When to Wager (3/20/12)

By Paul Bessire

Tuesday, March 20 at 9:30 PM ET

It's been a couple weeks since the last blog. While the college basketball tournament, daily NBA and NHL picks (and corresponding team, roster and engine tweaks), MLB prep and picks and NFL Draft content (can't wait to unveil the stuff we are doing with the NFL draft) have taken up a considerable amount of time, this was also expected. The TrendFinder and email correspondence have taken over as the clear, definitive ways for us to track and outline performance.

Most notably, the type of content that used to be available in the blog, now appears in our Podcasts (also available for free on iTunes) and on Twitter. We have already published eight podcasts in the last two weeks, including two today on the Sweet 16. Our podcasts (as well as Dave Tuley's Vegas Beat column) will typically be published on Tuesdays at 4:00 PM ET. To know exactly when Podcasts become available, please sign up for the Podcast Availability Alert emails.

The blog still matters and is a great way to discuss strategy and publish our/my official takes on meaningful topics. Today's blog will focus on the merits of the Play Analyzer in the context of timeliness of wagering.

When to make a wager
With our Play Analyzer tool that replays all upcoming games against consensus lines from over 30 sports books (which will soon include money-line plays for MLB as well) to evaluate all opportunities and give guidelines on "optimal" bankroll management at the moment, the most straight-forward answer to "When should I make a wager?" is Whenever you want (and can). The Play Analyzer gives the best possible information for picks at that moment in time. For the sake of our published picks, we have to choose a specific moment in time where we grab all consensus lines, play the games, publish the picks and then let them be so we can accurately track performance against our official predictions.

But that information is technically only "optimal" at that exact time. Lines can be different at different books and over time. Some picks may become more valuable, while others less. Those with access to our information are armed with the ability to get the most out of that information at any time with the Play Analyzer.

"But you didn't really answer the question.

You are right and I do have a better answer (fictional, yet rational person that I made up for this story).

There are three ideal times to make wagers in a market like this. Essentially what happens is that there are some books that want to be the first to market for various business reasons. Wagers come in. Lines are adjusted based on how much and who is wagering on certain sides. Other books start posting games at the new numbers once the lines start to settle. More wagers come in. Lines may or may not change. Games are closed. Games start. Opening lines are the most volatile. Typically, books that post earlier lines have lower maximum limits so they can limit exposure early to those opening lines. The people who like to exploit those types of situations (even at lower limits) are often professionals ("sharps") who are prepared to pounce on any line that is off as soon as they see it. Sharps move early lines while the public ("steam") tends to move lines late - sometimes very late.

From that example, the two best times to make a wager are as soon as a line is posted and whenever the impact of the public is greatest in the line. If sharps only played opening lines, this would mean that it is best to make wagers immediately when the lines are released and then just before the game closes. As we have seen with our performance, this type of analysis allows us to exploit a misinformed public. The stronger the public has an opinion (NFL regular season, NFL playoffs, NCAA tournament), the better our picks do. I would much rather be picking against the books and the public than sharps, who, while we all do something a little different and I would put our record (especially in those aforementioned sports) up against anyone, often come to similar conclusions (a big reason why our performance in SEC football games is better than our performance in Sun Belt football games - we are picking more against the public).

Unfortunately, it's not quite that simple. There is an assumption built into the explanation above that plays into the third ideal time to make a wager. When new information that is critical to on-field expectations (injuries, suspensions, etc.) is not incorporated in the line, opportunity for value exists. The chance of significant new information to a posted line (some situations will force books to keep games off the board until more is known) devalues making the wager immediately (if nothing changed with teams between opening lines and the game, that would be the best approach). Also, it's very difficult for most to be able to jump in on every opening line. Furthermore, line movement is fluid. The last adjustment to a closing line (in either direction) may not be because of steam. And, it's impossible to know when new information will become available (and, more importantly, how you will get it before the books do).

Given all of that, there are some general rules of thumb as it pertains to utilizing our information. We feel that we do a good job of publishing our pick information in a timely fashion, while feeling comfortable in our expectations for who is going to play in each game (and only updating when absolutely necessary).

Playing games as close to the time of publishing will ensure the greatest likelihood of achieving similar performance to what we report - and, for most sports, there is often still some chance to be a part of the early correction process for lines with sharp money (we have already seen several examples of this in the NCAA tournament, where we publish pick information soon after the initial lines come out).

Acting quickly to picks that are updated because of new information is valuable, yet only if we have a different opinion on the value of the new information (i.e. the missing or previously unexpectedly playing player) because it is not likely that we can react any quicker than books.

Ultimately, the best approach is to find the sweet spot where steam is making the most impact on the line. For the most part, this occurs within the last 2-3 hours before a game starts on the day of the game for sporting events that have the greatest national focus (and are always on TV). The perfect example of this occurred last Thursday. On picks published essentially when the opening lines came out (3/11/2012 at 1:00 AM ET for 13 of the 16 games), we were 7-5-1 ATS with three "no picks" and hit five of the top six opinions (three of which were "normal"), yet lost the top overall ATS pick. Based on the Play Analyzer's consensus line picks on Thursday at 8:30 pm ET (i.e. the closing consensus lines for all games), we were 10-3 ATS and hit all four "normal" ATS opinions. It does not always work that well, but, without exception, over the first four days (Thursday-Sunday) of the NCAA Tournament this year (and historically), we won more against the consensus closing lines than our published picks... And for those who understand public betting patterns and the multitude of people making trips to Las Vegas for those days, who fly back on Sunday, maybe it should not be a surprise that, in all three years that we have published NCAA Tournament picks, overall pick performance on published and consensus lines has been significantly better Thursday through Friday (published: 59-34 ATS) than it has on Sunday (published: 11-10... for what it's worth, our confidence has reflected this as there has only been one "normal" ATS play each of the last three first Sunday's of the tournament), when the public is not weighing as heavily on the lines.

As usual, if you have any of your own comments about this article or suggestions about how to improve the site, please do not hesitate to contact us at any time. We respond to every support contact as quickly as we can (usually within a few hours) and are very amenable to suggestions. I firmly believe that open communication with our customers and user feedback is the best way for us to grow and provide the types of products that will maximize the experience for all. Thank you in advance for your suggestions, comments and questions.