As legal online sportsbooks mushroom across the US, more sports fans are becoming tried-and-true sports bettors as well. And even though no two bettors are exactly the same, there are some who are a bit different from the rest of us.
While sports and gambling go hand-in-hand for some, it’s often just a source of entertainment and a way to enhance your rooting interest. Others, though, see sports betting as a livelihood. Games aren’t about killing two or three hours and having fun – it’s all about deep research, soft lines and finding enough edges to squeeze out a profit every week.
Which kind of bettor are you? Well, here are the major differences between the “squares” (hobbyists) and “sharps” (pros).
Sharps vs. squares: What’s the difference?
Sports bettors tend to fit into two groups: squares and sharps. If you’re a veteran sports bettor, you may have heard these terms before. But if you haven’t, don’t worry because we’ll get deeper into them and discuss what makes a square and what makes a sharp.
What is a square bettor?
When you hear the term square as it refers to sports betting, it means a recreational bettor who is not a pro. Squares are casual bettors who bet mostly for fun or entertainment. They make up nearly all of the betting public.
These are bettors who make bets on impulse, and who can be susceptible to instincts, biases and emotions as sources of handicapping. They may overlook critical sports betting factors such as current form, injuries, opponents, etc. In short, there might not be a lot of research before they place a bet.
Squares like favorites, overs
Traditionally, square bettors lean toward favorites. This is because, with a generally lower knowledge base, much of the public will favor the “better” team, or at least the one more likely to win in the eyes of oddsmakers.
Squares also skew toward betting on the over, because most people want to see a high-scoring game for the entertainment value.
Overall, the term “square” has something of a negative connotation. You may hear bettors say that one specific side of a game is the “square” pick, which is to say whoever takes that side is going astray by following the public or siding with a favorite without any thought.
But the truth is, there are different versions of square bettors. And since nearly all of us aren’t professional gamblers who rely on sports betting to make a living, we are all squares in some way.
One person may place a single bet in a year while another bet once a week. Some make several bets in a day. Technically, all of these people could be squares, but they may not be on the same level when it comes to the overall knowledge.
Regardless of just how square you are or how often you bet, the goal is to develop at least a few “sharp” tendencies to give yourself as big of a shot at winning some bets as you can.
What is a sharp bettor?
Sharp bettors, also referred to as sharps or pros, are professionals. They are veterans with years of experience who live and breathe sports betting. Sharps use sports betting to make their living, so it’s considerably more serious business than how squares see it. The way they bet is different, too.
Numbers, not teams
For the most part, sharps are data-driven and rely on stats and analytics to help them do their jobs effectively. They use complicated algorithms to develop their own betting models and create odds before oddsmakers even set gambling lines. From there, sharps compare their lines to the sportsbooks, and if the differences create betting value, they pounce.
The biggest difference between a square and a sharp (aside from the whole professional bettor thing) is that sharps bet on numbers, not teams. They’ll bet on a last-place team that much of the public won’t touch if an edge is present, and they’ll lay off a strong team if the line presents no value.
The pros aren’t concerned with wagering on the best teams or every betting option, so long as their process is correct. Generally, the sharps are the ones who will make the “right” bets, even if they all don’t wind up being winners.
Even if they lose, sharp bettors believe they’ll win over the long haul by getting the best numbers possible and sticking with the process.
Sharps move lines
Perhaps most importantly, sportsbooks respect sharps, as their bets have the ability to move lines. Pros tend to wager on opening odds, so many early line moves are the result of sharp action. For the most part, squares tend to bet closer to game time.
Sharps also place bets on both sides of the same game, something that most casual or recreational bettors aren’t doing. If a sharp has bet one side and the line moves, that bettor may place a wager on the other side and create what’s known as a “middle,” with the possibility of the final result landing between the two bets and winning both.
In some cases, the pros purposely move lines with their original bets just to place even larger wagers on the other side.
Betting tips and strategies for squares
Unless we become professional bettors and make a living wagering on sports, we will remain squares to some degree. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some sharp betting strategies we can keep in mind to set us up for success. Consider the following tips:
- Watch for reverse line movement: This occurs when the majority of the bets are on one side of a line, but the odds move in the opposite direction. You won’t have access to the same algorithms as sharp bettors do, but it requires no such access and could be a telltale sign of where the sharp action is coming from.
- Line shopping: The way sharps get the best betting line is by shopping around at multiple sportsbooks. Pros may also place the same bet multiple times as the odds change, sometimes at different sportsbooks. Signing up for multiple Maryland online betting sites to compare lines and ensure you receive the best one can help with your bottom line.
- Bet on opening lines: Sharps get better odds than the public most times because they bet on games early before the squares have the game fully on their radar. Once the pros hit the opening lines, those lines begin to move and take on some shape. This is a tough thing for a casual bettor to do without all of the key information, but if you feel drawn to an early number and feel it will go against you over time, bet it early.
- Be willing to be uncomfortable: The professionals bet on numbers, not teams. Don’t be afraid of a team with a lesser record (especially in college sports, where wins and losses can be skewed), and don’t be afraid to wager on unpopular teams when the value is there. Too often, squares worry about placing bets that make them confident before a game starts without thinking about the actual game.
- Lay off the parlays: Recreational bettors are into parlay betting, and what’s not to love? They provide a rooting interest over multiple games and can lead to a large payout for a small investment. Well, parlays are notoriously difficult to hit and lead to many more losses than wins. For the most part, sharps avoid parlays, especially ones that go beyond just two teams. Stick to straight bets, and if your percentage is good, a profit will be the result.
- Manage your bankroll: Sharp bettors wager on many games at a variety of sportsbooks. Casual bettors don’t need to place bets on a ton of contests, but they’d be wise to sign up for multiple sportsbooks. This splits the bankroll, and it takes organization and discipline to set limits, refuse to chase money and stick with a process.