What is a Sharp in Betting?

Author:

Barbara N

Updated:

Oct 17, 2023

Huge sports fan, author of two books and numerous articles on sports betting.

Sharp in Sports Betting

Have you wondered why the closing line or total on some games has moved a full point or more from the opening number? Seeing these significant line changes is frustrating, especially if the favorable odds that attracted you to the game are no longer available.

One possible reason is late information that a key player is injured, the game will be played under adverse weather conditions, or another factor that could affect the outcome.

But other times it is simply a disproportionate amount of one-sided money being bet by so-called โ€œwise guysโ€ or โ€œsharps.โ€ This article will discuss the term โ€œsharpโ€ in depth as it applies to sports betting and whether or not it is a good idea to follow sharp action.

Sharp In Betting Explained

The term โ€œsharpโ€ in sports betting refers to money on a particular side of a game being wagered by big bettors who win on a long-term basis and whose opinions are respected by sportsbooks. The term can also be used to describe these highly successful sports bettors who regularly make profit from betting.

Sharps are sports bettors who know what they are doing. Their ability to win consistently cannot be attributed to luck alone but is mostly due to their being very well-informed and much more knowledgeable about the relative strengths and weaknesses of the teams, players, and coaches than the general public.

Not all sharps are professional bettors, but many of them are. So, sportsbooks already know the identity of many of these bettors and can be very quick to act by moving the line as soon as they are hit with an influx of suspected sharp action. Sharp professional bettors constitute only 2% of all sports bettors, but they are an important factor to consider in your betting decisions.

What makes a bet sharp?

Sharp action does not come from single bettors acting independently but from betting syndicates whose members continually run computer models and review the odds, so they can capitalize on mispriced lines. They have specialists in different sports whose task is to place large bets at multiple sportsbooks to maximize their profits.

These sharp money moves are easy to identify because instead of one sportsbook changing the line initially and others following suit later, multiple sportsbooks are being hit simultaneously (see the section on Steam Moves below).

As a former sports service operator, I frequently received complaints from small bettors that the lines on some of my selections, especially totals, had changed drastically, and not in their favor. In all likelihood, betting syndicates contributed to these line moves.

Why are bettors called sharp in betting?

These bettors are called sharps or wise guys because it is an accurate description of who they are. Their picks are not infallible, but they consistently win at a 55-60% clip over the long run, which, considering the very large bet size is more than enough to significantly dip into a sportsbookโ€™s profits.

The result, more often than not, is an adjusted line intended to make betting the opposite way a more appealing proposition to the general public.

Who is Considered a Sharp Bettor?

Whereas most average Joes might spend only a few minutes on any given day deciding which teams to bet on, for sharps sports handicapping is a full-time job. Sharp bettors do not regard sports betting as a hobby or form of entertainment but as their primary or exclusive livelihood. They spend hours watching game films, poring over statistics, analyzing team and player matchups, comparing power ratings, and reviewing the betting history of different winning systems and angles.

The size of the bet alone is not a reliable indicator of sharp action since many avid sports fans have deep pockets and like to bet big on their favorite teams. Sharps are also fearless and show nerves of steel even when betting ginormous sums of money. But an important difference between them and sports bettors in general is that they are very disciplined. They do not let personal emotions or biases influence their decisions. All bets are made objectively and analytically, based on data and value, and only when they determine that they have a significant edge or advantage.

Sharp money does not guarantee that the bet will win, but more often than not, it is on the right side. Sharp bettors not only win at a high rate with noteworthy consistency but have a long track record of success. Therefore, sportsbooks respect their bets and are likely to adjust the line accordingly even if the side they are betting on goes against public sentiment.

How Can You Know What Sharps Are Betting?

While sportsbooks are well aware of which way sharps are betting on a given game, they are less than forthcoming about revealing accurate information. This is understandable because it would not be in their best interest to have more casual customers begin thinking about putting money on the same side and then risk being hit with even more one-sided action on the probable winner. Information on the percentage of money being bet on each team or the over or under of a game is readily available through the media or online. However, simply knowing that a disproportionate amount of money is coming in on a given team is insufficient because it does not tell you whether it is primarily from average Joes and casual bettors or sharps.

There are several ways you can make a reasonably accurate assessment.

Start by comparing the betting handle percentages with the ticket percentages.

The betting handle is the percentage of money being bet on each side of a game, while the ticket percentage is the percentage of the total number of bets on each side irrespective of the amounts of the bets. If the handle percentage on a given side is much higher than the ticket percentage, it shows that some big bets are coming in on that side. But they are not necessarily from sharps. They could be simply from ordinary gamblers who wager quite a bit. So, to help you tell the difference, you should also check the following.

