Without question, the single most valuable part of my handicapping process – regardless of what sport I am handicapping – is when I make my own lines. Before I look at the lines that the sports books are offering I determine what I think a fair number would be. I don’t have the resources available to me that oddsmakers do, so it’s not often that I am exactly right once I compare my numbers to the real ones. Most times, though, I am roughly in the ballpark. Those aren’t the interesting cases, though. The times I really like are when my odds are very different from what is posted. A big difference between what I think the price should be and what it is could mean serious value, and as a bettor there is nothing I like more.
Making your own lines can sound intimidating and difficult, but it really doesn’t have to be. Here’s a look at the process I use:
Pick a winner – I like to set my lines before I have done a lot of really serious handicapping. If you are a handicapper then you probably follow at least a few sports well enough that you have a basic sense of how teams match up. In most cases you have a feeling of who is going to win. That’s the starting point.
How strong is that feeling? – The next step is to decide whether you think that team has a really good chance of winning, or whether the game is a toss up. Obviously, the better the chance a team has to win, the bigger the spread will be, or the lower the payoff for a moneyline bet. I don’t spend much time on this step – or any of them – so I am more interested in a general feeling than a scientific conclusion.
What special factors are involved? – Once I have gotten a basic feeling for the game I look to see if there is anything that will significantly change my view of the game – a newly injured player or a star returning from injury, for example.
What’s my line? – Once I have picked a winner, decided how good I feel about it, and seen if any other factors will impact the game it’s time to set a line. I don’t get too scientific here – speed is important because you want to be able to get through all of the games quickly. If I have a feeling that a team will win, but it’s close I will just call the line -100, and not worry if it should be -115 or -120 instead. Small differences like that don’t matter – you just want to have a sense of the basic neighborhood that the odds belong in.
How does that compare to the real line? – Once I have my line I compare to what is posted at one of the sports books. Because I am not too worried about setting a really tight line I don’t worry about a game if my line is -110 and the posted line is +105 or -125. In a case like that the game sets up pretty much like I thought it should, and there probably isn’t a lot of value to be had. I might find more if I handicap closer, but I likely won’t bother unless I have a lot of time. What I am far more interested in is a situation with a big gap between my line and the real one. If my line is -150 and the actual line is +150 then I have some real interest in looking closer.
Have I made a mistake? – When I do find a game that has much more attractive odds than I would have guessed then the first step is to look at something that I have missed that could account for the change. A quick Google search usually takes care of that. I don’t get too detailed here – I just want to make sure that I haven’t missed something glaring.
Handicap further – It only takes a minute or two to set a line for each game, so you can run through the whole slate of games for a day in no time. Once I have found games where my line differs significantly from the posted line I have a starting point to go deeper. These are the games I handicap more closely to see if the value I saw at first glance holds up under closer scrutiny. Often times they don’t, but they quite often do as well, and when they do you have a whole lot of value. I love value.