Pinnacle Pulse 10/25/06

Inside the Wagering Line
Simon Noble

The Pinnacle Pulse, a column highlighting betting strategy and line movement on key games. In this edition, Simon Noble of discusses handicapping college basketball games before discussing line movement on a variety of betting options at He then gives insight into the early line movement on this weekend’s big games.

Identifying Recurring ‘Steam Plays’ & Turning Them to Your Advantage

An alarming pattern has started this year in college football. Every Thursday afternoon (around 1 p.m. EST), there’s been a flurry of action on a limited number of games. The enormous amounts of money pouring in during this “witching hour” are causing massive line movements – in some cases, we’re seeing a 4-point move in less than 10 minutes. Some say this is the handiwork of handicapper Dr. Bob. Others blame it on syndicate action from Taiwan, China or Israel. Regardless of the source, these line movements are bad news for sportsbooks.

When we take one-sided bets on a football game at Pinnacle Sportsbetting, we adjust the moneyline price to encourage or discourage action. The price is like a control-valve on a dam, controlling how fast the money flows on a given game. If the market price on a game is “Ohio State -14 (-110)”, we have two ways to slow down bets on the Buckeyes. We can offer Ohio State at -14 (-111), which is what we call a “stopper” – no one wants to pay this price if a better one is easy to find. We can also adjust the spread off the market price to -14.5 (-105), but the danger whenever you adjust a spread though is that you risk getting sided or middled. Under normal situations, either of these techniques will help control our position.

The problem with these Thursday morning steam-plays arises from how fast a book can get slammed with bets. Price adjustments and even minor spread adjustments do not slow these bettors. If a sportsbook takes many limit bets in a 20-second window, it’s stuck with a very bad position after a 4-point line movement. Each time this happens, an oddsmaker might expect to lose $0.15 for every dollar bet in that time frame (from middles and the cost of offering a good price on the other side). A high-volume shop like Pinnacle Sportsbook can trade its way out of a bad position, but lower volume books can be decimated by this.

Most steam plays tend to be long-term winning plays (as long as you get the pre-move price), and these Thursday plays are no exception. Many players are starting to watch for steam plays Thursday morning, and blindly bet them at slower-moving sportsbooks. This “echo” makes the initial surge even more terrifying for some line managers.

Regular players can make money off these line moves by simply watching the odds screen Thursday mornings. When you see the lines begin to move, bet at smaller books – especially those that offer first-half lines. These types of derivative lines often move slower than game lines. This gives patient players the option to middle the first half once the lines stabilize. If you manage to play a side before a steam-move of at least two points, you can usually scalp the new number at Pinnacle Sports Betting using point-selling and our 10-cent line on college football which offers up to 50% better value than other sports books.

What are the players betting at this week?

Notre Dame -14 +103 at Navy

This game opened with the Irish listed at -14 (-105). While the game has been heavily-traded with fairly balanced action, market drift has made Navy more expensive – they are now trading at +14 (-113). The wise guys have been reluctant to pick one side, possibly uncertain how Navy will perform with the loss of starting quarterback Brian Hampton, due to a knee injury sustained in Navy’s 34-0 loss to Rutgers.

Northern Illinois at Iowa Over 49 -101

There are fewer sharp players specializing in totals compared to sides. Consequently, we see fewer sharp positions on totals this early in the week, but this game is an exception. This total has been heavily traded, and our sharper players are on the over, while the public is backing the under at a ratio of 2-to-1. The high public volume drove down the opener of 52 (-105). When public money greatly outweighs sharp action, it suggests that more sharps could feed on the total than they are currently doing.

Arizona +3.5 -109 at Green Bay

The opener of Green Bay -3 (-112) drew heavy action on both sides, but the public favored the Packers by nearly a 2-to-1 margin. As is often the case, the sharps lined up against the public, backing the Cardinals this time. A few wise guys played the Cardinals earlier, buying a full point up to +4.5. Some of our readers have asked us whether these players are truly sharp if they frequently buy through the “4”. Our definition of a sharp player has two requirements: he/she tends to beat the closing line and tends to win long-term. We mention unusual sharp activity (such as buying through the “4”) not to encourage our readers to do this blindly, but to offer an insight and angle to explore.

St. Louis +9 -111 at San Diego

Our opener of Rams +10 -110 drew heavy volume, with the public favoring St. Louis. The sharps were on both sides of the game, suggesting it might be a good game to avoid. The reason being that if two 54% handicappers are on opposite sides of the same game, they can only hope to hit 50% on that match-up, which is a losing proposition.

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