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The Art of Betting Into a Game That Has Already Moved

AP Photo/John Locher

The betting markets are a beautiful but at times relentlessly frustrating place. The goal for every bettor is to win and in order to do so over the long term, consistently securing the “best of the number” is paramount. If you are routinely betting key numbers and beating the closing line, you’ll find yourself winning more than you lose. But let’s be clear, no matter how sharp you are or how many sportsbooks you have access to or how quick you can enter a bet, getting “the best of it” on every wager is impossible. The question every bettor faces is what happens when you missed that soft opener or check your screen only to see a game you like getting steamed? Do you chase, wait for it to come back, or simply tip your cap to the market and move on the next game? The answer isn’t easy and each sport should be handled differently. Let’s take a look at a few approaches to help better your success rate on point spreads and totals that have already moved.

NBA – The NBA markets are incredibly efficient. As of 12/13, favorites are hitting 50.9% ATS and totals are 404-412-14 O/U. That’s a 830-game sample and both sides and totals are nearly right at 50%. This year I’ve noticed a lot more movement on the overnight lines, and it isn’t just bettors hammering the openers. No, while most of us are asleep, betting groups — some of which outside the U.S. — are popping games throughout the night. What you see before you go to bed and what you see in the morning are at times wildly different. Getting down early is pretty important but not everyone has access to overnight lines with decent limits. From a side perspective, -2 is arguably the most important number in the NBA. If a game opens -2 and is bet to -3 across the board, more often than not I’m either passing or cutting my bet in half. With totals you obviously have a little more wiggle room though not that much. Depending on the situation, I’ll rarely bet an NBA total that has moved more than four points. The one cool aspect — or uncool, depending on what bet you made earlier in the day — is the amount of injuries and rest that cause havoc on the markets a few hours before tip-off. I know a few bettors that are incredibly efficient at quickly reacting to player scratches. It’s really the one time where you have a lot of differentiating opinions on how much or little a player(s) mean to a side and/or total.

NFL – The king of key numbers. The NFL has been my most successful sport over the last five years and I rarely miss out on games due to steam. The one good thing about the NFL markets is there is a lot of opinion and even when there isn’t, bettors aren’t going to allow a game to cross a bunch of key numbers without coming back on the other side at some point. If a team opens -2.5 gets hit enough to move -3.5 — a rare occurrence unless a key injury is involved — rest assure that game has a good chance of closing 3. Totals are a bit trickier, especially when dealing with numbers in the mid-to-low 40’s. If I miss out on under 45 and am left with 43, again, I need it to be a super-strong play to make any sort of bet. If not, I’ll move on. Having multiple “outs” is crucial in the NFL — some sportsbooks obviously cater to a more sophisticated crowd whereas others are comfortable leaning towards nearly ever favorite and over. Having access to both types can make a huge impact on your bottom line.

College Football – I’ve learned to be a lot more flexible when it comes to betting into college football lines that have already moved. My current setup unfortunately doesn’t allow for betting opening totals. And the bettors hitting said totals are pretty damn good. The downside to missing out, unlike the NFL, is that a college football total is generally a one-way street. If a game opens 49 and crosses that key number of 51 and settles 52, it’s probably not coming back. The only instance is when you see those six- and seven-point moves. Then you have bettors coming in on the other side — a lot of which just looking for a “middle.” Each game deserves its own approach and I’m not actively looking to chase steam but I’m a bit more aggressive in getting to the window on a college football total that saw significant movement early on.

College Basketball – 95% of my college basketball wagers are on totals and like college football, it’s common to see a total move four or more points. My approach is similar; if I really like a game but it got hammered, I simply downsize my bet. If the game was on my radar but was destined to be less than a 1-unit bet prior to the movement, then I’ll most likely pass. Even with the advent of KenPom, college basketball totals — especially early in the season — are very volatile. It’s very common to see a game land 20+ points off of where the total closed. Nothing is worse than liking over 140, seeing it bet up to 145, passing, and seeing a final score of 90-84 flash on your screen. I tell myself the discipline will pay off in the long run — something I truly believe — but it no doubt stings.

Each bettor has his own philosophy for betting a game or passing. And while I certainly subscribe to the “you can’t lose what you don’t bet” mantra, there are good, high percentage bets out there even after the screen goes black. I’ve been doing this over a decade and a vast majority of the time, I’m betting good numbers and beating the closing line. But there are still instances when I find myself late to the party. Hopefully some of what I discussed will put you in a better position to succeed in those situations — whether that means placing a bet or sitting on the sidelines.

Andrew Lange

With significant market influence, Andrew Lange has produced a decade-long 58% winning rate on over 750 selections in college basketball. Using a low volume, high return approach, Lange's results in the NFL have been equally impressive with a 61% mark and over +49 units of profit on a 1, 1.5, and 2-unit scale since 2012.