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Betting Soccer Futures - Runline Tactics & Alternate Runlines
by Pinnacle Sportsbook

Part I: Betting Soccer Futures and Baseball

Futures markets are interesting animals. From Pinnacle Sports' perspective, we know that there are individuals who are extremely sharp at betting futures, but discovering who the sharp bettors may be and how sharp they actually are can often take most of a year. Other times, you are lucky enough to catch on to them during shorter duration tournaments, and can then piggyback their moves when it comes to the opening season futures markets.

Then again, handicapping futures for International soccer tournaments and doing the same for the big domestic leagues require different skill sets, which again leaves the book in a position where it can be tough to tell which plays are sharp and which plays just have a lot of money behind them. Additionally, even well-contested futures are far from an easy win for books. Just ask any book with reasonable action how they felt about paying out to the sharp bettors who bet on Iraq at 50 to 1 for the Asian Cup, and you'll see that there can be some serious dangers involved with posting futures lines.

One of the questions we often encounter is how to properly determine which teams have value in the futures market. In baseball, Pythagoreans are kings of futures, but the market knows about those ahead of time and the numbers are factored into the price. However, it can certainly be interesting to apply such Pythagorean predictions to soccer and test the results. (For those of you who have never heard of this methodology, Google "Baseball + Pythagorean" for more info.) Doing this should yield good values for leagues that are relatively constant in terms of player movement, but the danger in this system is properly calculating expected goals scored and allowed for teams that have undergone massive turnover. Clearly squads like Bayern Munich and even Premiership contenders Liverpool are significantly different than they were last year - how will this affect their performance? Let's see what the sharps have to say:

We've had surprising two-way action on the "Will Bayern Munich Win?" line, with around half of our bettors certain that Bayern with new signings Klose and Ribery have turned things around for the coming season after recently thrashing Werder Bremen 4-1 and Bundesliga champions VfB Stuttgart 2-0 en route to a 1-0 victory in the pre-season League Cup final against Schalke. Conversely the other half are confident that the results of the last two seasons will continue. Regardless, the market line says Bayern is nearly a 2:1 favorite to win the league title this year, so take that into account as you shop around.

Serie A
Bettors hit our Roma line hard as soon as we posted it, blasting them down below 10:1 dogs, meaning there's probably some value to be had in lines greater than that on other sites. AC Milan is the only other team that has seen heavy action, and anyone who watched their Champions League run last season, has to wonder if they really should be underdogs to cross-city rival Inter.

English Premier League
After spending more than £40m on new players over the summer, Liverpool were the first club on the list to see heavy action, as sharps took advantage of anything better than +600 (bet $100 to win $600) odds offered at Pinnacle Sports in the hope that Rafael Benitez and company will bring a long-awaited title to the hungry Scouser fans. Meanwhile, Sir Alex Ferguson's summer purchases encouraged heavy moves on Manchester United, while action on the rest of the field has been little more than a whisper.

Those of you who can't wait for the English Premiership season to start are encouraged to check out the live betting options on the Community Shield game this Sunday at Pinnacle Sports. This is just the beginning of our new live in-running betting program that we will be offering throughout the year at leading Internet sportsbook, Pinnacle Sports.

Also, I know we mentioned that we'd cover the opening of Ligue 1 this week, but there has been little sharp action to speak of on these games thus far, hence there's not much to say. We'll keep an eye on this league as it picks up during the season, and come back to it when the top French league merits further discussion from a betting perspective.

Baseball Sharp Plays

T. Lincecum:
Our sharps liked Lincecum right from the start when he was called up; it's common for the sharps to back a new pitcher and unusual for them to oppose one. Our best guess on this is that either they are undervalued in general by the send-out numbers or it's a lot harder to be sure that a new pitcher doesn't have good stuff, than it is to like a new pitcher. In his last few starts, Lincecum has often had strong endorsements from our sharps and he has seen his price go up steadily over the course of the season.

E. Jackson:
When Jackson's terrible record was punctuated by one strong start, there was a huge groundswell of square support for him and at least some of that remains. As a result of that, there has been sharp action opposing him to take advantage of his inflated value. When a pitcher has an unusually strong start, squares will often take this approach. It is a mistake to automatically fade such a pitcher, as after all he did give a strong performance. However, when the reaction is this strong it is the natural predatory instinct of the sharp to buck the movement.

Houston Astros vs. Atlanta Braves:
The verdict is in on the Braves moves at the trade deadline, and the news is good. The chance seemed like a public overreaction at first, with no one taking an interest in their first inflated game against Houston either way, which was suspicious for its own reasons, but in the second one they got strong support from the sharpest group of all. That means there was a radical realignment, enough to move games by more than twenty basis points from where they would have been before; at the time of writing it could also be a downgrade of the Astros. It's too early to tell, but the Mets may be in for one hell of a pennant race. Given the dynamics currently out there, you want to back the Braves as early as possible and wait until later to oppose them until things settle down and their games find their new level, which should take a few days to a week.

What made this so interesting was that the sharps were staying away from the action. They weren't backing Atlanta, but they also weren't getting excited by Houston. When it continues to additional games in a series, that rules out pitching considerations and forces us to take another look at the two teams; as passing on a game is itself a decision for many of our more active sharps. When the teams go their separate ways, that's when you learn which if either team has been re-evaluated by the gambling world. Sometimes everything will return to normal, leaving everyone to wonder what all the fuss was about afterwards. Right now, all of us are scratching our heads on this one.

Part ll: Runline Tactics & Alternate Runlines

While the last issue of the Pinnacle Pulse introduced the basics of runline betting strategies in Major League Baseball, this week we will focus on tactical considerations when betting baseball, and the potential benefit of Alternate Runlines at Pinnacle Sports.

