volatile and all of the key numbers are typically picked off by Monday afternoon.

Sub-Optimal: Right before kickoff. Sunday morning, the markets are moving and some numbers become available that weren’t during the week. But once the smoke clears, there’s arguably not a stronger closing point spread or total on our list.

College Football
Optimal: Compared to the NFL, there’s a lot more early line movement with point spreads moving as much as a field goal and totals even more. And unlike the NFL, most games don’t receive much in the way of buy-back. Long term, the sooner you bet college football the better.

Sub-Optimal: Mid-week. Most lines are stale and if you missed the initial rush, it’s best to wait for injury and weather reports.

Optimal: Before the morning rush. The NHL is more of a niche market with softer openers. To combat this, many sportsbooks will set lower limits and allow bettors to help shape their lines. This can be very advantageous for the small- to medium-sized bettor looking to build their bankroll.

Sub-Optimal: Early morning the day of games. This is where limits are raised and those really influencing the market come out to play.

Optimal: You can find some mispriced games overnight but another good option is to wait until lineups are announced a few hours before first pitch. Here you can find situations where a key player is sitting or a really strong platoon lineup.

Sub-Optimal: Avoid the morning rush. This is generally the MLB market’s busiest time.

College Basketball
Optimal: If you like betting college basketball totals, you had better get to the trough early. The good news is with sportsbooks all but copying KenPom’s numbers, bettors know within a point or two the opening numbers before they are posted.

Sub-Optimal: Sportsbooks notoriously overreact to early college basketball action. A common theme is to see an overnight line move and then move again in the morning once limits are raised. It’s during that time that unaware bettors get caught at the tail end of the buffet line.

Optimal: Resting players is a big part of the modern NBA culture. So while it’s great to get in on the overnight markets, be prepared to get burnt from time to time. Like MLB, waiting until lineups are announced can be advantageous but the markets are generally swift to react.

Sub-Optimal: From around 7-8 am PT, the heavy hitters come out to play meaning betting into an NBA line on your lunch break can make for some tough sledding.