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Head Fakes

Line Movement: Head Fakes

By Loot, Sports Handicapper,

A favorite move of many sports-bettors is to find where the smart money is going and then follow it. Smart money is money that is bet by the big players in sports betting. These betting syndicates put so much on games that they move the line. If Pittsburgh is -3 at home against Cincinnati and betting syndicates get a ton of money down on Pittsburgh, the bookies will need to make Cincinnati a more attractive bet. They now want more people to bet on Cincinnati with so much money riding on Pittsburgh.

The line will move and Pittsburgh might now be -4 or 4.5. This is all happening early in the week, so you rightfully figure the public didn’t move the line that much. It was smart money. Here’s where you run into trouble. First of all, once you are even able to notice the influx of smart money, the odds have become less favorable for you. If the smart money is true, they got Pittsburgh at -3 and you have them at -4 or -4.5.

Even more sinister is when the syndicates place a lot of money on a game to get the number moving up, only to pounce on the other side later with a bigger bet at the number they wanted all along. That’s a head fake. They got the defense going one way, before coming the other way with the real stuff. In the above example, they make a big bet on Pittsburgh, knowing they’re going to take Cincinnati all along. Now instead of Cincinnati at a tenuous +3, they come in with a huge-sized bet with Cincinnati at +4.5.


If you were following smart money, you just got burned. That’s the problem with hunting for signs of smart money action. You pay attention closely to the opening lines and once you see a big move in the early part of the week, you think that clues you into how the wise guys are betting. Sometimes it is. Other times, you are being used as a pawn in the big game and helping push the line further in their favor.

Remember--smart money is not infallible. Perhaps, some of us have this image of professionals winning almost all of their bets. If a guy is hitting 60% winners against-the spread, he’s thrilled. Figure in all the head fakes where you end up on the wrong side, it’s not that rosy of a picture. Then, you add in all the times you actually manage to follow smart money, but get burned on not having exactly the same spread they had--why even follow smart money?

Well, we should, just to a certain extent. Sometimes, it helps tell a story. We can see what the wise guys are doing, how the line is moving, and how we personally feel about the game. Then we counterbalance that with whether or not to pull the trigger. Sometimes, it will help propel us to make a bet or it might just make us think twice about making one we were going to make.

In college football betting and pro football, this is more of a concern. When you give the wise guys almost a week to work with, they’re going to be cagey. In NBA or MLB, there isn’t as much room to operate. Games turn over daily and there’s not enough time to play the games the syndicates play.

These guys have the knowledge and reputation to move lines. They know it and use it to their advantage. They bet so much money that makes tiny details really matter. When you’re betting $100 a game, a half-point or a full-point here and there isn’t going to mean a ton at the end of the day. When millions are on the line, all it takes is a few more positive results over the course of a season. Just a few half-points here and there--that could equal millions. So of course they’re going to go out of their way to get every advantage possible.

We want to consider where the smart money is going. What we don’t want to do is scrounge around constantly looking to hop aboard every time we see signs of smart money. At root, no one is going to make it in sports betting by making bets whenever seeing opening line movement. Avoid the feeling of foolishness that accompanies following so-called smart money, only to find you were being hoodwinked.

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