Most books consider Alternate Runlines a proposition bet rather than a true line on the game. This means they will charge even more juice than they would charge on a normal line. They also charge a lot more for lines that have large favorites.

When you can bet on Johan Santana and the Twins +1.5 -500 or against him at -1.5 +350, it's doubtful if either side has any value. In contrast, Pinnacle Sports's Alternate line is far more competitive, typically offering the best odds on both sides. Using the Santana example, it might typically equate to +1.5 -440 / -1.5 +400. This can make the crucial difference between profit and loss, but bettors still need to find the right side of the Alternate Runline to bet.

Choosing the Correct Side
Using Pinnacle Sports's unique low commission pricing model, Alternate Runlines will frequently offer more value than either the moneyline or the normal runline price. Since it is very hard to handicap the difference between -440 and -400, even our more mathematical players will often disagree on which side has value. In addition, Alternate Runlines can allow you to get a strong number - sometimes even for a game where you don't like either team - as they are often based on an earlier price for the moneyline and total. Pinnacle Sports deal the alternate runline for $3,000, so most players can place their normal wager size using one bet on this line alone.

Choosing between Moneylines, Runlines, and Alternate Runlines
With three viable betting options, which one should you choose to bet on a team you like? Firstly, it is vital to get a sense of what the relative prices should be by looking at a variety of lines to help build up a chart of prices you consider fair. Once you like a team, you can look at the chart to see if either line is cheaper than expected. If one of them is, it allows you to get a better number than the moneyline. It is scary how powerful this can be when combined with line shopping.

There are sharps that specialize in picking off soft runline numbers that arbitrage players can't touch. Sometimes they hedge these bets with moneyline wagers, but the sharpest players ride their bets out, rather than pay the unnecessary juice of the second hedging bet.

Steam Chasing
Runlines also offer a prime opportunity for steam chasing. Sportsbooks that are slow adjusting their moneylines when there are significant moves - presenting real value or scalping opportunities - are even slower adjusting runlines. Most of the time the higher juice they charge allows them to get away with it, but bettors can catch books 'leaning'. They are dealing a number designed to get the action they want from their own players, so when they offer a number inside the “Pinnacle range” a power move on the game can lead to good value or even a scalp before they realize what is going on.

This tactic can also operate in reverse, and you can take the value books like Pinnacle Sports offer when a game has an abnormal betting pattern. Sometimes a bettor or syndicate will bet the runline or moneyline but not both. This will lead to numbers between the moneyline and the run line that no longer agree with one another. Close to game time, books targeting recreational players will often be forced to overcharge for the public side so much to balance their books, that they unwittingly create scalping opportunities for astute players at Pinnacle Sports. These unique numbers will pop up surprisingly often, but will disappear very quickly if you are slow to react.

The 'Forced Bet' Scenario
These fluctuations in odds can even lead to what some sharps consider a 'forced bet' situation. For example, if a road team is available at +121 and the home team -119, you would doubtless bet, even if you could not bet on both sides. The juice now works in your favor and you get the team that you like. The choice of team could even be decided by a coin flip, the only question is how much of your bankroll you want to risk?

When a runline creates the equivalent situation, you now have the advantage normally given to the book. If you bet both sides, you could bet on the middle or against it, pocketing some value, or you could choose the side you like more. It costs time and effort to be sharp enough to notice these situations and watch for them, but once you've made that investment, it's vital that you capitalize on it.

When the lines are roughly equal, the best way to choose the right line to play is to consider your own game model. Why do you like this team? If they have strong pitching and defense or they have a poor offense, then that points to a low total, so you should look to take the +1.5 and lay the juice if necessary. If you think the opposite, that the team has a strong offense or weak pitching and defense, then that points to a higher total. Look to lay -1.5 and take the favourable odds.

Pay Attention to Variance
Variance is also an important factor as most blowouts result from the breakdown of a pitcher or one who pitches a gem. Unpredictable quantities like Carlos Zambrano or unknown call-ups from the minors are strong candidates for laying -1.5 on either team. These are clearly strong reasons to prefer one line to another. Issues of bullpen strength, or whether teams "know how to win close games" or hit in the clutch can also be considered, but some of the smartest people in the game tend to consider these to be mostly mythical concerns. In short, don't get excited by a team's record in one run games. This is not a predictive statistic.

No Shame in Losing on a Long Shot
One objection bettors frequently have to runlines is that they don't like long odds. Laying -500 doesn't make you feel that good when you win, whereas losing feels terrible. Winning a +500 feels great, but most of the time you lose even when you got value - and if your team wins by 1 and you still lose, then you feel like an idiot. As with all betting, you need to balance these considerations against getting the best value. Some bettors like to think of a long shot as a parlay, betting both that it won't be a one run game and that your team will win. Others have simply made their peace with it, accepting that there is no shame in losing such a bet.

Bet Size & Record Keeping
Playing at different odds also makes bet sizing and performance tracking more difficult. For record keeping, make sure to compare to a break-even point rather than to 50%, 51.1% or 52.2%. Many sharps betting baseball lose far more bets than they win and come out ahead. In terms of bet sizing, the mathematically correct strategy is to think in terms of the amount you're trying to win to determine your bet size, rather than the amount risked, or the base amount of the wager. However, it is always good to remember that the mathematical answer might not always be right for you.

Of course, there are sometimes even stronger ways to pinpoint what you're wagering on, and the next two weeks we'll cover those. However, if after reading all of this, you are still uncomfortable betting runlines, there is no shame in sticking with the moneyline by playing at a low juice sportsbook like Pinnacle Sports and enjoying the simple pleasure of rooting for a team to win.