The sports betting world features plenty of strategies that can improve your chances of winning if you know how to use them. One of the most-prevalent strategies involves following sharp money.
Sharps (a.k.a. wise guys) are professional bettors who have a considerable amount of respect from sportsbooks. They’re so respected, in fact, that their action can convince oddsmakers to move lines.
Steam is a good indication of when sharp money has arrived. You can make solid profits by spotting steam moves and capitalizing.
I’m going to discuss more on what steam moves are along with how you can identify them. I’ll also cover other ways that you can spot sharp money and boost your odds of winning.
What Is a Steam Move?
A steam move is a quick and drastic line change across the sports betting industry. This movement is caused when a group of sharps (a.k.a. syndicate) collectively place large bets across a variety of sportsbooks.
Bookmakers are forced to act in unison after they identify sharp money. They then move lines so that they’re not on the wrong side of the action.
It’s commonly assumed that a sportsbook’s goal is to balance money on both sides of a line. This allows them to collect juice (vigorish) on the losing side and make a guaranteed profit.
Being on the wrong side means that bookmakers take on considerable risk against pro bettors. This scenario is especially unfavorable when the sharps have overloaded one side of the line.
Sportsbooks go to great lengths to identify potential pros and act according with line moves. Doing so ensures that wise guys don’t bet too much money on attractive odds and expose the bookmaker to major risk.
Therefore, steam moves are a necessary evil for betting sites when they see too many suspected/known sharp accounts betting on the same side.
How Does a Steam Move Work?
Steam moves can be slightly difficult to understand on paper. But they’re not hard to decipher after looking at an example.
- Major online bookmakers have the Atlanta Falcons at -3.5 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at +3.5.
- A syndicate bets heavily on the Bucs at multiple online sportsbooks.
- The industry reacts by changing Tampa Bay’s odds to +2.5 and Atlanta’s to -2.5.
- One by one, every major bookmaker initiates this change.
- The full-point shift – instead of a half point – is a major change that shows where the pros are.
You’ve now identified that the sharps like Tampa Bay at +3.5. But spotting a steam move is only one step of the equation.
You have to act before all of the sportsbooks change the Bucs to +2.5. Otherwise, you’ll be on the right side of the line but at the wrong price.
You must find a straggler site that still has Tampa Bay at +3.5 and pounce on this line before it moves. Taking quick action is one of the biggest aspects to successfully chasing steam.
Sportsbooks don’t appreciate when syndicates cause steam, nor do they like people like you chasing it. First off, the industry is being manipulated into making a drastic move that’s caused by pros.
Bookmakers also hate that they can’t offset you and the pros’ action at the previous odds. They instead need to drastically move the line to avoid being affected by more sharp action.
It’s for this reason why many online sportsbooks take measures to discourage pros and those chasing team (e.g. limiting accounts or bans).
How to Improve Your Steam Chasing Efforts
Betting sites may not like when you take advantage of steam moves. But that doesn’t make it any less viable of a strategy.
It’s definitely worth going after steam if you have the necessary skills.
That said, here are some things you can do to improve your efforts.
Quickly Take Advantage of Steam Moves
I want to reiterate how important it is to act fast when you see a steam move. You must get in at the same odds as the sharps, or else you’re not gaining much by being on their side of the line.
Keep in mind that you’ll only have a few minutes to act in most cases. Therefore, you must identify stragglers after steam moves and quickly take advantage.
You may wish to wait for a few more bookmakers to move in this instance. But don’t wait too long or you’ll lose the ability to get in at a nice price.
Have Good Resources to Check Lines
Visiting betting sites individually and checking their lines isn’t an efficient way to chase steam. You’ll rarely if ever spot steam moves and take advantage this way.
The advantage of visiting these sites is that you get a broader view of all major sportsbooks in one location.
You’ll then have a better opportunity to spot when a major bookmaker makes a drastic line change.
Deposit at Multiple Sportsbooks
I’ve mentioned multiple times how you need to find stragglers that are slow to change their lines after a steam move. But if you don’t already have funds on a betting site, then you won’t be able to deposit in time before the line shifts.
This is where it pays to deposit at multiple sportsbooks. Having funds across several betting sites allows you to quickly capitalize on steam moves without delay.
It’s wise to create accounts and deposit at several major bookmakers. This spreads your bankroll thinner, but it’s a necessity if you want to jump on good opportunities.
Pros of Chasing Steam
Professional bettors are experts at handicapping matches and figuring out where line value lies. Modern sharps use software and advanced statistics to find the value.
Obviously it would be great to have the same skills as the pros. However, it’s very difficult to improve your handicapping abilities to the point where you consistently beat betting lines.
The overall benefit to chasing steam is that you can be more confident that you’re on the right side. As long as you also get a good price, then you stand a solid chance of winning profits.
Cons of Chasing Steam
Chasing steam seems like an ideal way to make money through sports betting. But there are some major downsides to consider before you start chasing sharp money.
Sketchy online sportsbooks might even confiscate your funds and claim that you’re violating their terms and conditions. Therefore, you should read reviews on any bookmaker before depositing to ensure they won’t rip you off for being successful.