Line Movements

Keep in mind that sportsbook operators respect the opinions of sharp bettors a lot more than they do public money. With the latter, they will be more inclined to gamble and keep the line where it is, hoping for the best since most public bettors lose.

Steam Moves

If the line abruptly changes dramatically at multiple sportsbooks, barring any other reasonable explanation (like a top starting quarterback being out of the lineup), steam moves are the most likely cause. These are instances when many sportsbooks are suddenly hit with large amounts of sharp money on the same bet simultaneously.

An especially telling clue that sharp money is causing the line moves is line movement away from the way the public is betting. This scenario is called reverse line movement.

Suppose, for example, the Dallas Cowboys (a popular public choice and also a team that tends to get a lot of high rollers’ bets) is a 10-point favorite on the point spread line against the Cleveland Browns. Accordingly, 75% of the legal bets taken in on the game so far are on Dallas. But suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, the line goes down instead of up, and Dallas is only a 9-point favorite. Assuming no late announcement that a key player for Dallas is out, there is a strong likelihood that the sportsbooks are hoping to get more rather than less square money on Dallas. The purpose is to try to offset the disproportionate amount of sharp betting on the other team and thereby reduce their liability if the sharp bettors are correct.

Is It Wise to Follow Sharp Bettors?

Once you have determined that sharps are backing one side of a game, is it wise to follow them? The answer is usually yes. However, it is hard to do successfully because it means betting into a less favorable line. That is one reason why shopping at different sportsbooks is highly recommended. Doing this comparison might reveal that some sportsbook operators are quicker than others in moving the line.

Beware, on the other hand,ย  that some sharp money moves are setups to enable even bigger bets later into a more favorable line on the opposite side that the sharp bettors really like.

How To Bet Like A Sharp

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You do not need a big bankroll to bet like a sharp, but what you do need is to put your personal opinions, biases, and emotional attachments to a particular team aside and put your trust in the experts who are making a living from sports betting. So, when you see that sharp money is pouring in against, rather than with the public betting pick, do not let it deter you. Betting against the public is frequently a smart betting strategy because, more often than not, the public loses.

On the other hand, sharp bettors do not always win, far from it. Therefore, refraining from overbetting your bankroll is imperative. On any given day, or during a single week, their win percentage might be 75%, 80%, or 100%. But anyone can get lucky and have their picks go 3-1, 4-1, or even 5-0 over a short period. When you are considering long-term results, though, like an entire football or basketball season, not even the most highly skilled handicappers can achieve that lofty of a winning percentage. Sharp bettors typically have a long-term win rate of 55-60 percent, and rarely 65 percent, which is very respectable

Most sports bettors are only 50% accurate in their picks at best. But because of the vig or juice, (typically 10% on football and basketball point spread bets), that is not enough to break even, let alone show a profit.

Based on a vig of 10% and equal-size bets, the minimum percentage of correct picks to show a profit (barely) is 52.4%. If your betting performance is better, by all means, continue what you are doing. If not, you can probably improve your win percentage by betting like a sharp.

Sharps vs Sharks in Betting

As mentioned earlier, in sports betting, it is important to differentiate between sharps and sharks. Much like very big bettors in casinos are called โ€œwhales,โ€ those who make very big sports bets are called โ€œsharks,โ€ and in the long run, most of these gamblers lose.

Before deciding whether or not to follow a big money move, you need to be reasonably certain about the source. If it is sharp or smart money, you should be more inclined to follow it than if it is money coming from average Joes or โ€œsquares.โ€

Dangers of Following Sharp Bettors

Following sharp bettors can be advantageous, but it also has pitfalls. Here are several aspects that you need to be aware of because your bankroll can take a huge hit if you are not careful.

  • Sharp bettors are not always right. Overbetting your bankroll can be disastrous if you follow them at the wrong time.
  • When sharp bettors place their wagers, they are getting the best possible lines. By the time you get wind of their action and decide to follow it, the line will probably be less favorable. Sometimes a mere half-point can make a difference in the outcome of a bet.
  • Some first-wave sharp money moves are setups, causing you not only to be betting into an unfavorable line but on the wrong side of the game.
  • If despite the aforementioned obstacles, you become a very successful sports bettor and consistently win money, the sportsbook operator will probably get wind of what you are doing and might take countermeasures against you like restricting your bets or suspending your account.

Your best strategy is not to rely on sharp money moves alone. Instead, use the information in conjunction with other handicapping aids such as historically profitable betting angles, power ratings, and the analysis of sports betting experts.

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