Following/Fading Line Moves = Losing Proposition

Article was originally published on January 24th as part of TSP Daily Briefing. I am adding it to the Articles section of the to save for future reference.

So, Illinois won but did not cover, but it was hardly the whitewash people envisioned given the line move and key injuries. It leads to some good lessons though for the future. So, let’s dive in…

Yesterday I received a bunch of messages as to whether people should buy out of the Illinois rollover wager because the line was dropping. To me there are two issues in that sentence. First, buying out of a wager is an awful idea in most cases. When you buy out of a wager you usually can’t do it at the same line you bought in on. So, you risk getting middled (losing BOTH wagers). Unless you can get out at exactly the same line OR a line that allows you at worst case a loss and a push, you have just given the book a huge edge over you. You did all this because of concern over a 1 unit wager. You put yourself at risk of losing 2.2 units to try and protect one 1.1 unit wager. Just let it ride. Sometimes it will win, sometimes it will lose. If you are betting above your head and that’s why you panic and need to buy out…well that’s a whole other issue I won’t get into today.

Second, a line dropping or increasing actually means very little to predicting the outcome of an event. You just have it in your mind that a line move is foretelling the end result. Granted the fact Illinois line dropped by 3 points (-5 to closing -2) and then did not cover will give you confirmation bias in believing it was the line move which told you to take MSU and then MSU covered meaning it was the right way to read it. Further perhaps getting you to believe that the next time you see such a move you should follow it. Please understand that just because a line is dropping does not mean there is some major sharp buy occurring. Yep…I know…the public doesn’t move lines (yes they do)…and parlays are for suckers (TSP parlays +23.1 units this football season). So, why did the line move? Michigan St was a massive public dog yesterday and sharp money could not offset the volume of money coming in on Michigan State all day…which caused the line to drop. Why wasn’t Michigan St more of a Book Need? Because there was still healthy sharp backing of Illinois. So, that’s the second issue…don’t panic because a line is dropping or increasing and you have the other side.

Here’s a stat for you…I could do this for all sports but didn’t want to take the time this morning since all will be the same performance. When a line moves by at least 1 point, following the line move would win you 49.7% of your bets (sample size: 29,000+ NCAAB games L18 seasons). It’s not even 50% of your bets if you follow the line move. Which means FLIPPING A COIN to pick the outcome of an event would theoretically net you a better win percentage than following the line move! Fading the line move doesn’t help you either because it would be 50.3%. However, you’d clearly perform better fading line moves than following them…although thanks to vig both strategies lose money. Why is it better to fade line moves than follow them? Because the books open with a pretty good number. So, when a line moves in a material way it becomes better to fade the steam than follow it (but remember, both lose money). Oh and there is no difference whether the team is a favorite or dog either, performance is almost identical on following the line move.

What about following the line move when 60% or more of the tickets are on the other side? Oh boy, this theory again! So, if I see from my fancy app that Team A has 35% of the “tickets” but the line moved from Team A -1 to -2 (or more) or moved from Team A +6 to Team A +5 (or more)…then that’s clear sharp money and a bet I want, right??? I mean tickets are all on the other side and the line is moving for the team with fewer tickets (or money)! Short answer…it’s all horseshit. It’s basically a coin flip. Sometimes you will win and get confirmation bias on your theory, sometimes you will lose and erase it from your memory because it doesn’t fit your theory. The long answer is playing the side with fewer tickets but whose line is getting worse in NCAAB for the past 18 years resulted in a win percentage of 49.1% (sample size: 7,800+ NCAAB games L18 seasons). All those strategies of “tickets on one side, line move on the other”, are a complete waste of time. Once again, a coin toss would be better…at least then you’d theoretically hit 50% versus 49.1% with the “strategy”! God love you if you have a system for the whole tickets & money with reverse line move theory. That’s excellent and I wish you the best of the luck with your system. I hold no animosity if you found some Da Vinci secret of ticket and money percentages. The data however suggests your system is likely more luck than skill. Oh and all the data above is from a publicly accessible ticket & money provider which many of you probably already use. I didn’t want to use the book’s database for the above research so people could accuse me of padding the numbers. Nope you can run these assessments and check all this data for yourself. I won’t say the data provider, but it’s not too hard to figure it out. There’s really only one major one out there. Just take a minute to think about it. A fun movie just came to mind Action Jackson, it’s a real classic! Maybe I can find it on a network today and watch it. LOL…I digress!

I would also like to add that sharp bettors often put in multiple tickets to get their action down, whereas public bettors typically only place one ticket. I know several people who wager at their local casino kiosk and do so by placing 10 or 20 tickets through themselves and different people to get down $300 to $500 in a transaction. When you add those up, one sharp bettor may hold TWENTY (or a lot more) $300 or $500 tickets to get their action down. So, it looks like 10 bettors in ticket counts, when it is actually one sharp bettor. Just something to keep in mind how ticket and money percentages don’t tell the whole story. I also did a further article on this idea at Why Ticket/Money Percentages Don’t Tell The Whole Story.

Long story short, in the end Michigan St covered and everyone who saw the line drop will have confirmation bias that the line drop clearly signaled that Michigan St was the play. However, if you track games with big line moves you will see the coin toss as a wager selection tool is a better way to go. Here’s another big line move just from yesterday’s LJP Scores table…Toronto in the NBA opened -3 and ended +1.5 as an LJP 1OPEN. If that was the rollover play I would have received multiple messages concerned about the line move. What happened? Toronto won by 12 despite a 4.5 line move the other way! Here’s another from just the LJP Scores table yesterday…Northern Kentucky opened -1 and ended +2 as an LJP 1OPEN. A 3 point line move against N KY…the result…Northern Kentucky outright by 10! There’s two big line moves and in the end it didn’t mean a thing…you’d have gone 0-2 following. So, don’t let Illinois confirmation bias cloud the reality of line moves as a signal…or their long term performance.

Oh and by the way, if any of the above comes off as rude, that’s not my intention. I don’t mince words. I tend to be blunt and direct to emphasize points. If you disagree, that’s all good. No hard feelings, just providing my two cents from experience and decades in this business. The goal of which is just to help save you time, money and stress in this exciting adventure of sports gambling!

Good luck in your action!