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What Every Bettor Needs To Know About The Odds

When it comes to sports betting, there is one thing every recreational bettor must understand before placing that first bet and every bet thereafter. 

“Bettors are focused on the game and bookmakers are focused on the players.” 

That’s what Adam Chernoff explained to me during an hour-long sports betting chat we had this week as the start to the 2016 NFL season sits in our sights. And he should know. He was the head oddsmaker for a couple of online books before turning to trading full time. He’s seen a lot on both sides of the counter. 

What Adam is saying is something I often tell recreational bettors when they ask for general advice about betting. It’s vital every bettor fully understands that the line you’re seeing isn’t necessarily a prediction of how the oddsmakers feel the game will play out – it’s a prediction of what the market is thinking and how it will react. 

“It’s a hard thing to wrap your head around,” says Chernoff, “because it goes against everything you’ve done your whole life.” 

For most of our lives, we spend our sports fandom trying to figure out who is going to win a game and why. And though that’s an element of setting the odds, that’s not the ultimate decider in where the sportsbook settles on a line. 

“We had every single player rated and what their tendencies were,” says Chernoff. 

Adam says it didn’t even matter how much each player bets. The amount had little to do with what category a bettor is put into. What matters most is the price he gets, when he places a bet and how consistently he wins. 

So yeah, a small-money gambler can definitely have an influence on the odds. It’s not all about the big cake blowing steam.  

What’s crucial to understand, though, is that the line is subjective. Sorry, number nerds, but ultimately the line that’s posted often comes down to a gut feeling an oddsmaker or a group of oddsmakers has. He’s trying to guess what the bettors will do and ultimately he has to hang his nuts out on the line while the market takes shooting practice. 

In that way, sports betting is unique. No other game in the casino allows the house to subjectively pick and choose its strategy. The dealer doesn’t decide to stay on 16 at a blackjack table in Las Vegas simply because he doesn’t like how the hand on the table has played out. 

Sports betting is a man vs. man competition when you strip it right down.

Why this is important is because this is often where the individual bettor finds vulnerabilities in the line. If you see something you love about a game and it doesn’t line up with what the line is telling you, you may have a play. 

I guarantee you’ll be wrong sometimes with those plays but this is the game. 
When you lose, you want to try to learn from where you went wrong and maintain confidence as best you can. Confidence comes from experience, research and discipline so your bankroll doesn’t squeeze you into emotional decisions. But that’s a topic for another day. 

For now, remember that you’re playing against the oddsmaker’s subjective line as you head into this football season. And that line is about predicting the market’s reaction, not predicting the game itself. 

Follow me on Twitter @JonnyOddsShark