Most betting sites will simply limit your account by reducing your max bet, rather than banning you and taking your funds. But even this can be a devastating blow if you’re profiting off steam.
Some bookmakers will limit your bets to as little as $10. You’ll be hard-pressed to make any serious money in this case.
Another thing to watch out for is when sharps initiate a steam move just so they get a better price on the other side.
Here’s an example:
- Line is:
- Detroit Pistons +4.5
- Boston Celtics -4.5
- A syndicate bets $25,000 on the Celtics at -4.5 across several major bookmakers.
- New line is:
- Pistons +5.5
- Celtics -5.5
- The syndicate now bets $100,000 on the Pistons at +5.5.
- It’s now obvious that the syndicated wanted to nudge the price on Detroit.
Continually falling for these tricks can ruin your bankroll. Therefore, it’s important to take a conservative approach when going after steam.
It’s also important to realize that the pros aren’t always right. In fact, they only win around 53-55% of their point spread bets (w/ -110 odds).
This is another reason why you want to exercise smart bankroll management and avoid betting too much on steam moves. The goal is to continually take advantage of stream and make long-term profits.
Other Ways to Follow Sharp Money
Despite the downsides, chasing steam is still a good way to follow wise guys and take advantage of their knowledge.
But you may also be interested in knowing other ways to chase their action. Below you can see different methods for identifying where the pros are betting.
Look at Public Betting Percentages
Looking at public betting percentages is the easiest way to figure out what side the sharps are on. You’ll find a number of websites that track the percentage of betting slips on each side.
Here’s an example:
- Cleveland Browns +6.5 (19% of tickets)
- Pittsburgh Steelers -6.5 (81% of tickets)
You can google “public betting chart” or a similar phrase to find websites that offer betting percentages. You’ll normally see that the majority of action is on the favorites.
Meanwhile, sharps usually bet on the underdog when they get the right odds. Given that the pro wagers more than an amateur, they can put lots of action on underdogs despite their smaller numbers.
Here’s an example:
- San Francisco 49ers +6.5 (20 tickets)
- $10,000 put on Niners.
- 10,000 / 20 = $500 per bet
- Seattle Seahawks -6.5 (80 tickets)
- $8,000 put on Seahawks.
- 8,000 / 80 = $100 per bet.
Simply identifying public betting percentages doesn’t help you out much by itself. After all, these percentages only show the number of tickets on each side of a line.
However, knowing the percentage of tickets on each side does at least indicate where the sharp action lies. You can then use line movement factors (covered next) to take things further.
Follow Line Movement
Tracking line shifts from the opening to current line can tell you a lot about where oddsmakers view the sharp money.
A line that moves against the favorite (e.g. -2.5 to -3) can show that there’s not much pro money on the underdog. It’s likely that the public has bet heavily on the favorite and is pushing the action.
You can combine these line moves with betting percentages to follow the sharp money.
Here’s an example:
- Line is:
- North Carolina Tar Heels +4 (22% of tickets)
- Duke Blue Devils -4 (78% of tickets)
- Line moves to:
- North Carolina +4.5
- Blue Devils -4.5
It appears as if there aren’t many pros betting on the Tar Heels at +4. In The bookmaker shifts the line against the favorite in the absence of major sharp betting.
Look for Reverse Line Movement
The line shift covered above is a standard move that you’d expect based on the betting percentages. But sometimes you’ll see line shifts that go against what a public betting percentages suggests.
Reverse line movement is a term used to describe when sportsbooks move odds in contradictory fashion.
Here’s an example:
- Line is:
- Dallas Mavericks +11.5 (17% of tickets)
- Golden State Warriors -11.5 (83% of tickets)
- Line moves to:
- Dallas Mavericks +11
- Golden State Warriors -11
Oddsmakers have chosen to given Golden State an extra half point, despite them already having 83% of the betting slips.
Reverse line movement is a strong indication that sharp money is on the side with fewer betting tickets. But not all reverse line movement is the same.
A reverse move with an 80/20 split in tickets is stronger than one with a 60/40 split. Let the division in public betting percentages guide you on the strength of a reverse shift.
Chasing steam is one of the best ways to figure out how the sharps are betting. Following steam moves helps identify when a syndicate bets heavily on one side, thus forcing multiple sportsbooks to shift a line.
You need to act fast upon identifying a steam move. The goal is to find a bookmaker(s) that’s late to change their line(s), thus letting you get the same odds as the pros.
Of course, you must also be aware of the downsides involved with following steam. The biggest drawback is that your account could be pegged for continually making profitable wagers.
Sportsbooks don’t like the pros and steam followers, because both groups can increase their liability. They may limit or even ban accounts as a result.
Chasing steam is a skill that you can refine through effort and experience. You can make more profits by improving at spotting steam moves, acting quickly, and camouflaging your intentions.
Be aware that there are other ways to follow sharp money as well. Tracking public betting percentages, line movement, and reverse line shifts are all viable ways to bet with the pros.