Sports Betting 101: How to bet like a sharp


In previous newsletters we've discussed the benefits of being a contrarian bettor. Betting against the public (and not with the public) is a smart long term strategy because more often than not, the public loses. By taking the unpopular opinion, contrarian bettors can capitalize on public bias, place themselves on the side of the house (who always wins) and also get better odds by taking advantage of shaded and inflated lines. 

However, if you want to become a successful sports bettor, going contrarian isn't enough on its own. It's a guiding philosophy and great foundational pillar. But it only gets you halfway. The final missing ingredient is making sure you are on the sharp side of every bet. This means that you are betting on the same side as the professional bettors who win at a high rate. In other words, always be with the smart money, never against it. 


There are several different ways to locate sharp action, including reverse line movement, steam and line freezes. The ultimate goal is to search for games where you can simultaneously bet against the public, place yourself on the side of the house and align yourself with the pros. When you find a bet that checks off all three boxes, that is the smart wager worth making. 

Before we discuss how to identify sharp action, we first need to define who professional bettors are. A professional better, known simply as a pro and popularly referred to as a sharp or wiseguy, is considered someone who wins at a high rate and has a long track record of success. Only about 2% of bettors are considered professionals. 

Pros are fearless but disciplined and have decades of experience in the industry. They bet large amounts on games and have the respect of the oddsmakers. When they get down on a game, the lines move. Pros always bet with their head and never with their heart. They never bet out of emotional attachment or personal bias. Instead, they are completely objective and analytical. 

Pros block out media noise and bet solely based on data and value. Professional bettors are extremely calculating, patient and businesslike. Pros never talk themselves into a bet. To them, betting isn't a hobby or form of entertainment. It's a job. Pros only bet a game if they have identified a clear and overwhelming set of reasons to. This means identifying an advantage over the sportsbooks, also known as an edge. If pros fail to identify an advantage, they have the will power, backbone and internal fortitude to lay off and not bet the game.

Unlike public bettors, who have day jobs and bet for fun during their free time as a hobby or form of entertainment, professional bettors have no other job. Sports betting is their full-time job, their only job and their only source of income. While average public bettors might spend five minutes or less deciding who to bet on, pros live, eat and breathe betting. They spend hours each day dissecting data, statistics and head-to-head matchups. 

Pros watch countless hours of game film, studying and scouting each team, looking for tendencies, strengths, weaknesses, reading local team beat reporters and any pieces of information that could provide an edge against a particular opponent. Pro bettors know every player on the field, court of ice, from the star to the last man on the bench. They also know each coach, how they call a game, their styles and tendencies.  

Professional bettors who team up and combine their knowledge and resources are called betting syndicates. They work together to form betting enterprises, which they run like businesses. They are constantly running computer models and staring at the odds to capitalize on soft or mispriced lines. They have teams or specialists in different areas, whether it be football, basketball or a different sport, and bet large amounts at different sportsbooks to maximize their profits. 

Professional bettors are the experts of the betting industry. As a result, you always want to be on the same side of as game that they are. Think of it in investment terms. If a stock is rising, or a popular team is getting a huge majority of bets, you have to take a step back and ask yourself: who exactly is buying the stock or betting on that particular team? If it's mostly Average Joes and the casual betting public who don't have a track record of success, you want to be on the opposite side of that stock or bet. 

However, if it's an experienced pro like Warren Buffett buying the stock, that changes everything. You want to buy the stock and be on the same side as Buffett because he's proven over decades and decades to be a smart, sharp, savvy and successful investor. In other words, if Buffett is buying a stock, you want to also buy that stock. If he's selling, you want to sell. In the same vein, bettors always want to be on the same side of a bet as the sharps. They are the the Warren Buffets of sports betting. You always want to be with them, never against them.

However, this doesn't mean that sharps are infallible. It's a misconception that they never lose. They do lose. And they lose quite a bit. Remember, in order to break even betting on sports assuming standard -110 juice, you need to win 52.38% of your bets. To be considered a sharp sports bettor you need to win roughly 55% of your bets or more. The sharpest pros in the world hit around 60% are very few ever exceed 65%. This means pros are losing 40% to 45% of their bets. However, this still means they are winning more games than they lose. This is why they've earned the nickname "wiseguys." They are wise. And it's unwise to bet against them because more often than not, they come out on top. 

A common question that many new bettors ask is: should you bet with the money or against the money? This is a bit of a catch-22 because it depends on what kind of money it is. If the money is coming from professional bettors you want to bet with the money because it's considered "sharp" or "smart" money. If the money is coming from average Joes who are betting for fun, you want to be against the money because it's considered public or "square" money.